February 20th, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic fire at the Station Night Club in Rhode Island. Jack Russell of the band GREAT WHITE announced that he would be doing an acoustic performance on February 7th at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, CA, where proceeds would be donated to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation. The Boston Globe caught up with Russell after the gig, which didn't go as well as he'd hoped. An excerpt is available below:
He walks with a cane now and, until recently, he wore a colostomy bag surgically attached to his waist, a humbling reminder of his near death in 2010, after years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Jack Russell, 52, has fallen a long way since that night 10 years ago when he preened before a packed house in The Station nightclub, before his band’s pyrotechnics turned the place into a deadly inferno. In minutes, the front man for the fading ’80s hair band, Great White, became a vilified figure in a national tragedy, not just for his role in starting the fire, but for his seeming insensitivity: He talked about the band’s upcoming summer tour even while The Station burned before his eyes.
Russell had hoped to do something positive earlier this month for the 10th anniversary, headlining a concert to raise money for a permanent memorial at The Station site in West Warwick, R.I. But fire victims and their families would have none of it; he remains a pariah in their eyes. A statement from the Station Fire Memorial Foundation said simply, “We feel the upset caused by his involvement would outweigh the amount of funds raised.”
Rock fans apparently weren’t keen on Russell’s idea either. Only about 30 people showed up to see “Jack Russell of Great White” in the Saint Rocke concert hall on the Pacific Coast Highway near Los Angeles, raising an estimated $180, even after Russell announced he would donate the proceeds to the son of his guitar player, Ty Longley, who perished in the fire.
“It was supposed to be a tribute,” he later said, sheepishly.
That’s the way it’s been for Russell, who was never criminally charged in connection with the fire, but who never made peace with survivors either. In fact, Russell seems to have a penchant for antagonizing critics, like getting a facelift in 2006 because “the look in the mirror just doesn’t represent how I feel inside,” which some saw as insensitive to people disfigured by The Station fire.
“He never even apologized” for his role in the disaster, said Gina Russo, who survived the fire with horrible burns; her fiance was killed. “Everyone would look at this differently if Jack Russell would stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry,’?” she said.
Today, Russell acknowledges the disconnect, saying, “I never meant to hurt anybody.” But he prefers to remain publicly silent rather than debate whether he has shown enough contrition.
“It’s been almost 10 years and no matter what I say it’s never going to make anybody feel any better about it, and sometimes it might make them feel worse, so I really would rather not say too much, you know,” he said as he headed for his dressing room after the benefit.
Russell initially balked at a Globe request for an interview — he rarely talks to the press. But he agreed to open up the next morning, welcoming a reporter to the 45-foot fishing boat that he calls home to discuss everything from his bitter split with his band mates to his battles to stay sober to the tragedy that sent him spiralling.
“After The Station, I was really down, was taking anything I could take,” he said. “I would just sit for hours and cry.”
Russell wouldn’t say whether he felt partially responsible for the 100 deaths in the fire, though friends say his broken body is a form of self-punishment. For his part, he still expresses surprise at his unwanted place in history.
“All I ever wanted to do was be a singer,” said Russell, still looking the part of a rock star with dangling earrings, four on each side, and his trademark, pirate-style bandana over long, sandy blond hair. “I just hope that I put more into this world than I took out of it.”
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Following the initial announcement for the intended charity show, Russell issued an update the next day:
"This morning my manager received an email from the Vice President of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, stating that they will refuse any donations from me to the foundation. That being said, the proceeds from the show on February 7 will be donated to a different charitable organization, to be determined shortly.
I am saddened by the response of the foundation and the motives behind it, but we will put on a great show and make it for a worthy cause."
The official press release regarding the situation, from the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, can be found below:
On January 16, 2013 it came to our attention that a press release announcing a benefit show in Hermosa, California was being promoted by Jack Russell stating that proceeds would be given to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation. This event was not approved by, nor endorsed by the Station Fire Memorial Foundation. We require all third party fundraisers to be recognized and approved by our organization prior to advertising.
Upon hearing about this event, contact was made with Mr. Russell's management company. The Station Fire Memorial Foundation felt that this event was not something we wished to be associated with. This is due to the resentment and animosity still felt by many of the families and survivors that our very organization represents. We feel that the upset caused by his involvement would outweigh the amount of funds raised at this event. It is our intent as an elected board to put the needs and best interests of those we represent before any monetary gain.
Mr. Russell's manager, Ms. Valerie Ince, responded that she would remove the name of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation from the event and another worthy charity would be chosen. We thanked her, and tried to have all traces of the event taken down from various music news websites before any damage could be done. Instead of graciously adhering to our heartfelt and polite request, Ms. Inc then released an additional statement to the media.
We stand behind our decision that our organization represents the feelings and the needs of the family members and survivors above the need for the publicity or opportunity of one person.
The Station Fire Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) recognized charitable organization that was formed in order to procure, construct, and maintain a fitting memorial to those affected by our state’s most significant tragedy to date.
The Station Fire Memorial Foundation is a 100% Volunteer Effort. There are no administrative costs. Every dollar raised by the Station Fire Memorial Foundation will go directly to address the costs of construction and maintenance of the memorial. Construction is estimated to begin Spring of 2013.
More details may be found at StationFireMemorialFoundation.org