Besides, Eddie added, “when I was growing up, I wasn’t a great student. I couldn’t pay attention in class. I knew a lot of people like that. Sometimes it seems like half the Island has ADD. I think it is in the water. Music, though—that always made sense to me. That’s what this scene is: finding something to connect to out here, where it’s hard to connect. It just makes it a deeper, richer thing, 360 degrees, 24/7.”
Over on Route 110, we stopped at Pete’s Deli, where Eddie sliced Boar’s Head and mixed up the chunky chicken salad for six years before Taking Back Sunday took off. Eddie is greeted at the deli like a conquering hero, but he still makes his own sandwich. It wouldn’t be cool to expect the current countermen, most of them with their own bands—deli man being the day job of choice for L.I. rockers—to slice the honey-smoked turkey for him. The scene is egalitarian like that; everyone can remember when they were nobody. Within moments, other musicians, the former singer in From Autumn to Ashes, a guitarist from All Grown Up, and assorted drummers come in, several dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with an emphatic “516.” They talk shop, slap hands, grab a couple Budweisers, disperse.
Back in the Chevy, Eddie turned on the air conditioner, the knob falling off in his hand. “If they ask me if I’m rich yet, I show them this,” he said, laughing. Recently, Eddie got married. Six hundred and fifty people showed up for the wedding in Sandusky, Ohio, his bride’s hometown. But Reyes has no plans to leave Amityville.
“This is it,” Eddie said as he stopped at a light in the middle lane of Route 110. Cars pulled up on either side, windows open, both of them blasting “Set Phasers to Stun” from Where You Want to Be. No big deal that the album wasn’t out yet, not officially, so there was every chance both listeners had illegally downloaded the tune. It is still good to hear your music in the ’hood. The light changed, and the guy to the right cut across the two left lanes and through the intersection. Amid squealing brakes and curses, Eddie watched the Toyota pull up to the bagel shop in the mini-mall across the way.
“How could I leave here?” he asked. “This is my inspiration.”
In the scene these days, it is considered hot stuff to play the Downtown in Farmingdale, the only club around with a decent sound system. “We’re the My Father’s Place of now,” says David Glicker, the Downtown’s owner, invoking the hallowed Roslyn club of the seventies. A shambling man in Birkenstocks, Glicker has been in the L.I. rock business for twenty years, originally in the employ of Phil Basile, the all-time classic Island club owner. A reputed Luchese crime-family member, Basile operated several famous L.I. clubs—the Action House, Speaks, Channel 80, Industry—three of which were the same club (on Austin Boulevard) with different names. “With Phil, I saw it all,” Glicker says with a sigh. He rates the current incarnation of Island rock as “the most exciting . . . because these kids, they’re making their own history. Their own art history.”
Tonight’s artists, a band called Don’t Run, is setting up for the semifinals of the Downtown’s “Rock Fight,” a battle of local bands, with the winner promised a spot on the Warped tour and a pile of free equipment from Sam Ash. Four scruffy guys in their early twenties, Don’t Run does not claim to be comprehensive when it comes to Long Island’s rock history. They don’t know the Rascals were the sixties’ Long Island No. 1, at least until they took too much acid and lost their minds, refusing to play gigs until half the bill was black. Not that they care. Says Mike Kozak, Don’t Run’s singer, “We’re just here to play.”
You can always tell the lifers, the ones who were born to rock, Long Island style. Emo guys might wear shades, but often have the look of sunless Morlocks. The beach is only a twenty-minute buzz down the Wantagh Parkway, yet there’s never been an L.I. surf band of note, probably never will be. Words like “Ritalin,” “foreclosure,” and “restraining order” come up with alarming regularity among Long Island teenagers. Of the four members of Don’t Run, three are from broken marriages. At the Rock Fight, they were up against a Locust Valley band that brought their parents to cheer like it was a soccer game. Don’t Run just shook their heads.
There’s a kind of insular austerity here. Rafer Guzmán, club correspondent for Newsday, says, “It is hard to believe, but the scene seems to be virtually drug-free.” You can’t even find a kid to bum a joint off. Teen girls line up at the Downtown in their fuzzy pink sweaters, low-slung jeans, and studded belts, but the scene is oddly asexual: The moshing and the stage diving smack more of Mary Lou Retton High School gymnastics class than groupie wantonness. Sexual segregation between performers (almost exclusively boys) and audience (girls) seems rigidly self-policed.
They’d never admit it, but bands like Don’t Run—who play songs with stark, neo-Beckettian titles like “The Absence of Temperature,” “Starting Fires in the Snow,” and “Sarcasm,” which Mike Kozak sings with a brooding, subterranean woundedness—are their own kind of bluesmen. Dem mean ol’ suburban-sprawl blues. Here are the tales of lives spent growing up ever so slightly on the wrong side of the LIRR tracks, the Munchian rage scream at the specter of diminished prospects. “Mostly, we practice and work,” says Kozak. At one point, the band was trying to get together for a group photo, but guitarist Mike Knoll, who works at Marshall’s on Levittown Road, was stuck handing out pink plastic cards indicating how many pairs of stretch pants local matrons tried on. The band had to plead with Knoll’s boss to add ten minutes to his break.
Don’t Run lost in the Rock Fight finals. Though the judges said they had played “really intense,” the winners were more “fun.” Don’t Run didn’t take the loss too hard. Winning the contest would have been cool, but they had enough equipment, so they’d just have had to sell their old stuff on eBay, which sounded like a hassle.