Bruce Springsteen auctioned off the guitar around his shoulder for $250,000 to benefit wounded servicemen and women, the climax of Wednesday’s seventh annual “Stand Up for Heroes” benefit run by ABC newsman Bob Woodruff’s foundation.
A murderer’s row of comics — Jon Stewart, Bill Cosby, Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld — preceded former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who played with a band featuring wounded vets, and local hero Springsteen. The show at the Madison Square Garden Theater was beamed online through Google Plus and YouTube.
Woodruff, the newsman nearly killed eight years ago by an improvised explosive device in Iran, and his wife Lee spend much of their time now helping vets who need care for catastrophic injuries. This year’s benefit, from which the Woodruffs hoped to raise $20 million, had a special emphasis on family caregivers who nurse veterans back to health.
Rachel and Larkin O’Hern, from Belton, Texas, brought the audience to its feet by telling their love story and Larkin’s arduous road to recovery after losing both legs and his right hand.
The process, Larkin O’Hern said, is “the triumph of slim hope over crushing despair.”
Waters, whose father was killed in World War II and his grandfather in World War I, brought nearly two dozen veterans onstage with him to sing and play guitar, some of them missing limbs. He often turned the lead microphone over to other singers during performances of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and Waters’ own “Comfortably Numb.”
Springsteen said he was surprised that with four comics on the bill and an audience stocked with servicemen, there weren’t any dirty jokes. So he offered three of his own.
“I went into the wrong profession,” he said before proving otherwise in a three-song set synced to the evening’s theme. With an acoustic guitar, he sang “Dancing in the Dark” and was joined by his wife, Patti Scialfa, for a duet on “If I Should Fall Behind.”
Accompanying himself on a pump organ with a synthesizer backup, Springsteen also played an arresting cover of a 1979 Suicide song, “Dream Baby Dream.” Springsteen has performed at each of Woodruff’s seven benefits.
Joined by NBC’s Brian Williams, he helped auction the guitar, juicing the price with sweeteners that included his own free one-hour guitar lesson and entry to a recording session at his New Jersey home.
The comics performed one after the other with themes that fit their personas. Stewart offered political satire, the veteran Cosby joked about families, Gaffigan riffed on junk food and Seinfeld talked about the foibles of married life.
“Being married is like being on a game show,” Seinfeld said, “and you’re always in the lightning round.”
Stewart bemoaned Democrats blowing the moment when Republicans were in disarray with the problem-plagued rollout of President Barack Obama’s new health care law.
“They were on the two-yard line, first and goal and they ate the football,” the “Daily Show” host said.
Cosby, at 76, reached back to his childhood for the family stories that have always been a staple of his comedy. He had a quick retort, though, when some veterans seated by the stage interrupted him with some noise. He reminded them that he had served in the U.S. Navy himself.
“I was there when there were no guns,” he said. “You dug a hole and you yelled at each other.”