There is a part of my hometown called Huntington Station, or just “the Station,” as in, “Huntington Elementary is in the Station, across from the Projects.” That’s where I went to school after they closed down Village Green Elementary School. Later, we, and all the graduating fifth graders from a bunch of elementary schools — the old neighborhood schools- –were sent for just one year, to an all-sixth-grade school. Just that one grade. The township contorted itself into a tortured arrangement where we all came together for a year before then going off to two separate junior highs, rejoining again in one high school. In retrospect, this seems to have been what we call bussing, or at least some variation on it. It might have just been a reconfiguration of the schools. But the result was that a lot of us kids from lilly-white neighborhoods got sent to the part of town with the majority of the African-American population of the town, the Station. Literally, the other side of the tracks. (Okay, well, not literally. Apparently my geography is slightly off — by about a block.)
It’s where the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) stopped to let off commuters from the city. As with any station, people would park their cars there all day, come back and drive home. Or stop off for a drink. Huntington was known for having more than its share of bars and taverns, many of them still there — the Valencia Tavern, Finnegans. Others have changed over or disappeared. Emerson Boozer, an NFL player who played for the New York Jets lived in town and had a bar in the Station called Em Boozer’s Pub, which we used to pass by every day on the school bus. It was a forbidding-looking place and the “L-shaped bar” still holds sway in the collective mythology of Huntingtonians of a certain age. That’s gone now. I never set foot in the place.
I have another song in this project that mentioned the Em Boozer’s by name. This song does not. Instead, it references empty bar stools, which to me is one of the loneliest images. Here is a place, a bar, which can be such a lively vital place, spirits high, literally and figuratively. To see an old bar empty, or have regulars no longer showing up is a desolate image to old drinkers, especially from the other side of the bar. That’s the point of view of the song.
Downtown, in the Village (as Huntington’s town center is called), kitty corner from the Dairy Barn, there is a famous old place that will seemingly never disappear, Finnegan’s. It’s a stalwart place where generations have gone, where I had one of my earliest bar drinks, and my father would share a drink with singer-songwriter Harry Chapin and other guys from the local “over the hill” basketball league.
Click the Finnegan’s link. There’s Finnegan’s and the mural on the alley side. That’s Trevor. He was a lovable troublemaker as a kid. Now he’s just lovable. He also now lives in Massachusetts. You can also hear Katy, who sang “Gimme Shelter” with us when we were 15. Also present, though typically quiet, is my best man, Danny.
I did not intend on bringing Chapin back up again. Maybe it’s just the natural force of a commercially successful artist on a kid growing up as a guitar player. His accidental death was big news down there. But we had other famous musicians in town. Richie Blackmore and Billy Joel both lived there. And while I am not exactly a huge Chapin fan (though I certainly like some songs), I guess I could identify more with him than the other guys.
As an aside, though, I have spoken with friends who say Billy Joel went out of his way to call and financially help people who lost loved ones on 9/11. Some of those are people who would not return to their cars left at Huntington Station that night.
Harry’s visage is tucked into the mural of the regulars on the alley side of Finnegan’s.
Sorry to be so maudlin! I swear that I have a pretty good sense of humor that is on display for most of my waking hours. I think. Music as always been the outlet for the melancholy, though. That does not necessarily excuse these often earnest and gloomy essays. But I can’t exactly accompany a song like this with some jokes or satire, could I?
I’m recording some tracks with drums this week. Next edition should be like a more rock ‘n’ roll band. This is where your kind contributions are going.
Previous songs collected here. Please pass along to others and spread the word. I have no publicist!
All songs ©Bill Janovitz
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