Article 2012-11-02 Rockefeller Center, GE Building, Studio 6A, New York City, NY

Songs of Sympathy and Endurance, From Voices Touched by Hurricane

On Friday night, NBC presented an hourlong telethon, “Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together,” to raise money for the American Red Cross. It was just four days after the storm made landfall in New Jersey on a course that would smash coastal and riverside neighborhoods all the way up to Rhode Island. “One of the great ironies of this telethon is that the people who need the help most can’t watch it,” said the host, Matt Lauer. “They don’t have power.”

Many of the musicians came from places affected by the storm: Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi from New Jersey, Billy Joel from Long Island and Christina Aguilera and Mary J. Blige from New York City, along with an Englishman, Sting, and three members of Aerosmith, from Boston.

The songs offered sympathy, encouragement and emotive belting. There was also a little jocularity: a rendition of “Under the Boardwalk” with lead vocals shared by the talk-show host Jimmy Fallon and Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, while Mr. Joel took the doo-wop low notes and Mr. Springsteen sang in the background. (Afterward, Mr. Fallon said on Twitter, “Not my idea to sing lead.”)

Between the songs were calls for donations, affirmations of Jersey roots — from Jon Stewart, Brian Williams and Danny DeVito — and news montages of destruction and desperation: surging waters, demolished carnival rides, tearful families sorting through the wreckage of destroyed homes.

The show took place in NBC’s studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza with a small invited audience. But it was broadcast on many cable networks, on terrestrial and satellite radio stations and on a live Web stream. It was not a fancy production. The musicians were on a somber, darkened stage with a blue backdrop that may have been intended as aquatic. And the microphones were not always working.

But some of the songwriters had done rewrites for the occasion. Mr. Joel changed the calamity in the opening verse of “Miami 2017” into a storm where “out in the Rockaways, the oceans overflowed” and “Staten Island drowned.” And when Ms. Blige sang “The Living Proof,” she changed “I” to “we,” transforming a song about individual survival into one of shared perseverance and performing it with gospel-rooted drama.

Most performers stripped down their songs. Mr. Bon Jovi, preceded by a video that showed him visiting his hard-hit hometown, Sayreville, turned Bon Jovi’s ringing “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” into a pensive acoustic medley. Mr. Tyler and the guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, from Aerosmith, played “Dream On” without a rhythm section; it got shaky at times, but amid the telethon’s hurricane footage, one line was newly telling: “The past is gone.” Sting moved “Message in a Bottle” onto acoustic guitar, picking its intricate lines backed by a percussionist. Christina Aguilera belted “Beautiful” over a solo piano.

The finale belonged to Bruce Springsteen, whose early albums were full of songs situated on the Jersey Shore — including one presciently called “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” about last-chance romance amid the carnival attractions. But perhaps that would have been off-message. Instead, he chose the uplift of the more recent “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and with the E Street Band chiming behind him, he promised, “Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/And all this darkness past.” Afterward, Mr. Springsteen added, “God bless New York. God bless the Jersey Shore.”

By Jon Pareles via The New York Times.
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