This article was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 12, 2012
Billy Joel jokes about living out his own personal "The Godfather: Part III."
"Just when I thought I was out," he said, chuckling, "they pull me back in."
After all, Joel has been trying to lay low for a while, looking to stay out of the spotlight. Performing as part of "12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief," which is shaping up to be the biggest music event in history with a potential worldwide audience of 2billion people, wasn't exactly part of his plans.
But Joel - like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and every other megastar on the massive list of performers at tonight's show - felt he had to do something, both for his fellow Long Islanders still struggling after the superstorm and for everyone else in the area.
"We've all seen terrible things out there," said Joel. "We all wanted to help. What can a musician do? This is what we do. We're the second-responders."
The team behind "12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief" - Cablevision CEO and Madison Square Garden Co.'s executive chairman James Dolan, Clear Channel president John Sykes and The Weinstein Co.'s chairman Harvey Weinstein - was also behind "The Concert for New York City," which raised $65 million for the Robin Hood Foundation to help victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"To make a real difference, we need as many people as possible to understand the true impact of Hurricane Sandy and for people everywhere to be able to help," Dolan said, adding that the reach of the concert will be "unprecedented." "We believe this incredible night will make history as the most widely distributed live musical event ever."
Organizers expect "12-12-12" to surpass "The Concert for New York City" in fundraising, establishing the Robin Hood Foundation's Sandy Relief Fund, which will donate 60 percent of the money raised through the concert to charities in New York City, Long Island and Connecticut and 40 percent to charities helping those affected by the superstorm in New Jersey.
"Every dollar somebody sends in will go right out the door to help - all of it, and quickly," said Deborah Winshel, president and chief operating officer of the Robin Hood Foundation, which prides itself on having no overhead for administrative expenses. Winshel says the foundation already has raised $15 million leading up to the concert and plans to donate those funds to area charitable groups before the show begins so that they can focus on donating the money raised by the concert immediately.
"We want money to reach people as quickly as prudently possible," Winshel said. "We want the groups to spend it quickly. They are still people who need emergency assistance."
Robin Hood already has given $1million to Long Island-based charities working on a wide range of short-term and long-term issues caused by Sandy. The charities include Make the Road, which will help train and place hundreds of individuals for jobs in Sandy-related cleanup, and Island Harvest, which will use the money to purchase more ready-to-eat meals for Long Island communities and hire more staff to handle the increased demand for its services.
Island Harvest's president and chief executive Randi Shubin Dresner said that without the $200,000 in funding Robin Hood pledged this week, the Mineola-based charity would be struggling. Since Sandy struck, Island Harvest has been handing out food and products to communities across Long Island, and its reserves have been depleted. "A good part of Long Islanders have returned to their routine," Dresner said. "But there are many still without electricity or heat. They are struggling in still cold, damp houses."
Dresner said the "12-12-12" concert will offer victims of Sandy emotional as well as financial support. "Concerts like this epitomize what needs to happen," she said. "These musicians are using their talents and their assets to help raise funds. They are coming together in unity to help people struggling.... But for many people, it's also important just knowing people care. Those struggling are so grateful to know that people are thinking about them, looking for ways to get involved to help them."
Joel got involved in "12-12-12" because he didn't want those suffering on Long Island and throughout the area to be forgotten. "I know people think everybody's rich out here," he said. "Everybody isn't rich. There are middle-class and poor people here, especially in the vulnerable areas that need help. We really need help here. ... The only way for us to recover is for a lot of people worldwide to help us out."
All three of Joel's homes on Long Island suffered flood damage, and his only power for weeks came from a generator, though he is quick to say, "No one should feel sorry for me." He said some roads in his neighborhood have been damaged so much that they're impassable, and he said it was upsetting to see how many small businesses near him remain closed, meaning many have lost their livelihoods.
To hammer home these reminders of the superstorm's destruction, Joel is considering reworking the lyrics to some of his songs. He already unveiled new lyrics to "Miami 2017" at the "Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together" telethon last month and those lyrics may change again. He said he also is considering performing "Storm Front." "It's somewhat proper for the occasion," Joel said. "But given the amount of time we have and that it isn't one of my most recognizable songs, should we even play that song? We're still working that out."
Joel and his band have a lot to work out, considering they haven't all played together since March 2010. However, while many on the "12-12-12" bill are artists currently on tour - including Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and The Who - Joel has the ability to focus on making his 30-minute set specifically fit the occasion.
"We're going on toward the end, and we have to see how the night has been going," he said. "By the time you get to us and if all the songs have been about 'Oh, what a drag it's been,' there's going to be a need for some rock and roll. People are going to need a lift. We want to raise money, but the people still need to be entertained."
Joel said he expects the "12-12-12" benefit to balance the entertainment factor with the need to deliver information about the tragedies caused by Sandy. "It has all the makings of a great show, the kind of show we haven't seen since Woodstock," he said. "I think we'll all rise to the occasion."