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L.I.R.R. (Long Island Rock ‘n’ Roll)

Long Island, land of lawns and tract homes with—of course—garages, has given birth to the country’s hottest rock-and-roll scene. Just don’t mention Seattle.

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Taking Back Sunday (from left, Fred Mascherino, Eddie Reyes, Mark O'Connell, Adam Lazzara, Matt Rubano).  

They looked like any other hot band come to town with a hit record, filling Roseland, a thousand kids bashing their brains out to the beat. Except Taking Back Sunday, on tour around the country, and Europe too, weren’t just passing through. They were home, as close to home as Long Island is to Manhattan, a distance of debatable dimension, at least psychically.

In case there was any doubt as to Taking Back Sunday’s origins, one guy to the left of the stage, attired in the band’s standard IF WE GO DOWN, WE GO DOWN TOGETHER T-shirt, kept shouting “Amity! Amity . . . Amity football!!!” Through the din, Eddie Reyes, TBS’s founder and guitarist, who spent a number of seasons toiling as an undersize placekicker on the Amityville High football team, acknowledged the tribute. “Amity,” Eddie said, pointing his finger toward the screamer, a stumpy sort (not unlike Reyes himself) who looked heavenward, hands raised in thankful answered prayer.

As far as Reyes was concerned, the feeling was mutual. The Roseland gig represented something “totally awesome . . . a full circle.” So many nights he’d come into the city, on the LIRR or in a beater car, to clubs like the Continental, Coney Island High, and good ol’ CBGB to see metal and hardcore bands. Someday, Eddie thought, pushing toward the stage, thinking about being up there himself. Now the time had come, a hundred times bigger than Eddie had imagined, with Taking Back Sunday’s new disc, Where You Want to Be—which debuted in July on the Billboard chart at No. 3—about to go gold, like the group’s 2002 effort, Tell All Your Friends. Plus, it was his birthday, his 32nd, a grandpa age for a punk rocker, but one that imparts a Yoda-like air of authority to the impish musician. “I’m old enough to appreciate everything but not old enough to be dead,” Eddie says cheerfully, noting that it was an excellent time to be “a garage guitar player from Long Island.”

No doubt about it. Humble, maddening, subdivided Lawn Guyland, the nowhere zone between the Queens line and Puffy’s “White Party,” is generating plenty kar-rang-ish heat these days. Taking Back Sunday (the name comes, Reyes says, from “an act of will, because Sunday’s when you should hang with your family and friends . . . like the Bible says, a day to kick back”) and its sometime blood rival from Levittown, Brand New, are at the top of the heap. Brand New’s rousingly elegiac Deja Entendu has also sold upwards of 500,000 copies, and their success, along with bands like From Autumn to Ashes, As Tall As Lions, and Straylight Run, has sent A&R types combing the thickly malled landscape for the next kind-of-big thing. Along with “Orange County hardcore,” “Detroit techno,” and “St. Louis alt-country,” “Long Island emo” (or “emotional” rock, which the All Music Guide defines as “confessional” hardcore, which translates into, says one fan, “really loud music by guys from the suburbs feeling sensitive and/or sorry for themselves”) has joined the pantheon of phrases used to sell music these days.

Indeed, there has been much talk in the music magazines that Long Island, where beaches are named for Robert Moses and shopping centers for Walt Whitman, is “the New Seattle.” This refers to the nineties rock epoch during which that caffeine-besotted burg produced Nirvana and hundreds of other flannel-shirt-flapping punkers—a scene that, when it comes to scenes, remains the grail.

Several weeks before the Roseland show, cruising old Amityville haunts in his slightly trashed Chevrolet Cavalier, Eddie Reyes expressed ambivalence when it came to correlating Long Island emo with Seattle grunge. After a decade of listening to such emo precursors as Fugazi, and having a hand in writing many of what he calls Taking Back Sunday’s “melodic hardcore relationship-based” songs (e.g., “The Blue Channel”: “Regardless if my pictures / They don’t line your mirror / Regardless, you know what / I’ll still wait for your call”), Eddie said, “If I hear the word emo anymore, I’m throwing up. ’Cuz it’s getting old, this idea of these guys with tattoos”— Eddie has ten at most recent count, including twin “full sleeves” and a new stalking panther. “Hugging like a men’s group, whining ‘Hold me.’ It isn’t that we’re not caring . . . we’re caring. Just not that caring.”

“That’s what this scene is: finding something to connect to out here, where it’s hard to connect.”

We were on an L.I. rock Baedeker. On Merrick Road we stopped at Blue T Pizza, where Eddie and his buds hung out waiting for the tourists to ask The Question: “Hey, where’s the Horror House?”

“Two bucks,” his friends would say, before pointing the way. Eddie bought one of his first guitars with the money. So, “you could say I owe my career to The Amityville Horror.”

Every other block, Eddie stopped the car in front of a ranch house, backyard, or garage where he practiced when he played in his “kid bands”—Mind Over Matter, Clockwise, the Inside, and the much-missed the Movielife. This was the way it was out here, Eddie said, as we passed a tract house with an old man in a golf shirt riding back and forth on his lawn mower, seemingly oblivious, or inured, to the punk racket blaring from the double-car garage. There were hundreds of bands here, sometimes two or three on a block. Most would never make a record or even get out of the garage. But they were players, just the same.

No knock on Seattle, said Eddie (who credits Nirvana with “getting rid of the eighties haircut bands”), but that was the difference between Long Island rock and everywhere else. A place like Seattle—it came out of nowhere, blew up, faded into the Behind the Music mist.

Long Island is no such flash in the pan. Three generations of post-Elvis teenagers have come of age in this world of crumbled Dunkin’ Donut dreams. That adds up to a lot of garages, a lot of teenage angst, two things no rock scene can live without. If there’s a Mississippi Delta of garage rock, it is here, fecund spawning grounds of so many (slightly off-brand) heroes such as Lewis (later, Lou) Reed from Freeport, Pat Benatar (née Patricia Andrzejewski) from Lindenhurst, Eddie Money from Island Trees. . . . It goes through such disparate types as Public Enemy from Roosevelt, Gary “U.S.” Bonds of Wheatley Hills, and, of course, Billy Joel of Hicksville—once in a metal band called Attila, before a stint in the Meadowbrook Hospital mental ward.

Eddie Reyes’s family emigrated from Bogotá, Colombia, which makes him an anomaly in what is mostly a strictly white, nativist scene. But, Eddie said, “when you’re a hardcore kid, playing hardcore, going to hardcore clubs, that’s your real identity.”


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