THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Twelve

However confused I have become, I try not to let it get in the way of enjoying the night. The performances were inspired, and people truly seemed to be having a fine time, even after the frigid sunset. At 9pm, about an hour and a half before our set time, Adrian finds me having a beer with Malthus at the bar.

“hey man, can I talk to you for a second…”

“Yeah, sure.” I reach back and give Malthus a beak as I walk away with Adrian.

“That amp up there, is that the backline amp?”

“Yeah, as far as I know. I have your tube amp, I left Todd’s at my house.”

“That thing is a piece of shit, man. “

“You’re kidding?”

“No man, I’ve played that amp a handful of times, it probably won’t make it through the night.”

That was a sobering thought. And Adrian had no idea what was being set in motion regarding Rudy after tonight. The last thing we needed was to have a complete meltdown on stage. If we bomb here, after all of the promise we’d shown, and then get rid of Rudy, the consensus  conclusion would have to be that we were in way over our heads. That alone could be an embarrassment which might derail the local support we’d been given. I decide then and there to drive home and grab the good amp for Todd; it was far more important for us to play a stellar show than for me to miss a few awards.

“I’m going to run home and grab Todd’s amp, it’ll only take me thirty five minutes. Don’t even tell anyone I left.”

“Ok man.”

The highway back to Mystic is surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night. But the closer I get to the exit, the louder the voice in my head becomes. I was petrified of what I may find, or not find, when I get home after Anne’s decision to not to attend the show. Would she be alone?  

tear it away, and think good thoughts

I had learned years earlier how to quell my anxiety, at least momentarily; by purposely thinking good thoughts, forcing my mind to think good thoughts…..  But I truly had no idea what was going to confront me at the house. Why would she bring someone to the house; she must have factored in there could be an equipment issue that would force me to come home? Certainly that had to cross her mind? So, if she was home, everything would be fine. But what if she wasn’t home? That would send a different message entirely.

‘I don’t even care if you find the house empty on an emergency gear run’

As I pulled the van into the driveway, I hadn’t even considered the other options. I open the door and she is visibly stunned, but in a concerned, motherly way.

“What happened?!?!?!”

“The backline amp is a piece of crap, so I decided to come back and get Todd’s good amp. I don’t want to take any chances tonight.”

“That was a good idea. How is it going?”

“Cool. It’s cold, but we won “Rookie of the Year” I relay in baseball parlance, hoping to mitigate my anxiety.

“Oh, babe, that’s so great! Congratulations!”

“Thanks. I gotta get the amp and get back there.” I walk across the room and give her a kiss on the lips.

It seems much warmer than a few hours earlier.

“Ok, cool. Come home right after the show ends!”

“I will. Love you Bebes”

She blows me a kiss as I turn toward the stairs, and sends me a long distance beak.

I throw the amp in the back of the van and slam the door shut violently in disgust. I spent the entire drive speculating on the worst possible outcome, when I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. I felt pathetic. When I opened the door at the house, Anne was filing negatives from her catalog into three ring binders. Not only was she home patiently awaiting my return, she was doing what she always did- creating art. I was hoping none of the band would notice my mood shift, as I was experiencing the after effects of completely misinterpreting intuition.

When I return to the Park, I find the four of them sitting on one of the raised walls that border the lawn area in front of the stage. I can see Adrian holding a TAZZIE in his hand, which initially brings me a sliver of excitement, but then the dread of what was the probable reality sharpens. Piercing had won “Song of the Year”, it was the only award we were up for once I left to get the amp. Sure enough, I had deduced the slender math.

“Hey man WE WON!!!!! Song of the YEAR!!!! How awesome is that!” Adrian exclaimed, holding the trophy outward like an offering.

Adrian held the award with his thin, guitar player arms; all sinew and tight lines. I thought he was looking for a beak.

“I didn’t know. I wasn’t logged in to Lionel Hoinsky’s Twitter feed.”

I immediately tried to turn the winch in a desperate effort to pull the words back in to my mouth, but it doesn’t work that way. I let the unconscious out. Maybe I was getting too deep, too wrapped up in the possibilities, and maybe I wasn’t seeing the present. I decided at that moment that I would get a cell phone. I actually could have seen the Lionel tweet:  

“Piercing wins song o/t year 2013 TAZZIES #piercing #tazzies2013”

I was trying so very hard not to be the indignant old guy- “Dad” as the kids would label it, but I was silently incensed. It’s not as if Adrian had made the extra effort to procure a working amp in a big spot. And the amps that both Adrian and Todd used were loaned to us by Steven Giles when we started the band, when we  had no idea if we’d play four shows or four hundred. I needed to remain composed, as we still had a show to do, and if I was to draw on my experience, and utilize that as a catalyst toward the success of Piercing, I had better live up to the challenge.

The crowd had dwindled to a few hundred hearty souls as we take the stage at 10.30pm. This meant that the Park was at half capacity, and the TAZZIES have always been a sell-out night until the final note rang thorough the vast expanse of downtown New London. The cold weather had cleaved the crowd, but we are grateful for those who have remained. Before I click my sticks together four times to give the band the tempo for “Massive”, I take a brief look over at Rudy. This would be his last live performance with Piercing, and he wasn’t even aware of it. His face was locked into Rock mode as I peered towards him. “Massive” comes across perfectly, as I can hear the drums clanging off the brick buildings across the street from the Park. We then seamlessly segue into “High Tide”; my pitch perfect drum roll acts as an axis between the two songs. We had succeeded in adding something special to the Awards; living up to the responsibility of the moment. However, the dichotomy of the situation with Rudy did not go undefined. Upon coaxing out the final note of our performance, Rudy packed his bass into a Cordura nylon case he had used for years. With no responsibility to load his own amp, as we were using the provided backline, he slung the bass case over his shoulder and put his free arm around a girl I had never seen before. He sashayed away down the sloping handicapped access ramp behind the  Park’s backstage entrance. We had a Sunday practice scheduled already; hopefully Joss and I could maintain our composure before we made our final case to get rid of Rudy to Todd and Adrian. That conversation would have to wait until after the Sunday practice.

We meet at four o’clock to get our work in. As was to be expected, everyone was a bit sluggish from enduring the parties, and the cold, of the previous evening- to say nothing of our underlying tension. There is not a single word spoken between the four of us about the incongruity of our dual awards: neither award we had won was represented by the entire group onstage as we accepted them. The simple fact that we would always exist in some fragmented form had come to its utmost fruition at the TAZZIES- in public.  And the dividing line was me being alone, and the four of them being together. If it were not for Jocelyn’s request to remove Rudy, I would be seriously fretting about my own imminent dismissal. That was a nagging thought that crept through today and originated during the initial success of Bold Schwa. Since I was not a songwriter or an integral melodic presence, I always thought that if true success actually came calling, it would be obvious to replace the older guy on drums with someone who was younger, who could be manipulated more easily. The same paranoia was true in Piercing, but in this instance, I could easily walk toward the shadows if Jocelyn were able to attain her own success. An inevitable exclusion was much more muted than it had been a decade earlier. I remember having business meetings with James and Beatrice, when Bold Schwa were recording their first proper LP with a producer who had cut several albums released by Sub Pop in the 90’s. I would repeatedly say to them –

“You know if a label wants to pick us up the first thing they’re going to do is get rid of me and Cozy …”  Cozy was our pet name for Ross Coscialetti, the Schwa bassist, who shared the year of my birth. I became worried that Piercing would go on without me. And then I laughed a little to myself- always waiting to be left behind, the ever encroaching after effect of being a child of divorce. Fear of abandonment. I silently told myself, whatever happens this time, it will be different.

None of us were playing up to our capabilities as we waded through a few songs to warm up.

Jocelyn’s voice was scratchy, Adrian was off beat, Todd was singing as if he’d been up all night talking, and I was missing almost every key cue between changes. But Rudy’s play was of actual concern, even amongst the mess were all contributing to. He was unable to even get through a single verse without getting lost, something that never happened with him. I was sure he slept less than any of us, especially if he was able to get back to his house with the woman he draped his arm over following our set at the TAZZIES. As we plowed through the rest of the set, he became completely unglued, constantly stopping mid-riff and adjusting to the proper key. It was then that I realized he had something like fifty songs in his head between Piercing and Geneva, and he was having trouble triggering muscle memory to play the correct part. It was the proverbial Trojan horse- Geneva had over loaded his circuits, intuitively knowing that this would contribute to a musical backlog that would hinder progress for Piercing. It came to light during the most contrite of practices; coming on the heels of our most perverse night. In addition to his “I’ve never won anything in my whole stinking life” moment, it was becoming more apparent how I could frame Rudy’s exit. Did he really want out anyway? But couldn’t think of a “cool” way to quit the band he was in with “all the indie kids, and the art fags…….” ?

I call Jeremy the next day, a warm spring Monday, to ask him about the inner dynamics of Geneva and how it may overlap onto the Piercing reality. Since he played with those guys for a year, and as we were close friends ourselves, I sought his input, parlaying the notion that it would all stay internal.

“The medley worked great at the TAZZIES, nice job.”  Jeremy opens the discussion.

“Thanks. It did work out well, I was happy with it. The practice where we worked on it was hilarious; you would have loved being there that night.”

“Oh yeah, why’s that?”

“Because I kept blowing the drum riff between the two songs, didn’t have the pickup note in the right spot. Adrian had to sing me the drum roll, and after that I got it, but we all had a good laugh at me being directed by Adrian. You would have been all over me. But I got it.”

“Hahahaha, yeah, you are correct! I would’ve grabbed the sticks out of your hands, StoPo style!”

“Hahaha , yr killing me.”

During the height of Thames all-ages shows in town, the Stonington Police were famously called in to break up a show at the Music Hall of Stonington; an unused theatre we repurposed within the framework of  the collective community memory of decades before. We were accentuating a long lost occurrence, in modern time.  There were 200 kids in the audience, and I for one, was not about to cede the context of the show to the Stonington Police. As they drew closer to the stage, imploring us to “Stop Playing” I began playing the drumbeat to a song  where I stood upright, leaving the bass drum out of the equation. The entire concept of playing the drums in this fashion was selfish, as I was trying to get the audience look at Me. I was normally glued to the drum throne, but standing to play the drums afforded me an opportunity to overplay my importance in the group. But on this night, it worked as a tribal call;  we played quietly over non-amplified drum patterns. The Stonington Policeman lept onto the stage and forcefully ripped the drumsticks out of my hands; effectively ending the show.

It was reassuring to know our friendship was still solid. We all knew that Piercing was a literal extension of This Infectious Reality, that this band could have easily been Joss, Todd, Jeremy, and me. But the timing was off, as Jeremy had relocated to Brooklyn when we began. He was here in town again, but we had accomplished so much as the five members of Piercing, it seemed there would be no possible inclusion of his talents in this iteration. And yet, I thought he could shed light on one glaring detail that defined the Piercing experience for Rudy.

“Hey, I wanted to ask you, when the Geneva guys are just hanging out, do they refer to the Piercing kids as the ‘art fags’ ?”

“You have to ask me that?”

Silence.

Tabitha stayed in town through Monday to get one more shoot in with Jocelyn; solo at the Palace. I was silently thrilled that the store was going to appear in our video. It somewhat validated my intention of dressing the set for the Saturday interior shoot with records from my collection; which replaced the moldy LP jackets Tabitha had found in her parents basement. It was a dovetail, and I left a message on Jocelyn’s phone to wish her luck. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to dial her number from memory on my landline, even though I knew this would probably be our last communique via the hard wires.

“Hey- have fun at the Palace today, and can you do me a favor? Can you give me a call around 7pm? I want to talk about the Rudy situation. Thanks.”

Jocelyn called me at 7.05pm.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“How did the filming go today?”

“It went fantastic. We shot inside the store and out- she got some really great footage of me around a motorcycle that just happened to be parked in the lot across from the Palace. I think she even got some cool footage of the Peace Flag hanging out front!”

In an homage to the inside cover of Hendrix’s Fillmore concert LP from New Year’s Eve 1969, the Palace hung an American flag where the star field was replaced by the Peace symbol. It had been the flag that flew out in front of the store for over twenty years. Cross Pollination. Pattern Recognition. With Tabitha utilizing the Palace for the final shots of the video, it brought us closer to a succinct definition that she was one of us. Tabitha was a Mystic kid; the flag waving in the wind confirmed that fact.

“That’s great, exactly what I was hoping to hear. I know you want to have a bigger input on our business decisions, so I’m going to ask you to take this conversation and break it up into two parts. Compartmentalizing the issues, shall we say? I’m going to tell you my interior thought process, without regard to how you may react to it. And I want you to take that information and distill it through a neutral parameter. Can we agree to that?”

“Yeah, ok.”

“I was completely devastated to be on that stage alone to receive the ‘Best New Band award’. Devastated. No one wanted to see me up there; they wanted to see You. They wanted to see You, and Adrian and Todd and Rudy. I couldn’t believe the same thing that went down with the Borealis award would happen again. Is this what you really want to do with your life? Sing?” Be the face of this band?”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes. To everything. I’m sorry we weren’t there for the award, I truly am. But with the cold, and the hold up on the start of the night, I guess we just lost track of time. if you had a cell phone-“

“Hey, hey- I can’t text you guys to let you know your career is going on.”

“That’s fair.”

“Look, I don’t want to have some kind of investigation about where everyone was and what happened. It’s over. I suppose devastated is even too strong a word. I was, to a degree, but it was embarrassing; as if you guys and I were not on the same page regardless of our initial success.”

“Look, I really mean it. I want to take this as far as we can.” She responded. Convincingly.

“Ok, let’s move on. Now that you know my position, and I know yours, I want to discuss how we are going to deal with Rudy.”

I knew that it was going to be my responsibility to actually inform Rudy of the proceedings. I had to figure out a way to present it without jeopardizing the kids, and the band. Who knew what Rudy’s reaction would be to getting fired as we began to gain serious traction? He had sacrificed as much as any of us, in terms of time and travel, but there was no way we could articulate the next level of songwriting and performance with his disdain for the inspiration we all drew from.

“We have a scheduled practice for Wednesday night, with everyone except Adrian. What I’m going to do is give the same speech I just gave to you, but I want you to act as if Wednesday night was the first time you heard it. I want everyone to feel as if they are being addressed equally, but I’m not going to be leaning on you. And I’m not going to single Rudy out, or ask Todd where he was. The manner in which I present the discussion will be obvious that there needs to be some one on one conversation between “management” and “the band”. I need to isolate myself as the drummer to Rudy, and have him understand the “Manager” is kicking him out of the group.

The four of us meet for practice at Centraal at 8pm. A specific lethargy hangs over us; as if the teenagers left alone one weekend forgot to feed the cats and left the garbage piled up in the garage. The mood reminds me of a weekend with Thames back in December of 1985. My step-fathers family owned a cabin in the Maine woods, and most years we would spend the Christmas vacation there with his extended family. A week of snowmobiling and skiing, interspersed with wood chopping and deep cleaning; the cabin had to be left completely stocked for the next group of visitors. In the Maine winter, you never knew what elements you may face upon arrival at the camp, so the previous tenants prepared it for you. That December, I stayed at home in Mystic for the week recording the very first Thames EP- on a cutting edge four track cassette recorder. It was an incredible time- days and nights filled with writing, recording, and playing music; ensconced in a parentless environment. I hadn’t suspected that my family would return a day early, on New Year’s Day 1986. Every mattress and each boxspring from the house were spread out among the various rooms in my parents humble abode. My Mom entered my brother’s second floor bedroom as I struggled to get the box spring into its bedframe.

“What the fuck has been going on here?!?!?!??!!”

The same tension existed on this night. I broke the ice by saying I wanted to address the TAZZIES, in a calm voice.

“I was completely devastated to be on that stage alone to receive the ‘Best New Band award’. Devastated. No one wanted to see me up there; they wanted to see you guys.”

Rudy was the first one to leave practice that night. After his departure, I asked Todd and Jocelyn to think about what we were doing for a few days, and that we should meet Friday evening to finalize the plan. I would then talk to Adrian about the direction on Saturday night. Once I had discussed our intentions with him, and gotten his take of the situation, I’d meet with Rudy on Monday night at my house. That night, I would explain to him that the dual schedule between Geneva and Piercing can’t go on as it has; and he had to think of an idea to frame a way he could do both in the future, or commit to Piercing singularly. I seriously doubted he would choose us over Geneva, but it had to be his decision. Either he could manufacture a way to be completely immersed in both groups, or he had to declare an allegiance.

Rudy walks in to the Palace late that Friday afternoon, an hour before my meeting with Joss and Todd. It’s a gorgeous late spring afternoon, the one we pine for during the coastal cold of the Mystic winter. He seems to be in a jovial mode, but it is quickly revealed that he is in a heightened state of paranoia. I think to myself ‘who could have tipped him off to what was going down?’ In my initial burst of thought there seemed to be no apparent guilty parties. Perhaps I was simply worn down by the whole episode; looking for clues that didn’t even exist.

“hey man, how’s it going” offered Rudy in his elongated drawl.

“pretty good. It was fantastic to win at the TAZZIES last week.”

“yeah, I know how you love the thing…”

“well yeah. I appreciate all of the work that goes on to make the event happen. Those guys are working their asses off just to give us one night of entertainment. You’re an entertainer, don’t you have some empathy toward the promoters?

“oh yeah, yeah. I do.”

“I hope so. We can write the greatest song ever written but if no one hears it….”

“yeah, I know what you mean. It’s about commitment. Staying true to your ideals.”

“that’s the Punk ethos, isn’t it?”

I was secretly worried that at this late hour, Rudy would comprehend all of the details I had been preaching over the course of the past twelve months. You never know what can happen.

“it’s kinda like this video I saw on youtube last night.”

“oh, really? Who was it?”

“It wasn’t a band, it was this one guy. He was a soldier in the Mexican Army who was fighting drug dealers in the Baja Peninsula. He was captured, and the drug gangs were going to use him as an example, so other Mexicans wouldn’t get in their way. They cut the fucking guys head off with a sword, and the prisoner, he, he…”

Rudy paused here to catch his breath

“he just fucking took it man. He sat there, stiff as a board, man. And then they swept through with the sword, and he was dead man, dead. I’d never seen anything like it; it was amazing how a man could just sit there and take it like that.”

Did Rudy know we were about to kick him out of the band? Who leaked this fucking information!?!?!?!

Did Jeremy find out from Todd one night late after all the others had passed out? Of course, Jeremy would totally relay that information to Rudy- it set up his own end game within the structure of Piercing. But how could I be sure? I could confront Todd about the possible leak, but what would that do for his songwriting? I began to reassure myself that if the worst case scenario was that Rudy knew what was coming, it would make my life easier for a change.

The three of us met during the early evening of that Friday, in the back stretch of the gardens at my house.

“I don’t want to go through with this until we have Adrian totally on board” opened up Jocelyn.

“I agree, we have to be of one mind to make this move” opined Todd.

“ok, what I’ll do is talk to Adrian tomorrow night. Once we have his input, I’ll schedule a meeting with Rudy at my house on Monday. If we cannot come to a clear fruition during our conversation Monday night, I will call him and reveal that he is not a member of the band on Tuesday.”

Saturday night, at exactly 8pm, I call Adrian on his cell phone.

“hey man, what’s up?”

“Joss, Todd, and me met yesterday about Rudy. We want him out of the band.”

“yeah, I know where you’re coming from. But I’m kinda busy tonight.”

“hey, I’m not trying to trample you, but we want to get Rudy out by Tuesday, so we can push the PR for “Decisive” and be secure in the fact that we are moving forward.”

“yeah, that’s cool, but I’m really busy right now. Do whatever you guys think is the right thing to do.”

And then he hung up on me. I had already had a distaste for the telephone before tonight.

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Eleven

Jocelyn continued her train of thought:

“I know we have a show tonight…..”

“What the hell happened? Was this last night when you guys went to hang at Marcus’?”

“Yeah, Rudy came with us, and everything was fine for the first hour or so. Jeremy showed up at about 11.30, and then you could sense a noticeable shift in Rudy’s comportment.”

Hmmmn. Comportment. I liked that word. I was silently impressed.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know if Rudy still has some residual angst about Jeremy moving to Brooklyn and throwing Geneva into rebuild mode, but he was such an asshole after Jeremy arrived. He started berating Todd and Jeremy about their taste in music, which is of no real news in the context of things. But still, the night before we play at the TAZZIES? You think he could hold it together, but oh no, not Rudy. It was simply awful. And then when I started to defend their right to like whatever music they liked, and that Rainbow was no great shakes as a band, he starts going down the misogynist avenue he loves to pretend isn’t real. But it is fucking very real, and I cannot be in a band with him anymore! I will not be treated like that!”

It was of no surprise to me. I had reached out to Rudy in every way I knew how, to get him to move beyond his anger and paranoia. I kept imploring him to look at the big picture, and that this very band could provide him with the creative outlet he was so desperately seeking. Or was I misreading it? Maybe he was satisfied within the cult of Geneva Holiday; their uniformed visage morphing from one iteration to another- not so much a costume but a cloak. There were no cloaks in the world of Piercing.

“Ok, ok, ok….. Don’t worry about it. We will simply show up and play tonight as if nothing is wrong. Don’t betray your feelings tonight, and relay that to Todd. I’ll talk to Adrian about it privately. I agree with you, because he delineated me as a faceless facilitator during the whole thing that went down on the trip to Cabinets last Thursday.”

“Yeah, what was that all about? We barely have a draw in Brooklyn and he suggests we headline a show with bands from town who have never even played in the city? Delusional”

“I know. And that is where we can define the reason why he needs to go. I don’t want to publically expose him as a misogynist asshole; that is for other people to decide. But we can remove him because his commitment isn’t there.”

“And you are willing to handle that?”

“Of course. Let’s just get through the weekend. We’re still going to have to practice with the five of us on Sunday before Adrian heads back to the city. We all agreed to it.”

I leave work at five on Saturday to give myself enough time to load the van and prepare my outfit for the night. I loved getting dressed up for the Awards Show, and I had found my outfit for the night months earlier. I had come across a waist cropped black wool jacket, adorned with square silver buttons, which ran the length of the front and were graciously placed in rows of three on the lower sleeve cuff. It was unseasonably cold on this night, hovering around 48 degrees in a weird, late winter echo. I decided to add a layer of thermal underwear to my outfit, sensing that the cold temperatures and the frigid wind off the river would be more than enough reason to sacrifice fashion for comfort. As I took one last look in the mirror before exiting our walk-in closet, I felt as if I would be able to pull off the multi-layered look. I turned the doorknob, and entered the kitchen, where Anne sat silently going over the mail. It was six o’clock.

“Are you going to get dressed?” I asked, quietly.

“What did you say?” was her reply.

My hearing was definitely going, to some degree. The most noticeable effect was that people couldn’t hear me talk, because I spoke so quietly due to the fact that my ears were so shot every sound was loud and present to me. I had to wear ear protection just to vacuum the floors. A clanging ping of colliding glasses in a restaurant would make me flinch. So, perhaps, she had not heard me.

“Are you going to the show tonight?”

“No, I’m not going to go. It’s business for you, right? You have to go, but I certainly don’t.”

“Wait, we always go to this show, and this year I’m actually playing the show, and my band is actually nominated. The night I actually play the TAZZIES is the night you are not going to go?”

“I didn’t get an outfit together…  You have to go already because you’re playing. its just a timing issue, and really….. I’ll help you in the ways I can, like shooting photos, but I don’t want to have to be put in the role of den mother, you know what I mean? It’s hard enough taking care of you, much less the kids.”

I was shocked. I had always agreed that they were my responsibility, not hers. Each time they were scheduled to be at the house for a practice, or a gig, or a video shoot, I cleaned every room of the house. I tried to make our daily life as invisible to the band as possible. The idea of getting into a huge argument about this didn’t sit well; I had a long night ahead of me and didn’t need the extra layer of tension.

“Ok, then. I gotta go.”

“Ok, I’ll see you later tonight.”

She stood up from the stool in the cold kitchen and gave me a kiss on the lips.

I parked the van two blocks from the outdoor theatre at Royal Park, where the TAZZIES were annually held. By the time I make it to the entrance, you can sense the weather was already wreaking havoc upon the event. The promoters were total pros, so I had no fear of a cancellation, but they were constructing an awning at this very last minute, to shelter the red carpet from what seemed to be inherent rain on top of the frigid temperature. Joss, Todd, and Adrian all met me at the front gate, when I pointed out the awning being hastily assembled.

“That’s not a good sign. Let me go find Caron and see what the deal is.”

After wedging myself in to ask Caron this question, who was answering questions to what seemed like half the attendees and musicians, I find out they are running an hour late. The event is set to go according to the schedule, once they open up the red carpet at 8pm. I head back out to the sidewalk to inform everyone just as Tabitha arrives to meet us. We had regaled her with tales of how much fun the event was, and she was curious and excited by the idea of a night out in town on this scale. She was decked out in a cool, spangly dress, and I reached out and gave her a beak.

“How’s it going? Pretty cold, huh? What are their plans?” Tabitha asked me, obviously looking to frame the evening where some time getting warm could be factored in.

“8pm is go time.”

“Hey, can we chill in the van for the time being?” asked Jocelyn; shivering.

“Yeah. It’s down on South Pier.”

As we walk away from the Park, Rudy is backed up into a deep shop window at a store next to the Park. He’s wearing the trademark Geneva uniform. A voice swelled up inside me a blurted out something I had not intended to actually say.

“You’re here early……”

“Uh- huhhhn………..”

I turn away in contempt. I had to listen to all of the whining and cajoling about even getting to the stage by 9.30 and here he was in the deep cold at 6.45? It was as if he knew he had stepped over the line, and was now taunting me to do something about it. That time would come. And before this night was through, there would be even more damning evidence to allow us to walk away from Rudy without fear of reprisal.

An hour later we depart the van and its confines, and brace against the chilling wind coming off of the river. When we make it to the gates of the Park, the night is under way, and we get ourselves into the formed line. There is a cadre of eight photographers, in some senses “playing” the role of the paparazzi, but the photos of yourself do matter to some degree on this night. Not so much in a way to further your career, that would be a faux pas at the TAZZIES. Rather, you wanted to contribute to the magic. As we made our way toward the front of the line, and the parallel sets of four photographers gracing the carpet, I noticed that I was standing between Jocelyn and Tabitha. There was no way, after our tet a tet earlier tonight, that I could let Anne see pictures of me flanked by Joss and Tabitha the night she stayed home. Right as we were being given the cue to walk the carpet, I reached back and grabbed Todd by the sleeve:

“Hey! Come up and be in the pics with Joss and Tabitha!”

Todd eased his way past the few people ahead of him, and he held each of them in an elbow lock he exaggerated by raising his hands for the last few steps. Cute, perfect; I thought to myself. And then something very nice happened, something I needed to stop and recognize as it was happening. A few rows behind me were James and Charlize Affeldt, the husband and wife duo I had spent five years in Bold Schwa with. They had left New London and relocated to western Massachusetts after the band had collapsed six years earlier, but with so many friends in the GSECAZ musical community, they made it a point to come down for the TAZZIES. I excused myself as I cut the line in reverse, so I could talk to them. And yet, even more so, I wanted Anne to see TAZZIE photos of me walking in with the Affeldt’s, and not anyone from Piercing. I suppose it was a conscious ploy to convince Anne I was serious about the music, and not the social possibilities of success. I was grounded as a musician; and desperately trying to allow none of this to be a detriment in my life with her.

“Hey man! Can I talk to you for a second?”

It was Tim Jones, who was stage managing the night. He was a fantastic drummer who played in several different groups at the same time. I turned to meet him as he handed me a copy of the itinerary.

“Hey Tim, how’s it going? Smoothly, I hope.”

“Well, the time is an issue, so were trying to get everybody on the same page regarding load in and set times. Do you guys have all the gear you need?”

“Yeah, I only brought one guitar amp because they said there would be backline guitar and bass.”

“Yes, we have one guitar amp, so you should be all set. Now, you guys go on at 10.15. I need all of your stuff set in the backstage area by 9.30. can you do that?”

“Of course, no worries from us man. We’ll be totally ready.”

“Cool, thanks. If you need me I’ll be in the backstage area or that front bar over there.”

He finished with a laugh, and then peeled away on a single heel turn. I knew what the staff was going through; hopefully it wouldn’t be a long night.I took another glance at the schedule and noticed that the award for “Best New Artist” was the second envelope of the night. The show was due to begin in about five minutes, so I began searching the Park for the other Piercing members. I finish three complete laps without setting eyes on a single one of them. Starting to feel a bit worried, I made my way out onto the street and began walking the few blocks around the Park; perhaps they were keeping warm in one of the bars, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of anyone. I head back to the park, a brisk wind settling between the classic brick architecture of the side streets of downtown New London.  I remind myself to feel good about preparing for the cold and having the extra layer of thermal underwear. Hoping to see them on the street parallel to the backstage of the Park, it suddenly dawns on me that if I had a cell phone, I  would simply text them and they would materialize out of thin air. And then I became possessed with an opposite, angry thought:

“I’m supposed to text these damn kids to let them know their career is going on?!?!?!?!?!”

“Fuck that” I thought to myself, as I rounded the corner to the entrance of the park, blasted with another strong dose of brutal wind. “Now I’m never going to get a cell phone.”

I wind my way through the encouragingly large crowd to stake out a spot among the beautiful, thin limbed trees that are the demarcation between the lawn caressing the stage, and the pebble gravel walkway further back. Once I was comfortable, I took a sip of beer, and the show began. The first act was a hip hop collaboration between several of the area DJ’s and four MC’s. it was a brilliant performance, sculpted just for this night, and truly established the depth of the possible. There was a full frequency, a pure spectrum of music being celebrated tonight, and it was exciting to be an integral part of it. The first award followed their performance- “Best Hip Hop Album”. One of the guest MCs from the opening act took home the TAZZIE, and the crowd roared in appreciation, especially after his dazzling freestyle moments earlier. I took that as a very good sign- in the cold and near sunset, the crowd still wanted to create the TAZZIE magic.

We were up for the second award, “Best New Band”. This was the one award I truly wanted to garner, mostly because you can only win it once, but moreso for Adrian. When Piercing attended the TAZ Awards a year earlier, the band had written about five songs and had yet to play its first show. But Class Ring were nominated in 2013 for “Best New Artist”, four months after they had replaced Adrian, and I couldn’t possibly forget the look on Adrian’s face as I stood next to him when the award was revealed. His face was scrunched up in a cyclonic fold, as if a sudden tension in his skull had wound his facial features into a pinwheel. He turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, the depth of his blue irises increasing with his frustration. Adrian reached out for his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth’s hand, and walked out. The image of his contorted face was the well I went to over the long winter doing PR for the singles. Winning a TAZZIE was not a “goal”, that’s not what they were about to begin with. But to see Adrian have the opposite reaction once Piercing took home the prize- I used that as fuel to keep pushing forward when there were no reciprocal emails coming in. when there were no gig offers. When the latest email blast to bloggers produced not a single review. We were making so much progress, that it was easy to play this game in my mind, to motivate me to keep moving forward. The shark that never sleeps. It’s was the joy on Adrian’s face when he finally had payback. Class Ring had basically won on the merit  of songs he had written. But I had still not heard or seen from anyone in the band.

“And the winner is ……. “PIERCING!!!!!”

Applause. Tangible excitement. But I was petrified, because I actually wasn’t one hundred percent sure they had said Piercing. I leaned over to the person standing next to me; I had no idea who he was, and said:

“Did they say Piercing?”

“Yeah, man! That’s you! Go go go!”

I could feel the nightmare beginning. I would be onstage, alone. In of itself, that was of no worry to I had begun my “career” in show business playing Moses in the Ten Commandments, at a Christian summer camp I attended for a week each summer during my junior high school years.  The program I signed up for during the summer before 9th grade was a theatre/musical  conference. Basically, hippie Christians from around Connecticut that had worked in musical theatre volunteered to spend a week in northwestpart of the state crafting a musical for the attendees to perform within that limited time frame.

At the final group rehearsal for the overture, I had let myself get a little too into the music. The entire conference was seated in a great hall, and the live band was cranking out the song. The band was made up of professional musicians, who were committed Christians, hoping to spread the good word through their art. I absolutely loved the environment, and committed myself wholly. On this day, perhaps a bit too much.

“With all your Heart, with all your SOUL

You can love the Lord

with all your HEART“

It was a catchy tune, something you might hear on side two of a cool country-rock LP from 1975. And I was dancing while seated, singing out loud, gesticulating with both hands, lost in the music. The director suddenly stopped everything, and said aloud, waving his hand palm down toward me:

“Ellery, you seem to be really into this song.”

“Yeah….”  I didn’t want attract this kind of attention, and had unwittingly done so.

“Why don’t you come up here and lead the whole group?”

“Do you mean, like, conduct the group?”

“No, no, no. just come up here and stand up and sing; like you just were.”

Hmmn. I wasn’t so sure about that. Why me? I thought, I was just, you know ‘giving energy’; that’s what the counselors were constantly asking for. I could feel two hundred eyes upon me. And I remember thinking to myself, right before I stood up to walk to the front of the hall:

“ok, ok. That’s what you want? I’m going to give it to you.”

My biggest obsession during the whole week was to be able to get a few minutes and play the house drum kit, which was gleaming in 1970’s red flake sparkle. It had hydraulic drum heads, a recent definition of the “serious drummer”, and the oil between the two plasticine layers produced subtle rainbows of color. I figured, if I went up there and did Sammy Davis Jr on their ass, I might parlay that into a few minutes playing that beautiful drum kit. I would eventually be right about that. But I had to pull it off first. I stood up, and walked slowly, to the front of the room. I remember looking completely left and right, across the entire assembled group. And then the drummer clicked off the beat.

“with all your HEART

with all your SOUL

you can find,

you can love the lord!

WITH ALL YOUR HEART!!!!!”

And I started doing Vegas leg kicks-first to the left, then to the right. I began racing down the length of the assembly, shaking hands, high fiving people; imploring them to SING! I had the most limited idea of what Vegas even was, other than Elvis died after being there. That was all I could discern from the front page of the New York Daily News, driving to see my paternal Grandmother in New Bedford, Massachusetts on August 16th, 1977. My father had always bought The News and The Post each morning; I didn’t know at the time that it was due to his gambling addiction. But Elvis’ death was on the front page of both papers that sat casually between my mother and my father on the front seat. I kept peeking over the headrests, trying to understand its importance. Who was Elvis? And why was Las Vegas so bad?  I was empirically drawing from a well of Jerry Lewis Telethons, and lonely Labor Days spent on the couch while the adults sedated themselves on the workers holiday.

“We’d like you to play Moses, are you up for it?”

I promised myself not to do the Vegas leg kick while I walked to the stage to accept the TAZZIE; alone. I even had a speech prepared just in case I might have to speak on this night. But as I took yet another step toward the stairs, and no other Piercing members were with me, I felt the old shudder of unfulfilled expectation. There was not a single person in attendance that wanted to see me give an “acceptance speech” for “Best New Artist” when I had been playing shows in New London since before the members of Piercing were born. The crowd, and the organizers wanted to see Jocelyn, and Todd, and Rudy, and Adrian bask in the delight of this fleeting moment. You could almost feel the deflation in the crowd when they realized I was the sole representative.

“I tell the kids at the Palace all the time- ‘there is no world out there waiting to validate you. You have to build your own world. Thanks you for letting us contribute to this world that you have built.”

I turned to my left, to make my way down the stairs, when I catch a glimpse of Jocelyn hurrying down the red carpet, toward the stairs. It’s the recurring nightmare- walking off the TAZZIE stage as she walks on to it. I reach out, give her a beak, and keep walking down the main aisle. If I had any balls, I would have walked all the way to South Pier, put the key in the vans ignition, and drove the fuck home. But I didn’t. We had to play tonight, and I didn’t walk out on a gig, no matter how incongruous the circumstance. I doubted whether anyone would even talk to me afterwards, so I simply took up residence in the same spot among the trees. Other than seeing Joss as I exited the stage, there was still no visible evidence of the Piercing members. The next award was an online vote by the music community for “Best Rock Band”. As much as Rudy poo-poohed the TAZZIES, Geneva was up for the award in this category. Suddenly, the next announcement caught my full attention.

“And the winner for Best Rock Band is ……………… Geneva Holiday!!!!!!!”

They had finally won a TAZZIE. I hadn’t seen Rudy for hours, and I was rather curious what their response to winning would be. Would they take a hardline punk stance? Or would they play the game?

“This is the happiest moment of my fucking life!!!” roared Rudy into the microphone, setting off an interesting feedback the sound engineers culled immediately.

When their name was called as this year’s recipient, I caught a glimpse of Rudy, sprinting toward the stage, his uniform black tie cascading back and forth across his chest. Peter Meeks was right on his tail, as Geneva was his brainchild. They were ecstatic about winning, which is exactly what the night derives its energy from; a willing consecration towards fun. And Geneva delivered, making self-deprecating remarks about how they had never won before and “Now we’re being recognized!” it was genius instant theatre, and I was supremely proud that they were Mystic kids. I was clutching our “Best New Artist” TAZZIE when Joss tapped me on the shoulder; one tap, quietly.

“We won!!!’

“Yeah. We did…” was my sullen reply

I didn’t even ask where they were, I didn’t want to know. Part of me just wanted the night to end in a cataclysmic rainstorm, but I knew that wasn’t a fair thought on any level. Anne wasn’t here. The kids seemed to have their own agenda that did not include me. I watched as Rudy and Peter raced down the stairs back into the crowd to make way for the next award. Somehow, Rudy had edged up against me in the row of trees where I was trying to remain invisible.

“Can you believe it??!?!?! I fucking won something! We won something! This is the first time in my life I have actually won anything!!!!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, actually, the first thing you ever won in your life was “Best New Artist” for Piercing about five minutes ago. I chose not to say anything, other than a perfunctory “Congrats.” So he knew I was actually paying attention.

“I can’t be in a band with Rudy anymore”

And neither could I.

It didn’t even matter what Adrian or Todd thought. We had to take advantage of the out clause that defined our internal agenda regarding Rudy. He had brought this on himself.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Ten

I have Tuesday off each week. After crawling out of bed after a night with very little sleep, I fire up the machine and check in on our digital presence. I opened up the green datebook in which I meticulously kept track of our schedule, picked up a black sharpie, and blacked out the 13th of May. Monday the 13th; it was a dark day, and today seemed even more bleak. In an effort to clear my mind, I head out into the gardens, but they offer no reprieve. I spend the day walking in circles, playing out the argument with Jocelyn in my mind; over and over. Was I fair? Did I give her enough room to make her point?

Intrinsically, I felt that I had been upfront, and the discourse was evenly balanced. And yet, there was a nagging sense of desolation, in the fact that my own fears were surfacing- and that I was the one who was most petrified these kids would fuck up this last opportunity and there  would be nothing I could do about it. The band was completely in their hands now, and I totally agreed to that reality in my mind. I had to, but there was no doubt that I was irreplaceable. If the maturity of the band relegated my presence even further into the background, that was fine with me. As long as we still were a band.

I call Jocelyn at exactly 8pm. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t pick up, and I leave a message on her voice mail.

“Hey, it’s Twining. I’m truly sorry about everything, and I’d really like to talk it out so we can move forward. I’ll be up most of the night, feel free to call me.”

The phone doesn’t ring, and I head up to bed at 1am.

I didn’t have to be at work on Wednesday until noon, so I enact my morning ritual, which begins with checking the band email again. The only thing going on is whether we should debut the “Decisive” video in New London, at our next Wishing Well show. It’s Tabitha’s idea. It seems to be the right move, but it essentially creates another long list of phone calls and details I was going to have to address to pull off the PR vehicle that would be attributed to the videos debut in a live setting. I let out a heavy sigh, and started to respond to Tabitha about the intricacies and the timing. The landline rang. I didn’t even wait for the answering machine to click on, which was our normal routine, in case my brother decided to call us drunk at 11am.

It was Jocelyn.

“Hey. It’s me….” she lets out a slight sigh.

“Hi, how are you?”

“I’m fine. I’m sorry I didn’t call last night, I was…  I was still dealing with it.”

“I understand. Look, I’m going to get straight to the point. I want you to make the video you want, the video you and Tabitha are capable of. And I’m not going to hand out any edicts or even suggestions. It’s totally in your hands.”

“Thank you. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.”

Once I hung up the phone, I allowed the tears to fall down. What was the point of investing all of the time, money, and energy into this band- and Jocelyn-  if they didn’t feel completely committed? I suppose I was still coming to terms that the band had matured so rapidly. There was also another layer to this episode- Jocelyn had defended her artistic view; and when she felt threatened that it would not come to fruition, she staunchly defined it’s necessity. She was becoming an artist, not just a singer. She had fought for her vision. My goal now had to be to maximize this new fervor; it was a different day, indeed. However, there was one recurring thought I couldn’t wrap my head around; Jocelyn’s reveal within the context of our argument about the video:

“I had the greatest weekend of my life…..”

We didn’t play three shows over the course of the weekend, sleeping five to a room in filthy motels just off the interstate. Nor did we ensconce ourselves in a sunlight deprived recording studio for three days. What we had done for three days was showcase Jocelyn as the central image of Piercing. It was the element we had all agreed was the proper methodology; and it was exemplified by Tabitha’s touch. But was her desire to be a singer rooted in a specific essence, which was coming into a slow focus over the last several months? Did Joss simply want to be an object of adoration? It didn’t make any sense within the accumulation of artistry that she was now experiencing. And yet, could the image be more important than the execution, to her? Photo shoots and video shoots were a grueling test of patience. But the realities of sweat stained clothes on the cold ride home from a show posed a far greater obstacle for the singer than the model, to be that object of adoration.

Jeremy had moved back to Mystic the previous week. His relationship with Tricia had run its course in Brooklyn after eighteen months. Unfortunately, they were also bandmates in Boyfriend; which now was in self- destruct mode as they fought over money before his departure. Their band had released one four song EP on their own, with spray painted covers that dripped gold streaks, which one could discern were due to their lack of preparation. Anne loved the record, and I grew to absolutely adore one of the tracks on the EP- “Wandering the Psychic Vortex”, a churning pop tune with an immaculate chorus.

Jeremy came to the Palace during my Friday shift, the first overlap since his arrival.

“Hey man- what’s good” he asked in his understated drawl, creating the perception that he had been in the shop just the day before, not the months long interregnum. “Are you getting the Daft Punk today?”

“Yeah, today is the day. I listened to “Get Lucky three times online and walked away. I wanted to hear this record as it was meant to be heard; on vinyl at top volume.”

“Hahahaha, yr killing me. You haven’t listened to one leak! None of the tracks?”

“Nope. And my wait is nearly over.”

It had been seven years since Anne and I took Jeremy to see Daft Punk perform live in New York City in He was fifteen years old at the time, but growing up at the Palace can be a cultural accelerator. Jeremy was intrinsically aware of the importance of the Daft Punk shows that summer; he had been feeding me downloaded bootlegs for months. As much as I despised file sharing and the mp3 disease, getting bootleg recordings on the web was an arcade version of the bootleg cassette tapes we procured at the Palace during the ‘80’s. U2 Werchter Fest Belgium 1984? No worries! $5.00” I wasn’t even sure that there was an extra ticket for him until 1pm the afternoon of the show.  Ezra called me at work and asked if anyone I knew could buy a ticket at this late hour. I immediately called Jeremy and said:

“We have a ticket and a spot for you in the van for Daft Punk tonight in New York. Can you make it?”

“Pick me up at the Palace whenever you are ready to leave! When is that? When are we leaving? I can totally go! Are you fucking kidding me? Daft Punk TONIGHT!!!!  Thank you! Thank You! THANK YOU!”

My first thought was to offer the ticket to Jocelyn, who was also an immense fan of Daft Punk. But I found myself struck by a paranoid episode; imagining she would sneak off to score Ecstasy before the gig, behind our backs. The idea that Joss would want to be up on Ecstasy for a live Daft Punk show was of no surprise, or worry to me. It was about the moment of procurement. This was something that defined the delineation between the kids ,myself, and my peers. When we needed to bend the rules, we were prepared. But I knew if I brought Joss to NYC for this show, she would slip away at some point, mostly because she would not have been prepared ahead of time. I couldn’t take the chance that a group of dealers would simply scoop her up and escort her out of the stadium to a new darkened future, where I would be held the most accountable. It was best to leave the assumption of that potential at home. So, instead we brought Jeremy. Our invitation didn’t create a single incident- and yet it would only be a mere nine months later that the scintillating memories of our night on Coney Island would be destroyed.

Cabinets booked us for another show that following Thursday. We had a fairly easy drive into the city, and everyone showed up at my house on time. Food continued to be an issue, as much as I broadcast my ‘musicians need to learn to live on one meal a day’ screed, Joss and Todd needed to eat before the show. I sighed silently, and thought to myself, it has still only been nine months since our first gig. I knew a few great old school pizza places on the LES from my Greenmanville days that would provide a decent, quick meal. As we took the sharp right hairpin turn onto the Hutchinson Parkway, Joss asked me if I was trying to book a return to the Huntington Grounds.

“Maurice put me in touch with the new booking agent while he’s away on tour. I’ve been in contact with her, but I haven’t found a date yet. I’m thinking late August- and then we could hopefully be in a position to play there once a month through the rest of the year.”

“That sounds well thought out.” she replied.

“Thank you.”

“Hey, I have an idea of a show you can pitch to the Grounds. How about a bill with all the bands from Mystic?” interjected Rudy with a sudden burst of PR inspiration.

I was intrigued. Had Rudy begun to make the leap; to truly understand what was possible and what was actually going on beyond the songs and the stage?  My mind began to race at the possibilities. Perhaps Whitney could get All in the Family to play that sort of show. Definitely Phoebe’s new band, Finito.  Boyfriend would have been the perfect act to round out the bill, but that wasn’t going to happen. Maybe Brock Carpenter and Adam Holstein could get their offshoot band in NYC to fill out the night. It seemed like a fantastic idea. My nerve endings were on edge, as this notion of totality seemed to materialize into a tangible reality, right now, in the van going 65 miles per hour.

“what bands are you thinking of Rudy?”

“Umm, well Geneva, of course. Then maybe Theo’s metal band Sculptor, and The Eyescans, and you guys …”

My first thought was “You Guys”? Did Rudy not consider himself a member of Piercing? Because he sure as shit considered himself a member of Geneva Holiday. How could he not have comprehended that, and at least let out a

“whoops, my bad, Freudian slip, hahaha!”

It was the mother of all Freudian slips; at least that was my take from his utterance. I had never been so insulted by a member of a band I was in. But there was no retraction from Rudy, not even a hint of impropriety. And the only sound we could hear in the van was the whirring grind of the radial tires on the Parkway. Jeremy had come along with us on this night, and he was able to see up close and personal the specific divide between Rudy, Todd, Jocelyn, and myself. He was silent as well. Fortunately, we were fast approaching the Bruckner, where I was prepared to blast Ciccone Youth’s “MacBeth” at top volume while speeding past the Bronx at 70 mph. The sound of their searing guitars as the Bronx rolled by was like being in a movie every time we passed through that corridor. It was a ritual that drove Rudy crazy, who was not even remotely a fan of indeterminate music. But now, it was payback time. I knew the kids would be behind me on this particular decision.

Having already played on the Cabinets stage, the band was far more at ease during our second appearance. They knew where to stash the gear, when to approach the stage to set up, where the bathroom was. In the blue glow of the club, I had to remind myself of how fortunate we were, how much of an opportunity we were being afforded. Each element was honing in on its own perfect pitch, and yet  I couldn’t help but feel weighted down by Rudy’s attitude on the drive into the City. There were now visible fissures in our foundation, and whether they were man made or incidental, they would have to be addressed. Building a rock band from scratch was very much akin to building a seawall, a hurricane barrier, a man made deterrent to offset the storm. The barrier for us was the music, the songs. The battering sea was the grind of the radial tire, ever present. If only we could incorporate that into our music. But we cannot. Sonic Youth had staked the flag on that terrestrial object, decades divided. It is why their sound is the soundtrack of our slipping into the city- untaxed.  It is the freedom we are engaged in pursuing. “How Different from the Sea is the Boat?”

Jeremy and Adrian get turned away at the door. Jeremy had lost his ID and entire wallet during his move from Brooklyn to Mystic. Adrian wasn’t yet 21, but he had played there two months earlier without an issue. I couldn’t protect Jeremy, who had no ID, but I had to get Adrian in the club for our set.

“Hey man, we played here in march and it wasn’t an issue. We won’t let him into the bar, I promise you.”

“Well, yeah, you can promise a lot of things. But unless he has proper ID, he is not getting in the club.”

Out of nowhere, Adrian’s father appears. He told Adrian that he was coming to the show, but I didn’t expect him to be there as we arrived; according to the lore that Adrian had clued me into.

“It’s cool, he’s my son, I’ll take responsibility for him.”

“Well, do you have ID?”

“Actually, no. I don’t”

“Hey man, this is really his father.” I suddenly interject, hoping this is an avenue I can pursue, and get Adrian on stage, which is all I am concerned with.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is. But I’m going to need ID.”

I asked him to bring out the manager, because I was down to the final option. If we were cancelled after driving all of the way to Manhattan, it would make it much more difficult to get the Piercing members to commit to theses excursions.  We had to play tonight. And we did. The owner of the club came down and spoke to me personally, and if we kept everything above board, he would let tonight slide. But we were not allowed to try and book shows at Cabinets until everyone was of age.  At that moment, I was as grateful as I had been in my entire performing career. More than when Brent told the Thames booking agent to “Fuck Off!” while we were lost in rural Virginia, trying to find the campus where we had a gig- and they didn’t drop us from the roster. Even more than when playing a private school in Rhode Island with Thames, and the kids asked us to play Grateful Dead covers in the fall of Brent and I decided to steal an oriental rug from the entryway, in response to that particular affront. Our act caught the eye of a school staff member before we placed it in the van, but she fortunately didn’t call the police. This show had better live up to the effort shown to pull it off.

It’s a fairly small crowd tonight, the headliners for the show haven’t played a gig in NYC for over a year; more evidence to keep swimming. Lionel makes it out, and as always, it’s great to see him. We discuss the Red Sox early season success over a pint, and pontificate on a title run.

“There is just no way they can go from worst to first this year, but I like the restructuring of the roster.”

“I agree. The pitching is in place, but they would have to get career years out of all the mid-level free agents they signed. That is a rarity in baseball.”

Tabitha arrived then. She wound her way through the tight knit crowd and I introduced her to Lionel. After pleasantries, Lionel stepped away, and I began to talk video with Tabitha.

”How’s it going? When I talked to you last weekend you sounded enthusiastic.” I began.

“I am. I’m thrilled at what we got. I also talked to Joss after your fight, is everything ok?”

“What did she tell you?”

“Just that you two worked it out.”

“Just that?” I asked with a sarcastic tone.

“Yes. You did work it out, didn’t you?”

We had worked it out. That part of the ascent was finished. Now, we were moving on to much more important details, such as ‘how can Tabitha blow up our image?’ this was why we agreed to work with her. And Jocelyn was the acolyte. These decisions were totally necessary, and the band was in a perfect rhythm to capitalize on it.

“I have the bulk of the editing finished. It works on every level we had discussed, but I think it needs one more visual to tie together the various threads.”

“Do you mean another day of shooting?”

“Yeah, but it’ll be very low key. I just need Joss for a few hours on her day off. I’m going to get shots of her haunting the bins at the Palace.”

I suppose it was a very good thing that we had done all of the work to keep the Palace open. But it was an interesting overlap with the images we shot, where the LP’s I had procured from my DJ collection made it into the frame during interiors of the previous Saturday. I was always a sucker for a slant rhyme.

“I emailed Earcandy about the upcoming video. They said they want to premiere it.”

“Are you kidding me?!?! That’s fantastic!”

“I told you I wasn’t kidding.”

Thomas had also made it out on this night. After the show, he and I ensconced ourselves in the far reaches of the bar, had a pint, and I listened to tonight’s critique of Piercing.

“Much better, especially with the small crowd. You may convince me after all Twining.”

“Hey, thanks man. Especially for coming out to all of the shows. I really appreciate it.”

“Of course man!”

“Earcandy has already agreed to premiere the Tabitha video.”

“That’s good news”

“Yeah, it is. But this thing just keeps on getting bigger. I had no idea any of this was going to happen, and I think it’s starting to put a strain on Anne.”

“I was wondering why she wasn’t here tonight. Well, fuck it then, there’s no need for you to keep chasing the dream of a record contract if it’s going to affect you and Anne. I’d just walk away.”

“I understand where you are coming from, but Piercing has gone according to plan. When does that ever fucking happen in real life”

“You are treading on serious terrain here. Are you up for it?”

“Of course I’m up for it, you know I won’t walk away from a commitment.”

That was only part of the truth. I was the one who pulled the plug on Thames. But I wasn’t going to walk away from Jocelyn now, I would simply have to find a way to engage each element of my life in equal measure. I turned away from Thomas and lost myself in a train of thought where I was trying to visualize the connectivity of all of these people in the Piercing sphere. Perhaps it was time to bring Anne into the fold in a way that did not necessitate her fulfilling our own targeted ambitions, but a way for her to utilize the Piercing world to further her own photographic agenda. I started to think about an Anne shoot with Joss, but unencumbered by what the band’s image needed, but rather, what other elements she could articulate to accentuate the totality of our image. As soon as I could see in my mind’s eye the black and white Anne interpretation of Jocelyn, Thomas grabbed me high on my left shoulder.

“Oh shit, what the fuck is going on……”

He rose from the stool in one quick procession, turned to me and said

“We gotta get him outta heahh”

Thomas was a Mystic kid, but he had been in the city long enough where in a crisis a Brooklyn accent leaked out. Adrian was being shoved into the far corner by security for the club. As I turned and gained focus, I could plainly see an empty Jack Daniels fifth in the bouncer’s hand, shaking it at Adrian in contempt. You could almost see his thoughts in a dialogue bubble over his head:

“Why do you kids gotta make me deal with this motherfucking shit?”

Thomas and I get up, run towards the front door, and grab Adrian with both hands and drag him out onto the street.

“They were going to have me arrested for having liquor in the club. I told those guys I was only twenty, what the fuck!!?!?!!?!?”

I had to admire Adrian’s courage. He always told the truth, even when he knew he was fucking up. We have a full band practice two nights later at Centraal. The TAZ awards are the next night, and we have been asked to play a song live, toward the end of the show. It’s traditional for the musical acts to bring something fresh to the stage on  that night, usually some form of collaboration between two nominated acts. Piercing had been nominated for two TAZZIES; “Best New Artist” and “Song of the Year” for “Massive”. We had decided to play the first half of “Massive”, and then during one of the quick drum changes, click off two beats and then I would execute the drum roll that begins our newest single “High Tide”. We begin by warming up on a short set, and take a break before taking on the task of finalizing this mini-medley.  After flubbing the change between songs a few times, Adrian asked us to stop mid-stream.

“Hey Ells, you have to hit the two quarter notes on the snare to set up the drum roll in Flood. Like this ‘crack crack bllllllwhack do da da duh’

Fortunately, I was fluent in snare roll-speak. I knew exactly what was needed, but couldn’t hone in on it.

“Ok, cool, let’s take it from the second chorus in magnets through the change.” I replied, encouragingly.

It was one of the essential reasons why I as so committed to the band; their individual musicality was exceptional, and you could make a case these kids were all better at their instrument than I was.  But I knew where we were at now. I clicked off four on my sticks, we rattled off the first half of “Massive”, and then I nailed the intro drum roll to “High Tide”, and we were off. We had a sublime musical moment for tomorrow night, and I was extremely happy. There was only one real nagging element- Rudy’s disinterest in the TAZ awards as a whole. He was openly pissed off that we were asked to play, and even worse, it was toward the end of the night, probably around 10pm. Coupled with his outrageous idea for a show in NYC, I was having some doubts that he was actually in it for the long haul. Geneva Holiday had continued to play every gig they were offered, and they were also nominated for a TAZZIE on Saturday night.

“It’s all bullshit man; the Holiday have never won a TAZ award and we get nominated for something every year. It’s all a sham, it’s all fixed.”

“Can you just get there a half hour before we play? You can leave as soon as you unplug your bass, I’ll even pack all your shit up if you just make it by 9.30.”

“Yeah, I’ll be there. But don’t expect me to have the happy face on or any of that shit.”

“Ok, Rudy. Deal.”

Joss, Todd, and Rudy head to Marcus’ house, to chill out before the long Saturday ahead of us. I grab a beer and send out last minute media regarding our medley for the TAZZIES. The next day while I’m at work, Jocelyn calls me. It’s 3 pm.

“I cannot be in a band with Rudy any longer.“

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Nine

The filming went as smoothly as it had on Saturday. By 3 PM we were unplugging the gear and hauling it back to the van in the rotary driveway. The lawn had yet to be mowed this season, and the spring wildflowers were in full bloom. We sidestepped the patches of color as best as we could, leaving a snaking line embedded from the back to the front of the property. After getting the PA broken down, I began winding up the borrowed extension cords and placing them in an organized row on a wall of pegboard in the garage; I then returned the sump pump and several boat pumps to their rightful place. I head back out to the yard to find all of my drums still there, so I began the three hundred yard crawl with each piece. By the second round trip, I noticed that the rest of the gear was piled up high outside the van, with no one taking the initiative to begin loading the shit in.

We were due to practice for a few hours once we returned to Centraal, and being that it was coincidentally Mother’s Day, Jocelyn had to make a late lunch date.  I find Todd and Adrian trying out skateboard moves with Tabitha on the wide side of the driveway. Rudy is enraptured by a game on his cell while laying feet up in the back of his sedan. Jocelyn is near the front garden, close but somewhat distant, on her phone texting away.  My bright mood from a few hours earlier has been completely derailed. After my third and final trip back and forth with the last of the drums, none of the gear was in the van.

 

After I loaded all of the PA and the guitar amps into the van, not one of them had curtailed their proprietary moment to come over and help me. I could sense my good intentions being washed away like silt off the hood in a car wash, only I didn’t find any sensation of cleanliness, just a brewing anger. I thought

“No one wants to be in a band with Dad?” Hadn’t I been acquiescing to that concept?

But today, I’m supposed to be Dad, and pack up all the gear while the kids have one last fling on their skateboards; before the end of a three day vacation? I threw the last two drums into the back of the van like a suburban kid tossing a basketball into the garage after Mom called for dinner…..

 

Clang

Clang

 

It was the asshole move, but I didn’t care. It certainly got everyone’s attention, as Jocelyn and Todd exchanged quick hugs with Tabitha; Rudy and Adrian gave her long distance beaks as they lowered their heads into Rudy’s car.  I took a glance back at Tabitha before getting in the van. She was looking straight into my eyes, with both arms out in front of her, with the palm side down. She was mouthing these words:

“Go Easy, Go Easy….”

I knew what she meant, but it made me even more furious. I started the van and rolled slowly out onto the causeway. Not ten seconds later did I give in to my anger; selfishly. I turned around to get the attention of both Todd and Jocelyn, and then stared straight down the road. After a pregnant pause, I turned to them and said:

“You guys are never going to make any money in this band. “

“Why do you say that?” opined Joss

“Because after I get 10% for being the drummer, and 10% for booking all the shows, and 10% for managing, and 10% for being the roadie, there won’t be anything left for you guys……”

Jocelyn could sense my slow burning rage.

“You would deserve that.” she answered.

 

That wasn’t the answer I was looking for at all. These guys knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t hinder them with that kind of unrealistic contractual agreement. I hadn’t even taken action against my own brother when he squandered the entirety of my inheritance on some grand investment scheme he never clued me into. So, it wasn’t about the money- it was about going the whole way. If they thought I could magically create some kind of career on my own accord, because of my experience, I would have already been making records and touring. And more than likely would have been retired by now. But none of my previous bands made it. It takes the total commitment of each member, and I thought we had that within our grasp in regard to Piercing. To me, it was measured within my own thought process where I couldn’t imagine the group existing as anything other than the five of us. That would eventually illustrate another lack of intuition on my part, as Rudy wouldn’t be our bass player within three weeks of the final day of shooting for “Decisive”.

 

When we arrived at my house too set up for practice, which we had always committed to if Adrian was in town during the weekend, Jocelyn began barking orders at the rest of the band.

“C’mon guys, let’s get the stuff into the house, Let’s Move…..”

 

It was a brilliant mixture of sarcasm for my benefit, and a chastising for the other guys. Joss had perfected a unique blend of getting what she wanted out of everyone with a statement that was interpreted in many different ways, even though she only spoke it once. It was similar to the way she held out the information about Todd edging off the bandwagon until the first Earcandy review went live. A specific precision. This was the drive that I knew was at the root of her talent, but I started to question what her intentions were. Did she want to be the singer in a rock band? It had always been the most apparent evidence of her work ethic. Why else would you put so much effort into something if the endgame was nowhere near here? The van can be a lonely place.

 

We coast through a listless practice, with distraction as the undercurrent. But this was part of the pact, to maximize musical opportunities when Adrian was in town- it didn’t matter when or how. Did that practice give us greater traction in the world we were trying to enter? Probably not. The smart thing to do would have been to take the afternoon off; after all it was a holiday of a certain importance.  But, we were set upon a peculiar balancing point. By being stringent in our scheduling, we completed the shoot, practiced as much as possible, and still were able to squeeze in social obligations and travel. It was a tricky juncture, and for the most part, we pulled it off. Adrian made it back to Brooklyn at a decent hour, Jocelyn had a splendid late lunch with her mother. The band had been together for fourteen months.

Before he left Centraal, Adrian pulled me over to the side and asked me something:

 

“What is wrong? It doesn’t seem like you are enjoying this as much as you should?”

“I’m sorry, man. I’m just under a tremendous amount of pressure right now, and I’m trying to hold the threads together. I’m sure we made a fantastic video this weekend. Thanks for making the extra effort.”

“No problem, man. I just think you should be happy.”

“I am.”

 

 

I took the next day off from work, trying to be prepared ahead of time for the eventual collapse of energy following the tightly wound weekend. After Anne left at 9 AM, I was stirred awake. I went downstairs and checked the band email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, MySpace, and The Stoup. Nothing was going on. Not a Tabitha film still, not a Jocelyn update, not a Todd exclamation, nor a grungy photo of Adrian. Rudy was completely absent from social media, deeming it “beneath me” even as I explained the positive process of inclusion. In a certain sense, I couldn’t blame Rudy for his aversion to the internet. When MySpace first became telecratic, I was in the second year of playing drums for Bold Schwa. I remember Ross campaigning for each of us to create a profile “to help further the band’s PR reach”. It seemed like a good idea. Every few weeks, I would get some anonymous user commenting on my profile page:

 

“hey, you’re a hottie!!!!!”

 

This did not sit well with Anne. And not truly understanding the implication of the burgeoning social media reality, I deleted my MySpace account one night.

 

When I arrived at the Schwa practice two days later, it was as if I had lesions on my skin; hissing greeted my entrance.

“You deleted your Myspace account! What the Fuck?!?!?!?!?”

“It was causing me problems at home…” I replied, meekly.

“What?!!!??! Do you realize this is the FUTURE?!?!?!?!!”

 

 You never know. I was now more entrenched in the internet than I had ever been.  Following the fruitless morning search of the web, I went back to the kitchen to recreate a famous breakfast dish I had in Minneapolis on the road with the Schwa. The band had wrapped up the last show of a 2,900 mile tour, and we were  staring down a 16 hour drive back to Connecticut. The morning after the gig, we met for brunch with the other bands who shared our bill from the night before. I ordered the MotherTrucker- the Minneapolis version of the traditional Italian frittata. I had to takehalf of the meal to go, even though I got into an eating contest with another drummer to try and finish it in front of the collected musicians. A show off failure on my part, and yet everyone laughed aloud at the effort. Our guitarist, James finished the rest of it at 2 in the morning, near the New Jersey border. This was the dish I was channeling to meet the criteria of this day.

 

After finishing my version of the Trucker, I went back downstairs and loaded up the band email. Tabitha had just sent a new one, which said she had posted two still images from the Friday shoot to her Tumblr.

“Check it out, let me know what you think!!!!!”

There are two photos, stills from the Friday night shoot. The first is a shot from low to the ground, pointing skyward- a cheap motel is in the background. Joss is wearing short shorts and the leopard print top. She is hugging Sean Murphy around the neck- her back to the camera. I thought to myself ‘ it’s a bit racy for us; but it fits in Tabitha’s style’, and that’s why we decided to work with her.  The second photo is inside the motel. Shot from above looking downward, Joss is still in short shorts, and a simple blue bra. Her back is again to the camera, but here she is pointing a toy pistol at Sean’s forehead. It’s a department store cowboy gun, with the orange cap on the end of the barrel. This was an ubiquitous toy during my 70’s childhood; usually sold with a Lone Ranger mask, or a belt with bullets in tiny vinyl pouches. As much as I was concerned that Tabitha would take her view on feminine sexual power to a place Joss wasn’t prepared to deal with, the gun was a new low I had not anticipated. I would rather the results had Tabitha ask Joss to parade nude than have her wielding a weapon; I could spin nudity as a constructive reveal toward our artistic growth. But how was I going to spin a gun?

I sent the first of many emails to Tabitha.

 

“Hey, not really feeling the gun. What did you guys do on Friday night?”

“Oh, don’t worry. We used the gun in a real playful way, you’ll see.”

“How is a gun used playfully?”

 

The only thing I could think was we now had a video for a song called “Decisive” with a gun in it. Was this an empowering image for women? To be seen as the aggressor? Maybe I was getting too old for this. Gun violence had touched us even in the far away riverside town of Mystic, certainly the vast majority of the audience we were hoping to cultivate would have been affected by it as well. I was having trouble seeing it play out in our favor. I asked Tabitha if she could salvage a video without using any of the gun footage.

 

“Yeah, I could do that. It will strip away some of the anxiety that defines their relationship, but I think I can find a way. I’m going to email Joss and get her in on this conversation.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Please, don’t do that. Let me talk to her directly about this. After she gets off from work at four, I’ll give her a call. Once we’ve discussed this internally, I’ll get back to you. I want to hear what she has to say before we decide on anything. It’s her image.”

“k, cool. I’ll be up late editing so get in touch whenever.”

“Cool, thanks.”

 

I wouldn’t find out what happened next for five hours, but after I finished my email exchange with Tabitha, she contacted Jocelyn.  When I later found out from Joss that Tabitha had contacted her immediately, I began to think that the entire time I was emailing Tabitha she had a window open to Jocelyn, in real time. Either that, or it was a scene right out of Goodfellas:

“And what does she do? She phones from the house.”

 

Mistakes are made when you are managing a rock band of twenty year olds. But one mistake I had made with Piercing was allowing myself to become too reliant on Tabitha. Tabitha was a pro, always quick to answer an email, or reply to a phone call; I could not say the same for the other four members of the band. Sometimes, it would take two days to get everyone on the same page for a show, or a studio session, and practices had to be scheduled every week because no one could commit to a regular schedule. It was quite hectic for me, and gave the others more fodder in their pleas for me to buy a cell phone (I was still clinging to the idea that I had never needed one before now). I had told everyone at our very first meeting that certain things were off limits for me to stay in the band. I had already folded on several of them, when Tabitha let it slip that Adrian was getting into a bit of nose candy.

 

“It’s really no big deal, he’s just a kid, trying out kid things. A late night line at the bar. With a cig. I wouldn’t be worried about it.”

“Have you ever been on tour with someone who can’t get their fix?”

 

This was in late March, and once I found out, I emailed Adrian right away.

 

“Hey man- I was talking to Tab and she let it out that you’ve been getting into some lines recently, is that true?”

“What the FUCK?!?!?! What the fuck are you on about now?”

“I just want to know if it’s true, because that has to be factored into the equation”

“Fuck you man, I can’t just live my fucking life down here?!?!?!!?” I’m not fucking shit up!”

 

He was correct about that. Adrian easily logged the most miles of any of us, traveling to and from the city. He never missed a practice and was never late for anything, despite his long commute. But I had made a deal with everyone, and as long as my responsibilities consisted of all of our communication, transportation, the majority of our equipment, and our practice space, I think the balance of leaving out the hard stuff was worth it. I also did not want to have Adrian experience a repeat episode from Class Ring- he wasn’t getting in the way of our long term success, but I wanted all of us to be stable if we were to arrive at that juncture. And then things took a turn for the worst.

 

“You had better pick up the fucking phone when I call you in a minute” wrote Adrian in his final missive.

 

I loathed the phone. Too many bad calls over the years, like the time my Dad called to arrange a reconciliatory meeting with me when I was 10 years old. He had to apologize and explain why he had recently told me stories of his tour in Vietnam. When my mother found out, she informed me he was a motor pool sergeant in the National Guard and never left the state. Or the afternoon my step-father passed away, and I was desperately trying to get my brother on the phone at his school in South Carolina. I wanted to be the first person to tell him, but after 4 hours of fruitless calls, I gave up. He found out from a friend of a friend on campus. The phone rang at The Palace:

 

“Why the fuck are you using our video director to manage the fucking band?!?!?!?!”

“I wasn’t prying, she let it slip out. I wasn’t looking for anything, but you know how I feel about this shit.”

“Well fuck her, and fuck you too!”

 

He was screaming like a young child who was being called out by a parent. And there it was again; the Dad element. I let him curse me out for another minute, and after a while, I couldn’t even make out the meaning of his words, just the tenor of his wail. Anne and I had no children, so I had never been put in this exact situation before, but I was sensing a mirror image of myself; screaming at my Mom during an argument at the top of my lungs, as if sheer volume would win me favor. This is what I sounded like to my mother. It was payback time.

 

“Don’t start fucking freaking out ok? I’m trying to help you, I’ve been through this before and I’m just trying to fucking help…..”

“Yeah, you’ve been through EVERYTHING before, yeah yeah yeah. Have you been through this?        FUCK YOU! ……………..”

 

And he hung up. Payback time, indeed. Later that evening I did call my mother and tell her the whole tale in intricate detail. She was thrilled.

 

“Hahahahahaha!!! NOW you know how I feel! Hahahahahahaha!!!!!”

 

She had been waiting twenty years for that moment to pounce. I laughed it off. After dinner, Anne and I settled in to watch Live Aid performances from 1985. She had been at the Philadelphia portion of the show, and it was like time travel for her to see the concert footage, which we would break out every once in a while after a singularly taxing day, like the Warehouse Blizzard. As Dire Straits began to kick off their massive 1985 single “Money for Nothing “ with guest vocalist Sting, the landline rang. It was Adrian.

 

“Hey man, I’m really sorry I blew up today.”

“Don’t worry about it, I need you to know that you can blow up at me like that. Blow up at me before something else overflows with someone else in the band. I can always be your out clause.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Look I know how much you have committed to this, I understand the travel and the schedule. Just please stay away from the bad juju.”

“You’re right. I don’t need fireworks at the end of every night out.”

 

Jocelyn calls me at 4.08 pm.

 

“Goddamn it Twining!!!! This is the same fucking shit you promised not to pull after the whole Adrian/Tabitha episode. “

“No, it is not! Why the fuck did I spend hour after hour after hour discussing the video with Tabitha when she just went and did whatever she wanted to anyway?”

“Why do you think you control our image? We agreed months ago that I would dictate how we appeared.”

“Yeah, and I agreed to that, and I have done nothing but support you the entire time! But when did any of us ever discuss a gun as part of our image? When?!?!?!”

“Look it’s much bigger than just that.”

“Ok, please enlighten me.”

“I had the greatest weekend of my life, from the incredible filming with Sean on Friday, to the warmth I felt with all of us tucked inside an island house, during a storm….  creating together, which is something you always say is sooo important. The beauty of Sunday. And then you have to fucking shit all over it immediately with your comments about how much of a percentage you are going to take from our “future profits”. Are you so sure there are going to be these “future profits” you so diligently defined? You ruined it, and I just wanted to quit the band the entire time I was having lunch with my mom. ON MOTHERS DAY!!!!”

“Oh, really, you wanted to quit because I facilitated an entire weekend of filming your second video? And that I think using a gun to forward the bands image is off base? I should have just fucking walked away when you cancelled our goddamn SECOND recording session! But did I quit, or even cancel the session? No. I went forward, and it cost me another $200 out of my pocket to cover the third night. And another thing you don’t know, because you guys don’t want to hear about it, but I had to spend $800 last week on tires for the van because we have been doing so many shows, and the recordings. But did I ask any of you to help cover that expense? No, I didn’t!”

“NOOOOOO! It’s not about that! You went behind my back! Just like with Adrian!”

“Was I taking to Tabitha about the content? Yes, I was.  But did she tell you I explicitly told her to not talk to you about it until I had the chance to talk to you first, because it was YOUR image??!?! And that I didn’t want to make the Adrian mistake again? Sheesh, Joss, if I make that same mistake again, how am I ever going to get you guys to believe me on anything?”

“No, she didn’t mention that. She just told me you knew, and you were pissed off.”

“I simply want the trajectory of our image to make sense. Is that unrealistic?”

“No.”

“Ok, I’m incredibly proud of the work you did this weekend- from my vantage point you finally exuded the essence we have been waiting for you to attain. I believe in you, I just have an overwhelming sense that I need to protect you.”

“I can fucking take care of myself!”

“I know that, I’m talking artistically.”

“You’ve put all this faith in me these many years and now you are having doubts?”

“No, not at all. I just didn’t think that we would have to use sex to sell the band until the third album.”

“You need to catch up Twining. It’s the third single.”

 

And with that, she hung up the phone. I momentarily thought that was it, the band must be over. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see that Jocelyn was right. It had nothing to do with my age, our difference in age, or the differing values we assigned to cultural touchstones. It was their band now. I had built it; framed out the structure, planned for the delivery of the roof shingles, made each appointment for the electric, water,  and sewer hookups. But that part of building was over. My argument with Jocelyn was the final port of call. I was again, just the drummer. Sit down, shut up, and play the drums.

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Eight

We play another decent set, but as Jocelyn drawls “thank you, Huntington Grounds” over the last rise of our distortion, I was worried what Thomas was going to say. He had been faithfully attending each of our shows in the city, being a transplanted Brooklynite, and wasn’t convinced of my investment in Piercing. The band had yet to develop the pacing needed over the course of a night when you are playing third on a four band bill, and tonight- we were a bit exposed. Jocelyn, in the biggest live show of her life, had one too many by the last song. That part, I could understand, as the concept of “all eyes are upon you” began to truly sink in over the previous six weeks. Thomas was skeptical.

“She’s just not embracing the role. The voice is great, although it sounded like she ran out of gas by the last tune. She looks the part. It’s about confidence, and I’m not sure what else you can do to instill it.”

“We’re going to keep pushing as hard as we can, and keep getting shows so we can hone in on the exactness needed. I think we can do it. I know we can do it. And thanks for coming out, again. It’s always good to see you.”

We caught the first four songs of Lunar Calendar, who were spectacular, with driving guitars over precise synth programs.

But, my ears were getting a bit tired, and I wanted to catch up more with Thomas, so we decided to step out onto the narrow, elevated porch.

The cool spring air of the city was a refreshing change from the humidity of the club. Even though we did not exactly knock one out of the park in our biggest show to date- we had made it there, played well, acted like humble professionals, and would be back in Mystic  in plenty of time for everyone’s work schedule. I sensed a certain moment of relaxation I had yet to find in this band. Being with Thomas, being slightly tired and sweaty, being in the club- these were the foundations of who I had been since 1985. And I was still in the game. And that is when I first met Maurice face to face.

There was no way I could have been prepared for what happened next. As Lunar Calendar wound down their final song, The Constitution crew began setting up a huge, wide screen TV, and started dialing in satellite dish images. Meanwhile, the sound crew for the club was busy getting the audio signal into the main house PA. A crowd of fifty of their closest friends had started to position themselves around the screen, so each person could see at the closest possible angle. Maurice leaned over to me, and said-

“We’re on Letterman in ten minutes. We filmed it yesterday, and they are showing it tonight.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, The Constitution.”

It reminded me of a night the extended Mystic kids decamped to Thomas’ house to watch the best indie band from Connecticut make their live television debut on Letterman, 24 years earlier. Miracle Legion was our single biggest influence; a band from our land that almost made it over the top toward a wider acceptance. And yet, I’m not sure any of us would sign up for the trials and tribulations that they went through along the way. Like all the local musical pioneers before us, we had to minimize mistakes to realize the ultimate value of what Miracle Legion had carved out. And then, The Constitution were on the screen; the volume was as loud for the broadcast as it had been for the previous four live acts of the night. It was an interesting peek into a new world, watching the Constitution community, and the extended Huntington Grounds community, together in their self-made space; experiencing the highest expression of their art on a national stage. We were watching them watch themselves. I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment on the ride home. Of all the shows and nights at the Grounds, Piercing was there when the musicians who made it all possible were watching themselves on Letterman. After their song had been completed, I went up and gave Maurice a hug, which he genuinely reciprocated.

“Congrats man, it was unbelievable to be here- of all nights!”

“Surreal…. But you know what made the whole trip worth it? Paul Shaffer. Coolest guy I’ve met playing music.”

“Well, that isn’t a surprise. Glad you got to experience it. We have to hit the road, thanks again for all you’ve done for us, we would love to come back.”

“Oh, most definitely! I’ll send you Lora’s email address tomorrow; she’s taking over the booking for the next four months while we go out on the road.”

“Thanks again, stay in touch from the road, ok?”

“Ok, man!”

That would be Piercing’s only appearance at the Grounds.

Tabitha returned to Mystic with the rest of us following the Grounds show; we were scheduled to scout video locations for “Decisive” two days later on that Saturday. We had been trying to come up with location ideas for weeks, to no avail, sitting on a concept with no way to execute Saturday, and the two hour window I had to drive everyone around to possible locations during an “extended lunch break” would be our only opportunity to find the large scale construct Tabitha and I had spent so many hours dissecting. Cult of Piercing. There would be no stop in New Haven for Todd on this trip home, but after getting back on the highway after dropping Jocelyn off, I was worried I would have to drive Tabitha to her mother’s house in Rhode Island. Rudy was far closer, and his car was parked at my house. But, did I even dare to ask Rudy at this late hour to drive Tabitha home? Someone had to do it. Rudy was off on Saturday, so I took a stab at it.

“Hey man, can you take Tabitha home for the final leg of the journey…?  So I don’t have to drive all the way back home?”

“Sure, little buddy. You got it.”

Rudy was a strange dude. There when you needed him the most, there when you needed him the least.

We met at 3pm on that Saturday at the Palace: me, Jocelyn, Tabitha, and Todd. An early lead we had stumbled across was the multiple building property at Town’s End, a sprawling 1800’s complex that was just now in the process of being subdivided. The owner was a fifth generation Burows that occupied the main dwelling, but after the slight economic recovery, decided to take a chance and sell it all off. There existed a remote possibility that one of the outbuildings could be used free of charge for the video shoot.  We grooked onto the far side of the property, to get an unadulterated look at the open barn doors.

“Not enough light” muttered Tabitha.

One down.

Our next stop was an abandoned school for the blind, on the high, western side of the river valley. You could see the modern structures that were added to the campus in the 1960’s from the highway and certain roads in town. But that view belied the actual condition of the property, which had been vacated years earlier. The original structures from the 1920’s- dilapidated, were left to the ruins of budgetary concern.  Todd grew up in a neighborhood built after WWII to accommodate returning GI’s, which happened to be within walking distance of the abandoned school. It was on his suggestion that we climbed up there to scout.

“Supposedly, it’s haunted, and that there was some ritual killing down the valley side toward the river, in the woods. A 1980’s fable.” Todd explained.

I found that incredibly strange, having lived in the valley my entire life, to have never caught wind of this tale. The bedeviling lore that encased my childhood was that of The Pafford Close, a looping route that encircled the local reservoir, which was supposedly haunted. A handful of period restaurants and businesses in town had exhibited haunted tendencies, as well. But I had never heard of this murder parable near the river in the 1980’s. Each generation perpetuates their own myth, more than likely devaluing them. This was one of the collisions of my own cultural experience and the kids. We shared the same mythology, without knowing the entirety of the others. I was still completely confident I could make these elements coexist.

For the most part, the school was abandoned. The State of Connecticut was the owner at this juncture, and the signs touting its potential for sale littered the property. We went to the front door of  what appeared to be the main office, and found it unlocked.  Tabitha just walked in. We followed her down the corridor, past administrative offices, and a few classrooms. Every inch of paint was peeling as if they were unclipped fingernails, curling into themselves. Dead desks littered the rooms, the detritus of decades. Around the first corner, we came across what seemed to be a  performance area, not big enough to be a hall, but it had a proper stage , and room for an audience of at least a hundred people.

“This is it.” Tabitha stated, with confident authority.  Each syllable given the same, exact enunciation.

I always found it fascinating to work with an artist convinced, and Tabitha exuded every element of such a creator. In the near distance, we could hear footsteps coming down the hallway. A timid look between the four of us conveyed the sensation that certainly we couldn’t be in any danger? And yet, no one spoke. The steps grew louder until it was apparent a person was entering the performance area.

“Hey, what are you guys doing in here?”

Tabitha took seven brisk steps toward him with her right hand outstretched.

“Hi, I’m Tabitha Williams. I’m a film maker from New York City and we’re scouting locations for a music video. These guys are part of the band.”

He blurted out a “Hi”, startled that she had taken such initiative.

“This room is perfect for what we’re trying to do. Do you think there is any way we could get in here, say, in two weeks for about six hours?”

She had the confidence of a political donor negotiating a date to stay in the Lincoln bedroom. I was impressed.

“Well, ummm….. you could maybe sneak in here for about an hour during a Saturday afternoon, right about this time of day. I would be here and I could cover for you, but I might be risking my job.”

This was getting a bit far-fetched. Did Tabitha and Todd arrange this “chance” meeting? This guy was really going to go out on a limb for a music video with some local kids from town?

“Thanks for the offer, but that sounds a bit risky, don’t you think? I’d need more than an hour to maximize the space, so how about we make a deal? I know a state senator that may be able to get us in here with clearance. But if that fails, would you still give us an hour to shoot?”

“Yeah. I can do that. My name’s Ty. I’m here every weekend.”

“Nice to meet you Ty, I’m Tabitha, and this is Piercing.”

“Cool band name, what kind of music do you play?”

“Post-punk; a modern minimal take on rock- with a healthy dose of pop.” I offer. “Go to this music site, Earcandy, and search for “Piercing.” You can hear what we’ve recorded.”

“I’ll check it out”

Tabitha adds a final word: “Thanks. We’ll be in touch”

 

 

“I really want to make an R rated video.” offered Tabitha as we were riding to a local diner after the scout.

I was just dropping them off, as I had to return to the Palace. I slowly turned to her, and rolled my eyes.

“C’mon now, haven’t we been over this? What makes you think that is sequential to forward our current image?” I coolly responded.

“I think the song is so dirgey during the intro, and it goes on for a bit…. I thought we could have Joss and a male lead in undies and skivvies, to enhance the slow grind.”

“Really…..”

“Yeah, really. I think we can get a tasteful blend of lovers on the edge and the band doing interiors at the school.” said Tabitha, in the coaxing voice of a film director.

“Twining, you need to totally lighten up. I’d be up for that kind of a shoot Tabitha.” Jocelyn said, campaigning for the R rated video.

I said nothing, trying to hide any outward emotion; but I was livid. I accompanied everyone into the diner to continue the conversation with Tabitha. The issue was continuity. Todd was just ahead of me, and Joss made a bee line for the rest room. As we waited at the velvet rope cordon, and Joss was out of earshot, I couldn’t contain myself:

“Lighten up? Lighten up?!?!?!?! Let her buy a fucking van if she wants me to lighten up.”

We decided to take the entire week off from any kind of band activity. The five of us been in such close proximity to each other over the past six weeks, I thought we needed a break before the video shoot for “Decisive” which was to begin ten days later. Rudy also had another Geneva Holiday gig in the middle of that stretch. It wouldn’t be a week off for me though; there was more than enough PR to be addressed, and it was multiplying regularly (which of course was the goal). A new NYC blog had done a photo spread from the Grounds show, and I had to talk with them to get permission to use the photos within our own media. There were several online radio stations that were accepting uploaded tracks, and those had to uploaded. One New England website had even nominated us as one of their “Bands of the Month” to be voted on by readers. Malthus needed final proofs on the business cards and a rough idea for the new single. I had begun to submit to the regional music festivals that week, and had to coalesce each bit of our online presence into a coherent platform, so none of our outlets were out of date, out of synch. That element of the band was the treadmill, but what I would’ve given for the social platforms that existed today during the Thames time.

Tabitha emailed me Tuesday morning, and told me that none of her connections could procure the school for the shoot.  I had tried to find a few places in town, restaurants or stores that I had worked at over the years; but no one would touch the project. It was somewhat disappointing, as I was really hoping the fact we were doing something beyond the local scene would turn the tide, but that carried no credence with the businesses.

“I think my mom might let us use her house.”

“Really, where is it?” I replied, intrigued by a last minute reprieve.

“She lives on an island, just off the coast in Rhode Island. There is an apartment over the garage, and I think we could repurpose the main bedroom into a performance area.”

”Interesting. What is the concept? Or are we looking at a mood piece.”

“Oh, definitely a mood piece.”

The shoots had been scheduled for Friday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday afternoon. Jocelyn and Sean Murphy, a local kid Tabitha picked out of thirty Facebook profiles I had sent her for the male lead, were shooting Friday; the rest of Piercing practiced at Centraal that night. Adrian had a new song, and we wrestled with it for about a half an hour, before giving into some classic rock; half played jams of tunes Todd, Rudy, and Adrian knew, loved, or sort of remembered. I thought these digressions into their adolescence were endearing; they truly loved the music they came of age with, regardless of how “cool” the perception of it was. Todd was an unabashed lover of seventies soft and slow rock. His palette was quite varied, but this was more than a niche experience for him. It reminded me of the innocence I had about music listening to the AM radio in my mom’s ‘70’s VW bug; the reception maxed out at five stations of varying programming, but I didn’t care, I just wanted those sounds coming out of the tiny speaker below the handrail on the dashboard. Rudy cared not one iota what people thought of his music taste, and Adrian was a true folk outsider- a superior technical musician who need not define his tastes when his hands could easily explain. And that is not to depress the musicianship of Todd or Rudy, they were both exceptional within the framework they had decided to focus on. It was inarguable, however, that Adrian was an outsider. Not only within the construct of the band, but in America. And that’s how he liked it.

I woke up early, about 8.30 am on the Saturday, the second day of shooting. We were due to arrive at Tabitha’s moms house by noon, and I was going to have to load the entire set of gear into the van, including the practice PA, and a CD player which would allow us a soundtrack to synch to. I had spent a few hours late Friday night burning CDR’s of the song so that we would be completely prepared if I accidentally didn’t finalize a single disc. The phone rang at 9am. It was Tabitha.

“We’re getting a goddamn rainstorm today, around 2-3 o’clock. It’s going to be hard to get any of the exterior shots today unless you can get here sooner. Any way you can get a hold of everyone and bump it up to 11?”

She was cool about it. I had become accustomed to that.

“Suppose we can’t shoot outside today at all; can you get all of the interiors today?”

“Totally, but I still want to try and get outside today. Can you make it happen?”

“Yes, I can make it happen.”

I get on the phone and keep dialing and keep leaving messages until I have all five of us on the same page- get to my house as soon as possible; all of the gear will be packed up and we just have to get in the van and go. Rudy can meet us there.  And that’s what happened. I make a kettle of tea for everyone, and we piled into the van, headed east toward the island, crossing the causeway to Tabitha’s mom’s house at exactly 11:11AM. After unloading all of the gear into the apartment, the skies turned a violent black, almost instantly. There was at least a hundred yard walk out onto the lawn to set up where she wanted to get the exterior shots, and by my calculation, in the hour and a half it will take for us to set up, the rain would have come.

“Ok, we’ll just set up in here, and get the exteriors on Sunday. Has anyone checked tomorrow’s weather?”

“I’ll do it right now” said Rudy in his most casual voice. “Sunny and clear, high of 71…”

“Hey Joss, how about you and I set the room, and while we’re doing that, you guys get all of the gear set up in the kitchen? We’ll move everything into place the second we have it ready.”

The view from the room was stunning. A sheer black sky, tinted at the far edge of the horizon with a brilliant blue. The tide was coming in, and the wind had picked up. You could sense the fescue sizzling like a static carpet across the grounds. Even though the island was twenty minutes from my house, I was still infused with the sense of being far away. Perhaps it was the absence of noise from the highway, and the rails, and Route 1. We set up for our second video shoot in four months while the storm was brewing. I mistakenly took that as a good sign.

An hour later, we had all of the equipment set up, staged to maximize each shot. As I began to assemble the PA and CD player, I realized I had brought the wrong connector cords for the CD to the PA. I had done exactly the same thing when we filmed “Massive/Spirit” at the motel. I remembered driving back to Mystic from the Rhode Island border that cold January day; salt sand mixture bonded to the windshield which diffused the low afternoon sun. I was repeating that same mistake, how stupid could I be? When I came back from checking to see if I happened to have the right cords in the van, I noticed Jocelyn and Tabitha had strewn about two dozen vinyl LP’s around the room as décor. Something caught my eye about one of the covers as I went to exit the room, which made me turn back and take a closer look- these records had been in the basement or a wet corner of the garage for years- mildew laden, stained covers littered the room. There was no way I could film a video with $1 records. Benno at The Palace would hound me for the rest of my life if I filmed such an important piece with trashed records. Since I had to go back to my house, I could rifle through my “dj resources” collection of LP’s- things like “How to Speak Italian”, the soundtrack to “Liquid Sky” or FCC control tower calls. I had dozens of weird, offbeat LP’s like that, and they would make a more scintillating visual than a moldy Monkees LP.

Tabitha had arranged each outfit for Jocelyn on the back of a low sofa in the main living area. Leopard print top with denim shorts. Tiny, white collar top over tight wool sweater with mini. Black tights with short shorts, and a loose fitting, sleeveless white tee.  I couldn’t help but think of Jeremy’s second hand message from Jocelyn after the Tabitha “R rated” conversation.

“You gotta chill out, man. She doesn’t want you to keep dressing her up like a doll in period costumes. Let her create her own look.” Jeremy chided me.

I wasn’t making these decisions with a dictatorial outlook, but out of necessity. Jocelyn was great at a mood, a concept, but not so much the phone calls and emails and communication it takes to put these details into place. But I found it encouraging that I had no role in the wardrobe for this shoot, only being responsible for my own very simple look. I told Tabitha during our conversations about content to not even have me appear in the video at all. She would use that against me in the final cut, in a cute, “gotcha” kind of way.

Jocelyn loved the camera, and it was a consensual relationship. One of the patterns I had noticed over the previous year was that she could look like a different person in each setting. Perhaps not that drastic, but she appeared to be channeling several female members of the same family- a group of sisters who shared similar traits but exhibited subtle differences. That was Joss on film, moving or still. A multiplicity that made me believe even more that she had the star quality that could put us into the game.

We quickly locked in to the pre-recorded version of “Decisive”, giving Tabitha a convincing performance of a real rock band cranking it out while we faked it. When I was a kid, and MTV in its nascent form began to infiltrate the cable systems of small valley towns like Mystic, I thought it was difficult to enjoy the rigid re-creation of the performance for the small screen. But now, “lip synching” had become an interesting art form onto itself; something to be considered as an integral element. As Tabitha asked us to do the song over and over, you could sense a certain elevation of each of the Piercing members attitude of being told what to do. – “You want us to do it again, but better? No problem.” It was an encouraging sign for me. That was the singular precept of creating art and maintaining focus that could catapult us to the next level.  It seemed to me that each of us were totally buying into the concept.

We returned Sunday at noon, under beautiful spring skies. The first order of business was to reassemble the gear at the far lip of the property; a slight rise to a glacial outcropping.  Jocelyn spent the entire hour getting into her outfit; Rudy, Todd, and Adrian began hauling gear, and I took the PA apart for its eventual use outside. I had brought one hundred feet of extension cords, but once Tabitha had defined the exact spot, I was short a good two hundred feet. I began to scour the open garage and came across three extension cords that were jangled in a bunch around a sump pump- certainly the last time it had been used was after Hurricane Sandy, as many appliances were thrown in a heap following those weeks of repair. It took me twenty minutes to untangle the cords, and get them stretched out in a line, plugged into an exterior outlet and making it just far enough. Jocelyn appeared from the garage in the leopard and denim outfit. She posed for stills with Tabitha on the rocks at the other edge of the yard, while we adjusted the volume so we could hear the song through the slight spring breeze. I kept coming back to a singular train of thought; about how lucky we were, and how we had to embrace this time. During the weekend, there wasn’t a wasted moment; each minute was carefully crafted to maximize our artistic output, whether it was  the sound, or the vision of who we were becoming. This was a defining detail, and that truly was what the commitment was about- building a life out of nothing, of your own effort. We were living. We were creating the moment.

WAX and WANE: The Full Moon of January 2020

Spacecraft escaping the Solar System

Distance from Sun (AU)      Pioneer 10: 125.220      Pioneer 11: 103.732      Voyager 2: 122.804      Voyager 1: 148.103      New Horizons: 46.357                                                                                                                                  

Speed relative to Sun (km/s)      Pioneer 10: 11.934      Pioneer 11: 11.224      Voyager 2: 15.326      Voyager 1: 16.967      New Horizons: 13.975       
Ecliptic latitude      Pioneer 10: 3°      Pioneer 11:  14°      Voyager 2: -37°      Voyager 1: 35°      New Horizons: 2°

Declination      Pioneer 10:  25° 57′      Pioneer 11:  -8° 57′      Voyager 2:  -57° 58′      Voyager 1: 12° 2′      New Horizons: -20° 28′
Right ascension      Pioneer 10:  5h 10m      Pioneer 11:  18h 52m      Voyager 2: 20h 2m      Voyager 1:  17h 15m      New Horizons: 19h 12m

    Constellation      Pioneer 10:  Taurus       Pioneer 11: Scutum        Voyager 2:  Pavo        Voyager 1:  Ophiuchus        New Horizons: Sagittarius


Distance from Earth (AU)      Pioneer 10: 124.471      Pioneer 11: 104.650      Voyager 2:  123.581      Voyager 1: 148.694      New Horizons: 47.317

 One-way light time (hours)      Pioneer 10:  17.20      Pioneer 11:  14.51      Voyager 2:  17.13      Voyager 1: 20.61      New Horizons: 6.5

    Brightness of Sun from spacecraft (Magnitude)      Pioneer 10:  -16.2      Pioneer 11:  -16.6      Voyager 2:  -16.3      Voyager 1: -15.8      New Horizons: -18.4

 Spacecraft still functioning?      Pioneer 10: no      Pioneer 11: no      Voyager 2: yes      Voyager 1: yes      New Horizons: yes
Launch Date      Pioneer 10: 1972-Mar-03      Pioneer 11: 1973-Apr-06      Voyager 2:  1977-Aug-20      Voyager 1:  1977-Sep-05      New Horizons: 2006-Jan-19
We discuss the five spacecraft which are leaving the Solar System on escape trajectories – our first emissaries to the stars. On this scale, the nearest star to the Sun would be approximately 100 meters away, and it would take Voyager 1 about 70,000 years to cover that distance.
https://www.heavens-above.com/SolarEscape.aspx?lat=33.448&lng=-112.073&loc=Phoenix&alt=343&tz=Arizona
featuring Model: Caroline Longo
all photographs by Michelle Gemma
The Full Wolf Moon of January,
and Lunar Eclipse in Cancer
10 January 2020
Mystic, CT  USA

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Seven

We tried to practice as much as possible with the four Piercing members who lived in town. Two nights after the New Haven show, the four of us, sans Adrian, were due to get together at 7.30 pm. Rudy arrived first, carrying somewhat of an attitude, I assumed in response to the chastising in the van.

“Hey, are you mad at me for getting on you guys at the gig Tuesday?”

“Nah, you were right. We should’ve been in there by the time you came out to get us. I’m just fucking pissed at my ex-girlfriend, she came by the apartment again today.”

Rudy had a contentious relationship with his ex-girlfriend. They had broken up months earlier after living together for two years, and every three weeks like clockwork she would show up at his apartment claiming she had left something behind during her move and wanted to look for it. Oftentimes, she would leave with a spoon from the drawer, or an unused sponge from the bathroom, but she always left with something. I wondered if she was secretly planting these items just to get inside his head.

Todd arrived a few minutes later.

“Hey sorry I’m late guys.”

“No worries, man. Joss isn’t here yet, yr fine.” I replied.

The three of us began to address some of the finer details of our involvement. And then the phone rang. It was Jocelyn.

“I’m not going to make it tonight, I think Marcus is breaking up with me……….”

She was softly sobbing, in such a refined way that I almost questioned her about it- as it seemed that she was acting like a grade school kid pretending to be sick to miss the days classes. But the two of them had been living in her mother’s house for months, and as she continued, I started to discern a different tone in her tears. She was petrified to be alone with her mom in the house; that much I was sure of. Not that she didn’t adore her mother, but that the situation represented failure. I could also sense a loyalty she never revealed to me. She had found a relationship in which she could be comfortable, where she could be herself and not what was expected of her. And she was perilously close to losing that.

“Hey- don’t worry about it. Rudy, Todd, and I can get some work in- take the night to try and make things right between you and Marcus.”

“Ok, thanks….” she said between sniffles.  “I gotta go…..”

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

I hung up the landline. I still refused to buy a cell phone, always stating that Thames had no trouble navigating tours without them.  I opened the door to the studio and Todd and Rudy had the exact same look on their face. They knew what was happening. They were far closer socially to Jocelyn and Marcus than I would ever be.

“Joss isn’t going to make it, she’s fighting with Marcus and is seriously worried they might be breaking up.” I told the two of them.

“What, does her pussy hurt?” was Rudy’s retort.

I was stunned. Being raised by women, I could have never imagined making such a remark. Was Rudy being serious? His misplaced misogyny always appeared to be part of a larger construct, where he was actually doing a parody of his worst thoughts, but this time it seemed , for the lack of a better word, genuine. Was he questioning whether Joss was cancelling her arrival due to a menstrual moment? Or was he correlating her fight with Marcus in the most masculine way, that she had just experienced a kick to a set of balls that she did not possess? Rudy had been a long time vinyl customer at the Palace; it was the foundation of the delicate relationship we had before he became the bassist for Piercing. I knew of his caustic ways, and yet, I couldn’t help but think that he really was way out on a limb here, and that he must have a specific disdain for women.

“Does her what hurt? Oh, come on man, I don’t want to hear shit like that…..” I replied to Rudy

“Yeah, that’s harsh man…” added Todd

“Well what, we’re all here, and it’s ok for her to just bail out at the last minute all the time? My job is ten times harder than the four of you combined, and I’m always at practice, always on time for the gigs. Fuck that shit.”

I understood where he was coming from as far as defending himself- he was always on time and was always ready. And his job of forging high end metals was at least four times as hard as working at a school, or going to college, or working at a record store, or painting backdrops for photo shoots. But this attitude could not stand; it was against the very creative principle that we had worked so hard to establish, and that we were reaping the benefits of. I wasn’t going to let his leaking misogynistic behavior derail us.

“Man, I can understand where you are coming from, and I don’t want to all of the sudden start laying out everything I do for the band just to prove a point. But this is no place for hating on people, we have no space and I have no patience for it. Don’t take out your frustrations about the ex-girlfriend on us. “

“That’s easy for you to say, living with Anne….”

“She’s had to put up with much more bullshit from me that the other way around. So, that angle won’t get you off the hook. Just ease up a bit on the Joss criticism, and I’ll talk to her about not missing practices at the last minute. Do we have a deal?”

“Yeah….”

“Remember what I said a few weeks ago about success? And how the immediate members of the band are the people who can create doubt about holding onto it? Because you might question their future performance? This is what I was talking about. We can’t be suspicious of each other, it will lead us nowhere.”

I suggested we start working on Todd’s new song, a lilting pop number that built in intensity to a subtle roar. This was new territory for us, trying to expand the set with a slow song.  Our entire show up to that point was something of a rock and roll sprint- barreling, banging numbers competing for space. Now, we we’re prepared to hone in on a depth that was desperately needed. I found a slinky beat built off of simple eighth notes on the ride cymbal, alternating snare and tom hits on the two and four downbeat. It gave the verses a stuttering, floating edge that Rudy punctuated with broad whole notes, filling the room with a sonic scripture. Todd sat on top, gently articulating the main melody, which existed comfortably between the rolling drums, and the steady, deep bass.

“Let’s do that change from the verse into the bridge on repeat for a few passes.” I asked, trying to coerce a final arrangement to salvage the night.

“Yeah, sure. Just give me a look when you want to stop.” Todd was on top of his game this night, and I wanted to push him to finish.

Two hours later, we had a working arrangement. But, more importantly than that, Todd had nailed his guitar solo over the final build, and it was exquisite. As the arrangement took on more depth, and the beat and bass became somewhat epic, he tastefully executed a delicate picking riff, one that climbed up the frets in a calculated manner akin to the anticipation of waiting for the drugs to kick in. The final note from his guitar sat at the height of the frequency range, while everything else dissolved into near silence. It was as if Everett True was in our room, telling us to play QUIETER! – instead of his famous request of Galaxie 500, twenty three years earlier in a London nightclub. As we turned a specific corner musically, even as a displaced three piece, it became much more obvious that the “supergroup” element had unanticipated baggage of its own. As well as unanticipated success. It would be something we would have to corral in the foreseeable future.

As we made it through March, another complexity developed. Geneva Holiday had begun working on a new album, and were in the process of writing forty new songs. They were also playing every gig they were offered- bars, all ages shows, backyards. I was sensing a struggle within Rudy when he would call me to see if Piercing had a show on a night Geneva had an opportunity to play. In addition to their accelerated live schedule, they were recording in New Haven over the course of three consecutive Tuesdays in April. Continuing our well established routine wasn’t particularly difficult at that point, as we had gigs booked into May. But being in two very active bands certainly had to take its toll on Rudy.

During one five day stretch in early April, Rudy had a Geneva recording session in New Haven at 9pm, a Piercing gig in Manhattan two days later, a Geneva show in New London the next night, and finally, an all-ages show in Mystic the final night of the five. Three of those mornings were 6am alarm clock arrivals so he could get to the foundry by 7am. It seemed highly unlikely he could keep up that pace indefinitely.

One of the music bloggers who wrote about the first single came out to see us that Thursday night at the Water Co. in NYC. I immediately recognized her when she entered the room, and we mutually walked toward each other.

“Hello Ellery, nice to meet you in the real world.”

“Nice to meet you, Eden.”

“I love the single; so fresh, so unabashedly rocking- in a good way!”

I loved to hear people say we were rocking without being “rock”. That was the initial idea and it seemed as if we had honed in on it within ten months. I kept hearing the voice in my head say the same thing over and over- ‘give me another ten months, give me another ten months…..’ I noticed some people enter the club that she was trying to get the attention of.

“Hey, some friends of mine just showed up, I’m going to get a drink, but I want to talk to you after the show.”

“Of course.”

I had been exchanging emails with Tabitha each day discussing the video for a few weeks before the Water Co. show. One day, when she suggested the audience members should be in all white, I went through the area thrift stores buying anything white that looked appropriate. I would then send her photos of the garments, hoping that our preparation would allow us to film the entire video in the three days she had carved out for us- exactly one month from tomorrow. This constant back and forth caught the attention of Anne in a way I had not anticipated. She declared on Wednesday night that she was going to the gig in New York the next night. That was fine with me; Anne had seen every facet of my musical ambition, and this would be the first time she watched me play in NYC with Piercing. And yet, as Tabitha approached the two of us, I was pleading for her to not give me the courtesy hug, which we had exchanged the first time we met at Cabinets. I reached out with my right hand, curled into the cone that initiated the secret handshake amongst the Palace regulars- “The Beak”, where two people can reach out toward the others hand, and quickly open the clasped fingers into a full hand.  Jocelyn and I had introduced her to “The Beak” at the Cabinets show, and I was hoping she would redeem our reconnection here.  Tabitha reached out, and then proceeded to give me the courtesy hug in front of Anne. It was innocuous enough, but Anne and I had a compact about other people and their immediate intimacy. We had been together for twenty-two years at that point, so we had faith in our subtle social controls. I could sense Anne shift as Tabitha said to her- “hello, nice to meet you.” They were both photographers, and I sincerely believed they could find common ground, as Anne and I had with so many artists we had  worked with over the years. And yet, there was an intuitive change. Was it that Anne could sense what the band might become? And that I was headed down a road where she would be left home alone for weeks at a time while I toured? The intrinsic element about Borealis within our relationship was that there was no threat of touring; but with Piercing, it was becoming all too apparent.

We played a decent set, had a good response from the crowd, and noticed a handful of people that were not Anne or Tabitha taking photos of us. We packed all of our gear and proceeded to bring everything out to the van, so we could leave when we were ready to hit the road. After getting myself a beer, Eden came over.

“Hey, nice set, you guys could really be onto something.”

“Thank you very much. It’s been hard to refine the songs as much as we’d like to, having Adrian living in Brooklyn and the other four of us in Connecticut.”

“I don’t think it’s the songs themselves you need to refine, it’s your presence. How you sell the songs to the audience.”

“Do you mean everybody? I mean, not the crowd, but the band?”

I was a bit taken aback, did I not just witness Rudy dazzle with his histrionics while holding down a perfect bottom end? Adrian played a fantastic set, Todd was his usual timid self, but sang with a convincing emotion. Joss sounded scintillating from where I was sitting. After a pause, Eden continued.

“She’s not very confident, is she?”

“I think she is too aware that everyone’s eyes are on her. “ I replied.

Midnight. Sprinting up the FDR. The Willis Avenue Bridge.  Bruckner. Hutchinson.  I-95. New Haven. Groton. Mystic. 3AM. I grab a beer, turn on the computer, and check the band email. Show offers for June. Quotes from printers for merchandise. And a request for an interview with a Dutch music magazine.

After getting out of work on Saturday, I had one objective: to Dropbox the new single to the mastering lab in Brooklyn. For “Massive/Spirit”, I had felt that I needed to be in the room as the mastering process took place. But that turned out to be a very long twelve hour day, a round trip NYC jaunt when I had just driven that route four days prior, to watch Frank Wayne effortlessly transfer the studio masters into a finished product. We both agreed I could simply send the files, and he would send the mastering back.

My first attempt to load the files went horribly wrong, as I attached the wrong mixes by mistake.

He emailed me back with cute sarcasm “maybe you should have come down to Brooklyn! jk get me the .wav files.” I was temporarily mortified. With the proper files sent, and the download complete on his end, I heaved a sigh of relief. I closed out the programs, and shut off the machine for the night. The next morning, after tea, I fired up the computer, to be greeted with a black screen, with text in a font that brought me back to my eighth grade mathematics class. Our ancient teacher was enthralled with the possibility of computers, and part of his curriculum was having his students learn the rudimentary vagaries of programming. Malthus was his star student. I had trouble not being blinded by the blinking cursor, which is what I was staring at this Sunday afternoon. I had barely gotten out the new single for mastering before my ten year old computer swallowed its tail.

Malthus was able to save the contents of the C drive on the blown machine, and custom built us a new computer, loading our files into it four days later. This was crucial for Piercing because the biggest show of our young career was coming up in two weeks, at Huntington Grounds, the all-ages space in Brooklyn.  The Grounds were the epicenter of the second wave of Brooklyn DIY alternative venues, and we were playing third of four on a bill with a national touring headliner, a local Brooklyn group, and Phoebe Kahn’s new outfit Finito. As much time as I had been spending doing PR for the band, this was our most crucial week up to this point.

brooklyn / grounds PR

twitter blast

call cabinets / 22 may

call joss/rudy video

check for water co. photos

LLC *

email angela at TONY

check nyc listings

email caron / lineup switch?

finito at dr. watson / boston?

adrian / boston?

EPK / CMJ submission

check new haven shows

call cort about video location

register live in studio

call adrian about string gauge / practice

call joss todd rudy / departure time for HG

Jeremy and his partner Tricia Brown, who was also a multi-instrumentalist in Boyfriend, met us on the street outside of Huntington as I eased the van into a parallel spot. I prided myself with my ability to always know which direction we might be heading toward in the van, but Brooklyn continued to stymy I was totally lost with ten minutes until load in time at the club, and was begging Rudy to find the club on his cell as we wandered around the industrial section of Brooklyn that housed much of the burgeoning art scene. The moment I started to panic about the “out of town band” rolling in on their own schedule, Jeremy called Todd and talked us through three swift turns that put us in front of the Grounds.

“Hey man, thanks, I always lose my frame of reference in Brooklyn.” I told Jeremy.

“Yeah, of course. I figured since you weren’t here yet you must be lost. You never show up late to gigs.”

We hauled the gear up the two flights of industrial stairs, greeted by a twentysomething doorman who looked as if he was recruited from the opposite of central casting. A slight, gracious figure, but certainly miles away from the typical Manhattan doorman, whose intimidating presence was all the security that was needed on the LES. But this was just some kid, who maybe practiced at the Grounds during the day- there was nothing intimidating about him. His role was to collect the door cash and to create the initial impression that everything was underground, and if you simply played it cool, this could all continue to exist underground. I had only once before felt that vibration, when I was in Amsterdam and the locals all advised me to “leave Amsterdam in Amsterdam”  and don’t take some hash with you on the plane. It wasn’t worth it. The people at the Grounds knew they were getting away with something because they didn’t flaunt their success. They were operating on a very Post point of view, and it’s attraction was indelible. I wanted to get to know these people and find out how they were pulling it off.

Maurice Lyon had grown up in Ledyard, just to the north of Mystic. We had never met until he booked Piercing for this gig, but he was quite excited to help a band from TGSECAZ get footing in Brooklyn.

“I had never heard of you guys until I saw the Earcandy review. When I read that you were from Connecticut, I definitely wanted to book you at the Grounds.”

He had attended school in Brooklyn, and by the time he graduated, had become involved with a group of artists and musicians that were life-long city residents.  Having been a guitar player the bulk of his life, Maurice found himself playing guitar in a long standing borough outfit known as The Constitution, whose confrontational lyrical content harnessed all of the great ‘80’s outsider music, without being derivative. The Constituition was made up of three neighborhood friends who had yet to spend more than four months apart since the time they entered kindergarten. Huntington Grounds was their baby; their contribution to the culture they had cut their teeth on. The room was one large, open space, with a handmade stage along the long, back wall. A soundbooth provided perfect isolation within its windowed walls, and a mural of the ancient Grounds from which they had procured the name ran the length of the corridor to the bathrooms and backstage area. There was enough room backstage to house each of the band’s gear for the night, and once we had loaded everything we had in there, we set out to see what was going on here firsthand, and not some recap from Jeremy two weeks later about how “you guys missed the best night ever!”

Finito opened the night. I had listened to their songs online, but that was not nearly enough preparation for the live experience. They existed within a wall of sound, but not the clichéd banging out max volume within each frequency. They were subtle, and daring; the dexterous guitar of lead singer Matthew Barbour sat on top of Phoebe’s throbbing bass and the slack fluidity of James’ drum stylings. And instead of the traditional Fresnel light can show, films were projected over the band that they themselves had shot and edited from the streets of New York. I wasn’t having a rapture moment thinking I was in the new Factory, but it was scintillating rock and roll; which was in desperately short supply. Bonaparte, a local Brooklyn band, played next, and they were a traditional tight, guitar based band, similar to the one The Infectious Reality had opened for in New Haven a few years back. But their bassist/lead vocalist was wearing a custom cut tank top that revealed his nipples with every turn of his torso. I was petrified as the Piercing members entered the van for a show in NYC- whether their clothing would betray us as outsiders from the hinterland. I myself had decided on a strict uniform that was best for me, after our very first show at the Wishing Well. When I saw photos of that show online, with my paisley button down and over-dyed magenta jeans, I looked like someone definitively not of the kids generation. I needed to be anonymous. It was black jeans and a black tee after that night. And yet, seeing his outfit was a relief. And in an interesting unconscious nod to the past, Jocelyn was shining in a maroon regality that evening, much as she was that specific night in New Haven, years earlier.

We hurriedly set up our gear so that we wouldn’t be responsible for dragging the timing of the night. This aspect of playing live was crucial at this point, and we were beginning to enact an exact choreography that enabled us to be in the best position to play the songs, and minimize what the staff was responsible for. That was a key; and each of us knew it. The songs themselves were the strength of our band, what we had to do was rise up musically to convey their inherent power. And on this stage, we would have to. Our aspirations depended upon it. I was slightly worried that Rudy had decided to play his hot pink 1980’s bass, I was praying that Joss and Todd would Listen for each other, but I was enthralled with Adrian’s look and his visceral attitude. Growing up in the punk scene gave him an edge the other four of us were not in possession of. And then Jocelyn introduced the band.

“hey, we’re Piercing. We’re from Connecticut, and ummm, Rhode Island, and uhhhh, Brooklyn.”

“yr from MYSTIC!” shouted Jeremy from his place in the front row, amongst a crowd of eighty people waiting for us to do something special.

“we’re from Myyyystic!” Jocelyn replied with a flourish.

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Six

In the days following the Earcandy review, I found a very interesting email in the inbox. A small independent film company in Brooklyn was asking to use a Piercing song in a short being directed by a young director in their stable. Marc Gentilowski, the producer of the film, sent me some initial contact information for Tabitha Williams. A link to her website, a Tumblr address;  basic representation of her work that we could peruse, to see if we were a fit within her artistic vision. At the time, I wasn’t worried at all about deciding whether or not to let her use the song, in my mind it was a done deal unless the film was about some unspeakable intention.  As someone who always trusted  intuition, I felt that this was simply another step forward in the accelerated world of Piercing. After sending a copy of the email to Thomas (who was working in the legal department of a NYC book publisher) asking him to see if we would still be holding the song rights once we became involved with the film, I settled in to do my research on Tabitha.

Her website was extremely minimal, which I thought was  a great sign. Text riding down the left column, a single color image of a young woman against a suburban chain link fence centered on the front page. The model looked familiar, but I dismissed that as an internal error. I clicked  on the first video link, and up came a forty second micro-movie featuring the model from the front page. Now that she was a moving image, I could not curtail the thought that this was someone I actually knew. But how, exactly?  Certainly Tabitha was a Brooklyn resident, and this must be a model from the city. Slick cuts of close ups of her model and some hotel architecture spliced together created an immediate story of a girl lost, amongst none of her own kind- forging a possible danger. And that’s when it struck me- the hotel steps that she was sitting on, they were from a lodging in downtown Mystic- The Seafarer, a once raggedy tourist trap restored to its 19thcentury splendor a decade earlier. But how could Tabitha have filmed in downtown Mystic? How could she have known where we were, filmed here, and then “stumbled” across the band. The short ended with the model stretching out on one of the hotel beds. I hit pause on the film and took a good look at the screen. I did know who the model was- she graced the header picture of the Dance Party Facebook page. She was the best friend of a friend of mine’s niece, and the pair- draped in glowsticks and sweat- inspired arms raised which formed  a circle between them, was the image we used to define the party and its online presence. My heart began to speed up, as the paranoia shrouded the research. I thought to myself, “You are being set up… “

It was too perfect. I had a deep sensation that some of the local musicians had conjured this entire episode, in an effort to embarrass Piercing, mocking the middling modicum of our success. As I thought more about the possible plot, it seemed to be a generous dissertation- that a fake video company, a fake director, and a fake model who just happened to be a Mysticite, were all pulled seamlessly into place to give us our comeuppance. There was no possible way any of the locals could have pulled off such a clever stunt. Or could they? My mind was racing, and it was being put into overdrive. Months later, I would realize that these events would charge my thought process  so that I could keep up with our ever evolving public relations agenda.  A paranoid conspiracy theory surrounding our first contact with the film world would pale in comparison to what was awaiting Piercing. I watched the short a few more times, telling myself that this was all legit. It had to be. The rest of her website revealed no contact with Mystic, but was saturated with a modern, distinctly feminine take on sexuality. The more I looked into Tabitha’s work, the more dangerous it felt. Not that the images she concocted were threatening, but I had always believed that in music, you wait until the third album to use sex as a selling point, unless you were Blondie. As much as I was intrigued to take this possible massive leap, I was concerned that Piercing would try to articulate a perception that did not necessarily reflect where we actually were.

The next morning, I emailed Tabitha from the address listed on her Tumblr. I expressed how I was confused at seeming to know the model in some of her work; I wanted to displace my internal conspiracy as soon as possible. Her response absolutely stunned me.

“I grew up in Mystic, but went to a private high school in Sussex County. I’m roughly the same age as Jocelyn.”

“So, you don’t know any of us? You don’t know who we are?”

“No, I’ve never met any of you. I stumbled across “Massive” from the Earcandy review and I really love it. I knew immediately it would work in my short.”

“Have you ever been to the Palace?”

“Oh yeah. Not a ton, because I don’t collect vinyl, but yeah, I’ve been there.”

“I’ve worked there every Friday for the past sixteen years. Have we ever met?”

“No, I don’t think so. I was away at school for eight years, and then I got a job in Manhattan. Why do you ask?”

“The model in your short film, she’s sitting on the steps of the Seafarer Hotel, isn’t she?”

“Oh, you caught that. Very sharp.”

A Mystic kid had found us. What were the chances that the very first person interested in working with the band on that level would be from town? I, of course, took that as a sign that we were heading in the right direction, and that our motivation was resonating in the proper manner. I held in high regard that the actions the band took in our day to day would manifest itself in tangible outcomes; we were working incredibly hard and this was a reward. Once I knew that Tabitha was one of us, even remotely, my fear of her milieu taking over our image levelled out. We were working with professionals, and there was no reason to doubt their intentions or abilities. We literally were all in this together; Tabitha, Michael, Richard, Jimmy, Paul, Whitney- everyone depended on each other in some capacity. I needed to find a way to channel this realization to each of the band members.

Tabitha and I exchanged emails for the next few days, discussing ideas for the shoot. She had become possessed with  a “Cult of Piercing” being the central theme.

“I want to dress the cult in all white, have them slowly materialize out of a wooded area and become the audience for the band.”

I loved the idea, somewhat of an inversion of our first video. I was imagining possible locations, when a distressing thought entered my mind- how much is this going to cost?

“How much do you normally charge for a video shoot and edit?”

“My starting rate is $2000.”

I almost blurted out “nice to meet you!” followed by dramatically hanging up the phone. There was no way we could justify spending that amount of money on a video. We could return to Michael at Stormy Harbour for two complete singles for that kind of money.

“Well, I guess you are a professional!” I replied, adding a hint of a compliment while carving a way out of working with her, without jeopardizing her interest in the group- she was a fan of the band first and foremost. We were trying to see if a professional integration could work as well.

“Is that out of your price range?” she quietly replied

“Not necessarily, but it would take quite a bit of time to raise that kind of money. The kids are broke, I’m spending every available dollar of my own trying to keep us solvent, $2000 is just beyond our capability right now. And in 3 months, when we have the money, it will be too late.”

“I’ll tell you what, I really like you guys, I think you are onto something. Let’s block out a weekend as soon as possible, and I’ll come into town and we’ll piece it together. I can do that, plus the editing, for $500.”

I dropped the receiver and caught it with my left hand before it hit the floor.

Piercing was the second of four bands on the bill that Thursday night at Cabinets. The opener was a trio backed by a clean drum machine, with female vocals and a guitar / bass duo rounding out the lineup. Their pop stylings were easy to digest, but I couldn’t help noticing that the flat, two dimensional drum machine took away any possible depth. And then it dawned on me- these three were my age or older, and they would rather sacrifice dimension for a perfect beat that was always on time to every gig and practice. They had downsized. They were tired of telling the drummer to “sit down, shut up, and play the drums….”

I was secretly happy that such a band opened, as the room was anticipating a sonic explosion that we would hopefully create. The lights and sound were always spot on at Cabinets, and that element certainly helped drive our show. We played a tight set, that was punctuated by Rudy’s rock edge and a very fine night vocally from both Jocelyn and Todd. They were beginning to realize the way each could occupy the space where the other was not. And Adrian and I were really becoming the tight rhythm section found in every good band, only we were now upending the traditional drum & bass foundation for our drum & guitar bedrock. We had a decent crowd that responded to each song accordingly, but the aftereffect which meant the most to me was how much more we still had to do. And yet, we were elevating in incremental steps, a positive outcome of an 18 hour day which included 300 highway miles.

After we finished our set and were taking gear off the stage, I tried to start up a conversation with the next band. They were from Ireland and were doing a small tour of the states, and this was their first gig following an appearance at SXSW.

“Hey, did you guys have a good time in Austin?”

Their bass player stuttered a bit, and then came out with a “Yeah, it was alright.”

But this wasn’t some foreign cool, he seemed genuinely uncomfortable talking about his experience- at least with a total stranger (although we shared a stage). I replied “well, have a good show here” and wandered off to load the van. I couldn’t help thinking about our very brief conversation. Had he already had his fill of talking about it? Perhaps. But it reminded me more of getting invited to parties during the early success of Thames, where we would encounter a much older crowd than we were used to. And at times we could articulate ourselves astonishingly clear, other times more muddled. It was the distance between ages. There were no other 40 year old musicians in these clubs, and the people over forty that an emerging band came across more than likely want to exploit them for some kind of cheap profit. I had come of age in this world, grown up listening to and playing music in clubs; I became an adult with the backdrop of neon and cheap beer. This was the moment when I realized I could not be the face of the band in any capacity. Not that I looked as if I didn’t belong, but relationships to help build our audience were going to have to be the responsibility of Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian. They were of this generation in a way I was only culturally a part. When I joked about seeing the moon landing to younger musicians, it was always met with a confused indifference. But it was now obvious that I would have to become anonymous at gigs, and in the public setting. I could establish and maintain all of our business relationships with no setbacks, continue getting our pay at the end of a night, and continue driving the van. But the kids now had to be the actual presence of Piercing.

Once we had decided to work with Tabitha on a new video, we had to book a recording session with Michael. Fortunately for Piercing, late March wasn’t an in demand month, and we were able to schedule a ten hour block on Sunday the 24th, four days after meeting Tabitha. Todd had an early morning class on Friday, and I thought it would be good to get him out of New Haven that night, with a full two nights and a Saturday to recharge before we headed back to Brooklyn that Sunday. I arrived at his apartment at 7pm. We talked casually about the upcoming recordings, how the press was responding to our early work, and the method of writing the next batch of songs. Not once did he betray a hidden agenda- it seemed as if Jocelyn’s handling of Todd’s crossing of the border had taken effect with minimal damage. These kids were so aware of what was being said about them, talked about them, written about them, it was more often than not hard to get them to expose the depth of their own individual struggle. This was not an easy task we had set out for ourselves, and everyone had an acute awareness of the implications- the other four people in Piercing depended on you as much as you depended on yourself. Adrian’s first song “Decisive” would be one of the new singles, and Todd’s “High Tide” would be the second. We began looking at the recordings in a manner similar to The Smiths- that each song was precious, and had its own identity and worth. These were not A sides and B sides. Todd agreed, and his confidence convinced me that the worst was behind us. A detail had been dealt with.

Richard and Michael had relocated from their cramped headquarters on Broadway to a three story walk up on Mesarole Ave. They had converted the top two floors into apartments that they each occupied, and the street level was turned into a world class recording studio. As I walked in lugging a very heavy cymbal stand bag, I had the sense of being all the way back.

Thames had gone through a similar gestation as This Infectious Reality. Thames were an ‘80’s version of the popular, local high school band. We had sold homemade cassettes in the hallways to help fund the early operation and to spread the word. But there were no Centraal Studios in the pre-Digital age. Recordings at that time were done on rather expensive four track machines using cassette tape as a source medium, or a fully-fledged 12 or 24 track analog studio. There was no middle ground. Thames were fortunate enough to get our parents to chip in a few thousand dollars as an offset to the bands earnings to record with Russell Johnson. Piercing were spending $850 ($500 of which the Folk Mass had fronted us) to record in basically a Brooklyn relocation of Russ’ Connecticut studio from the ’80’s. The detailed wood, staggered to create more surface space, the slanted control room window, the perfect execution of wiring inside the walls. Effects were plugged in and out from central panels located on the east and west walls. Perfect.  Simple.  Efficient.  Richard and Michael never ceased to amaze me with their organization and genius.

We recorded all of the basic tracks for each song in two hours. It was as I anticipated from the effect of our first experience with Stormy Harbour. That was the driving reason behind returning; in that we were establishing a relationship with the studio while minimizing risk.  The process played itself out for “Decisive/High Tide” as it had for “Massive/Spirit”, and we were completely prepared. As the recording gave way to mixing, I noticed that Rudy was enraptured by a game on his cell phone. While Michael was tuning effects to the correct frequency, dialing in the sounds that would define us, Rudy was staring blankly into a miniscule screen with nary a smile or a frown; his face didn’t even reflect contentment- simply a solitary glare. I began to wonder if he actually understood the magnitude of the afternoon that we were experiencing. I imagined that Rudy possessed an inherent trust that I did not, which afforded him the distance between focusing on the evolving mixes or chasing digital trophies. That was not to be the case.

We set out from Brooklyn at midnight, and proceeded to cede the CD player to Rudy for our drive out of the borough, over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the FDR, to the Willis Ave bridge and then onto the Bruckner with a quick sidestep onto the Hutchinson Parkway where I would merge with I-95 North at the Bronx city limits. A quick sprint to the tollbooth just before the Connecticut border was the next zone to traverse. Once in our home state, the drive was divided into six stages- the first leg was from the border to New Haven, where Todd was attending  his senior year at school. The trek from the highway was always fraught with tension, as we were usually driving through town at 2am, with very little traffic accompanying us. It’s hard to drive a conversion van around any city after 2am without arousing suspicion.  Once we dropped Todd off and made our way back to I-95, we would have to get off in New London to drop off Adrian a friend’s house. This required another streetscape trip back to I-95, where we would cross the bridge at the Thames River and immediately take the first exit to drop Jocelyn off where she was staying with her mother. One more trip through the back streets of Groton City put Rudy and I back on the north corridor, where two exits down we would descend the valley side in Mystic to my own home at the base of the river. Rudy would then have to drive himself another 20 miles to his rural home near the Rhode Island border. These recording sessions and gigs in NYC, which were absolutely essential to our career, were a test we would have to master. There was no way around it.

We were to return to New Haven for a show two days after recording, and I was asked to do a radio interview on one of the regional college radio stations on the Monday between. Following the cold winter in which we survived the blizzard, seeing the trees in first budding on the wooded back roads felt like a victory. We were in the midst of a three day, 500 mile trip, but I always found it relaxing to be driving the van. Perhaps it’s because driving is the one thing my father actually taught me, telling me as a young driver to “just go get lost, and try to find your way back. That’s how you’ll learn to navigate.” In some senses, that was his entire world view, but he never really got back from being lost in his own life.

The interview was at 5pm, and I was the only member of Piercing who could make it. It was a disappointment for me, because I had come to the realization that I must be an invisible member of the band, the silent one. And this was a missed opportunity for Joss, Todd, and Adrian to get used to the encroaching environment and to be able to speak clearly about themselves and the group in a low key setting.  Then I realized that I hadn’t exactly been actively interviewed in quite some time. There was plenty of work to go around.

After months of trying, we finally were able to secure a booking with the biggest live promoter in the state, Myopic Insights.  I had targeted them early on as the best people to work with outside of New London, and they completely lived up to my expectations. MI was essential a company of two- William Burr, and his intern Michael Silva. We had first been added to a bill they were booking in late January, but the headliner declined their offer of Piercing opening that particular show. At first, I had assumed that once William had booked the band, it was a done deal. But we were to find out that the regional touring headliners more than likely wanted last say in who opened their shows. It was surprising to see the power shift, where the touring bands held at least that much sway over the business machinations. I was hoping that wouldn’t become a serious issue for us, because William and Michael seemed to be totally behind what we were doing.  Finally, it was our debut night with them; at a small café in New Haven that was an institution in the city. We were opening for a national headliner from the west coast, who had been touring in support of their debut album, which was released that January. In between Piercing and Scare Tactic were our friends from New London- Blow Up. This was the perfect recipe for us to engage in the totality of the moment, working with national players with support socially and professionally from peers who were on the same path as us. The best booking agent in the state, in the best live music town in Connecticut. The only drawback was it was on a Tuesday night, but that should be of little consequence to our commitment. Hopefully, we will find ourselves in Richmond, Virginia on some Tuesday night.

In my experience over the years, I always felt New Haven was the best town to play in. You could almost cook to the timer that was the arrival of a New Haven audience: show at 10pm? Room littered with eight people at 9.45? No worries, they will all be here in 15 minutes. That wasn’t to be the case on this night. We took the stage in front of 12 people; fortunately a few Mystic kids going to school near the city made it out, otherwise it would be a room full of musicians and bar workers- a trepidation of the highest order while at the club. The five of us were crammed onto the tight stage, and I had to hold my left arm at a funky angle to not drag it across the back wall while playing on the hi hat. Blow Up were complete professionals as always- noticing the near empty room, they stood three deep right in front of the stage to offer us encouragement, loudly clapping at the conclusion of each song. After finishing up a thirty minute set, we packed the gear away in the van, and I drove it down a block from the club into a small parking lot off the street. This would give all of us a modicum of privacy for the remainder of the night. I went back in, and engaged in light conversation with Chris Curtis as he set up his guitar effects for the Blow Up set.

“I’m surprised there are so few people here, usually New Haven gigs are always a late arriving mob. But they arrive! Have you guys been playing down here much?” it had been seven years since my last Bold Schwa show in the Elm city.

“We play here about once every six months, and yeah, this is a new quiet for us. Could be… Tuesday?  Could be break is over and the college kids have work to catch up on…. Could be this show should have been booked in New London.” He chuckled after a pause, and then continued his train of thought.

“You know, we’ve been doing this a long time, and I just don’t care about how many people show up anymore. I just want to get up there and do what I do.”

It was refreshing to hear his back to basics attitude. We had found ourselves in the same position with Thames after the CMJ press yielded no record deal. Let’s just play. Sort of an athlete’s mindset, within a musical context. I had to remember what Chris was preaching, as our initial success was somewhat intoxicating.

And yet, there were certain parameters that had to be held to a most stringent manner of discipline.

Blow Up had watched every note of our set, and they were friends and contemporaries. But after four songs of their show, I noticed that I was the only member of Piercing in the room. I briskly stood up and walked out the back door when they began their next song with sturm und drang. I passed Adrian, who was on the phone with his girlfriend back in Brooklyn. As he had to board a train in New Haven to Grand Central by 11pm, he was more than likely discussing his return to their tiny apartment. I continued across the street, into the small lot where I had parked the van, where inside Jocelyn, Rudy, and Todd were participating in one of the rituals a rock band. But this was no time for selfish isolation.

“GUYS! What are you doing? The Blow Up watched our whole show, and they are four songs in and you are still in the van? Come on, you don’t want to be that band……”

I tried to voice a sign of resignation toward the end of my statement, as I was trying not to give in to the impulse of screaming at them. It was a generally understood dynamic that the kids did not want to be in a band with Dad, and I could understand that. I had no ambitions to even have children. But I couldn’t help but scold them.  Every interaction and moment defined who you were as people, and therefore, who the collective was as a creative unit. If you were not willing to support those who supported you, the greatest songs ever written might mitigate such behaviour. Might.

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