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The Peace Prize concert

I went to the Peace Prize concert last night. What a rich experience. Not unmixed, but certainly rich.

You should know two facts about me for context: 1. As I have failed to hide, I am a huge Al Gore fan. I wish he were running for president. I wish he had been allowed to take office when we elected him. 2. As far as musical tastes go, I find I’m quite binary. I can admire and respect a musician while being completely unmoved. If I’m moved at all, I’m moved to tears. Weird. In between, there’s hardly anything beyond the occasional toe tap. Also, I’m getting to be a grumpy old man.

I got to go to the concert because I spoke at a Cisco Public Services Summit in Stockholm. Cisco then put 450 of us on a couple of trains and rolled us to Oslo for the concert, of which Cisco is one of the sponsors. As a result, we were seated in the orchestra; I was about twenty rows back, seated among people who have dedicated themselves to public service.

The concert hall looks like a hockey stadium cut in half the long way, with steep seats climbing the gorge-like sides. In the long front was a curving stage with performance areas to the right and left. In center were the evening’s hosts, Kevin Spacey and Uma Thurman. Spacey — a man who looks great in a suite — was hilarious and a confident enough performer that he put the audience at ease. We didn’t have to worry if he as going to flub his lines or say something embarrassing. I am a long-time Uma fan, but let’s just say that she’s much taller than Spacey.

The truth is that I can’t make sense of the concert. It is a celebration of peace and, in this case, of environmental activism. Why this set of performers make? Some were fantastic. Some are activists. But Kylie Minogue? Did we really need to see her in her leather outfit and her skimpily clad female band? Is this what Al Gore is about? It was a tawdry and demeaning way to open the concert. And, given that you could pull in just about any of the world’s musicians, why no one from Africa? Why no classical music? I think I’m missing the point.

[Grumpy Alert:] I know I’m missing the point when it comes to musicians who clap their hands over their heads to tell you that you should clap along, and especially ones who — like Earth Wind and Fire — explicitly tell you to stand up and dance. I think all but two bands did the clapping-over-their-heads thing, and, frankly, it just irks me. If I want to clap along, I’ll decide on my own. And if I don’t want to stand when they tell me to, well, I will anyway, but I’ll resent it. Damn you and your forced funky enthusiasm, Earth, Wind and Fire!

Melissa Etheride rocked the ecosystem. She’s got all of her in her voice. And Alicia Keyes filled the hall. Yet, while admiring her voice and performance — wow! — I totally didn’t care about the songs. I was the only one who felt that way, apparently. People also loved Annie Lenox, although I’ve never liked her voice; although I admire her personally. I’m not recommending my views; I’m pointing out my inadequacy

Rajendra Pachauri and Gore came out towards the end to say a few words. Pachauri, who says people should call him “Patchy,” spoke lightly at first, and then said the expected words about the importance ofthe cause and the honor of the evening.

Gore moved me, but I’m a sucker for political rhetoric. The course of his talk was: Climate change isn’t a political problem, it’s a moral one. As a moral problem, we should consider the rest of the moral changes before us. These problems require us to respond as a united species. Therefore, we should embrace this challenge as an occasion for joy. (Yes, I choked up as he talked. I’m like that.)

After the concert, I went back to the hotel where Cisco was holding a party featuring Earth, Wind, Fire and an extended band that included Water, Smoke, Iridium, Porridge and Velour. So, when I spotted Gore going into an interview room downstairs, I left the party and stood outside until he came out, by himself, and was waiting for Pachauri. I said “Thank you,” and he shook my hand. Yes, the very hand I’m typing this with.

I went upstairs to the Cisco party for a few minutes, and who should come in to say a few words and pose for some photos than Pachauri. As he was leaving and Earth, Wind and Fire was starting up, he paused a few feet from me. I thanked him as well, and he shook my very hand.

Two Peace Prize winners in one night!! And neither one was Henry Kissinger!

The concert was a bit weird. The situation is predictably surreal. But I am very very glad to have been there.

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