The End: Montauk, N.Y.
Summer, 1975. I was seventeen and living with my family on Long Island when I heard the rumor that the Rolling Stones were recording an album at Andy Warhol’s place in Montauk. My friend Oscar and I packed up our instruments in his ‘71 Plymouth Valiant and headed for Montauk and, we were convinced, rock-and-roll history. We possessed the keys to a house belonging to the parents of someone my brother was dating and a belief in our own greatness completely disproportionate to our talents. We found the house at about two in the morning and immediately began playing as loud as we could with the doors and windows open. At this point, I might mention that our instruments were a slide trombone and a drum set. Needless to say, Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ron didn’t take notice—but the neighbors sure did. We spent the next two days in an almost constant state of motion, driving from one end of the little fishing community to the next. While we never jammed with, or even saw the Stones (“You should have been here last night, they played for two hours right on that stage there,”) we did discover a place that seemed far removed from suburban civilian. The beaches were unspoiled, there was real surfing going on, and the girls looked, well, like they didn’t belong on Long Island.
I returned to Montauk many times, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. More than once, I came with my parents. Always, I was the outsider. It wasn’t that the locals were mean (although some were). They just had a good thing going and they weren’t keen on sharing it with the whole world. Montauk was, and is, a fishing town that’s fighting to keep from becoming the next Hamptons, the next Fire Island, the next fill-in-the-blank. It’s 100 miles from Manhattan yet almost no one locks their doors and the taco stand extends credit. Everyone knows the freewheeling vibe can’t last; they’re just determined that it won’t disappear on their watch.
It was the desire to record something before it faded away that was the catalyst for this project. These images were supposed to chronicle one two-week period in the life of the town but it took me two weeks to realize I didn’t want to be constrained by any self-imposed rules (rules not being what Montauk is about). Two weeks turned into a summer. I focused on the subjects I was most interested in, the surfers. By and large, these are kids who are the same age I was when I first fell in love with the place. They are beautiful and sexy and tribal in a way no one who hasn’t been part of a surf community can understand. I can tell myself that I knew Montauk when it was better, when the beaches were less crowded and the summer crush could barely fill the two roadside motels. I can’t delude myself into thinking that I ever surfed as well, looked as good, or partied as hard as the young people who let me take their pictures. If the crew at Ditch were bitter over missing the Rolling Stones or Andy Warhol, they sure didn’t show it.
When I go to Montauk now, it’s often in the company of my wife and two children. My wife and daughter are already surfing and my son, I don’t doubt, will be graduating from his boogie board soon. What will the place look like when they’re old enough to chase a rock band or fall in love with someone they see peeling off a wetsuit in the parking lot? Now that I’ve been coming here long enough that I no longer worry about my car being vandalized if I surf at one of the hidden breaks, I don’t want any outsiders arriving with notions of building big houses, opening a real hotel or, heaven forbid, paving any more roads. I don’t want anyone coming to Montauk who I don’t know. Period.
It’s always been my hope that the men and women who let me take their pictures see this book and think that I’ve paid them and their town a high compliment. But if my book, even in some small way, hastens the demise of the lifestyle it seeks to glorify, then I’ve shot myself in the foot. It’s taken me 28 years just to get some of the residents of Montauk to say hello to me. If they believe that I’ve brought the whole world down on them, I’ll have to start parking under streetlights again. And there are damn few streetlights in Montauk.
That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it? Everyone who makes it to the fallout shelter tries to bolt the door behind him. It’s like some graffiti I read in the stall at the Shagwong Tavern. “Welcome to Montauk. Take a picture and get the f--- out.”
Here are my pictures. Please, please stay away just a little longer.