“I’m gonna knock your head CLEAN OFF!” Brer Bear would say to Brer Rabbit, and my Poppa would say to me. It was a game we played whenever we went for a drive, if he was in a good mood. Poppa looked like a Brer Bear: big, rough, and ready to knock somebody’s head in. I usually tried to be sweet, so it wouldn’t be my head, but I could tease him without fear during the game. He would open the passenger door for me and I would hop in, then, quick as I could, I would lean over and lock his door. He would grumble and threaten while I giggled, playing Brer Bear to my Brer Rabbit. After a few minutes of his roaring, I would unlock the door and let him in. We would start our drive and we would start singing. Good moods and road trips meant music, and the first song was always Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, then some songs from Oklahoma, a medley of George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams, maybe a hymn or two. My father came from a musical family; he loved to sing and had a strong clear voice. My grandmother had perfect pitch, which I unfortunately did not inherit. But I always sang loud anyway: “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay / My, oh, my, what a wonderful day / Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way / Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!”
“To those 70 million of us whose ancestors fought for the South, it [the Confederate flag] is a symbol of family members who fought for what they thought was right in their time, and whose valor became legendary in military history. This is not nostalgia. It is our legacy… Quite simply, we are up against it. Those whose profession it is to vilify the South and Southern culture and heritage have surrounded us with their perfidious propaganda. They have enormous resources. They have a national media which is almost entirely ‘woke’ with the maxims of the radical left…They don’t want to hear that our nation is fed up with ‘snowflakes’, ‘social justice warriors’ and upper class ‘victims’ of whatever the fashionable ‘oppression’ is.” – My father, Ben Jones, former Congressman from Georgia and actor on the Dukes of Hazzard, on removing Confederate flags and statues from public spaces.
It has been over three years since Heather Heyer was killed by a Neo-Nazi during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. It has been over five years since the mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But controversies over the Civil War have not ended, and there are new headlines daily. NASCAR and the military have recently banned the display of the Confederate flag; Mississippi is removing it from their state flag. Confederate memorials and statues are being taken down around the country at a rapid pace.
History is a dynamic process, not a static thing. We are participating in its making right now. Some people are disturbed by these challenges of nostalgia; others, including myself, rejoice.
It has been a year since I’ve published anything. I’ve written a little—sentences, paragraphs, sometimes a page or two—but I’m struggling because it has been a rough year, obviously, not just for me but for all of us. I’ve been inside my Brooklyn apartment for months, except for going out to participate in the Black Lives Matter protests, worrying my wife.
I’m also struggling because I usually write about my family and my childhood. Writing honestly requires me to bring up past events and memories, an unsettling process. A few members of my family have found what I’ve written offensive. Others have told me they appreciated my speaking up.
My family, on both paternal and maternal sides, has a history that involves intergenerational abuse and trauma. This abuse was usually directed by men at women and children, and was fueled at times by poverty and addictions. Painful patterns were passed down, and are hard to talk about without blame or rebuke. Both my parents were traumatized by their childhoods. My paternal grandfather was incredibly cruel, and I wonder what effect that had on my father’s aggressive defense of his “heritage” and “pride”.
It has been over two years, I think, since my estrangement from my father began. I won’t pretend it isn’t painful, but it isn’t unexpected. Our relationship has always been complicated. It has been difficult and wonderful to be his daughter in equal measure. Being with him was sometimes adventurous, other times stressful. During our times together, there was often tremendous focus on his fame and career, especially during his political campaigns.
Our current estrangement is due in part to political differences, over Trump, homosexuality, feminism, racism, and police brutality. It is also due to personal differences. I got angry at my stepmother and lost my temper. My stepmother has always viewed her stepchildren as a threat; every conversation I had with her was like a knife fight, and I was often left bleeding. I don’t miss her presence in my life.
As a result of this blow-up and our political differences, my father is angry at me. He dismisses me as a spoiled brat, social justice warrior, elitist snowflake, and worst of all, a Yankee. But I feel the way I do, not because of where I live or where I work or where I went to school, but because I was raised by a Southern mother who did not glorify her heritage or ancestors, nor did she downplay the racism she witnessed growing up in 1950-60s rural Georgia.
My father claims he speaks for 70 million descendants of Confederate soldiers, but how can one person feel entitled to represent so many others? That 70 million includes many Black descendants, who certainly have different opinions than his. That 70 million also includes many whites who believe in reparations, for example, my mother and myself. She didn’t give me Gone with the Wind to read, instead she gave me The Color Purple.
“Joel Chandler Harris and I were raised in the same town, although nearly 100 years apart. As far as I’m concerned, he stole a good part of my heritage. How did he steal it? By making me feel ashamed of it. In creating Uncle Remus, he placed an effective barrier between me and the stories that meant so much to me, the stories that could have meant so much to all of our children, the stories that they would have heard from us and not from Walt Disney.” – Alice Walker
My mother grew up on a dairy farm outside Eatonton, a small town in middle Georgia nicknamed The Briar Patch. When I was little and we were living in Atlanta, my parents would often take me to visit. The farm was on land that had been in my family since before the Civil War. There was always a lot happening there—kittens, porch swings, horses, tree houses, and other childhood thrills. My grandmother indulged me and my cousins and let us run wild, with just a few warnings about avoiding rattlesnakes, hornets, and bulls out in the pastures.
You may have heard of Eatonton: it is tiny, but its writers have had an outsized influence on American literature and culture. Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, is the most famous writer born there, but Joel Chandler Harris is famous too because of the Brer Rabbit folk tales. (Brer Rabbit was the inspiration for Song of the South and also Bugs Bunny.) Flannery O’Connor lived with her mother and her peacocks nearby.
The farm where my mother grew up is just down the road from Turnwold Plantation, where enslaved peoples told Harris stories about Brer Rabbit. Alice Walker’s homeplace is just a few miles in another direction. My grandmother bought peacocks from the O’Connors. My cousins and I would chase them around the yard, to see them put their tails up. They would fly up into the Mimosa trees and then shriek and scold us from above.
“Harris…has been commended for keeping the folktales alive and accurately recording African American vernacular. However, he has also been heavily criticized for supporting slavery and contributing to the creation of patronizing and damaging stereotypes that romanticize the antebellum era.” – Emily Zobel Marshall in American Trickster: Trauma, Tradition and Brer Rabbit.
Joel Chandler Harris had kind intentions, it seems, and he transcribed stories that may have been lost otherwise. But folk tales about a trickster rabbit have been told in Africa for millennia. Harris didn’t create Brer Rabbit; the enslaved people around him kindly shared their stories with him. He did, however, create Uncle Remus to narrate the tales for a white audience, and he became famous as a result. On the strength of the stories he “borrowed” and published, he established himself as a journalist in Atlanta, doing quite well for himself.
Alice Walker, Eatonton’s most famous writer, is almost the same age as my mother, but their paths never crossed. They grew up just a few miles from each other, but in completely different worlds. Schools, churches, stores, restaurants, and theaters were all segregated in Georgia during their childhoods.
As a child, I listened to the Brer Rabbit stories and watched Song of the South many times. I never thought critically about it; I just accepted it as entertainment, like the Muppets or Love Boat. As an adult, I was surprised when someone suggested the material was racist. But then I thought about it, and I read the stories and watched the movie again. I was horrified: Song of the South and Uncle Remus make slavery seem like a friendly, acceptable, even kind social arrangement. My childhood favorites promoted white supremacy.
I asked my mother what she thought about Alice Walker’s comments. She told me about a white man, the town pharmacist, who dressed up as Uncle Remus every year and came to her school to tell the Brer Rabbit stories. The children were all white, the teachers were all white, the storyteller was in blackface, and the school was segregated.
I also asked my mother if slavery was ever talked about, in her family (who had owned slaves before the Civil War) or at school or church or anywhere else among the white people of Eatonton. She said no. This astonished me. How could we avoid talking about such an important part of our past? I began to understand Alice Walker’s anger.
“In Eatonton, Georgia, to this day, there is a large iron rabbit on the court house lawn in honor of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of Uncle Remus. There is now and has been for several years an Uncle Remus museum. There was also, until a few years ago, an Uncle Remus restaurant. There used to be a dummy of a black man, an elderly, kindly, cottony-haired darkie, seated in a rocking chair in the restaurant window. In fantasy, I frequently liberated him using army tanks and guns.” – Alice Walker
I felt terrible that I’d never considered the racist aspects of Brer Rabbit. I also felt sad because I loved Brer Rabbit as a child—he was little and weak (like me) but was still able to outwit all the bigger critters (which I wished I could). But the truth is that the Brer Rabbit stories don’t belong to me or to other white people. He was taken from people we’d already taken too much from, and used to denigrate them, insult on injury.
The trickster tales came with people captured in Africa and delivered to the red dirt fields of Georgia, where they were treated like mules or worse. They were whipped, hanged, burned, raped, and killed. Those who managed to survive taught others the means for survival. They shared strategies for getting out of trouble, for avoiding punishment, for staying alive. They did this in part by telling tales about Brer Rabbit’s escapades.
Sometimes Brer Rabbit had to bend the rules. The rules were just for the master’s benefit anyway. Sometimes he stole, but only when he had to, and only from those who had plenty. Sometimes he played tricks, but only on those who with more power or brute strength. He was also very good at talking his way out of bad situations. For example, about to be killed and eaten, he persuaded Brer Fox and Brer Bear to throw him into the Briar Patch as punishment instead. Being born and raised in thorns and brambles, Brer Rabbit easily escaped his captors.
Brer Rabbit taught me many survival skills that I remain grateful for. But his stories and their power and magic were not truly intended for me. If I had been born on the family plantation in pre-Civil War Georgia, I would have grown up a slave owner. According to the 1860 US Federal Census, Slave Schedule, my family owned human beings as well as plantations in Eatonton.
My great, great grandmother Susan Johnson enslaved 31 people. My ggg-great grandfather Allen Beall enslaved 50 people. My ggg-grandfather Bradley Slaughter enslaved 34 people. My gggg-grandfather Thomas Respass also enslaved 34 people. In just one record, for one county in one state, I can find evidence that my ancestors enriched themselves through the buying, using, and selling of 149 human beings. I also have found many other slave-owning ancestors, passing other people down like property through generations.
I hope that if I’d been born before the Civil War, I would have seen the evil of slavery and fought it, but who knows? One discovery I made while doing family research gives me hope for my antebellum self: my maternal great grandmother, Maymie Green Little, was descended from Quakers who had traveled from the Carolinas to Georgia, where they established Wrightsboro (now mostly abandoned). They were fierce abolitionists.
 The 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedules for Putnam County, Georgia (NARA microfilm series M653, Roll 150) includes a total of 7,138 slaves. The transcription includes 125 slaveholders who held 20 or more slaves in Putnam County, accounting for 5,048 slaves, or about 71% of the County total.
will you ever read this?
will you even read this?
we have seen the darkest side of freedom
flags on staffs wielded as weapons
the misinterpretation of Gadsden
the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia
co-opted by a misinformed majority
a context to perpetuate points of view
that could be only be described as expiring.
who do you want to be, America?
what is American Exceptionalism?
is it a Department of Defense masquerading as a
unique entity, a projection of strength,
which actually exists as a social works program.
( shhhh, don’t tell anyone….” )
how does your Socialism feel?
we have seen the Pettus Bridge
we have persevered beyond Mississippi,
when it was burning.
hearing fifteen year old girls in Arkansas
casually drop the N Word in private
to musicians from the North
who were making money in the South,
led us to leave town, and drive to the next gig
we have seen America.
we have seen the darkest side of freedom.
it is a bomb perpetuated in Oklahoma City
it is a cult siege in Waco
it is a White Bronco heading slowly
down the freeway,
while helicopters hover in place.
we have seen Ferguson and Minneapolis,
Breonna Taylor’s killers
still walk among us.
we have seen America
lay waste to the thatch huts,
to the Baghdad neighborhoods,
as clearly as we have seen
the tank brigades in the hedgerows
and landing craft on the beachhead.
we have seen the protests-
to dismantle Wall Street
to defund the Police
to dismantle The State
where is the future we all subscribe to?
Exceptionalism requires a definition of Quality,
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
(thematic inspiration from Robert Pirsig)
my birthday this year was monday, 1 June. that day, Trump called for the security forces to “dominate the streets.” defense secretery Esper called for security forces to “dominate the battlespace.”
gas, meet fire. the images pouring out of the streets were far too succinct to leave in yesterdays newspaper.
“The numerology on this NEW MOON in Gemini is beautifully dyadic, as we have lots of Gemini in the chart and lots of 2’s; the Sun and Moon are both at 2 degrees in Gemini, and Venus and Mercury are at 20 degrees in Gemini on the 22nd in 2020.
We can see how this reverberated dual reflection aptly plucks the strings of the polarizing vibrations of the times.
But Gemini encompasses more than just the dual nature, and reflects a wide spectrum of perspectives, possibilities and communications.
The Gemini archetype shows us how we can create a kaleidoscope of inclusion with the multiplicities of form, just as is reflected by the very diverse nature of our natural world.”
featuring Model: Caroline Walz
Watch Hill, RI USA
Photograph by Michelle Gemma
for the series “Personal Universe”
An international day to celebrate the life and work of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, held each year on 14th May, the anniversary of the date when Under Milk Wood was first read on stage at 92Y The Poetry Center, New York in 1953.
“International Dylan Thomas Day gives us a chance each year to celebrate Dylan Thomas’s achievements. There is still the enthusiasm for a national day to mark my grandfather’s life and legacy and we want to keep May 14th as a prominent date on the literary calendar.
Dylan Thomas’s writing has travelled through time – it is as relevant today in our troubled times as when it was written sixty-five years ago. It continues to travel across the globe reaching new audiences everyday. His poetry lives on.
We invite you to tell us about how you are going to mark the day and encourage you, wholeheartedly, to get involved and to love the words.” — Hannah Ellis, Granddaughter of Dylan Thomas
The photographer Rollie McKenna was at this 92Y reading of Under Milk Wood, to photograph Dylan Thomas, and she writes this in her autobiography, Rollie McKenna: A Life in Photography (Knopf, 1991),
“Dylan Thomas’s career didn’t truly take off until he ‘hit’ the United States. Readings at the Poetry Center and tours throughout the country where–in his own words–he ‘boomed and fiddled while home was burning,’ all but devoured him. The money he made, so necessary to support his family, passed through his fingers like water. The praise, so addictive, was fleeting. Still, he wanted to read again to his vastly appreciative American audiences and, above all, to write the final ending to his play for voices, Under Milk Wood.
Frenetic reading tours, sycophant-laden parties and late-night bar-hopping exhausted him, and just an hour before rehearsing the actors for the first New York performance of Under Milk Wood, Dylan was in particularly bad shape. On arriving at the Poetry Center, he vomited, declared that he could not possibly go on and collapsed in the green room. After half an hour, he was shaken awake. Pulling himself together, he directed for an astonishing three hours, urging the actors over and over: ‘Love the words. Love the words!’ I was so dumbfounded by his recovery that I almost forgot to shoot.
When the night of May 14, 1953, arrived, the theater was packed. The audience, silent at first, then tittering, finally exploded into laughter on realizing that this was no highbrow affair but a loving, ribald tribute to a village. Dylan took fifteen curtain calls as tears slipped down his face.”
featuring Model: Liz Walz
Stonington, CT USA
Photograph by Michelle Gemma
for the series “Personal Universe”
I wake up on Friday morning and send the new single over our Dropbox account to the mastering lab in Brooklyn. After checking our email, I notice a bunch of shows I’ve been working on the past few weeks are starting to come together. I immediately send out a group email blast:
Hey everyone- hope yesterday in the studio was as fun for you as it was for me. and the record is excellent, you should all be quite proud. A bunch of show stuff updates:
Dates we need an immediate confirmation on-
6 March Thursday
This is a live appearance on WRIU radio, in Kingston at URI. It’s a long running show and it will be good for us to play there, in addition there will be a short interview segment.
25 February Tuesday
Same type of thing as WRIU, but this is at MIT radio / WMBR. They have a decades long in-studio show. Check out their website, I think you’ll recognize some of the bands that have played there over the years.
2 March Sunday Hartford / Nutmeg New Music Festival
This is a good thing for us, the three day fest showcases the best bands in Connecticut right now. Sycamore Tree Productions is behind it and those folks have been doing shows since when Thames were together. It could our biggest in state gig yet.
Dates we already have confirmed:
5 February Wednesday BRICKS New Haven this is with Snow Falcon, a national headliner.
21 February Friday
at the Well w/ Blow Up and Scare Tactic
21 March Friday
Live on radio at WHUS UConn Storrs
Ferry from Gezellig got in touch; they are running the interview in their March issue
Please get back to me as soon as you see this
The first response is a text from Ian.
“Hey man- I thought I told you I was going to Florida with my family from the 5th of February until the following Wednesday the 12th”
“So you can’t do the BRICKS gig?”
“No, I’ll be away.”
“Godammit Ian, there is no fucking way you told me about this beforehand. I would have written it down in my datebook, like every other important piece of information that I come across.”
“Hey man, take it easy. I’m going to Florida. That’s the deal.”
“What?!?!?! I told you that the band has to take precedence over fucking vacations!”
“I can’t make it. Ask Brent, maybe he can do it.”
“Oh, now I need your advice on how to move forward?”
“This conversation is over.”
Fuck this shit, I thought to myself. Well, the worst case scenario is we have to find yet another bass player; and that hasn’t stopped us yet. I text Brent about doing the BRICKS show.
“Oh yeah, man. New Haven is easy for me. What’s up with Ian though, kind of last minute?”
“I think he’s a bit like Laurence Fishburne in Apocalypse Now, when Willard does a voice over about him on the river. “The wide open spaces really messed him up”
“Hahahaha, been there…”
“I tried to tell him what he was in for, I suppose he didn’t believe me.”
“Well, you’ll find out soon enough.”
“Thanks for covering”
Depressed by the turn of events, I check the band Facebook page to see if there is any action from the studio posts. A few likes, a few shares. I skip over to Jocelyn’s page:
“Best recording session EVER!”
Suddenly, everything seems fine within the world of Piercing.
Brent is able to sneak in a two hour practice with us around a fortunate family trip home. Saturday night, at Centraal, we have a scintillating rehearsal with him; it was more of a music session than a practice. The entire time however, I kept thinking our real bassist was ten miles away. The BRICKS show with Snow Falcon would be postponed due to snow, during this endless winter. The rescheduled date is Wednesday the 12th of March. I felt that this was interesting turn of events, where we could gauge what the Nutmeg Fest would actually mean on our out of town draw. If we play up to our capabilities in Hartford, it should translate to New Haven. That was my hope, that these shows would reveal whether the long term plan was working. Earcandy reviews could only take you so far. And we would have Ian with us for the important Hartford and
New Haven shows.
On the night of the postponed show, Jeremy calls me, inquiring about the cover design for the new single.
“Have you talked to Anne about the cover?”
“Yeah, she scheduled Joss for this coming Sunday. They’re going to shoot here at the house, taking the fabric between trees concept as the basic idea.”
“So, Joss is going to just stand in front of some fabric stretched between trees?”
“Well, sort of. But we let Anne do her own work. We don’t ask people who work with us to acquiesce to our every demand. We have a framework, and we go from there.”
“That’s not what fucking happened on the Tabitha video.”
“Good point. But that moment was a sea change. That’s where Joss really understood what it would take to shape our image. After we fought about it, I was behind it totally.”
“I don’t know if that was the right decision.”
“What? Giving Joss free reign?”
“Yeah, you can’t be one thing, then another, then another”
“I know, I know, totality of image. But we had no idea all of this was going to happen. I thought we’d play three gigs in New London and Adrian would move to Brooklyn and that would be it.”
“So that’s why you went from black and white to color?”
“Yes. Yes. Jocelyn makes these decisions, not me. I just send out the emails and the texts. And book the photographer.”
“Well, I’m going to want to proof the shoot before we release this single.”
“Of course; when have I released a single without everyone in the band in agreement? Really? Come on man.”
“Ok then, let’s schedule a session to proof the cover art next Monday. Do you think that will give Anne enough time to make the images available for us to proof?”
“That sounds great. Monday the tenth; I’ll text everyone about it now.”
Jocelyn arrives fifteen minutes late for the cover shoot on Sunday. It’s just as well as I struggle to get the fire going in our outdoor fire pit; it’s 22 degrees and snow covers everything as far as the eye can see.. Anne and I took a trip to upstate New York to visit her sister the previous weekend, and this winter was the first time our entire trip was defined by white snow cover, from Mystic to Buffalo. I would burn two years of fallen limbs from our trees over the course of the photo shoot. Fortunately, there is no presence of wind.
”Hey Joss, how are you doing? offers Anne as she clears the threshold of the Centraal door.
“Ok, I guess. I can’t believe how cold it is; it feels so much colder than 21 degrees.”
“I saw 22 degrees a few minutes ago…” trying to add levity to the situation. They both look at me with heads askew, and frowns.
“Not funny” replies Anne.
“Hey, hey, hey, I’ll be out there, tending the fire.”
“Yeah, Joss, we set up the fire pit so if it gets really unbearable, you can scoot over to the pit. But we’ll take quick shots and warm up inside as much as you need.”
“The fire smells tremendous. Especially with no wind; it’s lingering in the air.” offers Jocelyn
“Point of completion, and all that, all that.” I whisper this as if to imply the secret cannot be revealed.
Jocelyn is a pro. She goes from shivering next to the fire, to a bench covered in a gold tapestry; in front of a burgundy fabric stretched between a pair of trees, looking relaxed and elegant. She and Anne repeat variations of this idea for the next two hours. I tend the fire when they take a respite from the cold inside Centraal; in an attempt to be unobtrusive, mostly because I rarely assist Anne on her shoots. It’s Piercing’s cover, but we have to trust the artist. I rearrange the embers at the base of the fire, add a few more logs, and give the two of them beaks as they make their way back to the staged area. The sun is starting to fade in the western sky, above the river valley.
Todd has picked up Jocelyn and driven her to our cover meeting at Centraal, right on time; 7pm.
“Hey man, how are you?” I ask Todd upon his entry.
“Good man, good. Having the whole school thing behind me is such a relief. Now, I just need to get a job, ya know what I mean?”
“You’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.”
I contain a giggle when he tells me that. My inner conceit conceded to thoughts of tours and recording projects; not of jobs to justify getting a college degree. We were on the precipice, and I could recognize its inherent presence. It was 1992 all over again. That concept created one lingering thought that declared it’s assertion to be addressed: this couldn’t be the repetition of the same cycle, could it? Jocelyn was far different than Thomas. Todd and Jeremy were young equals to Steven’s prowess on guitar, and as songwriters. Brent was routinely bailing us out, but Ian was in essence the reincarnated version of the young twenties Brent. And it was Twining on the drums. In both cases. This time, it had to work.
I get a text from Malthus
Hey man just checking in. are we still on for tonite?
Yeah, as far as I know.
ok, cool. see you in a few
“Hey Malthus, how are you?” Joss offers as Malthus steps into Centraal.
“Good, good. I love the new single. Wait, no…. I Love the new single; both songs.”
“Hey man, good to see you, thanks!” Todd reaches out and exchanges beaks with Malthus. Joss and I do the same.
“No Jeremy yet?” asks Malthus
“He asked both of us for a ride, but I can’t drive him back to Niantic at 10pm, and then back here.” explains Todd, with a hint of resignation.
“Neither can I. He offered gas money but I didn’t even get out of work until a half hour ago. I wish he would just get his driver’s license and be done with it.”
“Wait, Jeremy can’t drive a car?” says Malthus, as if he found out that Jeremy also didn’t drink water.
“Nope. He was going to be a city boy. ‘I don’t need to learn how to drive when I know the subway like the back of my hand.’ He would always show you the back of his hand after saying that as well. I expected a tattoo of the subway each time, but that never happened.“ Todd replies without mincing his words.
“There is no train service in Niantic…” I offer in a low drawl.
“Nope.” Jocelyn had the final definitive statement.
“So, is he going to make it?” asks Malthus with a hint of reservation. You could sense that he did not want to get wrapped up in the scheduling conflicts of Piercing.
“I doubt it. We should just proof what we have, and hope he agrees with the concept and the imagery.” I reply, trying to sound as forward thinking as possible, while containing my antipathy for Jeremy’s travel situation. Jimmy Fiero to the psychic rescue.
“Ok, cool. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
The bulk of the photographs don’t seem to capture the spirit of the single. As we scroll through the hundred shots Anne took of Joss in the backyard, nothing is grabbing any of us as The Image.
“See this one here…” opines Malthus “Let me try something here with the mirror image.”
It’s a shot from behind Jocelyn, as she is adjusting lip stick in a hand held mirror.
“Now, let’s get rid of anything in the background” states Malthus
He deftly moves his fingers around the keyboard, cutting and editing with minimal usage of the mouse under his right fingers. It’s a complete white slate, with only Jocelyn’s long, flowing hair- the hand held mirror containing her face; judiciously adding red to her lips. It was a trance like take on any snow bound heroine. I immediately felt this was the image.
One particular detail I had yet to address once Ian joined the band was to get a new group photo. Tabitha had captured some fantastic stills from the “Decisive” video that I had used to promote that single. The entire cycle before Adrian moved to Portland I was stuck using six video stills of Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian- two shots of each- as the sole imagery for the second single and video. One of Jocelyn’s haunting spots during her Boston days was the Boston Public Library. She wanted us to go to the Library for the new PR photo shoot.
why don’t we take a road trip up there with the new lineup for the next band shoot?
sure. let me start putting it together
But it wasn’t that easy to find a night where everyone could commit seven hours to a photoshoot. We needed a similar location within a much shorter distance. I started to reminisce about all of the band shots I had done over the past twenty nine years: Surface of Ceres, who were an early believer in possibilities of digital rock, posing around an old 1960’s living room organ. Bold Schwa had an incredible shoot with liquid lights projected over the band against a centuries old brick wall. The last Thames shoot, which took place on Sergio Franchi Drive in Stonington- in homage to the singer who lived in town and coincidentally recorded all of his late period music with Russell Johnson, who recorded the vintage Thames. As my mind wandered over this photo book of memory, I recalled an earlier Thames shoot, at the Stonington Free Library. Thames were photographed that day by Jan Van Derveen, a Dutch exchange student who we met thru friends at UConn during that time. He had us pose outside the library, using it’s embodiment as the backdrop while we ensconced ourselves on a rail bench near the entrance. Those shots helped propel Thames from being a local band to having a regional audience. And the interior of the library was far more impressive than the façade. The Piercing shoot should be inside the Stonington library- much easier to access than Boston’s equivalent.
The day after the botched cover proof for the new single I head over to the Stonington Library. After parking the van on an icy slope, I walk towards the front door, and realize I could take a fair amount of interesting photos outside of the library for the Piercing Instagram account. After six months with the cell phone, I have finally figured out how to turn Jeremy’s social media edict into a tangible reality-
“You are letting the audience peek behind the curtain.”
I often thought that was the most salient description of the new media and its effect on music; bands like ours who had opportunities undreamt of in the Thames time. After capturing some fairly interesting reflections on the massive library windows, I headed toward the front door, with its wrought iron detail prominently glowing in the late afternoon sun.
“Can we help you?” asks the shorter of the two librarians behind the desk.
“Hi, my name is Ellery Twining. I manage a band called Piercing from Mystic.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of you guys. Calvin Truffant from The Day is a friend of mine, he told me all about you. I even watched that interview he did with you guys at that music festival in New London.”
“Yes. That is us, I mean, me. Anyway, we’re looking to do a group photo here in the library, do you think that would be an issue?”
“Well… Not really. Can you schedule it for a Thursday? It’s the one night we’re here until 8pm, and with this awful weather, I’m sure you won’t be disturbing any patrons.”
“Thank you for the offer. Do you have an email address? I’ll totally confirm the shoot with the band and the photographer and then let you know.”
“Here, take our card. Everything is printed on it.”
“Do you mind if I take some photos right now, for framing ideas?”
“No, not at all. Take your time.”
I proceed up the white marble stairs adorned with a deep black wrought iron rail, and arrive at the glass brick floor above the reception area. The fluorescent light being diffused through the wired glass becomes my sole focus, and I snap off ten photos. I immediately send them to Jocelyn with the tagline
I think I found it
omg, yes! I should have thought of that my brother and I used to go to a day care there after my parent’s divorce twice a week
I am brought out of slumber by the sound of the ever present snow plow working its way up our street.
“SHHHHITTTTT!” I bark out loud, to no one
I clear the security number on my phone and pull up the Stonington Free Library Facebook page:
The library will be closed today due to the impending storm. Check here Friday morning for updates on library availability. Thanks SFL
Their time stamp is 6AM. Cursing this winter, I email the band about our cancelled photo shoot. I attach the cover art to Jeremy’s email.
“Hey it’s me, pick up….”
“Hey man, how’s it going?”
“Good, other than another Piercing cancellation.”
“It’s a good idea, we’ll pull it off. And we don’t have to go to Boston and back.”
“I really like the Malthus edits. I think we can go with that for the cover art.”
“Cool. I’m going to use the outtakes for headers and avatars around the new single. Once we get the new band shot I’ll move towards that. Hopefully, right as the single begins to get some traction.”
“Sounds good. I gotta head in to work, but I wanted to get hold of you before.”
“Cool, thanks man. And remember: we’re sitting on a massive single.”
“I hope so. I feel very good about it.”
I spend eight hours that Sunday cropping photos and uploading the images across our varied internet presence. Jeremy liked to preach that we were in a position to let the audience peek behind the curtain, and I didn’t want to look like we took the easy way out and used the same image on every site. Our new plan was to release the single on our own website on Tuesday the eighteenth; let it sit for a few days, and then Thursday night, send out the first wave to blogs in hopes of the perfect review. Seeing as we had a full band practice that Tuesday night, I could let everyone voice their opinion on the photo edits and placement. If there were any issues, I would have two days to adjust. And then we would really find out where we stood; if the single was “massive” or not.
We have an exceptional practice heading into the Friday night gig at the Well with Scare Tactic and Blow Up, and there are no reservations about the new cover art. I work a half day at the Palace, and at 2pm, Benno comes in so I can begin the PR campaign for “Walking the Psychic Vortex b/w Cupid’s Pulse”. The organization from Sunday’s photo edits, and the general routine of pushing the band over the past year and a half makes the PR effort smooth. By 8pm that evening I have sent the single to each and every outlet I can reach; the west coast addresses being the last to go out. I head upstairs to grab another beer, when I hear a shriek from the Centraal level of the house; rushing back down the rickety Dr. Suess like stairs to the basement level, I find Anne somewhat violently crossing off long lines in a ledger book that has been her
constant companion for the past three months.
“Hey, what’s up, are you okay?”
“Yes. YES!!! I just finished all of the paperwork for my father’s estate!”
“Hey, hey! Congrats babe! You have been working so hard on that, for months. It must be a relief.”
“It is, it is…..” she let out a slight sigh, and a tear fell. Anne was quite close to her father, in a way I always slightly envious of; having zero relationship with my own father.
“Hey, hey, he’d be proud of how you handled everything. You know that, right?”
“He trusted you more than anyone else. And you did it.”
“I submitted the single to all of the outlets. Just finished the west coast. Interesting intersection, eh?”
“ Ha ha ha, yeah; a Mystic thing. Congrats. And now, we wait?”
“And now we wait.”
. . .
I wake up out of a restless sleep at 8pm, when Anne closes the door to head into work. I down an Emergen-C, as I do after brushing my teeth every morning. I grab two bags of Darjeeling tea, and hit the 3 minute button on the microwave. At exactly 8.17 am, I open up the Piercing email. There is a Twitter account notification, from Earcandy.
New Piercing single “Walking the Psychic Vortex b/w Cupid’s Pulse” premiere today
It had taken me weeks to navigate the initial Earcandy interview. I cajoled them for three weeks to run our follow up single, and video by Tabitha Williams. The third single was online in fourteen hours. I had a long day ahead of me. Fortunately, Benno didn’t mind at all if I had to run PR for the band at the Palace.
“Why the hell do you think I’ve been working so hard all these years; one of you goddamn kids has got to make it!”
As I am furiously spreading the Earcandy link around our network, I catch Jocelyn heading into the coffeshop out of the corner of my eye. I load up the review on my phone, and wait for her to exit.
“Hey, what’s up?”
I show her the screen; one of Anne’s recent photos of her is the main illustration. The look in her eyes in the photo illustrates that she belongs. Jocelyn replies with a squelched squeal, and the tightening of her fists at the side of her face. No words. She skips across the melting ice of the parking lot between the store she works at and the Palace. I think to myself, ‘That was not the reaction I was hoping for’. Was it all becoming routine? After a break for lunch, I email the rest of the band, and that’s when the day takes a dramatic turn for the better. The inbox is full of gig requests. Six shows in total; two confirmations on in-studio radio gigs in Boston and at UConn, as well as two NYC shows, a Hartford show, and another gig at BRICKS in New Haven. But this was the first time four of the gig offers came from a mid-level booking agency in Brooklyn, and the Hartford and New Haven clubs themselves. Tart! Tart! , one of the premier NYC promoters is the next level we have been working so hard to attract the attention of, and on this day, it seems as if it is all going to work out according to plan.
My facebook chat box opens up; it’s Tabitha.
Oh my god you guys such good news about Earcandy today!
Thanks. Hard to process it all; I submitted to them yesterday, they published today.
Holy shit! It took three weeks to get them to run the video for Decisive!
I know. I’m trying to not get too worked up about it. We just got two more NYC shows today as well
Cool! I haven’t seen you guys in weeks! Hah hah
They were from Tart! Tart!, have you heard of that agency?
Oh yeah, they do most of the big and mid Brooklyn shows.
I didn’t ask them for the shows, they asked us.
Wow. I know we didn’t get to make a video for Flood, so let’s do one for Vortex, I’ll do it for $500 again
That would be fantastic. I know Joss will be totally thrilled
Yeah, she’s the best
On top of everything else that has happened today- the big Blow Up / Scare Tactic show that we are opening is tonight at the Wishing Well. Todd and I pack up all of the gear, as everyone else has asked to simply meet at the club. I joke to Todd that we are each getting $40 tonight for roadie fees. He lets out a sour laugh, because it’s not nearly as funny said out loud as it was inside my head. I still share too much, always trying to mitigate struggle with laughs. As Dave Chappelle said “all musicians think they’re funny”
We arrive on time and step over the threshold at exactly 9pm. Jeremy is already inside the club, with the Senator, Amber, and Bop. A few other regulars are at the bar, but it’s the usual quiet before a big night. I take that as a good sign.
“Hey, where’s the van? I’ll get more stuff” asks Jeremy from the back of the club, near the stage.
“No man, don’t get up we got it.”
“Fuck off punk.” Jeremy stands and walks towards Todd and I with outstretched beaks, which the three of us exchange.
“It’s in the usual spot out back.”
“Have you seen or heard from Joss” asks Todd to no one in particular.
“She’s at her mother’s house for dinner, just over the bridge. She’ll be here by 9.30” answers Jeremy
As we are about to head through the door, it swings in; Ian has made it with his bass rig.
“Hey guys- I’m not late am i?”
“No, man, it’s all good. We can go right ahead and set up on stage.”
Tonight was another episode of the winter we were all dealing with; the left pair of van wheels were sitting on a two foot ice bank that required me to draw on decades of parallel parking expertise. Hopefully, the New Londoners would disregard the bitter temperatures and make the scene tonight; they usually did. I thought to myself, I could actually deal with a slow night if Rudy doesn’t make an appearance. I click off a round of photos on my phone from the drum seat, frantically trying to post to Instagram as the kids are tuning, I notice the room is nearly full. This performance was going to be it for us here in town. We made our debut here a scant eighteen months ago, but as supportive of the new acts the audience typically was, at about the two year mark you had better be showing some serious progress. There is so much music that has been made in the GSECAZ over the past three decades that the standards for continued attention were quite high. I always loved that element of the music scene here- somewhat competitive, in an ‘athletic’ way. I notice Jeremy put the tuner down on his black tuck and roll vinyl guitar amp, something I bought during the Surface of Ceres days and loaned to him during The Infectious Reality. I click off the beat to “Massive” after Jocelyn gives me the look in the eye, that tells me she is ready.
“This is Massive!!!!!!!”
The set is lithe and concise, thrilling, and momentous. Ian is punctuating the driving bottom end on the earlier material with more fluidity and power than Rudy was capable of, and it makes a huge difference. Far more people are actually grooving to the tunes, and not just watching us to see if we could actually pull it off. Their minds were becoming lost in the music, not lost trying to find the music. We were as articulate as we could be, and being there was what we would have to coalesce around to make it to the next level. We make the debut of Todd’s newest song, with its repetitive marching band beat, and even though we play it flawlessly, there is a slight pause in the audience’s reaction. Every song up to that point had garnered applause from the whole room; you could hear it. But this was a more muted reception. I had started to become resigned to the idea that the song wasn’t as far along as I had thought, and there was much more work to be done. And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the applause started to build, and there was a genuine reflective emotion coming from the audience. It might have taken them a few extra moments to discern what they had just heard for the absolute first time, and when it sunk in, the applause rang out. I have had very few moments onstage that were that pure. The New London crowd was sophisticated, but their reaction to this brand new song allowed me to think in larger avenues about the possibilities afforded to us by this dedicated group of people. We close the set with a thunderous version of ‘Vortex’, and as we thank the club and the crowd, several people are yelling “PIERCING!!!!!!!!!!!!!” within the sound of many hands clapping.
As we load the last of the gear into the van, Ian reaches out to me with a beak.
“Hey man, great show, but I gotta get out of here. I have to work at 8am.”
“Ok, cool man. Thanks, you were awesome tonight- I think the people could tell the difference with you in the band.”
“Thanks man, I really appreciate that.”
“I mean it. I could sense it in the room. Anyway, we have the radio gig on Monday in Boston, and the Hartford gig a week from Sunday. I’ll be in touch about the drive details Sunday night.”
“One last beak, man!”
Our clasped fingers reach through the frigid February night; touch, beak, and open.
As the rest of the band heads back toward the club, I sequester myself in the van for one last moment of silence, before the remainder of the night takes hold with its loud promise. I overhear a few people mention “Vortex” in Earcandy, and I wanted to get a bit of a buzz heading back into the music. When I make it back to the bar an order a beer, I notice Scare Tactic are still setting up their equipment. I secretly whispered a prayer for them to not be the typical out of town band milking the set up time to maximize their audience. But why would they? The place was packed. I sauntered up to the stage to get a closer look. It was something I should have surmised sitting at the bar, thus negating my tip toe trek toward the stage. They used dozens of effect pedals mounted to soundboards, and as the stage at the Well was so tiny, they had to deal in master class interior design on the fly. Just then I noticed their guitar player take a three foot by two foot pedal board and learn it up against the brick wall to his left, necessitating a sort of soccer kick with his right foot to select the next pedal. They were professionals, and I was both impressed with their acumen to adapt, and relieved that we had given them a tight opening set.
As my thoughts settled into a smooth river of give and take, a finger taps me on the right shoulder. I turn around and it’s Jeremy.
“Hey man, nice job. I think we made the leap tonight.” I offer, reaching inward for the generous spirit to communicate these words.
“Oh yeahhh man! Rock and fucking Roll man!”
“No, really, I mean it, I think we’re getting to that place.”
“I know, I know, I totally agree. But yannow, fuck tomorrow, tonight fucking rocked!”
“I’m glad you feel that way!”
“I do, and you know what else? I’m so pumped these guys are taking so long to get set up, because it’s giving the acid time to kick in.”
“Ohhh, I always thought I was a good influence on you…..”
“Hahahhaa! You were, you are. … Oh, hey, yeah, that’s it. Oh man, this is good shit.”
“Man, I haven’t taken acid in twenty years.”
“That’s cause you took a lifetime supply in three years, don’t you remember! Hahaha”
“Of course I remember.”
“We’re all gonna remember this night.”
“I hope so! Earcandy today, all the gig offers, the applause after Todd’s new tune? Wasn’t that sick? I’ve never been onstage before and heard that kind of slow motion groundswell acceptance of a number.”
“I know, that was nuts. Todd’s a fucking genius, whatddya expect?”
“Fucking bingo. Hey, I’m going up front, I’ll catch you later.”
“Ok, man. Don’t drink too much tonight.”
As Jeremy passes by me, I scan the bar to locate Anne. She is at the front of the room, obviously having a conversation with June. I catch her eye, and we exchange long distance beaks; she needs the time with June, so I settle in on the last stool at the bar, tucked up against the elevated riser booth just to my left.
After ordering and not being charged for my beer (“you guys nailed it tonight, congrats!”), I take a sip and glance toward the booth. Jocelyn is there, situated on Amber’s lap; Amber’s left hand cradled around her ass, while her right hand gently wound a circular motion over Jocelyn’s right shoulder. Bop was standing directly to the left of them. I turn away and scan the stage, trying to gauge how much longer it will be until Scare Tactic begin. But my head is pulled right back to the booth like a tractor beam. Joss is laughing, seemingly enchanted by the attention. Was it simply because of her stellar performance?
Because the band was on the precipice of living up to it’s potential? That we were finally capitalizing on all of the advantages that we have had since day one of Piercing? As I was trying to distill the flood of thoughts, when I notice out of the corner of my left eye that the Senator is standing on the floor level, right behind me. His visage reveals an overriding worry. I turn back and look at Jocelyn, her full back to me now, and Bop has moved as close to her as possible. Weaving his fingers across the small of her back while Amber continues to caress her ass, covered in denim.
It was then I realized why the Senator looked distraught- bringing anonymous boy toys from local colleges into the cult was one thing, but the singer of an up and coming rock group might put a bit too much attention on his public life, were it to become public knowledge. You could sense his mind going through the risk/reward scenarios. They didn’t appear to be adding up to me, as a casual observer. But I knew Bop regarded Jocelyn as a trophy. Would any of that matter in regard to the bands trajectory? Perhaps not, but if my paranoia about Jocelyn seeking not musical fame, but a way towards achieving the desired status, an “object of adoration”….. being the object of adoration would surely be easier than the grueling life of the touring musician. I had never felt so threatened, creatively. Seven years of working with Jocelyn to bring us to this point couldn’t possibly be at risk because of the proclivities of Jeremy, Amber, and their friends.
I notice as the Senator gets Bop’s attention, and he breaks away from the group. I tap Jocelyn on the shoulder, and ask her if she wants a drink.
“Sure, yeah! Ummm, the merlot here is pretty good, I’ll have that.”
Our bartender returns in seconds, and says “on the house.” I put a ten dollar bill on the bar as a tip.
“What did you think” asks Jocelyn, seemingly as invested as I have been, finally. It’s a relief.
“We played our best show when we had to play our best show. I think that bodes well for the future.”
“I know, I know, you’re totally spot on. I was nervous. Well, I’m always a bit nervous, because I take this very seriously.”
“But tonight, it just, it…. It simply flowed out of me. It was easy.”
“That’s what happens when you have an audience; trying to build one is the hard part, but we may be breaking through. Having an audience…”
“It’s great. And we got all of those gigs today, I mean, could today be any better?”
“You know, I love you, and I’m doing all of this for you.”
“I know, thanks. Aww, thank you!”
I lean forward and we exchange a genuine hug. As we part, I get the overwhelming urge to get out the phone, and take a picture of her right now, in this moment, when it seems our entire future is in front of us. A document of the transition from here to there; I had yet to scale the back of that wall. But I had two feet solidly planted on the breadth of its density. I would be over the wall in moments. As I finished snapping the photo, Jeremy came towards us. I held a slight trepidation as he approached that very few people had even given me. He walks around the stool Jocelyn is graced upon, and lays his left arm over her left shoulder.
“How’s it going?” he asks.
“Great.” I offer with pithy enthusiasm. He doesn’t even notice.
“Hey, get a pic of Joss and me, on our big night!”
“I think my phone just died.”
“Hahahahaha, still haven’t figured out how to use that thing, eh?” opines Jeremy, as sarcastic as someone tripping face could be.
I glance over to my right, and catch Anne’s eye. She’s still in conversation with June, but when she gets my attention, she rolls her outstretched right finger, silently asking me if I wanted to wrap it up for the night. I give a two nod bow of my forehead, and put down an empty pint glass.
Anne drives the van back to Mystic. We barely look towards each other, much less speak. I have an intuitive flash that Anne and possibly June witnessed the fleeting moments of Jocelyn on Amber’s lap; Bop’s hands on her shoulder…
“What was up with Joss and Amber tonight? And Bop? What was he thinking?” asks Anne as we settle in for the night, the TV loaded up with live Pet Shop Boys from 1999; a show in New York we were actually at.
“I don’t know. They are putting their plan into action?…. Remember what I told you about the NLNM show, before we played, reading Bop’s lips……..”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Object of adoration.”
“Object of adoration.”
“Well, if this is going to be a factor we’re going to have to deal with, let the Senator find the money to run the fucking operation. Let them foot the fucking bill……”
Our next show is an on air radio program in Boston. I text a last minute reminder to everyone that we have to be in the van, ready to go by 5.30pm on Monday.
Yeah, I’m good – from Jeremy
See you then- from Jocelyn
That’s the dealio, coolio- from Todd
I can’t make it- from Ian
I am apoplectic. I had alerted everyone weeks ago that the show was confirmed.
I can’t do it. Couldn’t find anyone to cover my shift
The band can’t fall apart again, can it? At this point? After the success of last Friday night? I decide to get off the internet and call Jeremy on the landline.
“Can you believe this motherfucking shit!?!?!?!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, calm down.”
“Calm the fuck down? Does he not remember Friday night? What the fuck!?!?!?!?”
“Getting all flipped out isn’t going to get him to play the gig.”
“Let’s just play as a four piece; I’ll play bass parts and we’ll sort of fake it. How many people could be tuned in anyway?”
“It’s actually a big deal for radio. But I think you’re right. We can do an abbreviated set with just the four of us.”
“I think so.”
“Ok, I’ll call Todd and Joss.” I reply, trying to be the responsible one.
“Nah, I got this. I’ll call them both. You might be too worked up.”
We park the van high on icepack along 3A, outside of the studio. Loading the gear in has become exponentially easier on everyone; I found a rolling drum stand bag which eliminated the worst carry of all of our equipment. Once we had everything inside, the engineer positioned each of us for maximum capture. There were only ten minutes from the end of our sound check to air time, so I decided the smart move would be to take a dozen photographs to upload to our Instagram an hour or so later, during the post-performance interview. Suddenly, as I was at the far end of the room, the studio assistant opened the heavy door, and whispered
“thirty seconds to air.”
The first song of the set is Todd’s newest song. We have practiced it incessantly, and played it magnificently Friday at the Well. The tune begins with a drum roll on the snare drum, and I inexplicably begin the song with a four stick click of the tempo, as if we all began together. As soon as I hit the third strike on my sticks, I realize my mistake, and try to execute the actual drum roll that starts the song on the one downbeat. The element I do not anticipate is the rest of the band committing to the one downbeat after my stick clicks, which they handle effortlessly. And yet, as they cover my initial mistake, I compound the issue by trying to replicate the drum fill while they are establishing the groove that follows the intro. I catch up to them after a few measures, but the dirty look from Jeremy says everything: you were unprepared. I felt the stress of management slip into a performance.
Preparation was everything to the kids who came of age at the Palace, of each generation. It was the central tenet in Benno’s philosophy, which was spread liberally and with the countenance of an interior discipline only the most committed hippies espoused. It was a philosophy akin to the kids who stayed Monday and Tuesday after Woodstock to clean up the unholy mess. Accountability above all else. It mirrored Pirsig’s concept of “Quality”. I had blown it, even as I had made up for my mistake in real time. The rest of the set goes fine, and the interview following allows me to actualize the new stance of my role in the group: I say nothing; It was their interview to succeed at or fail. And they rose to the occasion; adding the needed self-deprecating banter amid our concurrent success.
“When is your next show?” asks the dj
Radio silence. The worst kind. I notice all three of them are at different levels of trying to sneak a peek at me- to catch my attention. Jocelyn blurts out an “Ummmmm..”
“We’ll be in Hartford for a Sunday show, as part of the Sycamore Tree productions music fest that whole weekend. And we’ll be in New Haven with Snow Falcon on the twelfth; they’re from South Portland, Maine…. I think” I reply, trying to fill in as succinctly as possible.
“Actually , they’re from Scituate.” corrects the interviewer
“Scituate!” I blurt out, trying to overlap my voice with his on the hometown of Snow Falcon. It was why I brought up our show with them in the first place; they were local to the Boston market. I feel as if I have a blunt edge, a butter knife through a fresh loaf of bread.
“We also have two shows in Brooklyn later in the month, the 26th and the 30th.”
“Well, it sounds like you guys are really making a name for yourselves.”
“Thanks for having us here, and letting us contribute to the show.”
“And that is a wrap on this week’s show with Piercing, from Mystic, CT. Up next we have Kindling with “Young Thirties” from their new album ‘Spare Room’.”
After loading all of the gear across the frozen concrete expanse in front of the studio’s building, I couldn’t help but notice the stark lights of the Boston skyline against the endless black of the night sky. Was Piercing becoming the light, or the endless darkness? There could be no rational way I was making the same mistake again. I had come too far to let a bad night on the radio derail my intentions. I began to think back to the end of our most recent set at the Well, with people cheering and yelling the band name out loud. Was it only four nights ago that we were in New London? It seemed much further into the past than four days. My train of thought is interrupted as I close the back door of the van, and Todd taps me on the shoulder.
“Hey man… is it ok if we get some food before we hit the highway? I’m starving.”
“Me too” adds Jocelyn.
“I keep telling you guys that you are going to have to learn how to live on one meal a day. It’s like, you think I’m just doing a bit, the ‘old guy in the club’ routine. But this is a perfect example of it. What if we had to drive to New York right now? You want to stop on I-95 and eat shit rest area food?”
“Alright old man. Take it easy.” Jeremy.
“Look, I haven’t been up here at night in a few years. I’ll drive into Kenmore Square, and the first food option you guys see, that’s where we’ll stop.”
“Cool” breathes Todd
“Thanks” coos Joss.
Fortunately, they spot a Mexican place that looks like it’s not a chain restaurant. I take the left turn onto Ipswich Street, pull over onto an ice embankment that is omnipresent in the city, and let the three of them out for the short, one block walk to the restaurant. The flashing lights of the turnpike gave a simmering glow to Fenway Park, which reminds me that I know of a few parking tricks in this section of town. I put the van in drive, hit the left blinker light, and pull back out onto the street. Three complete loops around the block later, I haven’t found an open spot. As I prepare to take another left turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, I see the three of them gingerly traipsing the icebanks toward the van. Each one of them has a look of contentment on their faces that I have rarely seen when things are going well for the band. Jocelyn looked more excited to have a taco in her hand than when I showed her the Earcandy review on my phone four days earlier. I’m secretly seething, but initiating that kind of conversation would have no sway in this moment. The smart move is to let them eat in peace; knowing there will be another day that will illustrate just how different life is as you strive to create a modern rock band.
“Every time we would play in Hartford in the Thames days, something would get lost, or stolen…. every fucking time.”
This is our first show in Hartford, as part of the Sycamore Tree festival; three nights in the club with the best of the Connecticut indie scene. This kind of invite would never be afforded us without the Earcandy and other online banter about Piercing, even if we were sounding just as good as at the Well gig. Exposure is an interesting word in the lexicon of musicians. Some exposure works, some does not. And the ratio of good to bad is just like anything else in this digital world. 1:10
“One night, when I had a pick-up truck with a cap on it for our primary transportation, an effects rack with $1500 worth of effects slid over the top of the amps, and broke the back window, falling out the truck onto the highway. The biggest problem was, we didn’t notice until we got to the club. I fucking raced back out onto the highway to look for the case, but we never spotted it. And of course, we couldn’t just stay out there until we found it, we had to get back to do the show.”
“I’ve heard that story before, at the Palace” chimes in Jeremy, with the louche response of someone who heard another tall tale at the family holiday gathering.
“I never heard that, what happened to the gear?” asks Todd, earnestly trying to reconfigure the tenor of the discussion.
“Anne loaned me $700, and the band chipped in the rest to replace the units. I never totally paid Anne back all of that money.”
“She’s too fucking good to you!” shouted Jeremy.
There was enough of a sense of self-deprecation in his voice to keep me from getting worked up about it. What did he know about long term relationships, other than bashing his head into a car windshield as a last method of defense? I could already tell that this was going to be another night in Hartford, and that I was driving into a total shitshow. You could sense it, like the wind suddenly shifting and lifting the leaves of a new born spring upward; the rain will commence, shortly.
“Hahahahahahhaa! I just got the best text message of the new year!” Jeremy suddenly exclaims, flashing his phone backwards to Todd and Jocelyn, who are sitting in the middle two seats of the van.
“Yes! That’s priceless!” offers Jocelyn
“Another night at the office, eh?” adds Todd
“What is it?” I ask, feeling somewhat left out of the moment. He slowly turns the screen towards me.
It’s a photo at a party, and if I remember correctly it’s after our most recent show at the Well; going by the outfit Jeremy is wearing. In the photo, the Senator is draped over his shoulders, hands clasped inelegantly around Jeremy’s neck. The Senator looks as if he is a trophy pelt; the fur of an exotic animal with its head still attached, bobbing toward one side to define it’s lifelessness.
“He looks pretty loaded” I offer quietly, trying not to betray my emotions.
“Oh yeah, he was fucked up that night!”
“My favorite text of the year so far is the one you sent me from the bar at the Well on New Year’s Eve.” Jocelyn openly addresses Jeremy on the topic.
“Oh yeah? The one where I said “hey joss, too bad you’re not here right now as I make out with everyone at the bar to celebrate the new year!”
“Yeah, yeah, that one! I was laughing my ass off at that.”
The only thing I could think of were Jeremy’s South Park teeth; all pointed inward to the same degree, and the spittle that would strand itself between his lower lip and the overbite of his top jaw. I focused on the road to distract myself from the conversation.
When we arrive at the club, I’m able to park the van in the spot closest to the stage door, a huge benefit as the temperature drops. Jeremy leaps out of the van, and attempts to light a cigarette before his left foot hits the ice, and he almost ends up on his ass. Fortunately, he’s able to catch his balance, and still light the cigarette. He gives me a stern look, as if to gauge how much I was anticipating his probable fall. I don’t change my expression at all.
“Hey Twining, c’mon, man, let’s go get some hookers and blow!” Jeremy is in full on mocking-me voice, as he is fully aware I have never seen cocaine in my life, much less solicited a prostitute.
“Yeah, man. Let’s do it!” offers Todd in a mock catharsis.
“Guys, let’s just get the gear in, ok?”
In my time living in the rock world, if someone wanted hookers and blow before, during, or after a gig- they just went ahead and did it, it wasn’t some precious drama unfolding as a rock life goof. You want coke and prostitutes? Fine. I just don’t need to know about it. As we begin to unload the gear, I notice that each one of them has slid off and on the fourth and final trip out to the van, it’s only me. I grab the rolling drum stand case and a guitar and head back inside the club. They are hanging out, meeting the other bands on the bill. I have to resign myself that this is what the next six months will look like; me being the roadie, the driver- hoping they embrace their roles as the band.
Brent shows up right then, which is a breath of fresh air for me.
“Hey man- thanks for making it” I say to him with an outstretched right hand beak, which he returns.
“Of course, man. No worries! And I nailed “Vortex” yesterday; that tune is going to rock.”
I head over to meet Robert, the head booking agent at Sycamore Tree Productions. After pleasantries and greetings, which seemed quite genuine in a place where genuine behavior is not to be expected, he asks if I brought my own drum set.
“Oh, yeah, of course. We always travel with everything we need.” I replied, trying to sound prepared and yet willing to acquiesce to his impending demand.
“Well, we’re going to have everyone use one kit, if that’s ok with you….”
“That’s fine. Will I need cymbals and kick pedal, snare; that kinda thing?”
“Yeah, perfect. It’s just with five bands tonight….”
I cut him off with a slow wave.
“No worries. I’ll pack up the excess and prep after the opener finishes the sound check.”
“Cool, thanks. I can’t wait to see you guys tonight, I’ve been hearing very positive things.”
I am fumbling with my phone trying to get the camera up in the near darkness just before our set begins. I’m trying to get in the routine of posting a photo to Instagram the moment before each show begins. Jeremy unplugs from his amp to retune one last time before we start, which gives me the extra minute to be ready. I snap a shot of “the drummer’s view”- basically the corona around Jocelyn’s head highlighted in a dark purple/blue mix. Click. Post.
“Hello people, we are Piercing, from Mystic, Connecticut”
I click off the four beats to begin “Massive”
The crowd numbers sixty people, from my “field of vision” stage count; but almost none of them have seen us play live before. The opportunity of these showcase type festivals was laid out in front of us in the finest fashion possible. And fresh off the heels of the Well performance, we are tighter than ever, even with Brent filling in. Joss seems perfectly comfortable, and I think maybe it’s playing in front of people that she has a relationship with that hinders some of her performance. There was no Marcus here tonight, no Whitney, no Phoebe, no New London. I take that as a very good sign, crossing my right hand to clasp a cymbal hit at the precision conclusion of “Decisive”. Jeremy has become more like Adrian; new, stabbing gestures punctuate his stellar riffing. Jeremy was always acting like a star, but I could sense a gentle deferment toward Todd, and more so, toward Jocelyn. They were embracing, and not becoming overcome, by their onstage roles. Our set concludes with another blistering version of “Vortex”, Brent fluidly integrating his style, Jeremy wailing in full throat, Joss pinning the high octave like stars in a planetarium. We exit the stage to genuine applause, and I notice a small crowd gathering around Joss as the rest of us offload the Piercing set-up. Good. Let her be the face of the band; it’s about time.
The three kids begin to attract a bit more attention, so Brent and I retire to the bar, and order pints. After hearty congratulations to each other, and trying to frame the concept that we were both here together “in fucking Hartford, of all places”- noticed Brent. I change the topic to spring training baseball, which has commenced over the course of this weekend.
“Remember, in 2003, when we appealed to your better nature and asked you not to go to Spring Training that year?” Brent is setting me up for a wicked fall.
“Yeah, of course. Because after the 1999 ALCS loss to the Yankees, I was sure they were going to win the next year. Positive. Pedro, come on!”
“Hahahaha! Remember the Offerman phantom tag in ’99; ugly times.”
“Yeah, so if you remember we went to Florida in 2000, 2001, and 2002. And not one of those years did they even make it to the playoffs ….”
“That’s when a bunch of us figured it had to be you going to Spring Training every year!”
“Hahahahaa, I know, I know. I take the entire blame!”
“By the way, I don’t think I have told you this yet, but it’s okay with everyone if you want to go back now…..” he whispered this in my ear. I almost fell off the bar stool. In our lifetime.
The club is a fine blend of aged wood panels adorning the walls over deep maroon booths, and a wide open area in front for the audience. The stage was low and wide, not very deep; I always loved playing on that sort of stage. I was feeling extremely comfortable, in Hartford of all places. I let myself think that we had righted everything, and finding a permanent replacement for Ian would be as easy as any other episode we had endured. That tonight was another small victory. At that very moment, I could hear Jeremy’s signature laugh arise in volume and sit distinctly at the top of the frequency range between bands. I look over my left shoulder, and see Jocelyn, Todd, and Jeremy in absolute buckled over hysterics. My initial thought is paternal- good, they are having a fine time while we are out here; It was crucial to a band’s survival to be able to enjoy the moments. I looked at Brent. He knew what was on my mind from the look on my face before I had even reconciled it within myself.
“Hey, are you okay?” he says
“You know, if things keep going your way, it’s going to be like this most nights. And I’m not going to able to be there with you.”
“I know, I know.”
I felt completely isolated within my own band. Socially. It’s happens. That’s what Brent was referring to. He knew it, he’d been on both sides of the equation. It had been heading this way since Jeremy joined Piercing, a gradual shift toward the three ancient friends and the guy who drives the van. And yet, I had signed up for this; I could have walked last August, when the whole thing was teetering. And there were ample opportunities to excuse myself before now. No, I had signed up for the whole ride, wherever it may end.
“Hey Twining, c’mon man- let’s go into Hartford and paaaaaaartaaaay, baby!” drawls Jeremy as we exit the parking lot of the club.
“Are you fucking kidding me? This is the shortest drive home from a gig we’ve had outside of the Well. I’m going to actually sleep tonight.” I reply, somewhat sarcastically. I was still fuming over the cocaine/hookers bit from earlier in the night.
“Fine, fine, suit yourself indie rock warrior chief!”
Just let it go, just let it go.
As I merge onto the south highway that will lead us to Jeremy’s Niantic abode, I abandon all van protocol, and put on a CD of music that should be listened to alone, or at least with a sympathetic audience. If I have to hear any more of this faux rock star shit, when I am fully aware that Jeremy is an open member of some underground sex circuit, and that I have nagging suspicions that this same group of people are trying to declare proprietary rights onto Jocelyn….. Fuck it. Let it all go. Yeezus is at top volume, while we navigate the western spine of the Connecticut River Valley.
We arrive at Jeremy’s house, and he exits without saying a word to anyone; no late night beak for the driver who got us there and back safely. I was so angry inside, I barely noticed how long it took for him to get his guitar out of the back of the van. I figured that he was finally as drunk as he had been trying to get all night, and that navigating the gear was like a mining expedition for him. I hear the back doors of the van close, and see in the passenger mirror that he has made his way toward the house. I tap down on the left blinker, and head toward Mystic.
As we cross the drawbridge, the familiar clang of the heavy van on its deck is a reassuring feeling; that we made it through another night, to another day. Jocelyn and Todd are whispering quietly to each other, as the Kanye is still at a somewhat higher volume than necessary. I’m still trying to suppress my night of dealing with Jeremy’s attitude. And then I hear clearly, Todd say to Jocelyn-
“I don’t know how many more nights like tonight I have in me.”
My mind begins racing. Was I meant to hear that? What was so difficult about tonight for him? Why does he feel the need to express that to Joss? Is it about the band at all? I can’t help but insert myself into the conversation, for the first time in roughly an hour and a half.
“None of you guys are committed enough to this, none of you are totally one hundred percent in. and that’s what it fucking takes- and look at all the fucking advantages we have had!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, take it easy man.” offers Todd immediately.
I take the right turn onto my street, and jam the van with a hard left turn into the driveway.
“No man, you take it easy. You guys were more excited to get fucking food after the Boston radio gig than any of you were when the latest Earcandy review came out- fourteen fucking hours after I submitted it to them! Do you guys understand the fucking significance of that?”
“Hey, don’t fucking tell me how committed to the fucking band I am! Was I in New York with Wall? Was I? Was I fucking in New York with Wall?”
Jocelyn is screaming at me, in the same tone I’m addressing them in. It’s brutal and ugly.
“Yes, you were in New York with Wall.” I shout back, feeling the dissipation of our bond chipped away with each word.
“And I was fucking BLEEDING! AND I WAS FUCKING THERE!”
“I KNOW! I KNOW! I WAS FUCKING THERE AS ALWAYS, RIGHT!??!?!?”
“you’re just a drunk……………..”
She let this out almost as if she were waving a white flag. I give up. But that’s not what she meant. It was far more cavalier than that. She meant I was the one who wasn’t fit for this particular adventure, regardless of my previous track record. Or was it that I wasn’t part of her future, with or without the band? And suddenly, a thought pierced everything- she doesn’t argue that way. Over the course of our heated exchanges and full throated battles, it was always about the work, and the method of creating it. It was never personal. And here, at this juncture, she was going to use the strongest weapon in a verbal arsenal. That wasn’t like her at all, but it was just like something Jeremy would say.
He must have been positioning Joss against me for months for her to break that statement out in this situation. Yes… the protracted cover battle for the single. The arguments that Joss wasn’t up to the task- were they more subterfuge? I knew If I stayed in the van a second longer I would regret it for the rest of my life. I grabbed my gig bag, opened the door, and walked into Centraal. Anne was on the couch, perusing late night television. It was 11.30 pm.
“We’ll, I don’t think Jocelyn is ever going to want to speak to me again.” I said as I closed the door behind me.
I wake up out of a troubled sleep at 10.30 am. Anne hadn’t set the alarm clock, which was totally unlike her, as she had to work at 9am, but I didn’t have to open the Palace until 11am. I head downstairs for a pint of water, when I spot the handwritten note on the counter, from Anne:
“I called Benno late last night. He’s going to work today, take a day off to get some peace.”
It was quite a gift.
I make a Mothertrucker in the kitchen, with sports talk radio cluttering the background with talk of a possible Red Sox World Series Championship repeat in 2014. Coupled with the Piercing situation, and hearing disembodied voices pontificate on another Sox title, I was completely unmoored. Thames were supposed to make it. Ceres blew up right as we finally nailed the concept. Bold Schwa had the chance. And yet, Piercing was on the literal doorstep. And I imagined my pink slip would arrive via electronic communication any minute now; they would go on to success without me. I decided to be enlightened about the situation. Instead of fighting the new development, I would take consolation in knowing my investment in these kids was worth it; even if I were to become a footnote, a detail in the larger story of their talent becoming what it was possible of. From my point of view. I could acquiesce to their decision to move on without me, if it came to that.
After eating, I head downstairs and log on to Facebook. Scrolling through the feed, I notice a shot of Joss and Todd; they are in the clothes they wore at the Well gig nine days earlier. In the photo, Jocelyn is being held tight to Amber, her right arm pulling Joss close to her body. Todd is grinning as if he was on top of the world, and I thought to myself I hope that was due to the great set we had played that night. I was about to click off the image, when something caught my eye, in the top right corner of the picture. It was someone draped around someone’s shoulders, seemingly drunk. I had seen that image already- it was the text pic Jeremy showed us of the Senator on the way to our Hartford gig. This picture was taken at the same moment, from a far wider angle, which included Jocelyn and Todd. They were all there. Fait accompli.
I decided to just get in the van and drive; the motion of the road with music blasting was always my meditation when my mind became cluttered. Or unhinged. The winter grip remained, and it was my brothers birthday as well. I felt bad for him about his birthday because it was always cold and dreary; never the celebratory weather experienced during my summer birthday. This was yet another reason to feel bad on March the Third. The Yeezus disc was still in the player, and it incidentally was cued up to “Hold my Liquor”, the intense, yet languorously ambitious bridge track that the record pivots upon.
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“You’re a drunk……….”
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“You’re a drunk……….”
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“You’re a drunk……….”
I was not a drunk. A drunk was my mother’s boyfriend who bled and fought with those he supposedly cared about. But didn’t I fight with Joss? I had. And yet, our conflagrations were always about the creative process, our image; our impression on the audience. We had never argued and made personal details a part of the debate. A drunk was my father who died and wasn’t found by anyone for two weeks. I was working to bring Jocelyn’s dream to fruition. How could I simply be a drunk and be simultaneously pulling all of these various threads together? For her. For her career. I had already been in this place in my creative life; I knew I could exist if Piercing fell down the stairs once they had reached the top step. But how could she walk away? She asked me to be in her band, and I had done everything I had promised her, everything she asked me to.
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“you’re a drunk……….”
Object of adoration.Z
I drive in two overlapping figure eights, across the Greater Southeastern Autonomous Zone. The stereo is playing so loud the speakers and power amp struggle to keep up with my desire to block out all thought with volume. I receive a text from Anne.
“How are you? Where are you?”
I text her a photo of my step-father’s gravesite at the head of the river, in an ancient Catholic cemetery.
I make my way toward Stonington, with the vague idea that staring at the sea from the winnowed peninsula at the end of town would bring some clarity, much like my trip to Provincetown twenty years earlier at the end of Thames. But I become distracted as I pass the cemetery at the outer edge of the Borough. I remember that there is a Twining family plot there; although none of my immediate family were buried there. I get another text from Anne:
“I’m worried about you. Talk to me.”
I text her a picture of the Twining family plot, and get back in the van.
‘Shit’s all over the place……….’
This new disparity is surreal, and all I can focus on is the ambient noise surrounding the lyric in the Kanye track. It’s the sound of pinging digital tones, evaporating upon recognition. It mirrors how I feel, as the information of being excused from Piercing must be making its way across the internet, while I drive between gravesites. I decide to turn up the volume again; and proceed to blow the entire set of speakers in the van. Surprisingly, this makes the songs sound even more visceral. Not many records could sound better on a blown stereo system- Sonic Youth’s “Bad Moon Rising”? Maybe? “Psychocandy” by Jesus & Mary Chain? Perhaps. But I knew that Yeezus sounded incredible in this manner. I pulled over finally in front of the house where they found my father after he was face down in a mattress for two weeks following his fatal stroke. I checked my phone.
“Where are you? are you ok? Talk to me, please!”
I texted a photo of the bedroom window of the room they found my father in.
“Don’t punish me for this! I want to help, to be there for you!”
Anne and I have had Tuesday as an off day for twenty years. It was her idea, that taking off a midweek day would offset the fact that weekends didn’t truly exist in retail. Everyone worked Saturday, so to have Sunday and Tuesday off each week, the four day sprint from Wednesday to Saturday was minimized. I sat on the couch after brunch, phone in hand, awaiting the guillotine that did not drop on Monday. At 3pm exactly, I receive a Facebook message from Jeremy.
“We’re going to need all of the log in / password info for the band’s social media.”
I was a bit taken aback. No “Joss never wants to speak to you, so you are out” or “you betrayed our trust, everything was going fine until you had to flip out, you can’t just keep freaking out on people.” I decide to keep my response as simple as possible.
“That’s it?” as in, I can understand you want to get rid of me, but is that the only explanation I’m going to get?
“I was trying to keep it cival, but if you want poetry Fuck You”
This was the consequence of my losing the plot with Joss two nights earlier. If she wanted to accuse me of a violation that would impede her career, the “fuck you” seemed to illustrate the reality of this situation, and the divide. It was something I was going to have to accept. I had never been kicked out of anything, except that one time in sixth grade when my teacher found me stuffed in a garbage can by my so called best friends. “Ellery! Just, just, just … go home!” That was easy enough, my house was on the same street as the school, and so I left. I had to hide in the low shrubs of my parent’s house when I noticed the principals white Corvette slowly pacing the street. But, this was different. This was my career. I lean over and show Anne the message.
“He spelled ‘civil’ wrong….”
I immediately send a text to Jocelyn, and a Facebook message to Todd:
The next day at the Palace is a struggle, but I make it through. Benno is completely conciliatory- “You did everything you could.” The store had recently bought an incredible collection from a Navy family that was going to be re-stationed to Hawaii, and it was my job to sort out the rock from the jazz, the disco from the funk, and file the odds and ends in the various catchall bins we had for such recordings: one such bin was the dj resources bin where we stashed the language translation records, or the National anthems of Austria, Norway, Sweden, and Luxembourg performed by the High Guard of Vienna. I check my phone every few minutes for a response from Joss or Todd, and after checking in on the Red Sox spring training news, I head to bed. There is no news from either end of the spectrum. And yet, like a digital member of the modern world, I send one more text message to Jocelyn.
“I hope we can still be friends after the dust settles.”
I wake up Thursday to more of the dreary weather this winter keeps providing us with. The stinging cold of the kitchen floor wakes me up a bit. I have a Facebook message from Jeremy.
“Who’s going to cancel all of the shows we have scheduled?”
“Not me. I’m not in the band anymore. It’s yr responsibility.”
This would be something to keep my eye on. Piercing were scheduled to play an on-air in studio show at WRIU in Rhode Island this very night. And all of the band gear was still in my van; untouched since I had fought with Jocelyn following our Hartford gig.
I check the email, and the first missive is from Ferry at Gezellig! the Dutch magazine that has been putting off an article on us for six months, while we rebuilt the band three times over.
“Hey Ellery, how are you? We are going to run the full interview in the April issue. You are going to be mentioned on the cover, and we are going to use the Tabitha Williams solo photos from the Decisive video.”
“Hey Ferry. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that they kicked me out of the band with a “fuck you” two days ago. I’m not sure if there is going to be a band.”
“So sorry. What happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m sure you understand I can’t run the piece with the band in such flux.”
“That’s why I responded immediately. Thanks for all of your interest in the group. I’ll let you know if they get their shit together.”
“Ok, man. So sorry, again.”
I still acquiesce and send the log in information for the full array of Piercing’s online presence to Jeremy. I don’t feel that getting in the way of their continuation adds anything to the equation we have been building for the past eight years. I had the distinct parental experience of your kids leaving the proverbial house. I had to mine the feeling that would liberate me from what I thought was immense betrayal- I had done my best, and if my most sincere efforts landed them in the world of music without me being a part of it, I would still have to believe that my role was executed as expected.
Todd shows up at my house, unannounced, at 7.45 pm. His knock startles me, as I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by on this dreary March Thursday. I immediately pop up, and notice he’s holding my Epiphone guitar I had loaned him at the beginning of the band, because he had nothing of his own to play when we started Piercing. He worked that guitar for the first year and a half that we were together, until he was finally able to save enough cash for a Thinline semi-hollow body Telecaster. The seamless frequencies on “Vortex” were largely due to the fact that the guitar tones were so harmonious; between Jeremy’s custom built hollow body, which was twice the width of Todd’s Thinline. Their dexterity added depth to the band’s palette; which was the central idea holding everything together, with Joss’ voice as the centrifuge. We had already showed that we could articulate the essence of the Piercing idea with a bevy of bassists. The core was as solid as could be, containing relationships built over years with trust as the fulcrum.
It was all vanishing in real time. The very idea that I had to reconcile these differences seemed an affront to me. Every thought was a personal violation. Or transgression- I truly could not decide. Things end badly. This would be a new low.
“Hey man, how are you.” Todd offers upon entering Centraal.
“Umm ok. Are you guys really going to go on as a three piece, and replace me with machines?”
“Oh, hell no. fuck those guys, I never want to speak to them again. I don’t even want to make music anymore.”
“What?!?!?!” I asked incredulously.
“Yeah, fuck this shit. We were right there, we had everything within our reach, and you’re going to just blow the whole fucking thing up?!?!?!”
“Wait, what are you talking about?”
Todd handed me my guitar, and turned around to open the door.
“They asked me to join their sex cult. I said ‘fuck you’. I’m done. Goodnight, Mr. Twining!”
And he left.
As he closes the door, my phone emits its reverse Lightsaber sound to alert me to a new text. It’s from Jocelyn.
“I appreciate you reaching out. I don’t regret a second of the experience.”
When I wake up earlier than ever, I finally decide to come to terms with the fact that I have to empty the van of the gear, and to actually step foot into Centraaal which I have avoided for the past week. I gather up my wits to tackle the challenge, and then give up immediately, deciding to check the email before heading out. It’s as if I’m going to get that email from a record label, or a booking agent, asking Piercing to forward our career with them. Perhaps then the band could be rebuilt, again. What I find instead is a scathing email from the WRIU radio hosts. Not only did they not show up to play the show, the first of several more booked through March, they didn’t even bother to email the station to cancel.
The darkness begins to creep in. is Jeremy trying to ruin my reputation? To make it difficult for me to begin making music again, at this level? I spend the next two hours deleting our entire online presence. And the only way I am able to do this is because Jeremy was too stupid to immediately change the passwords once I gave them to him. 500 Twitter followers, deleted. 800 PR contacts in the band email, deleted. The label page managed by Malthus, deleted. I almost delete all of our hosted MP3 files, but at the last second realize the Earcandy and other blog links would have been compromised. That part of the legacy would remain untouched by my assault. But, if they were going to go on without me, they were not going to gain access to the vast contacts that helped build Piercing. No, they would have to build it themselves. Certainly I had showed them how to achieve it, wouldn’t that be enough in the aftermath? I head to the Facebook page to delete its content and find that I am locked out, no longer an admin on the band page. The one place where I was blocked. Facecrack.
Satisfied that I have delineated the discourse of the band’s collapse somewhat to my own measures, I head out to the van to finally unload the gear. It’s the first warm day after the brutal season of the past winter. The sky is cloudless, and I raise my left hand to shield the sun from my eyes as I exit the house. The key slides into the van door, I turn it to the right, and open it. I immediately notice that something is missing, and have a mild panic attack about possibly leaving gear in Hartford after the last show; it would be near impossible to find it now after these days have passed. I then catch myself,
‘What fucking difference would it make if our gear was stolen? As long as my drum set is intact, fuck everything else’.
And yet, I notice the only gear missing is Jeremy’s amp, his guitar, but also all of the effect pedals and the case of cords for both guitar set-ups. Why would he take all of his gear out of the van when we had a practice in Mystic in two days, and a gig in Storrs the following Thursday? He couldn’t drive, and he would have to transport all of that gear for practice. There wasn’t time to do some home demos, where he might need all of that equipment. So, why? And then it dawned on me- he had quit the band, but that was a full thirty minutes before my fight with Jocelyn in the driveway. Had he already left the band when he took the gear with him that night. But why?
And then, with the clarity I would imagine comes at one’s final moment; I realized his work was finished. He had brought her to them. The band was a charade, a front. Could they have tried to recruit Jocelyn if she was simply a bookstore clerk? Certainly. But it made it much easier to gather her into the clasp of the cult while she was a hot shit up and coming rock star. Well played. Well played. Jeremy had been creating a negative atmosphere around Joss for months, so I would be less willing to fight him during the endgame. Well played.
I send a text to Jocelyn later that night.
“We need to talk.”
“When would be a good time for you.”
And then, the response I was waiting for:
“I would prefer if you ask me if I can talk rather than tell me I need to.”
“Hey- I’m not trying to challenge you. I’m simply trying to stop my mind from running in circles.”
“I know you are not challenging me and I’m sorry if that sounded aggressive. It was not intended to be”
We meet at the oldest establishment in town, in their cellar bar with fireplace, meticulously tended to in the never ending winter of 2014. I wanted to meet with Joss in public, so to assuage any fears she may have of me losing my shit during our ensuing conversation. The possibility had to be addressed, and I felt horrible about that definition. But it was true; we needed to meet in public.
However, Jocelyn wasn’t aware of specific developments in the days following our falling out.
“The reason I asked you to meet me is because, when I finally went out to the van to empty the gear after the Hartford gig, I noticed that Jeremy had taken all of his gear out that night; not just his guitar and amp, but all of the pedals and cords. Which, I bought for him as well. This was twenty minutes before we even began to fight at my house. So why take all of the gear out when we had practices and gigs that week, and he can’t drive? Was he going to do a solo album in twenty four hours?”
“Maybe that was the way he was going to get out.”
“I suppose so.”
Why were they trying to get out?
Object of adoration.
“I saw a picture of you on Facebook, looked like it was the after-party following the last Well gig, which was a good night if I remember…”
She laughs, tilts her head to the left, smiles.
“Yeah, that was a great set.”
“I saw the Senator draped over Jeremy in the background of that picture, did you notice it?”
“No, no… I didn’t.”
“It was the same shot he showed us in that text going to Hartford, with the Senator draped over him, all loaded…”
“Yeah…… I remember that……. ”
“This shot was the same night, but from a wider angle. It’s you, Amber draped around you, and Todd.”
“Is it because you think it will be easier to be an object of adoration, rather than the face of the band? Is that what is happening here?”
She looked away, over her left shoulder, toward the old stone fireplace. Slowly, she returned her gaze to me and looked directly into my eyes.
“Look, I just want you to be happy…” I offer.
Her gaze had yet to leave mine. And then, she abruptly stands up, wordless. She turns her heel on the ancient wood floor of the tavern and proceeds out the door.
I would never again record or write music with Jocelyn.