There are thousands of Hurricane Sandy stories in New York, each with its own personal twist and turn. This is the story of musician Kenny Vance. The station first profiled him in February and went back to the Rockaways last week to get an update on his life, one year after Sandy. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.
This was musician Kenny Vance's home of 38 years on the beach in Belle Harbor before Hurricane Sandy. And after.
"I came home a few days later and I came down the street and it was like a war zone, and the house was completely destroyed," recalls Vance.
We first visited the site of his old home in January.
"I've come here a few times and every time you come...these are my gardening gloves," said Vance back in January.
We returned in mid October. Vance is still living nearby.
"What I didn't realize is if you live a few blocks away and there are houses around you, it's not this. So just being here today makes me feel like I'm home," says Vance.
Vance is best known as one of the founding members of the 60's and 70's group Jay and the Americans. He is still going strong with his current group, Kenny Vance and the Planitones.
At the time of Hurricane Sandy, the band was performing on a cruise.
"I sent a friend of mine down the block and I said ya know, 'What's up?' He says, 'It's gone.' I said, 'What?' He says, 'Your house is gone,'" recalls Vance.
Clothing, family photos, mementos from movies he worked on as music supervisor. And almost every vestige of 50 years in the music business, all gone.
"The early Jay and the Americans stuff, the demos that no one ever heard. The dirty version of Louie Louie that John Belushi sang for Animal House," said Vance back in January.
In the basement of the house he is renting nearby, Vance showed us a few pictures he was able to salvage out of thousands in his old home. A few family heirlooms too.
"This actually was my mother's chopped liver chopper. It's crazy the things that survive. This is it,' says Vance.
Vance says he briefly considered rebuilding, but then reality set in. It was too expensive.
There was the uncertainty of new building code stipulations and insurance.
"We didn't know what the insurance was going to be. So you're sort of still sitting here not knowing what to do," says Vance.
Vance says dealing with the insurance company has been one of the disappointments of the past year.
"If you have a car accident, and it's an isolated incident, the insurance company would probably be there and help you out. but when they have a collective situation, more of a visible situation, they play hardball with you," says Vance. "You discover you really are alone in this, that each homeowner is alone in figuring out how to proceed."
In the aftermath of Sandy, Vance says performing his beloved Doo-wop is like medicine.
He caught the bug for Doo-wop early. Vance tried out for a local group, the Harbor Lites, that eventually morphed into Jay and the Americans.
Vance says Jay and the Americans auditioned for the great producers of the time, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, at the famed Brill Building. Vance says they were initially accepted, then rejected in heartbreaking fashion the next day. That's when Vance's mom, whose own musical aspirations had gone unfulfilled, stepped in.
"She says, 'You go back there tomorrow and you tell them that they can’t do this to you, that you've been in the business a long time.' And I thought, I’ve been in the business a month," Vance recalled back in January. "And I went in there and I said, 'My mother told me to tell you guys.' I basically, cause I didn’t know what to say. And they looked at each other and I’ll never forget it they said, Jerry says 'Alright. Tell the guys to come back tomorrow.' Eight months later we had a number one record with that ‘She Cried.’"
Jay and the Americans had a solid 12 year run with several hits.
On our first visit to Vance's old home, we found some of the remnants of that period: A collection of hotel keys.
Vance: Oh my God.
Mishkin: Kingsport, Tennessee.
Vance: Alright (laughs). And after the show, I never forget this. Some guys came over and said Elvis wants you to come back to Graceland and hang with him. And we said, 'No, we're tired.' And we didn't go.
In the initial months after Sandy, Vance lived at a FEMA hotel on Staten Island. He says he had a sense of alienation. But then he moved back to the old neighborhood.
"This is my home. I know this neighborhood, I know the cleaners, I know where to get a sandwich, or where to get a slice of pizza," says Vance.
That's one thing that hasn't changed throughout the year since Hurricane Sandy: Vance's feelings about Rockaway.
"There's something about Rockaway. It's a secret. It really is. You're so close to the city but there's a peace of mind here. And I think people that live here, whether they can articulate it or not, they feel that. They'll never leave here," said Vance back in January.
On the one hand, Vance is moving on from Sandy. But it's never completely out of his thoughts.
"Every once in a while, something will trigger it," says Vance. "You never know when or how or why or where, but it triggers it and you start to think about things you lost in your house or the fact that you lost your whole house. But like I said you can't dwell on it because if you dwell on it, the hurricane lives inside you all the time and you can't let that, it'll...you can't let that happen."