How Sandy Hit the Music Scene: Stories From the Streets

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Hurricane Sandy caused vast destruction when it ripped through the East Coast last Monday, wreaking havoc for everyone from shopkeepers to schoolteachers, obliterating homes and businesses and taking lives. On Friday, ABC hosted a telethon to aid storm victims, and some big names in music lent their voices to the cause, including Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi, who also come from some of the hardest hit areas. But beyond these rock stars, the New York/New Jersey music scene is full of stories about loss and survival in the face of Sandy. Last week Hive gathered tales from musicians, radio hosts, studio owners, engineers and indie label stalwarts about what they saw and how they held things together. Though they’re luckier than many New Yorker and New Jersey residents, their stories reflect the unique problems of running a small business (a band, a record store or a studio, in these cases).

“Where else would I be surrounded by a priest, a hooker, a Brooklyn hipster, and a Wall Street dude, all huddling around a table and talking over coffee while charging up their mobile devices? ”

For former Bongos leader/longtime solo artist Richard Barone, once a linchpin of the Hoboken scene but currently a Greenwich Village denizen, last week became the worst time to prepare for the 25th anniversary 10/30 reissue of his classic Cool Blue Halo album. “Albums can be released in a variety of wild situations,” he said, “But to have it happen just as the worst hurricane in the history of New York is hitting the city … well, that’s something this former Floridian could never have predicted. An October surprise, for sure. As my neighborhood of the Village went entirely dark in a massive power outage that was to last at least several days, and with cell towers blown away, I scoured crowded uptown internet cafés and hotel lobbies with power and reception, vying for treasured use of a wall outlet, so I could conduct the scheduled interviews about the new album … not to mention to keep up with the social networks. But, although the crowds and power struggle seemed like a bother at first, it soon dawned on me that this is just the kind of situation that makes it clear why I love this city the most. Where else would I be surrounded by a priest, a hooker, a Brooklyn hipster, and a Wall Street dude, all huddling around a table and talking over coffee while charging up their mobile devices? Hurricanes or not, the show must go on!”

Elsewhere, in what’s ironically been dubbed New York’s newest neighborhood of SoPo (“south of power”), recording studios were at a standstill. At the headquarters of ABKCO Records in the Flatiron District, the legendary label — preparing to release the Rolling Stones CD/DVD box set Charlie Is My Darling on Election Day — had its hands full keeping things going at its in-house studio sans electricity. “Everything is down at ABKCO. We lost power on Monday along with the rest of lower Manhattan…in anticipation of a power failure I shut everything down including the soundboard,” ABKCO engineer/producer Teri Landi told Hive. “I’m really glad I did after viewing footage of that explosion at the Con Ed plant on 14th Street. Also I copied some files over to a hard drive and it turned out that I ended up working from home on Monday night and delivering mastered files for LP cutting overnight to L.A. Luckily I had Internet service — I lost it later in the day on Tuesday.” At Soho’s renowned Magic Shop studio, owner Steve Rosenthal wasn’t having much more luck. “Sorry to say there is no power on Crosby Street,” he relayed. “So as of now the Magic Shop is quiet. We’re hoping to get up and running as soon as the lights go on. Since Jenny [Gilson, proprietor of Lower East Side club The Living Room] and I have a family, and our loft is in ‘The Dark Zone’ as well, we have been trying to keep the kids warm and happy and even trick-or-treating.”

Simon Chardiet’s Street

Those who were spared the storm’s ravages, like musician Hugh Pool , who runs Williamsburg studio Excello Recordings, were nevertheless full of news of waylaid comrades. Pool told us about Simon Chardiet, a New York rock institution who fronted seminal ‘80s band Joey Miserable & The Worms and garage rockers Simon & The Bar Sinisters. “Simon Chardiet got killed, man,” said Pool, thankfully metaphorically. “He’s been living in one of those bungalows out in Rockaway Beach for 15 years or so. He managed to get his guitars out of there, but his amps got killed, all his amps were down below, and his house got destroyed, he’ll never live there again.” In a Facebook posting, Chardiet told friends and fans, “I have the greatest neighbors in the world in Rockaway, and we are going to do a big benefit concert and fundraiser for the people on my street that lost everything.”

Speaking of Brooklyn-based garage-rock institutions, Norton Records – whose rosters has included everyone from Link Wray to the Reigning Sound — sent up a virtual message-in-a-bottle in a Facebook message of their own, regarding the “near total destruction of our Brooklyn warehouse at the hands of Hurricane Sandy.” Founders Billy Miller and Miriam Linna announced, “We will need able hands to help with the salvage effort here at Norton HQ in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. This is an indoor job, pulling records out of wet boxes, etc. If anyone has a vehicle of any sort to assist in getting wet boxes from the Red Hook warehouse to HQ in Prospect Heights, please call. We are working from 11AM until 11PM every day. Anything that you can do to pitch in would be most appreciated.”

Saving Norton Records after Hurricane Sandy from Dust & Grooves on Vimeo.

The radio realm wasn’t immune to Sandy’s carnage either. David Garland , a recording artist who doubles as a radio host at both WQXR and WNYC (where his Spinning On Air show is getting set to celebrate it’s 25th year with a November 14 event featuring Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, and others), had to find a workaround for fulfilling his duties on the New York airwaves. “Right now I’m not sure how I’ll get to WQXR in Soho to do my on-air shift Friday night,” he said last week. “But I’ve been recording my Sunday night WNYC show Spinning On Air in my home studio (this week’s show features unique recordings by on-air guests over the program’s 25-year history, from Christian Marclay in 1987 to Dirty Projectors in 2012). Usually I bring the recorded show to the station in person, but this time I’ll upload it to where WNYC can retrieve it, as a way to get around the flooded tunnels, fallen trees, and darkened neighborhoods.”

“With no juice, my routine of writing at my home studio was interrupted. So I lost some time. But I had pause to reflect and be thankful that I got off easy.”

Of course, the huge hit New York took from the storm extended far beyond the boundaries of the five boroughs. Upstate, Jack Grace, who leads the Jack Grace Band as well as booking storied New York City venue the Rodeo Bar, reported being “… still without power up here in Bearsville. Rodeo is still out as well. I have shows Rochester way in the weekend. I cut my drummer Russ loose because it was going to be too much of a hassle for him to come up and get back with the conditions — but I agreed to still pay him some money to share in the financial burden the storm is taking on the full-time musicians who have been losing work all week. Not like most of the crew can afford a week off and make rent. Fortunately, I have a great drummer upstate to do the shows this weekend.”

“We rehearsed for the show in the middle of all this. This excursion, my music itself, just seemed a petty self-indulgence”

Even local artists who were far from home had to wrangle with the wrath of Sandy, like the Smithereens. Drummer Dennis Diken (whose acclaimed Bell Sound side project has a new album on the way) says, “After the Smithereens gig in Houston, Texas on Saturday October 27, I snuggled into bed … then my cell phone rang. Our guitarist Jimmy Babjak received an email from United Airlines announcing that the early Monday morning flight that would get us home before the “storm of the century” hit New Jersey was already canceled. With Hurricane Sandy looming and airline scheduling being torn asunder, it looked like we may not make it home until Wednesday, Thursday, or who knows, Saturday, unless we high-tailed out of town toot sweet. One other small problem — we had a gig in Dallas on Sunday night. Following frantic calls between the band and our manager, we decided to reschedule Dallas and woke up our travel agent to book us on a 7:32am out of George Bush the next morning. [Smithereens frontman] Pat DiNizio went to Dallas to honor a prior commitment on Sunday and camped out at an airport hotel for a few days afterwards. [Bassist] The Thrilla promptly jetted back to sunny LA. When we arrived in Cincinnati for our connection, our flight to Newark was delayed. We held our breath…our fears were for naught and we landed in New Jersey by 2pm on Sunday afternoon. Relieved in the bosom of our beloved homeland, we were now faced with steeling ourselves for the oncoming big winds and water. After the storm, my place suffered some minor damage and we lost power for four days. But my life and limbs – and gear – were unscathed. The Smithereens didn’t get to hold writing sessions for our upcoming album (look for it in ’13!) that week. And with no juice, my routine of writing at my home studio was interrupted. So I lost some time. But I had pause to reflect and be thankful that I got off easy. And I saw that the beat goes on.”

But the New York artist who suffered serious losses from furthest afield must be Bay Shore, LI-based singer/songwriter Sport Murphy, renowned for his string of cult-favorite albums on the Kill Rock Stars label. He was stranded in Norway, where he’d travelled to perform, while his family bore the brunt of the storm at home. He recalls, “The fear began mounting as [Murphy’s wife] Shelley told me via Skype about the increasingly dire forecasts. We depended upon several rental properties for our income: two waterfront cottages in the South shore town of Mastic Beach and my parents’ old home in Ronkonkoma, which is well inland, but surrounded by very old, very large trees. Though a few reports got through that my wife and kids were fine, not having in-person confirmation was torture. We rehearsed for the show in the middle of all this. This excursion, my music itself, just seemed a petty self-indulgence… All I wanted in the world was to see Shelley, Lily, and Miles. Gradually the personal picture emerged as friends sent reports…our rental cottages were totally destroyed, the families losing everything, including pets. The Ronkonkoma house sustained damage from a fallen tree through the roof, but no injuries, gladly. My own family was safe, just traumatized and stunned. As we sat in a cafe, a Skype call came in. It was my little girl, Lily! The kids were dressed for trick or treat, smiling. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.”

Those interested in making donations or offering help to offset any of the above-mentioned losses can contact the following addresses:

Norton Records: nortonrec@aol.com
Simon Chardiet: janechardiet@gmail.com
Sport Murphy: mcvouty@optonline.net