Skip to main content

Musician: I'll never forget what Sandy did

By Kenny Vance, Special to CNN
October 28, 2013 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
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
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT