We're not supposed to tell you where tonight's all-star telethon is coming from, even though most everyone in the media knows the locations on both coasts. What I can tell you is that Billy Joel will perform "New York State of Mind," and that he, Paul Simon, and Bruce Springsteen will all be in the east locale, while Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks and that gang will be in the west.
Roberts, according to sources, doesn't know what her role is yet. Like most of the actors, she may wind up reading poems or pieces of the Constitution. Outside of the musical numbers, it's hard to imagine that the telethon won't be a little like watching paint dry. But you have to applaud the intention here. Even if the stars are promoting new projects, the entire country will be watching one thing for the first time in more than 25 years.
In the meantime, the publicists who are running this thing are adamant. "This isn't about Hollywood," said a spokesperson from Barbara Brogliatti's office at Warner Bros. in Burbank. "This is just about people who are famous enough to draw attention to the problem."
Personally, I think Rosie O'Donnell and others who contributed money directly to the Red Cross have the right idea. I've already sent my donation to the Red Cross via the Internet. I encourage everyone who reads this column to do the same. At least that way we can be reasonably assured that the funds are going directly to the families of the people who died. And believe me, they need it. In many cases heads of households have died, leaving spouses and small children who need to be cared for.
In this mood of charitable giving, it's important to note that you can be a tax-free foundation but not really help anyone. You can simply raise money to throw a cool party and pay your president. Sounds like fun, no?
Last March this column reported that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which puts on a great annual show at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, fell into that category. Record companies pay $25,000 a table to attend the annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame show, and the Foundation operates as a charity. Its administrator, Suzan Evans-Hochberg, was paid $285,000 in 1998-99.
Now the new filing is out and it seems that Evans-Hochberg got a raise to $300,000. But last year, the Foundation, which claims $10 million in assets on its IRS form, donated nothing to the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Nothing. Not a dime.
More surprising: The Foundation gave less than $3,000 to indigent rock musicians in the same year, meaning that Evans-Hochberg received 100 times the amount doled out to needy musicians. Additionally, the Foundation made only two other donations in 1999-2000: $25,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and $2,000 to an organization called Zero Population Growth.
According to the form, another $40,000 was paid out in miscellaneous salaries.
Evans-Hochberg told me yesterday that so far only nominees and inductees were eligible for the indigent awards. This group includes such multi-millionaires as Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel. The first three have been inducted twice, as group members and solo performers. Evans-Hochberg said, "We are hoping to expand the scope of that program."
As for the Cleveland museum, which is considered a bastard cousin of the glittery annual Waldorf event, the Foundation donated only $77,000 to it in 1998-99. But the absence of any donation last year is even more troubling considering the Foundation's stated purpose on its tax return — "to establish and maintain all matters of historical significance in rock and roll." Evans Hochberg told me yesterday: "We are partners with the museum. We have allocated funds for its expansion and for educational programs. Our money is going to be used for the museum."
The Foundation's unpaid but better-known directors are Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, Sire Records president Seymour Stein and Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who recently published his autobiography with a $75 suggested price. Wenner, who declined to answer questions about the Foundation last winter when this column first approached him, is considered the Foundation's defacto head. In fact, the Foundation's offices are in the process of moving into space at Rolling Stone headquarters this week after being moved from the Atlantic Records offices.
Arista Records head of promotion Jerry Blair got the boot yesterday. Arista is bleeding money so they had to do something. Company prez LA Reid, who lured Blair from Columbia Records one year ago after a successful 11 year run, had to find a scapegoat since his records are not selling.
I thought maybe if Arista Records' big fall releases were hits that Reid and friends would be safe at home. But it was not to be.
Reid's hopes were pinned to a new album by Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds (which I've personally been enjoying a lot). Unfortunately, the CD sold a measly 55,000 copies in its debut and hit the Billboard/SoundScan chart at No. 25. This is the equivalent of dead on arrival.
To make matters worse, Sean "Puffy" Combs sold about 24,000 copies of his P. Diddy and the Bad Boy Family: The Saga Continues album. This brings his total to 725,000. At No. 48, this CD is also over, and with it will come accusations of overspending. Bad Boy Records, which is part of Arista, is now in dire straits. Something tells me the Cristal Champagne will be replaced by Gatorade soon.
Other Arista disappointments are albums by Usher and Blu Cantrell. Both artists had radio hits, but the CDs didn't really happen. They were both good and recommendable, but neither of them found a large audience.
My sources insist that Reid will be out by year's end. Arista is part of BMG, which is now in a huge consolidation mode. Their RCA Records urban music division is said to be folding up as well.
As for Blair, my guess is he goes next to Warner Bros., which is desperate for some heat now that new president Tom Whalley has moved in. Whalley will let him actually do the work he couldn't do at Arista.
Interestingly, I was told about Blair's departure back on August 14, at the MTV 20th Anniversary show at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Someone I should have believed pointed to debonair Jere and said, "He's out, you know." Now we know to trust the gossip grapevine.
Meanwhile, Arista's contribution to the current national pride is to re-release Whitney Houston singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," from 1991. All I could think of when I heard this was the Way Back Machine from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Please, folks, remember that Broadway is still open for business. We're hearing stories about half-full theatres. I can only tell you that if you haven't seen Kiss Me Kate, The Music Man or Chicago, you're missing something special in each case. This is the time to support all live performances, art galleries, libraries, and museums. The beauty found in all these things is what the terrorists want to take away from us. Let's show them that we don't care what they think.