If emo is about “relationships,” it figures that in the tightly wrapped L.I. scene, people are going to piss each other off. Such has been the case in the typically internecine “feud” between Taking Back Sunday and Brand New, the great rivals for Island hegemony. The alleged duke-out was goosed with a recent Brand New T-shirt saying BECAUSE MICS ARE FOR SINGING, NOT SWINGING. Scenesters knew this referred to Taking Back Sunday’s singer Adam Lazzara’s signature stage gesture of faux-garroting himself with the mike cord, often executed while hanging upside down from the stage rafters like a bat and singing “You’re So Last Summer,” with TBS’s best bad-boyfriend lyric, “I’d never lie to you, unless I had to.”
Big surprise that alleged sexual perfidy is the base of the BN-TBS skirmish. The story goes like this: Seems Jesse Lacey, the Raymond Carver–loving front man and songwriter for Brand New, who once played bass in Taking Back Sunday, was best friends with John Nolan, TBS’s former guitarist and songwriter. Except then, supposedly, they went to this party and Nolan slept with (or maybe just kissed) Lacey’s girlfriend. Lacey, now in Brand New, wrote “Seventy Times 7” (the number of sins Jesus says should be forgiven): “I hope there’s ice on all the roads / And you can think of me when you forget your seat belt and again when your head goes through the windshield.” TBS’s answer song, “There’s No i in Team,” was a kind of apology (“I can’t regret, can’t you just forget it?”), but not really, mocking Lacey’s overkill hurt feelings (“Wearing your black eye like a badge of honor / soaking in sympathy”).
Things shifted, however, when Lazzara, the scene’s Über-hot boy, started dating Nolan’s sister, Michelle, to whom he was supposedly unfaithful. Outraged, Nolan left TBS to start Straylight Run. At that point, Lacey reconciled with Nolan and rekindled his dislike of TBS, allegedly bad-mouthing them at shows.
Real or not, the beef (an emo beef! OK!) has taken on a life of its own, inspiring endless Internet postings. Amid much Biblical explication of “Seventy Times 7” (Matthew 18: 21–22) is the ongoing lyrical parsing over whether TBS’s new “Slow Dance on the Inside” is “a fuck-you to Brand New” or not. TBS says this is yesterday’s papers and they’re sick of talking about it. Yet asked if he was still mad at Brand New, Lazzara grimaced and said, “No . . . yeah. Fuck it. Keep it going. See if I care. All I’ll say is that pride is a funny thing.”
Reyes suggested that if area code 516 was big enough for both bands, the country was, too. Still, he wasn’t thrilled that Brand New, clearly more cuddly and chick-friendly, is often regarded as the Beatles to TBS’s raunchier (second-place) Stones. Some of this was about BN’s signing with Interscope, a major, while TBS continued on the indie Victory label. That was the way of the music business, Eddie said. On the other hand, “if I hear anyone talking shit about my band, you know, it’s high school again.”
Eddie Reyes says he can see a time when he is no longer playing Long Island rock and roll. This is not an option for Peppi Marchello, something of a legend in these parts. “Once a Long Island rocker, always a Long Island rocker,” says Peppi, 60, a year past triple-bypass surgery. His head shaved, his chest still barrelly, Peppi can be found most Friday nights carrying his own equipment into joints like Rock-A-Fella’s in East Northport to play with his band, the Good Rats, before about 25 people, many so drunk and immobile as to look like what the comics used to call “an oil painting.”
It wasn’t always thus. Back in the mid-seventies, playing straight-ahead hard rock with a tasty pre-Springsteen drive, Peppi’s wild metal crooning out front, the Rats were the undisputed champs of the Island. Keith Richards once called them “the best bar band in America,” claims Peppi. “You want to know how it was,” says Peppi, who moved to Baldwin when he was 7 and then later to Nissequogue, in his clipped, knock-around tone. “You hear of the Cars? The Ramones? The Talking Heads? The Bon Jovis? They all opened for us. We began to call it ‘the curse of the Rats.’ I figured, Why don’t we open for ourselves? Then we’ll get somewhere.”
Undeterred, Peppi says, “I don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself like some schmuck living in the past.” Peppi’s sons, guitarist Gene and drummer Stefan, are now Rats. After an estimated 8,000 gigs, the band still plays every week. There are little side jobs, like selling “I. M. Happy—The Beer Guy,” a stein-holding puppet programmed to intone Peppi’s trenchant “World Party Anthem”: “Let’s have another beer / Life sucks / So hear our cheer.”
Whatever happens, says Peppi, who pronounced TBS’s Where You Want to Be “good Island music,” the thing is to keep playing. Or, as the King Rat said at Rock-A-Fella’s after jumping onto the low-slung bar, “I got five grandchildren and I’m still grabbing my balls for a living! What more could you want out of life?”
So it goes. Tonight is another kids’ show at the Downtown, and the line of 16-year-olds is down the block by 5:30. On the bill is Modern Dance, My Hotel Year, and Days Away—none of whom are from Long Island. If you want to play emo-core these days, you’ve got to hit the Island. It is “the center of the world, because you kids are so cool,” screams Pete Wentz, bassist of Fall Out Boy, a Chicago pop-punk band. A number of L.I. scenesters hold up cell phones in the manner that previous generations raised Bic lighters.
“It’s usually pretty awesome here, when it doesn’t suck,” said Patty, 17, from Huntington, as the LIRR train thundered into the adjacent Farmingdale station. Several commuters got off, frazzled from one more day in the grown-up world. Several commuters said they used to go to shows all the time. Many even played in bands. But for now, they could only cast fleeting, wistful looks, keep walking, throw their briefcases in the car, and drive home.