Sting performs during "Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together"… (NBC )
“You never think it’s going to be your home, where you grew up.” So said Jon Stewart, native New Jerseyan, explaining that he’d often participated in telethons to help aid victims in faraway places. This was different, it was obvious. The effects of the storm were in every line on his face.
That look was everywhere during the hourlong NBC telethon to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Northeast on Monday: a hardened look, a statement of purpose.
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It was in Sting's acoustic version of "Message in a Bottle," which used the theme of being lost at sea to send a different kind of SOS. Holding his acoustic guitar neck high, he plucked out complicated runs. Aerosmith sang “Dream On” exactly how you’d expect them to.
And then Mary J. Blige stepped onstage to offer “Living Proof,” her inspirational ode to resilience. “Stay strong, hold on / Because you made it through / You’re living proof." She used the song, originally recorded for the movie "The Help," in service of powerful message. Blige didn't grandstand, didn't over-express herself; rather, she underlined every phrase with hope.
It was a grand moment. Blige was a late -- and wonderful -- addition, one that brought at least a little bit of variety into what was very nearly a "semi-retired men of rock" lineup.
Everyone was waiting, though, for Bruce Springsteen, who arrived at the behest of Stewart and Brian Williams after the former said, "We’re two Jersey boys, but we could use a third." Instead, they got about a dozen more, in the form of the E Street Band.
Springsteen dedicated his song "to all those who put their lives on the line," but didn't move into "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," his 1973 song whose meaning was forever altered this week. Rather, he and the band moved into a fierce version of his recent song “The Land of Hope and Dreams.” In it, the singer embodied the notion of community, of the inevitable march forward toward justice. He sang the words with his veins popping out of his neck, his huge backing band pushing forward, propelled by the tight snap of Max Weinberg's snare:
I will provide for you and I'll stand by your side
You'll need a good companion now for this part of the ride
Yeah, leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last
Well, tomorrow there'll be sunshine and all this darkness past
When the song was over, Springsteen said, "God bless you all, God bless the Jersey Shore."
The broadcast concluded without incident. There wasn't a Kanye West "George Bush doesn't care about black people"-type moment. Nor was any word uttered that could have been construed as "partisan."
That is, unless you considered Jon Stewart's final words to be a threat. "Jersey strong. Keep your heart in it. We’re coming back."
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