Skip to main content

Musician: I'll never forget what Sandy did

By Kenny Vance, Special to CNN
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Mon October 28, 2013
Kenny Vance came home from a music tour to find his house obliterated. Superstorm Sandy leveled the house that had withstood storms since 1916.
Kenny Vance came home from a music tour to find his house obliterated. Superstorm Sandy leveled the house that had withstood storms since 1916.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kenny Vance was on tour when Sandy struck; came home to a leveled house
  • Vance lived in 1916 Rockaway Beach house for 40 years and cherished it
  • His studio, lifetime memorabilia lost; friend saw his records, books floating into the ocean
  • Vance is still living in a rented house, trying to deal with red tape and insurance

Editor's note: Kenny Vance is a singer, songwriter and music producer and the founding member of Jay and the Americans. Vance acted as musical director for "Saturday Night Live" and was music supervisor for several films. He now plays and sings with Kenny Vance and The Planotones.

(CNN) -- Hurricane Sandy wiped away my house. In one fell swoop I lost nearly everything that was meaningful to me. In the aftermath of the storm, one year later many people in my neighborhood and I are still in limbo.

Here's what happened: My music group The Planotones and I were set to play on a ship cruise, with 3,000 passengers aboard celebrating the music of the 1950s and '60s. We were going to board in Puerto Rico on October 31. Before we left, the organizers called and urged us to leave a few days early to meet the boat in Puerto Rico, concerned about a storm that was heading up the East Coast. They wanted to make sure we avoided any problems that would prevent us from getting there on time.

They were putting us up in a hotel on the island while we waited for the boat. I packed my bag, my Planotones hat, put food in the garage for my feral cat, called a cab and locked the back door, a familiar ritual for many years.

Kenny Vance lived in this 1916 house on Rockaway Beach for 40 years before Superstorm Sandy leveled it.
Kenny Vance lived in this 1916 house on Rockaway Beach for 40 years before Superstorm Sandy leveled it.

My house on the beach in Rockaway, New York, was built in 1916, 22 years before the first of two bridges were built to connect the Rockaway Peninsula to Brooklyn on one end and Queens on the other. The house had survived many storms since 1916 and in the 40 years I lived in it.

I felt so connected to my home -- it was my friend, my oasis and my place of healing after hard days on the road. After storms, there never was much damage, not much to fix and never any water damage in the basement, which contained, among many memorable items, my music studio.

CNN iReport: Photographer revisits Sandy's path

Kenny Vance
Kenny Vance

In this studio were thousands of 45-rpm singles, hundreds of albums, microphones, amplifiers, a drum kit, my upright piano (from the Brill Building) 24 track tapes from "Saturday Night Live," "Eddie and the Cruisers" and "Animal House," demos, tapes and a vintage guitar collection collected over 50 years of playing music.

In my hotel room, the Weather Channel was tracking Hurricane Sandy. It was pretty alarming, so I called a friend who lived on the next block in Rockaway. He was in the front of his house and told me that the water was rushing up the street from the ocean. He saw books and records from my house floating by. I lay awake most of the night, thinking of the worst ... but never really believing it could be true.

I reached his cell phone early the next morning and he was walking up the block toward my house on the beach. There was silence. I said, "Kris, are you there? What's up?" No response. Again I repeated, "What's up?" Silence. "Are you there?" Finally he said, "It's gone, it's gone ... your house, your house -- it's gone."

When the cruise ended, four days later, my friend Dave picked me up at the airport. He had saved my car by moving it out of my garage to higher ground. The trip back from the airport was a journey into a world of disbelief. The bridges to Rockaway were closed and in the small towns we drove through along the peninsula, the devastation was mind-boggling -- sand and debris everywhere, trees uprooted, houses destroyed, entire blocks burnt to the ground.

When we finally reached my street, I saw something I will never forget: I didn't have a house anymore. No home, just a pile of rubble -- no driveway, no landscaping, no foundation. It looked like it had been bombed.

The angel of Ocean Breeze
Tears and ashes on the Jersey Shore

At that moment reality ceased to exist. The mundane facts of everyday life hit me. Most immediately, where would I sleep? Where are my clothes? My bed? My socks, my eyeglasses, family treasures, boyhood photographs -- the pictures my grandchildren would never see of their great-grandfather and great-grandmother?

Major decisions had to be made, and with much difficulty, I tried to gather my thoughts. I had to find a place to stay. Thank God my car was safe so I could get around. For three months I lived in a hotel room in Staten Island -- dealing with FEMA, having seemingly constant, endless conversations with many different people. Finally, FEMA reimbursed me for the hotel room.

The only clothes I had were in my suitcase, so I had to buy all the clothing essential for living in winter, and additional suits for my show. Because so many businesses were wiped out, dealing with work and life details became all-day fiascoes. At least I had the money to pay for all this -- people who didn't have were in deep trouble.

Living in the hotel room became a strain, and I felt very hopeless. It became important to return to my roots, to the place I was connected to deeply for 40 years. But searching for and finding a rental property in Rockaway was almost impossible; most of the houses were in bad disrepair and many had significant mold problems.

Luckily, I finally found one that was mold free but empty, so I rented beds, TVs, kitchen supplies, sofas, chairs -- the works -- to turn this rental into a home.

Today, I'm still living in the rental house, trying to tie up all the loose ends left in the aftermath of the devastating storm -- problems like what to do with the remains of my old property and dealing with insurance companies and all the red tape that comes with that.

A busy work schedule helps in returning to sense of normalcy. And one night, fans surprised me with a presentation of many old recordings and memorabilia. I was so grateful.

Many of us in Rockaway are still waiting to see what the new flood and homeowner's insurance rates and building codes will be, biding our time before making any future plans.

But my spirit is intact and life must go on. It's funny how in life obstacles are put in front of us -- but they are there for a reason. We learn to climb over them, no matter how difficult, to eventually get to the other side.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kenny Vance.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT