THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Eighteen

In two weeks, we have  a show in New London. Ross and Caron have been staging an all-day free music festival in the downtown across two stages and inside several clubs like the Wishing Well for the past six years. I had actually never been to any of the previous New London New Music Festivals. The festival debut was held the same year I had left Bold Schwa, who appeared at the inaugural event with their replacement drummer. After that, I felt that attending without actually playing would bring on an afternoon and evening of regret. This year I would be  attending, as Piercing were accepted to play the 6pm slot at the Well. Rebuilding the band for a third time had a time limit to it: two weeks to show.

Jeremy agreed to play guitar in two seconds.

“Of course I’m in. shit, I would have been in from day one if you guys decided to form the band at any time before I left for Brooklyn.”

“That was all circumstance. And you needed that time in the city; it made you a more complete person, not always the smartest guy in the room.”

“I’m the smartest guy in the room right now!’

“Oh, stop it.”

“Did I tell you about my last night in Brooklyn?’

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Eleanor had kicked me out of the apartment, she had her name on the lease and I didn’t.”

“Lesson learned.”

“It was right after I got back from work, about 2 in the afternoon. So, I just left, and headed to the neighborhood bar I frequented.”

“That’s a bit early; but I can understand.”

“I get the casual three drink minimum on, and about 5pm, I head back to the apartment. The whole time I’m running this thread through my mind ‘I have to go back to Mystic now; I’m just like everybody else.’ And then I see her parallel parking the car in front of our apartment.  I pick up my pace, and catch her before she can get out of the car.”

“And what did you say.” I was thinking the worst.

“I was yelling, and then screaming- ‘Is this how it’s going to end? Like this?’ I was losing my shit.”

“Yikes. What did Eleanor do?”

“She rolled down the passenger side window, and began pleading with me to ‘Just come in the apartment, just come in!”

“I said, ‘is that what you told him? Just come in the apartment?’

I knew that there had been an episode of infidelity between the two of them. I had no idea what brought it on, nor did I inquire about the topic. They were becoming adults, and they knew where to find me if they wanted my advice on the encroachment of change.

“She said, ‘Fuck You Asshole!’ and I just lost it. “Fuck me? Fuck me? That’s what you should have been doing! Fuck You! … and your lost thirty something Brooklyn man-boys!”

“And did this catch the attention of anyone on the street?”

“Yeah, yeah, it did. These two bros came up to me, and started to break up the argument, pushing me away from the car. ‘Hey man, you need to chill out…’ that enraged me, like just “chilling out” would contain what was happening. I really lost it. I started banging my head on the windshield, screaming at them ‘Is this chill enough for you? is this CHILL ENOUGH??!?!?!?!”

“Did you bleed?” I tried to obscure how frightened I actually was by his admission.

“Yeah. Not too bad. El took me up to the apartment and cleaned me up. She put me on the train back here the next morning.”

“I’m sorry to hear that man. It seemed like the two of you were a good match.”

“In bed we were….”

The four of us practice Friday and Saturday night; getting Jeremy up to speed on the songs he had already learned on bass guitar three months earlier. This is the first time the four of us have been in the studio, without anyone else, in seven years. I keep thinking to myself where would the four of us be by now if we had integrated me on the drums within The Infectious Reality? Nine years was about the limit for any band writing original material, so perhaps we would be on our last legs in 2013. I cannot fathom that we would not found a modicum of success along the way, which would’ve changed everything. Now, there was only the future. And with the way the songs are coming together, it should be even more fruitful than what may have been accomplished. Jeremy was taking the reins as musical director from the second pass of the first song. He excelled at finding subtle nuances to explore, which almost always led to a higher expression of the original song, or arrangement.

“Take that one section just before the change, where I hit this chord…”

Jeremy slams a bright major G.

“Right before that, come off the beat a bit, and decrescendo- then slam that downbeat tight on the G.”

“Got it. Nice idea.” I replied.

The sound was improving as each minute went by, as each detail was explored. They were all familiar with each other’s individual writing technique, and how to criticize without getting personal. The traits that drew me to them initially were in full evidence. Perhaps we survived Rudy, Wall, and Adrian leaving to get to this point. It almost made complete sense; especially if you could ignore the miles accrued.    The Constitution are playing Huntington Grounds tonight, Sunday the first of September. Their home turf. I’m too exhausted to go. And I feel bad about it; I should be there. But we still don’t have a bass player, and there isn’t enough time to have someone learn all of the songs by Saturday night’s NLNM show. I again text Brent and ask if he can play the show; if he can’t make it for some reason we are more than likely have to cancel; which will put our local standing in severe jeopardy. I think a good thought, then send the text.

Oh yeah, sure. I love playing with you guys. What time?

We play at 6pm

Oh easy. I have the day off, I can be there by 4pm.

Cool. we’ll be at the festival all day, so just text when you get there. We’ll find you

Cool. can’t wait!

Thanks man. Yr saving our ass, again.

I email Todd, Joss, and Jeremy and let them know that Brent is in for the NLNM gig.

I get a text message from Benno

“I have yr bass player”

My first thought was that he was going to do a goof on me; a subtle form of sarcasm to allay my fears of finding a new bassist. He was himself an incredible bass player, and I was almost positive he would suggest his own services, as a way to buoy my spirits.

“Ian MacDonald”

Benno held bingo. I have no idea way how the four of us had yet to think of Ian. I thought how the situation mirrored finding Rudy as the last piece of the original Piercing lineup. Ian was an even better fit, especially at this critical juncture.

Brilliant! Do you have his number?

No, but I have his fathers, just give Jim a call.

“Thanks man. This could really be the answer”

“I know, the kid is a sick bassist.”

“Too true”

Ian’s father Jim and I had played Little League baseball together as kids, and he was also an exceptional drummer that played with local bands for as many years as I had. I call him the next afternoon from the Palace; where Jim was also a regular. He picks up after the first ring.

“Hey Palace, how’s it going? Is my Alice Cooper reissue LP in?”

“Hey Jim, it’s Ellery.”

“Hey man, how are you?”

“Very well, thanks. I’m actually not calling about store stuff- my band Piercing is looking for a bass player, and I was trying to get in touch with Ian.”

“Wow…. Yeah, he’d be pretty excited to join that band, I think. Wow.”

“Yeah, well, Benno suggested him to me last night. Can I get his number?”

“Sure! It’s 860-501-4421”

“Thanks man. We have a gig on Saturday that we found someone to fill in for, but we really need a permanent bass player from town.”

“You have a show this Saturday?”

“Yeah, in New London, for the New London New Music Fest.”

“He could totally be ready to play by Saturday.”

“I believe you, but I have Brent from Thames filling in. he’s already played with us this summer.”

“Cool. Brent is a great player. But I’m telling you, Ian could do the gig.”

“Thanks man. If you see him tell him I’m the one trying to get in touch.”

“Got it. See you at the store.”

Now that Jeremy is in the band, I decide it’s time to plunge the depth of his knowledge about the NYC music scene. While he was living there, he was always talking up his nights out in Brooklyn, and how he had hung out with all of the important players in the scene. I was intrigued by his stories before Piercing came into being, but now the information he had at hand could be invaluable to us. We had a certain grasp on the PR machinations of the indie world, but it was far more akin to holding onto a rope rescue ladder with not two, but one hand. We needed to get both hands on the ladder. My plan is to find out where our professional relationships overlapped; that would be the group we would first address about our new lineup, and to build off of his experience. We meet on Wednesday night at Centraal.

“Do you know Luc Torsten?”

“Yeah, he runs Daypaper; he was instrumental in building the early DIY places, before Huntington.”

“How about D Patel?”

“Yes. He runs the LES consortium, books Cabinets and Jenyk Bar.”

“Have you been in contact with these people?”

“Yeah. They get every email blast we send out; twitter, facebook. we’ve played both of those places.”

“Do you invite Michael from Stormy Harbour to all the NYC gigs?”

“Of course I do. But the kid is working all of the time. I do it just so he knows we’re not fucking around.”

“Does Paul White return your emails?”

“Yeah, of course. But Ii’s not like I send him emails all of the time.”

It suddenly dawned on me; he had nothing to add. Everything that he had experienced in the first person while in Brooklyn had no application to where Piercing was, or where we were aspiring to be. It was a good thing he was an exceptional musician, and a friend. Anyone who presented that level of knowledge at a real job interview would be shown the door.

Ian agrees to meet with Jocelyn and I the next night at Centraal; an interview to some degree but we were so desperate to find a bass player as long as he could find his way to the house that would probably have been enough to clinch the deal. Fortunately, Ian was the embodiment of the earnest, young musician. In many ways he reminded me of Todd when he was in TIR; full of boundless possibilities, due to his enormous talent. I take that as another in a long string of ‘good signs’.

“Hey Ian, I’m Jocelyn.”

“I don’t think we’ve ever met.”

“Well, good to meet you!”

“Hey man, how are you?” I had known Ian loosely from the Palace.

“Good, good. Excited to hear what you guys have to say.”

Shit, I thought. I was hoping this would be a slam dunk, where Ian was already convinced joining the band was the correct course. All we had to do was ask. But he was definitely asking us to give him a true reason why it would be a good idea for him; both musically and professionally. I had the presentation in my mind, coalescing the various threads of what being in Piercing would mean to him over the past few days. But this was no time to slip up. I had to be careful not to go out on a tangent, and also give space for Joss to make and support elements of our sell to Ian.  We might not survive if it doesn’t work out tonight.  After twenty minutes of small talk about what bands we all found an overlap towards, and his background as a musician, Jocelyn asked Ian the question.

“So, what do you want to accomplish with all of your musical talent?”

“I’d like to be able to someday make a living with it.”

“I think you’ve found the band you belong in.” I replied, with a smile. I reached out with a beak, and he gave me one back. Joss and Ian then exchange beaks, reaching across the table right in front of me.

The four of us squeeze in a practice with Brent the Friday night before our NLNM show; Ian will be in the audience as we play. During a spirited exaggeration of the bridge in Spirits, I catch Brent’s eye; he’s lost in the music. It was the validation I had been seeking for months, as his serene face and closed eyes said everything to assuage the worry of heading in the wrong direction with Piercing. If Brent was so possessed in the moment, we had to be onto something. And yet, as much as Brent has bailed us out, as much as he has contributed to the fact that Piercing still existed as a band, I’m praying that this will be his last show with us.

Geneva Holiday have garnered their first invitation to play the NLNM Festival, after being left out the previous five years; which Rudy always brought up during his habitual critique of the local music scene.  They are the opening act of the entire day’s festivities- the Richie Havens of this NLNM. Jeremy, Todd, and I agree it is paramount that we are there when the opening chord of the Geneva set resonates over the Plaza in downtown New London. The three of us meet for tea and coffee at Centraal, and walk into the Plaza as Geneva are plugging in.

“Hey… we’re Geneva Holiday, I’m sure you know who we are”

And they were off, flexing their terse instrumentals to a crowd of thirty people, in a setting that would see several hundred watch the festival headliner end the day on the same stage. Rudy played as a man possessed; as if fifty thousand people were out in front of them.  They were greeted with sparse applause from a group of homeless people, and the few musicians to be coherent at 2pm on a Saturday. We clap wildly, not trying to draw attention to our attendance, but rather to play the role; we wanted our audience to be excited to witness our set. It was still five hours away.

The local newspaper always had spot on coverage of the festival; and this year was no exception. During the years I was at work and not attending, I followed surreptitiously through Lionel Hoinsky’s Twitter feed and the papers own online presence. This year, they are interviewing  musicians at the festival site before they play- music scribe Calvin Truffant sidles up to me during the final Geneva song and asks if Piercing would like to do an interview.

“Of, course, man. Thanks for asking us.”

“Well, it’s going to be a long day, and it’s good to see you guys here for the first band.”

I had known Calvin for years; he had covered each iteration of my music since he arrived in 1996. The key for me was to let Jeremy and Todd do all of the talking; it was their time to define who they were. I drove the van and cleaned the practice space. And even now, with an opportunity to talk about the group, we existed in a fragmented form. Jocelyn would have made a great web interview at 2.45pm; in sunglasses and a scarf, catching the waterfront breeze. There is only one microphone for the three of us, and I gesture to Todd that he should be our key speaker.  His face betrays an interior fear, but he reaches out and grabs the mic with a new found authority. I was hoping he was coming to terms that it was their ass now. I drove the van and played the drums.

“So, tell me what’s going on with Piercing? You’ve got provocative videos out, some new stuff; what’s going on?”

“Right now, we’re actually in writing mode, we just got back into the gigging mode, so we’ll be playing a lot of gigs soon with new material.”

“What are you going to do with the new material?”

“We’re heading back into the studio for our third single in the next few months.”

“Nice, nice. That’ll be three singles in a calendar year, hunh?”

“Yeah, singles are the new LP, do you know what mean?”

“Hah hah, that’s great ,a Jefferson Airplane reference!”

do you know what I mean, yeah…”sings Todd in response

“You guys have been travelling a little; where have you been going?’

“New York and New Haven, mostly. We’re just now trying to branch out into the rest of New England and further south.”

“So, when you set out to establish a fan base outside of the town, how hard is it to get your foot in the door in someplace like New York?”

“it can be somewhat difficult, but, I mean,  the more you go there, the more people you talk to; it becomes easier and people tend to warm up to you, so it’s been good.”

“You guys have a very melodic, retro pop style. Is that a fair assessment?”

“Would anyone else like to take this one? Twining?” intones Todd

I lean forward and try to keep it as simple as possible:

“Yes, that’s fair.”

“Well, where does that come from?”

“I would like to say that since Jocelyn is a songwriter who doesn’t play an instrument, she’s very much a melodic songwriter….” muses Jeremy on the question.

“Yeah, yeah, I can see that.”

“So, since a lot of our melodies are written by someone who doesn’t play an instrument, that’s where the difference lies.” Jeremy elucidates the duality.

They nailed it; at least as best that could be expected in a tight frame. Perhaps we were totally on the right track; all worries being laid aside. It certainly felt that way.

We head over to Royal Park to catch the set by Truck Stop Inc., a wicked drum and bass guitar duo that storms their way through the depths of sludge metal in intriguing ways. The crowd is around fifty people; but these people are digging the TSI. Metal heads covered in tattoos raise a fist and stomp the grass of the Park in time to the bludgeoning beats; people on the fringe hold hands with open mouths, pondering the origins of this powerful duo. And yet no matter how much that segment of the audience enjoyed the music, at 3pm, on a cool September afternoon, it didn’t matter one iota to them that the sun was shining in a corona beam against the afternoon cloud cover. There was more to come.

Brent meets us at the wrought iron gates as we exit the Park, setting ourselves up to hand out handbills for our set at the Well at 6pm to the crowd exiting the Park and passersby on the street..

“I’m here, I’m here… not another repeat performance!” He offers enthusiastically.

“Beaks man, we’re all good.”

Todd and Jeremy descend on Brent to further their bond. It is an important show, and I could tell from their intentions they wanted to play a memorable festival show, not some walk through on a Thursday night at 9pm. Sunlight will be creeping through the front windows of the Well when we take the stage: it will be up to us to bring on the night. Our set is a small triumph amidst the larger triumphs of the day -long festival. But Piercing plays its role, and the applause that follows the conclusion of our set makes me feel as if it has all been worth it. There was also the background pressure of convincing Ian that joining the band was the right choice at this juncture of his musical life. His father Jim confirmed that for me as we loaded the gear out back and into the van.

“You guys have a tight band there, a good band. But I’m telling you; Ian could have played this gig. He’s that good.”

”I believe you, Jim. We’re going to need that kind of expertise because I don’t have much time left to keep pursuing this. We need to make good on what we are doing as soon as possible. And do you know what the crazy part of it is?”

“No, I don’t…”

“We are actually there. This band can put themselves in a position to seal the deal. I have been here before.”

“I believe you, but can you get these kids to believe you?”

“So far, so good.”

After I finished talking with Jim, I went back in to the Well and took a seat at the bar. I looked toward the stage and saw Jeremy being flanked by Bop and the Senator; who both keep popping up in Jeremy’s Facebook feed enough to notice. Jocelyn had just sidled up to me at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. I saw Bop gesticulating, his hands in a repetitive circle, but I couldn’t comprehend what he could be on about. I looked away, perusing the myriad of beer choices at the Well, when something catches my attention, out of the corner of my eye. Bop has taken both hands and placed them on Jeremy’s shoulders, and somewhat violently spins him around to face Joss and the bar. I see his lips begin to move, and I can almost make out what he is saying. I focus all of my attention in that most brief of moments to sense what was being said between them. I could almost make it out, as if the verbiage were trans-oceanic communiques, coming in letter by letter over the wire. And then, with the last final syllable slipping off of his lip’s, I knew what had been said between Bop and Jeremy:

“Bring Her to Me.”

My two best friends as a child were twins of deaf parents. It was then I learned the basics of lip reading, and how to enunciate for deaf people. Their presence in my life gave me a foundation that would serve me quite well during my creative endeavors: I never thought anyone had an advantage over any situation. When the oldest of their family came home stoned and drunk one night in the ‘70’s while I was sleeping over as a guest of the twins, Mrs. Smith laid into him like I had never heard any other mother before. Her throaty threats to his existence frightened me, and made me more in awe of her. Each slumberous exaltation regarding his intrepid behavior filled me with dread; I would never want to find myself in his position. And I never did, I didn’t partake of that particular cultural moment until I had graduated high school. I didn’t have my first beer until I was nineteen years old. But I had retained enough of their culture to know what Bop had said to Jeremy. The thought scared me, as I knew almost everyone who came into contact with Joss might take a piece of her if they could finagle a way to pull it off, without evidence. But Bop was different. He wanted what he wanted, and did not let the trivial nature of societal normalities get in the way. This much was evident, even from the back of the club. I had lived through a sub-culture of eroticism already.

My very first job was as a dishwasher in one of the local restaurants. After burning my hand one night helping out one of the chefs, I decided that the kitchen was too risky a venture for a drummer who could not afford to burn his hands.  I quickly found a new job at a Victorian pop art gift shop in town; an institution since before I was born. A gay male couple owned and operated the business, and being among their cultural reality went a long way in shaping my ideas of acceptance; of tolerance. I loved to tell the kids at the Palace that I was “raised by women and gay wolves”; a nod to my single mom upbringing and a slant rhyme on the origin myth of the Roman Empire. The “wolves” at THERAPY were brilliant minds; many of them possessing masters or doctorates, and the shop was a place where they could congregate unmitigated. Some were just kids, or party boys, but that was rare at the time. I was able to be a part of it for seven years in my late teens and early twenties, and it was an education unfound outside of those ancient walls. Outside of the boys asking me to “just show it to us” every few months, it was as inviting a crowd as I had encountered. They knew I wasn’t going to show it to them.  And yet, I adored the confidence in which they asked. It was intoxicating.

I would treasure the snowy winter days with B.G. He had left the Navy a few years earlier, vacating a position at the Language School where he translated Russian documents into English. By coming out as a gay man to his superiors, he could easily remove himself from service and enroll at Harvard in their prestigious foreign language Doctorate program. And then, a strange thing happened to him: his superior officers wouldn’t report his status if he simply agreed to stay on. This was a generation before “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” would be instituted.

“I appreciate the offer; I really do. It’s just time.”

He would tell me the secret stories of what he and his boyfriends were up to after hours. One of their favorite weekend events was cruising between the rest area and the truck stop just over the border into Rhode Island. They were three exits apart, and B.G. would circle that route for hours picking up random truckers for anonymous sex. One particularly memorable night found B.G. and his then boyfriend Anthony, so enraptured by someone they met on the road, they convinced the stranger to head to a motel.

“….to eventually watch the sun rise….”

As their unknown trucker commenced the latest hours of that night, Anthony was watching while leaning on the far wall. In a brief moment of near darkness, Anthony heard the trucker remove his condom; which was essential to these men in those days. Anthony took two quick steps forward and punched the trucker in the mouth.

“Don’t you ever try that shit again, with us or anyone else!’

I doubted my friends working at the mall were privy to such tales. And these men amazed me, they inspired me. Not to cruise truck stops, but to absolutely go for it.

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Seventeen

On the Saturday between the Royal Park show and the practice with Wall in Brooklyn, Todd had his solo photo shoot with Anne. She styled him as if he were a Victorian poet; all in white, cast against the deep green within one of the local hiking trails. Stone foundations littered the property, and they were able to create a series of defining images of Todd; material I was going to need to keep the band’s profile visible during the next few months.  As we waited for Wall to heal, it would still be another month or possibly two that we wouldn’t be playing any new shows, finalizing any new songs, or heading back to the studio.  My plan to bridge that gap was to try and get the Todd photo shoot published, and then hopefully repeat the same scenario with Adrian. I also still had to get Adrian to talk to Marcella at Gezellig! , which would give us another outlet for exposure. I don’t think the Gezillig folks even knew Rudy was out of the band. The final detail would be securing Brent for our show with Heirlume in New Haven the following week.  I go to text him as soon as I realize, for some stupid reason, I hadn’t booked him yet. Once I open the thread, I see that I had asked him the night before. He had already said yes.

What was I thinking?  I had a pang of grief haunt me from years earlier: that moment when you realize this thing is getting bigger than you can handle alone. I remember distinctly when that happened to Brent and me; when we were responsible for the Thames business operations.  Our inability to commit to serious management at that point doomed Thames; I wasn’t going to let it happen here.

Todd and I head into New Haven to do a mass flier campaign for the Heirlume show. I had always felt that if you were opening for a national or regional headliner in your town, or close to you, that it’s quite an amazing thing to arrive in some town, usually for the first time, and see their band name splashed as far as the eye could see. That was my goal tonight with Todd; not so much to fulfill my bargain with Myopic Insight of always going the extra distance; but for Heirlume to see the flier they had to approve on the streets. We were proving to live up to our obligations. Todd arrives five minutes early to Centraal.

I take it as a good sign, that he is excited by this night of somewhat heavy lifting. Maybe one day the entire group will head out on some PR adventure, but we continue to exist in a somewhat fractious state. As we headed over the bridge at New London, I notice an eighteen wheeler in front of us, with what looks like “JOCELYN TRUCKS” written along the top of the trailer. As we get closer, I can see that is exactly the name of the trucking company.

“Have you ever see one of those?” I ask Todd

“What?”

“A trucking company named “Jocelyn Trucks. See it, over there, to the right of us?”

“Hahahaha. That’s nuts!”

I fumble for my phone, as a photo of this should make an interesting addition to the Piercing Instagram account. Joss had an Instagram, but she didn’t really know how, or want to use it. Todd didn’t even have texting on his phone; Adrian had no camera on his. So, the bulk of the social media was left up to me; a late arrival to the phone culture. As we inched closer, I was able to grab the photo I was looking for.  Once we were safely in park in New Haven, I would load it up, hoping that wouldn’t be the only opportunity tonight to engage in the Piercing social media.

We start at BRICKS, where our show will be. Myopic Insights had been booking free shows at BRICKS for years on Wednesday nights. It was a brilliant move; having national touring bands, who were normally between New York City and Boston on opposing weekends, play an intimate free gig in New Haven to bridge the tour gap. As such, the nights were almost always packed; a handful of great up and coming bands with free admission and craft beer brewed on site. We arrive at the club by 7pm; the sun still hanging on in the mid-summer sky, amongst a quiet crowd. We order a beer each, and place three dozen fliers for our show on the tables.  The rest of the night is the two of us circling the downtown area, and between the college campuses, which ends up taking us three hours to execute. My genius plan of getting in and out of town and home by 11pm is slowly evaporating. By the time we hang another four dozen fliers, it’s 12.30am, and we hit the road north to Mystic.

“Hey man, can we stop at the first McDonalds after the city?”

“Sure, I need to go as well.”

The Death McDonald’s. Even though it had been totally rebuilt in the past year, I couldn’t associate the building with anything but that description. When Thames first started to record with Russell Johnson in East Haven, it was the first rest stop on our way home. After a particularly late session, we had no choice but to wait an hour to eat, or stop at the first McDonald’s on the highway. I have never seen, nor tasted, such repulsive food in my life. The fries were frozen, and instead of actually cooking them, the staff threw hot grease over the top and put them in the shiny red boxes which they were synonymous with. The burgers were dried to a crisp, having been on the grill for hours past their prime. Three months later, as we were heading back to the studio for mixes, we passed the Death McDonald’s, and saw a car blazing away. The fire  department had yet to arrive, and a curling black smoke kept climbing higher and higher in the heat of a summer afternoon. That moment clinched it; and I have yet to order food there in my many stop-overs since.

“I got some fries, want some?”

“No thanks. This is the Death McDonalds.”

“Wha ???? Come on now Twining, don’t play old New England shopkeeper guy…”

“Hahahhaha. No, it’s an old story from the Thames days.”

“Do tell.”

As I finish my spiel about burning automobiles and terrible fries, he laughs and offers me some of his fries, again. I accept.

“Are you happy with the progress we’re making? Is this still working for you? I only ask because I think we can really cook once January arrives, once you have finished school.”

I knew Todd still had one more semester at school this fall until he was free and clear from his responsibility to higher education. My new vision of managing the band was to simply make it to January; by then Todd would be done with school, Wall will have learned the entire set and written a handful of new songs with us from the start, and Adrian would have a solid partner on the ground with him in the city. I was worried about Todd, however. There was no way he could prioritize Piercing for the next four months- no matter how much he enjoyed the band and it’s possibilities. If his work load created a period of survival at any cost, the band may be the one area he could sacrifice.

“I am, I am. I do have a crazy workload this semester; two French lit classes where I have to read the French; and the English translation, as well as a social lab, and one more Psych class. But the band has pretty much been everything I had signed up for. I’m still digging it.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Thanks man. Why are you still here, still driving to New Haven just to hang fliers, only to have to go to work in the morning? I mean, I know the history, but what is really making you drive this van right now?”

“Applause.”

“That’s a dangerous proposition.”

“Yeah, I know. But if you are entertaining, the audience will let you know, am I right?”

“Oh yeah.”

“For me, I realized early on that the applause did something for me; as if it was a solution that filled in the cracks.”

“What cracks?”

“Well, you know my parents divorced when I was a pretty young kid, 7 years old, right?”

“Yeah, I know that part of the Ells story.”

“Many years later, during the Thames peak, when we would get that great applause, I realized it was filling the hole. And it worked.”

“So, that’s it? Applause?

“Well, it’s kind of like “quality” from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, have you read it?”

“No, no, I haven’t yet. I want to.”

“Well, Pirsig is able to distill life down to one single essence- quality. It is the value from which all meaning is derived. Applause works the same way for musicians and other performers, I would imagine. Applause recognizes Quality.”

“I can see that. Normally, I just want to make it through the next song without fucking up something.”

“You’re doing fine, kid. And I love the applause that we’re getting.”

We have to pick up Adrian at the New Haven train station at 7pm for tonight’s show at BRICKS. Brent is arriving by car from the city, and I can only pray that we do not have a repeat episode of the Royal Park gig. To everyone’s relief, Adrian is already outside of Union Station waiting for us to pick him up.

“Dudes, what’s up!!!”

And there are beaks all around. Before I pull out of the parking lot, Brent has texted me:

“Here at bricks.”

“Cool, at train. Be there in 5 mins”

We play a rough version of our “good show”, and a few of the locals who have seen us before tonight seem to notice. Applause is muted throughout the majority of the set, and I secretly wonder if I blew it with my projection about the value of applause. And then, as if feeling the same emotions herself, Jocelyn calls off the four count for “Massive”, and absolutely tears the cover off the pitch. It was as if she was finally pushed into a corner, and realized people came to see her perform, they did not come out to see her. It was the balancing point between the desires of the audience and the reserve of the performer. The balance was delicate, and precious. But there was always a duality, no matter how much actual talent you could muster. Joss didn’t like the half-hearted applause after our so-so performances. We were all a bit wiped out, and Brent had barely a single practice with the group- and here he was executing another gig within the same two week period. She was now singing from the gut, not just the throat. You could sense a sea change in the room; people who were on their way out stopped, people on their way in pushed forward. She had finally done it. She did it for the next two songs as well, and Piercing exited to a rash of applause. My heart was buoyant with the accolades that I desired, but the more important development was Joss taking charge. This is why you play so many repeat shows in cities you can reach, for this night, this moment. As we started packing up the gear, Jocelyn walked by. I tapped her on the wrist, as I was bent over stuffing cymbal stands into a road case.

“Hey. That’s who you are. That’s you, those final three songs……..”

“I know.”

“Can you believe in it?”

“I’ll let you know in the morning….”

I had scheduled Adrian’s interview with Gezillig! for the following Tuesday.  I get an email from Marcella to confirm she has the correct phone number for him. I reply that, yes- she does; and to let me know how it went when she gets a chance. Two hours later I receive another email from the Netherlands:

“Have yet to hear back from Adrian. Have to call it a night.”

I wondered if Adrian realized the time change between New York and Amsterdam. He would never enter into a conversation about Piercing with Marcella. Or Ferry.

I have to cancel our scheduled practice for the next Thursday night, as one of the regulars at the Palace died suddenly on a camping trip with his college roommates. GaryU2 was a long serving city representative in Norwich, Connecticut’s local government. He changed the lives of so many people through his compassionate politics, that it was hilarious to reconcile his love of heavy metal, as well as his fastidious commitment to U2. Anne and I went to the wake; and you could sense how hard this sudden shock had wounded his kids. I knew the three of them empirically from the Palace; but this was new territory. They were in a place I had been many times before.

“Long day, huh?” I said quietly to his oldest son, a teenager.

“Oh, yeah…” he replied. But there was a sense of relief, that maybe I had lessened his burden by recognizing it.

“Your dad was a great man, always remember that.”

“Thanks for coming.”

Our rescheduled practice is for the following Saturday. Jocelyn cancels that an hour before the start time. Her diagnosis of Lyme disease had just been confirmed with an email. I decide to give everyone the next week off. There wasn’t much we could accomplish now; and it wasn’t as if songs were pouring out of Todd, or Adrian, at this point. Todd is obsessed with getting in two more weeks of his childhood in before his final semester. I have less of an idea where Adrian is at, and it seems to be diminishing daily.

Tuesday the 20th of August. This is the day we have all been waiting for. Wall will be cleared by his doctors to resume playing bass and other normal activities after his checkup at 2pm. I text him after getting out of work:

“Hey man, how do you feel?”

“Great! A huge weight lifted. Can’t wait to start practicing for real.”

Wednesday the 21st of August. I had always held an affinity for Wednesdays. I think it was the resonance of a day when there was full concert band practice, while I was in junior high. Sectional practices were held throughout the week, but Wednesday was the day when we had full capacity. Those afternoons were part of a complex weave which had brought me here, to Piercing. I was simply trying to make sense of the entire endeavor. From the garage bands of my childhood neighborhood, to the intoxicating reception of the early Thames, through all of the fantastic music I had contributed to over these decades; perhaps the best was saved for last. I was reveling in the purity of this train of thought, when my phone rang; the landline. Since I had acquired a smart phone, the only calls on the landline were of veterinary appointments for the cats, or bad news. It was Adrian.

“Hey man, how are you?” his voice had a static tone to it.

“I’m dealing. This month has been kicking my ass in ways I was unaware of.”

“Heh heh, me too. I know what you mean.”

“What’s up? Did you know Wall is being cleared by his doctor today to begin playing bass? We can probably start practices in the next week. And we can now come down to Brooklyn and work almost anytime. Shit, I’ve driven to New York City and back for practices plenty of times, doing it for us would be a blessing.”

“That’s cool man. Thanks. But I gotta tell you something. I’m moving to Portland Maine next week. I couldn’t find an apartment I could afford here and my lease is up at the end of the month. I just gotta get out of here.”

“You’re leaving the city in a week? That kind of flies in the face of waiting for Wall to heal, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry man. I think I can still make Piercing work from Portland though, listen to me, I have some ideas on how we could pull it off.”

I immediately call Jocelyn.

“Did you know Adrian is moving to Portland Maine next week?”

“No, I didn’t. How do you know that?

“I just got off the phone with him. He called me.”

“Shit…..”

Todd, Joss, and I schedule an emergency meeting at Centraal for the following night; a Thursday.

Todd shows up at 8pm, right on time.

“Hey man, what’s going on?” Todd reaches out for a beak.

“I can’t fucking believe this is happening. I thought Wall was the answer to all of our problems. Well, musically, that is…”

“I know I know. He’s really moving?”

“Yeah. And there is just no way we can make it work with him in Portland. I did some research this afternoon; taking the NYC>NH>NL/MYS method of transportation we have been relying on since he moved to Brooklyn, and flipped it- POR>BOS>PVD>NL/MYS.”

“And what did you find?”

“It will take him 6 hours to get to Mystic utilizing the available public transportation.”

“Yikes….”

“I mean, when he was in the city, it was a bit grueling to get back and forth, but it was doable. He’d have to get on a bus in downtown Portland at 2pm to get here for an 8pm practice. And he wouldn’t be able to get back until 2pm the next day. “

“He’d have to work in a restaurant to make that happen.”

“But what about a Tuesday gig in Brooklyn?”

He gave me a look of complete resignation, but not of loss. If I could read his mind, I would garner that he was thinking what a relief it would be to finish school without the added burden of this career.

I briefly thought about laying into him about this intuition, but decided it was not the time for conflict. Otherwise, why try to hold the band together at all? Was it vanity; the fact that if I ran into a friends mother at the grocery store, and the inevitable question that would arise:

“Are you still doing your music?”

Which I always heard as “Are you still eating dirt?”

Piercing gave me an answer.

No. my foundation was still built on the belief that these kids had the talent needed.  And it was then I realized it was 8.30, and Jocelyn had yet to arrive.

“Do you want me to call her?” asked Todd. I think he had yet to adjust to the reality that I now possessed a cell phone.

“No, I got it. I’ll text her now.”

hey- Todd’s here. are you still coming over?

No.

Why?

Can’t you tell?

Umm, no. what do you mean?

you have no clue. You can’t tell?

What are you on about?

He’s high. Right now. In your house.

Silence.

I’m not coming over tonight. I don’t know what we should do.

I’ll call you tomorrow.

Ok

“Well, she’s not coming tonight, isn’t that fucking convenient.” I tried not to betray what I had become aware of.

“Sheesh…  Why? Marcus? I wish they could just stop fighting all of the time….”

“She didn’t say…. ”

I leave three messages on Jocelyn’s phone the next day. Friday. I don’t hear back from her before I pack it in for the night.

She calls me at the Palace at 2pm on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m ready to talk.”

“Ok, cool. this shouldn’t be seen as some kind of intervention, a Yalta conference, Yadda, yadda, yadda”

“Yeah, I know.”

“How about Sunday at 3pm?”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”

Anne is out of town on Sunday; headed north to Leominster for a family baby shower. She wakes me before leaving with a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“Hey babe, drive carefully.”

“You know I will.”

I lay in bed, awake for the next hour. One thought keeps finding its way to the forefront of my attention. Do I really need to chase The Dream anymore? And then I realized, without the band, I’d be headed to Leominster right now, for a baby shower. Was I afraid of growing up? Is that what being a musician meant; an extended adolescence?  The thoughts seemed real, was the issue actually at hand? No, this music was meant to be made. But it seemed the idea of Piercing had run its course; how was I trust Todd would be in top shape as we moved forward, into the most pertinent portion of our career? We didn’t have a bass player. We didn’t have a second guitar player.  I decided my presentation to Joss would be based around us rebuilding the band; and starting over as an electronic duo. We could bring Malthus in for programming; strictly as a studio member; he was in no position to tour. The two of us could capitalize on the Piercing publicity, with a completely new group. If handled properly, we could catapult ourselves further up the line; the rock band who refused to give in to circumstance, and re-invented themselves. I get out of bed and cook myself a Mothertrucker. It’s probably going to be a long day.

I take our front porch furniture; a tasteful table and set of two wrought iron chairs, and relocate them to the center of the gardens for my meeting with Jocelyn.  I grab the exquisite pair of teacups Anne had brought back from a Scotland trip visiting one of her early childhood friends at school, twenty years earlier. I stoke a full teapot with boiling water, and set it on the table. Jocelyn arrives at the same moment, exactly on time.  3pm.

“Wow, nice set up.”

“I thought I should do something to commensurate the gravity of the moment.”

“Hahahah. Have you started writing poetry again?”

“Hahahaha. No. But grandiosity is my most favorable trait.”

“I know.” She replies with teeth closed.

“Thanks” I offer sarcastically.

“I just don’t think I can be in a band with Todd anymore. I mean, that’s the entire reason I brought it up in the very first meeting we had. I wasn’t kidding about that; and I have acquiesced to the situation twice against my better beliefs. But that’s what some success will do, eh?”

“That wouldn’t leave us with too many options going forward.”

“I think we should rebrand, use as many contacts that we have built up over the last two years, and become an electro duo.”

“Well, that certainly sounds exciting. And I’m sure you could pull it off…  put it together.”

“Thank you”

“But, I still don’t want to be a Diva Front Person. I just want to be part of a band.”

“We could get Malthus in to help us flesh out the songs, and make sure we have our tech tight to play live. He’ll never want to do live gigs, but you could sing live, I could play live drums, and the machines can do the rest.”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to be in Borealis.”

“But it would be the two of us, with some help from Malthus. No stops in New Haven, no Rudy body odor, no Adrian moving to Portland. ”

“It’s just not me, Ells….”

“Who are you Joss?”

A bitter smile crept into place on her face. She took a hearty sip of tea.

“I’m a singer, Ells. That’s who I am.”

“So, what do you want to do.”

“I want to keep the band together. I want to keep Todd in the band. I understand where you are coming from, but you didn’t even know he was high at your house three days ago. I had his issues under control. You didn’t even know. There is another thing you have no idea about.”

“What’s that?”

“Remember when I asked Wall for some pills at his apartment?”

“Yeah. I thought it was out of character for you.”

“Well, it normally is. But I had an emergency appendectomy after the Royal Park show.”

“What?!?!?”  I responded, in shock.

“ I had been feeling bad all day, and then at about 3am Saturday morning after the show, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even turn over onto my side. So, I had Marcus drive me to the hospital, because I was really freaked out. it was only my appendix, but they decided to take it out right then and there, thirty six hours later I was in Brooklyn practicing with Wall, and I was in so much pain. That’s why I asked him for some pills. It wasn’t an opportunistic moment like Todd had; so embarrassing.”

“Is that why you laid out on the floor of the van the entire trip home from Brooklyn after playing with Wall?”

“Yes. And the memories of Boston and Jackson came from that place. It was an awful drive home for me.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t notice. I guess I was so enthralled with the idea that we had found Wall, and that he was our answer, I didn’t look beyond that. I’m sorry.”

“But I made it to New York and back, didn’t i? I didn’t cancel that practice, knowing how important it was…. was supposed to be.”

She was undeniably tough. I thought to myself, if some other musicians I had been in bands with were as tough as Jocelyn….

“Ok, ok. So we keep Todd, and sweep his issues under the carpet. Fine. Do you want to add Jeremy on guitar?”

“Yes.”

“And we find a bass player from town, or somewhere around here?”

“Yes.”

We were going to become The Infectious Reality.

NEW MOON in Aries 24 March 2020

New Moon in Aries 24 March 2020
featuring Model: Lehla Cheyenne
as my Aries
First Sign in the Zodiac
First Shoot in my astrological series Personal Universe.
Welcome to the Terrordome:
“I got so much trouble on my mind
Refuse to lose
Here’s your ticket
Hear the drummer get wicked”
Photograph by Michelle Gemma
Stonington Borough, CT  USA

 

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Sixteen

Adrian calls my new phone at 7.05pm

“We’ve just cleared New Haven.”

“Ok, cool. Just keep on trucking. I have all of your gear set up; Todd is tuning the guitars, so you just have to walk on stage.”

“Alright, man. I’m trucking!”

I get a text from Brent moments later:

“Old Saybrook, on express to NL”

I gather a huge breath, and exhale slowly. Brent should be here with moments to spare at the worst, or at least have a few minutes to catch his breath. Adrian will only make it on time if there are no accidents on the stretch between New Haven and New London; a dicey proposition even in the best of conditions. I felt we had to come up with a contingency plan if one, or both of them, didn’t make it on stage by the time we had to start.

Ross Coscialetti was the manager of Royal Park, and he had booked the gig with Caron Morris. Together, they worked in tandem to bring the bigger shows in town to the Park, and were also the chief architects of the TAZZIES. We had also spent four years together in Bold Schwa; as he was the band’s bassist. Ross sidled up to me as we began to prep our gear backstage; the second band would  finish in about a half hour.

“Hey man, you look frazzled. What’s up?”

“Brent and Adrian are both coming in from the city right now, and they’re both delayed. I’m praying they get here in the next twenty minutes.”

“Do you need some time? With the drizzle, I could easily back it up ten, fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks. Ten minutes would be great. If they are not here by then, well…  the show will go on.”

“Alright, I’ll come back with a start cue.”

“Thanks.”

I was quite fortunate to have friends stretching back decades, who also were striving to live up to their responsibility in this creation of our own world. We had both been working in ways to build something that didn’t yet exist; secretly hoping for accumulation. I return to Jocelyn and Todd, reassure them that Ross has stretched out our start time by at least ten minutes. They both looked relieved, and simultaneously petrified. I decided to throw out a few scenarios where we could pull off a three person version of Piercing.

“Let’s do “Mind over Body”, but slowly. Lean on the country underpinnings, and stretch out the vocal. That could be about 5 minutes, and if it’s still the three of us at that point, I suggest we do “Spirit” as a slow, jazzy number, something I’ll use rimshots on instead of flush snare hits.”

“And what if we have to do a third number?” asked Todd. He’s worried.

“We’ll play that cover tune you love so much.”

“The Mac.”

The Mac.” I reply, heavy on the The. It was about confidence at this point; nothing else was going to salvage this situation unless we went out and were Entertainers.

I spot Brent strolling through the ornate wrought iron gates at the front of the Park. He is wearing his sheepish grin; usually reserved for when he had one too many and was caught at the fridge grabbing one more. I was delighted to see that wry smile, as I climbed down the steps at the front of the stage to exchange beaks with him.

“That was tight” he offered

“No worries. Ross gave us an extra ten minutes, we go on in fifteen.”

“Is Adrian here?”

“Last time he called he was in East Lyme. That was ten minutes ago.”

“Do we have a plan as a four piece?”

“Yeah.”

I went over the details of our backup plan with Brent, and he sounds confident.

“We can make that work.”

Ross comes up to the edge of the stage; Todd is getting in one last tuning of Adrian’s guitar.

“We have to start in two minutes.”

“No problem, we have a backup plan in place.”

“Cool”

“Hi, we’re Piercing, and as of now, we are missing…… one of our members…… Adrian is coming in from the city and he’s in a bit of traffic…… so…… we’re going to start with “Mind over Body”. And hopefully, you will see him come running down the center aisle between you all in a few moments. This is “Mind over Body”…..

I was impressed. She nailed the static electricity of the moment and did so completely unprompted- a perfect delivery. For a second I had hoped Adrian wouldn’t make it so she had to address the crowd through the whole set in that manner. As I raise my hands up to begin to click off the tempo for our first song, Adrian runs on to the stage through the open backstage door. He almost stumbles over his amp; as if he were a sprinter leaning forward to catch the finish line. The crowd began clapping in unison immediately. Perhaps this would be a victory after all.

Following our set, I grab a beer and find Ross to thank him for accommodating our hectic commute.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Maurice coming in the front gates, and excuse myself from Ross.

“Hey man, good to see you!”

“Good to see you as well. You guys were fantastic, much better than when I saw you in March.”

I take it as a compliment.

“Thanks man, thanks for making it out.”

“It was nice to come to a venue and just be able to chill, yaknow?”

“How long have you guys been out on the road?”

“About three months straight.”

The two of us talk through the next two acts, occasionally pausing to catch the general vibe of the songs,and the crowd. The Park is wall to wall by the time the headliner comes on, and I can sense Maurice yearing for participation in the scene that was unfolding in front of him. Tonight wasn’t about the “music business” which was obviously draining him of some of the spirit of performing; of making music. This was a large group of people who simply loved music, and loved seeing it performed live. It was the bedrock upon which Piercing existed, and Maurice was seeing it in full effect. When he was living here and coming of age, the Royal Park was a gravel parking lot. Now it was a first class outdoor venue, snuggled into the heart of a small city, and providing moments like tonight.

“Do you think you could book us a gig here in New London? It seems like people really love music here right now.”

“Of course!” When do you want to play? I can walk over to Caron right now and tell him you guys want to play and he would most likely book it and find the perfect venue.”

“Well, I’d have to go through all of our channels, but yeah, I think it would be an awesome time. Piercing should open for us.”

“Maurice, I would be more than happy to bring that to fruition for you.”

 

“Hey man, are you going to come down to the show?”

Adrian finds me talking with Maurice. Class Ring have booked a show at another club in town for later in the evening. He wasn’t going to be arriving at the last minute for that gig. I bit my tongue.

“Nah, I’m going home. We still have a long weekend ahead of us; Todd is shooting with Anne on Saturday afternoon, and we are heading back to Brooklyn to practice with Wall on Sunday morning, remember?”

“Of course I remember. Well, I just wanted to let you know- I gotta head down there now.”

“Cool, have a good show, text me tomorrow night so we can finalize travel plans for Sunday.”

“You got it. See you guys.”

Adrian leaned over and gave me the beak; I was thrilled to see Maurice reach out to Adrian with the closed fingers of our secret handshake. He beaked Adrian, and gave me a sly grin.

Wall called that Friday night- he eventually will need surgery on his broken collarbone; the initial set was completely botched.  And once that event took place, he wouldn’t be able to even pick up a bass for a month; much less practice or continue to learn the songs. He suggested we head into Brooklyn to practice one time before his surgery, so we could meet in person and at least begin the process. I thought it was a sure sign of his commitment, and the definition of why we were waiting it out for him to heal. Wall was going to be the New Bassist.

“I’m at Ellen’s house, across from the post office W Mystic”

Adrian’s first text of the day. Jocelyn and Todd were already at Centraal; I was plying them with tea.

“Cool. be there in ten mins”

When we arrive, the front couple of Class Ring are taking guitar amps from a Jeep and bringing them into the house, of which neither of them lived, or practiced in. It was a strange sight, as if we were seeing the film being rewound, not the forward expanse in present time. Adrian came running out of the same door the amps were being loaded into- he almost tripped over the second one on the porch. With bounding leaps, he made his way across the lawn and into the side door of the van.

“What’s up, people! My dudes!”

Beaks were exchanged all around. This wasn’t unusual for Adrian to minimize the emotional content of a moment with a quite masculine bond attempt. It didn’t work on that level, but it did clear the air.

“Hey, what’s up with those guys and the amps going into Ellen’s mom’s house?”

“We had a gig in New Haven last night.”

“What?” gasped Joss, Todd, and myself simultaneously.

“Yeah, I didn’t tell you guys before I came up, but they booked a gig in New Haven, a sort of “pay to play” gig. I didn’t book it, those guys did. They thought it would be a good opportunity to play since I was going to be here this weekend anyway.”

“You played two gigs with Class Ring this weekend?” posited Jocelyn. She had never expressed this kind of anger towards a band member outside of our own relationship.

“Hey, hey hey…” responded Adrian.

“Don’t get worked up about it, c’mon guys ….” offered Todd, playing the role of the referee.

I resisted commenting.

“Well, it didn’t fucking go so great, if you want to know!!!!” Adrian leaned on the van headrest to make his point to Jocelyn.

“Hey, take it easy” she responded.

I was proud. She had the high ground, I wanted to see her actually defend it- defend everything we had been building since she sat cross legged upon the Thames sound system in 2005; recording the first TIR EP surrounded by equipment from another age. That progress would corrode without enhancing its intention, it’s meaning. It was all at stake now.

“Me, and Sawyer and Heide (the Class Ring front couple) headed down there about three hours before the gig. The two brothers called us an hour later, said they were in bridge traffic, and couldn’t make the gig. He fucking booked a gig he ditched on two hours before show time. What a dick. Bridge traffic? Fucking bridge traffic? The fucking bridge goes up and down up and down every fucking hour. Did they think I was that stupid?  I’ll never play with those guys again.”

Jocelyn turned and looked right at me. I knew immediately what was on her mind:

‘See, I told you these things can’t be put back together again.’

I didn’t mind her being right at all.

In an unexpected turn, the palette was cleared. There would be no more interference from Class Ring. Rudy was gone, and Wall was playing with us today. The relief was palpable; it was the first time I had let myself truly exhale in ten months, since our first recording session at Stormy Harbor. The extraneous pressure had been removed, and we could rebuild the band with Wall without distractions.

We also now had someone in the city to help bond with Adrian; to bring him closer to the fold. The sky was cloudless, and the Sunday traffic was minimal. We should arrive in Brooklyn a full half hour before the start of practice, which should give Joss time to get another coffee, and walk the streets of Brooklyn. She often talked of moving there.

“But I actually want to be able to afford it, not just couch crash and beg for work. I don’t have that in me. I couldn’t do what Adrian has done since he moved here.”

Adrian asks me to pull over as we pass his apartment.

“I just wanna go in and grab some money; I’ll be right out.”

Ten minutes later, he emerges. I resist probing my thoughts for clues; we need to get to the Foundry. Unfortunately, my directions took us from the Williamsburg Bridge to the Foundry; now we were in a slightly different neighborhood, and I wasn’t sure how to get there from Adrian’s apartment.

“So, do I take a left up here at this light?”

“Yeah, yeah. Take that left, and then go three blocks and take a right.” Replied Adrian

Twenty minutes later, we pull up to the door at the Foundry. One thing I learned that I had never known before this afternoon, in all my time driving around the city: never ask directions from someone who only walks in the borough- they have no clue about the vagaries of one way streets. But we are there. As I begin unloading gear with Todd, Jocelyn tells me she wants to still get a coffee before we start.

“Ok, cool. but why don’t you get Adrian to go with you, we’ll load up the rest of the gear between the two of us.”

“Nah, that’s just wasting more time. I’ll be fine, I’ll be right back.”

“Do you know where you are headed?”

“Yeah, I saw a shop a few blocks back while Adrian was navigating.”

“Ok, cool. Be careful.”

She laughed her insouciant laugh and turned on the toe of her right, booted foot. The sidewalk was dry, mid-July, and I could sense the specific frequency of that small imprint on the surface of the city. I let her walk away with trepidation, because if something should actually befall her while we were here, or any of the other many cities we may find ourselves in shortly, it will be my fault. I will be responsible. I feel the same with all of the kids, but much more so with Joss. There are people in this world who might take the chance of getting their hands on her- I had seen the same reaction to her since the TIR gigs. I watched her fade into the heat blur of the sidewalk, and thought a silent prayer:

“Not today, Lord. Not today.”

Wall is already there, sitting in a deep recess of the entryway, on a tattered couch. He stands up as we pass him, and out of the corner of my eye I catch his movement and stop myself.

“Wall?”

“Hey, Ellery, how was the drive down.”

“Easy. Sunday morning. Drove in circles a bit trying to find this place, but we’re here. Thanks for making it.”

“Thank you man. I’m the one putting some limitations on us.”

“Ha, no worries man.”

The practice space is surprisingly nice; baffles suspended from the ceiling, heavy red velvet curtains hung ceiling to floor on three sides- a Lynchian vibe in the depths of industrial Brooklyn. The Foundry was in the same neighborhood as Huntington Grounds, which made me a bit upset when we lost our extra half hour trying to locate the space. By the time we get all of the gear set up, prepare ourselves to play, and wait out Jocelyn’s coffee run, it’s 3pm. I recalled, for the first time in years: you are always going to pay for “unused” time at a practice space. The fantasy I had of us getting going at the of the two o’clock hour were always ludicrous; even if they were subconscious. Let’s just jam and see what happens.

And that is exactly what we do. Wall is locked in to about half of each song; but when he finds the groove and grabs it, you can sense a widening of our sound. It doesn’t become more intense, or louder, but more succinctly stated; wider. Wall was working in frequency ranges that allowed the main guitar riffs to have more bite, while also adding Tabitha’s promise- a funky underpinning that didn’t exist with Rudy. After an hour of working on six songs that he had somewhat of a familiarity with, we took a quick break and then began working on a new Adrian song; his first in months. It was trademark Pearson- a quick stuttering rhythm with melodies that turned on a dime. Wall found the core groove after two run-throughs, which was the most encouraging sign so far. If he could write this quickly in real time, the distance between Mystic and the two of them would seem to be an illusion. The constant effort to balance the band these last six months has been akin to standing on a tree trunk in the water of a cool lake. With the Class Ring dissolution, and Wall’s obvious integrity, I felt as if the current had begun to change course. It was as if I realized I had been wearing a lifejacket the entire time.

We pack the gear, load the van, and I wipe the sweat from my brow as I ask Wall to give me directions to his apartment from the Foundry.

“Take a left three blocks down, and then go four blocks on Humboldt- take a right on Siegel.”

I put the transmission into drive and hit the signal for the left blinker. As I stepped on the gas, I realized we hadn’t paid for the time at the Foundry. I hurriedly put the van in park, and told everyone

“I’ll be right back, I forgot to pay.”

This was met with catcalls and jeers, in a playful way. I had become so caught up in what the possibilities were now that the lineup was sorted, I was just going to head to Wall’s. I walked into the office and handed the Foundry founders the cash. They laughed.

“We thought you were going to ditch on us!”

“No no no , I wouldn’t do that. I ran a space like this in Connecticut for years, I know what it’s like. We just auditioned a new bass player, and he seems like a perfect fit. I lost track of my shit for a moment.”

“No worries. We’ll be telling this story to people for years to come.”

“Well, I’m glad I could contribute to the folklore of your fine establishment.”

They laughed. It was all good.

“We’ll be back.” I offered, turning toward the exit.

“We’ll be here.”

Once we settle into Wall’s apartment, everyone breaks out a bit of their stash before we head out and get something to eat. At one point Wall reaches into a canvas bag, and pulls out a prescription pill bottle, undoes the lid, and pops two pills with no water. He’s dealing with a broken bone, so I don’t give it a thought. All of the sudden, Jocelyn pipes up:

“Hey can I get two of those?”

“Umm, yeah, sure” replies Wall. It’s obvious that this isn’t the first time he has been asked that question.

“Hey, I’ll pay you for five right now, if you can spare them?”

It’s Todd. How could he not know that I knew what had been going on behind closed doors? If that was the case, why would you ask to buy scripts in front of me? I had bought into my own theory of progress, but now it was  being threatened. Was Todd still stuck in a cycle of using pills? Why else would he bargain for them in front of me? And how hard was Jocelyn’s day? Was she so comfortable in our burgeoning reality that this hidden realm would now come to light? In all the time I had known Joss, using pills was never part of her milieu. So, why now?

“Hey, guys, Wall probably needs them more than you. He just broke a bone, umm and you guys broke….. what exactly?” I decided to say something to turn the direction away from more drug use.

“Ohh, sorry, man. Old habit. You probably used to do the same thing if you found out there was LSD to buy on a Sunday afternoon in July…  of 1990 ….  unexpectedly …” Replied Todd.

“That’s true, you got me.”

“I’m just feeling really cramped up, like my stomach is shrinking. Can I still get two from you Wall?”

“Yeah, sure.”

That was totally unbecoming of Jocelyn. Not so much that she might like to take some pills once in a while, but that she would be so public about it. I had known her for seven years and knew nothing more of her extracurricular activity than smoking pot. I decided to file it away and see if pattern recognition would reveal itself.

“Didn’t Squish and English spend a summer putting pills up there asses? So they could get off more?” Adrian throws in a story from the old days.

“Hahahaha, yeah, I remember that. Those guys were really reaching…” replies Jocelyn.

“I mean, how high can you get? How high do you need to get? I understand the whole ‘there’s more out there’ argument, but really….  You can’t put the pills in your fucking mouth? Really?” risking that I was sounding like Dad. I didn’t give a fuck.

“I agree” replied Jocelyn “you should never put something up your ass that doesn’t belong there. I thought I had something wrong with me a few years ago; something digestive. So I did some research, and decided that a salt water enema was the solution to all of my problems. Again, you should never put something in your ass that doesn’t belong there.”

The only sound after that was the air conditioner, working perfectly.

We walked the four blocks to the coffee shop on Bushwick Avenue. I would imagine the denizens of this Burgh were in the presence of musicians all of the time, but something in the way the passersby’s double takes made me think:

‘We must look like a real band to them.’

And we did; without a coded, uniformed presence. We were separate from that presence, and did not have to adhere to its rigidity. We were free; and the music could be our sole focus.  Our image was like settling concrete. When Joss asked Wall what his latest musical interests were, he responded in a way that gave her the wrinkled, upturned smile that she reserved for moments of clarity.

“I love the new Daft Punk.”

“So do I” she replied, deliberately.

On the ride home, it was just the three of us; Todd, Joss and me. There was a new privacy between us that hadn’t existed in the period when Rudy was in the band. We always had to acquiesce to Rudy; to make him feel comfortable. When it worked, it was more than worth it. But those days are behind us now. We are driving north on the Hutchinson Parkway blasting Saint Etienne.

“Every time I hear this song, I think about living with Jackson in Boston. “

It was “Carn’t Sleep” from Foxbase Alpha, their debut album.

“I can’t sleep, wishing you were here with me…”

Jocelyn started to sing along with the main vocal; a wistful gaze out the mid seat window.

When i get home from work,

Sit down and watch tv,

The night falls

Just like a bad dream.         

 

“Why does that remind you of Boston?” I offered, quietly- inferring we could leave the topic off limits if she wished to.

“Jackson was always out late, and then I found out he was cheating on me the whole time.”

“Ouch, that’s a brutal reminder. We can skip the track when we listen to it.”

“Hahaha, no, it’s really not that big a deal. And I love this record, why would I let him ruin it for me?”

“Just offering.”

Jocelyn stood up, and lay down on the floor between the two front captain chairs.

“Are you feeling alright? Do you want a pillow?”

“Yeah I’m ok, my stomach is a bit grouchy. Where is the pillow?”

“It’s behind that seat, in the back pocket.” I pointed; my left hand on the steering wheel.

Joss finds the pillow, lays it on the van floor, and slowly lowers the back of head. She’s staring straight up at the ceiling.

“It absolutely sucked to deal with him cheating on me. We broke up over it after a few weeks of screaming at each other, but I would still sleep with him when I wanted to. And when that got tiring; I decided to just go back home.”

“Wha? You did?” asks Todd. “I didn’t know that.”

“You did the same thing Todd.” her voice trailed off into a resigned sigh, with the emphasis on same.

“Too true. I guess that’s why I’m feeling for you.”

I also didn’t know. I decided to look at it as a moment where she felt free to reveal more about herself than I had ever anticipated. This was a new level of trust; something that had been acquired navigating our way through the madness. Or was it that I didn’t really know Joss as well as I thought?

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Fifteen

As soon as the door closes on the mother-in-law apartment, I turn on the computer and log into my Facebook account. I immediately search out Tabitha, to find out if she’s online. Bingo. There she is. I open up the message box and type the following words:

“Hey- do you know any cool bass players looking for a gig in the city?”
“As a matter of fact, I do! My good friend Wall, who I went to school with at Sussex, is a great bass player. And his band just broke up two months ago.”
“How long has he been in the city?”
“Three years, same as me. He’s been playing with this band that just broke up for the past two years.”
“Oh yeah? what was their name?”
“Cause:Effect”
“Cool name.”
“Yeah, they were really great; slinky funk grooves. Wall could add quite a bit to the Piercing sound.”
“That’s what I was hoping to hear. Do you have his phone number?”
“Yeah, hold on a sec…”

It had only taken me five minutes to find the replacement for Rudy. I was well chuffed. I immediately start searching for the online presence of Cause:Effect.

I phone Wall two nights later, and he picks up on the first ring. Tabitha had given him a heads up on my inquiry, and he is very much interested in joining theband; he had even done research on where we were at, referencing several non-Earcandy reviews that we had gotten over the past year.

“I’m all in, unless we play together and it just doesn’t work.”
“No, no, no. I feel totally comfortable with you. Tabitha speaks highly of you, and we trust her intuition, not simply as someone who likes the band.”
“Cool, can you guys come down on Sunday the 30th?”
“Sure. What time works for you?”
“What time works for you guys, I’m just getting into the thing.”
“Wahahahhaa. No worries. How about 2pm, we’ll book a space at the Foundry; 2-5pm?”
“Great. I’ll meet you guys there.”

Earcandy finally debuts the Decisive video on the following Tuesday. It had been a three week grind to get them to run it, and now I was free to spread PR about the video as far as I could reach. Tabitha became an essential ally that I had not counted on before this moment. Over the course of the next few days, her PR acumen opened up a whole new avenue for Piercing; one that I was barely aware of. She was simultaneously shopping the Earcandy link to her contacts, and suddenly fashion/style blogs were running the link. Music was only a small part of their overall focus, so there was more of an impact of being noticed with the lower content ratio. In light of the fact that we were going to be spending at least the next two months rebuilding the band with Wall, I thought the best way to maximize our PR reach was to capitalize on this new found avenue. I envisioned Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian in a classic Anne black and white photo shoot. But instead of a group shot, have each of them pose solo. I would then shop those photos to these various culture blogs that had at least run a review or linked the “Decisive” video. I had seen some fantastic photo shoots that both Whitney and Phoebe had participated in, but they had the rapt attention of an audience they had established, while we were still building one. But the exposure to the culture blogs gave me the opportunity to showcase each one of
them in that style. Anne is in complete agreement, and immediately schedules a shoot with Joss at 6pm on Saturday.

They shoot within massive Victorian columns; the front of one of the local mansions built on money from the seas in centuries past. Jocelyn is styled by Anne in layer after layer of lace, taffeta, and spangle. The resonance of the photos lies singularly within Jocelyn’s gaze toward the lens- a physical articulation of her insouciance. She nails the shoot, and both Anne and I are bowled over checking the contact sheets later that night.

I kept coming back to the dilemma that seems to exist within Jocelyn. When she arrives two days later to proof the final shots with Anne, I overhear the two of them making plans for a completely new spread, involving June, and Joss; as women re-enacting a Greek myth.

“I was quite impressed with how you approached the solo shoot. You were totally there.” Anne said to Jocelyn upon her arrival. “So, I’d like to schedule something with you and June, say, maybe in the next two weeks, wherever you have a break in your schedule?”
“Oh, I would so love to work with June. She was fascinating to watch making the Spirits video; creating that entire character in the moment. It was inspiring.”
“Is that ok with you, boss?” Anne asked me sarcastically.
“Oh, yeah….. as if you two need my approval.” I replied, just as sarcastic.
“You know how much I love the videos, and the photo shoots. Branching out into modelling is a good thing for the band.” opined Joss.
“I agree.”

Did she want to be a Rock and Roll Star? Or an object of adoration? I couldn’t figure it out. Perhaps she wanted both? If she wanted both, why wasn’t she able to fuse those two elements on stage; the person whom all eyes are upon? They seemed to me to be one and the same- you needed a specific, innate confidence to actualize either. But Jocelyn had the voice. She had the missing talent that most other people would never possess.

The next day is the beautiful summer we had been dreaming of as we endured the worst winter of my lifetime. June 30th, the day of our first band practice with Wall. It had been quite an exhausting twenty-seven days since we let Rudy go, and today would prove to be just as telling toward the definition of Piercing. The phone rings at 9.30, and I hurry down two flights of stairs to Centraal, already thinking the worst.

“TWIIIIIIningggggggg! Wake up my man, pick up the-“
“Hey man, what’s up” it was Adrian. He sounded exhausted. I took a deep breath and was silently hoping the two of them had hung out until the wee Brooklyn hours; wanting to push back our start time. I could pay for an hour we didn’t use, as long as we got in some work, and met Wall in person.
“Wall, me, and Tabitha were having some drinks last night at a bar near Wall’s place.”

Easy.
Rock and Roll.
No worries.

“And he just called me. He got hit by a car last night riding his bike home. We weren’t even drunk, it was like 11.30”
“Yikes. Is he okay? Is he really hurt?”
“He broke his left collarbone.”
“ …… that’s the strap side…… ” I sighed.
“Yep….”
“I suppose that means we won’t be practicing in Brooklyn today?”
“No, that’s why I wanted to get ahold of you, so you weren’t getting ready, and maybe there is some time to let the Foundry know, and maybe they won’t charge us for the time.”
“Maybe.” I knew I was going to have to cover that bill out of my own pocket.
“Okay, cool. I’ll get in touch with Joss and Todd. I’ll call Wall later this afternoon and check in to see where we are at with him. Do you think he still wants to be in the band?”
“Oh, yeah, very much so. He was cussing up a storm this morning when I talked to him; wishes he broke a leg.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow once everything is sorted.”
“Cooooool. Thanks dude.”

There is a saying among the artists I know who write for grant money, and they all profess the same thing- it doesn’t matter how many you apply for, as long as you get what you need. Pushing a band through the modern grinder of PR was exactly the same thing; I began to refer to it as the Inherent Internet Resign:

All efforts are a 1 in 10 success rate. If you have 400 fans on your Instagram, you’ll more than likely get no more than 40 likes on a post. If you have 40,000 followers, you can bank on 4000 each post out. So, when I opened the email Monday morning from BATTLECATS, a fashion oriented blog that had both reviewed the “Decisive” single and linked the video, I found they wanted to run the photo shoot of Jocelyn by Anne. And in a stroke of good fortune, because that’s the fortune of consistent hard work, they wanted to run an interview with the other members of the band, in and around seven photos they had selected of Joss.

The very next email was from the Dutch magazine that had gotten in touch with us earlier in the year. They had linked the “Decisive” video as well, and now wanted to do a full page interview with an accompanying photo for their September issue. I immediately replied to Ferry at Gezellig! And told him we would love to talk, and the best time to get all of us in the same room with the time change is about 2pm, our time. Any weekday. Jocelyn had lost her job at the Senior Housing complex due to budgetary constraints, and Todd was off for the summer from school. Both of them had gotten retail jobs in downtown in early June, so It would be easy for all of us to sneak out of work for a half hour in the middle of an afternoon. Adrian would do a separate phone interview once the three Mystic folk were on the record.

The BATTLECATS interview arrived in the email box Tuesday morning; my day off. I dutifully sent out Word documents that they could add their answers to, and pleaded for a speedy return of their replies. The questions were straightforward-

“Describe your music for our readers who may not be familiar with you.”
“You worked with Tabitha Williams for your new video, “Decisive.” What was the shoot like? Who came up with the ideas used in the video? What was your favorite part of the shoot and final video?”

To my utter surprise, all three of them had sent me their meticulous answers by the next morning. I collated the photos into a Dropbox file, and emailed the Word doc to BC’s, as we began to affectionately refer to them as. Two hours later, they would email me back with hearty congratulations and thank yous, and that the interview would run next week. I was taken aback, again, at the speed of the new world. What took months when I began playing music now took hours, if you were paying attention. I couldn’t stop thinking about Thames. If only we had the internet in 1992…..

Ferry’s assistant editor Marcella calls us promptly at 2pm EDT on my landline.

“Hi, how is Piercing feeling today?”
“We’re fantastic!” I reply with the proper muted enthusiasm.
“Ok, I’m going to ask questions to each of you. one at a time, but the questions will all be the same. Is that fine?”
“Sure, Marcella. Anything that works for you.”
“Ok, I’m going in alphabetical order, so Ellery, you speak to me first.”
“Ok, I’m here.”

Her questions are genuine, and I try to keep my responses clipped and to the point. I have a tendency to wax rhapsodic at the most inappropriate time, so I decided to adhere to the new reality- that the kids were the ones responsible for shaping our identity. The last question was interesting, something I couldn’t remember being asked before-

“If you could turn success of your band into something else, what would it be?”

There was only one answer to that question for me.

“Make more music.”

Todd said the exact same thing.

Jocelyn and Todd were eloquent during their time on the phone with Marcella. I could tell they were embracing this world of having conversations with people you had never met, at a time of day you hardly even speak to your closest friends. Over the course of the interview, I could see clearly that i was not the Dad figure making the Kids realize some long lost dream; the entire subtext of the Dad reality seemed to dissolve over the length of that one phone call. That, in and of itself, was indelible progress. I had lost myself in that train of thought, not really hearing every word that Jocelyn was saying to Marcella, but when I heard this answer, I knew what the question had been:

“I’d love to be in a David Lynch film. Anything… An extra, a delivery person, a clerk. But, yeah, that would be a real dream come true.”

We had a show in New London in eleven days, with no bass player to speak of. Jeremy was obviously out as an option, and I couldn’t think of anyone I had approached the previous month that could pull it off with so little time left. And then it dawned on me; there was a way out of this. Brent Davis had told me he would love to fill in with Piercing if the need arose. Well, now was the time.

“Hey man, Twining here.”
“Hey what’s going on? How are you and Anne?”
“We’re doing great. she has been shooting a bunch of new work; the Piercing shoots have really gotten her back on track artistically.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen all of her new work with you guys; as fantastic as she ever was. Tell her I said so, please?”
“I will. Hey, remember when I asked you to fill in for Piercing last month when you were in Carolina?”
“Hahahahaha! Of course I do. Why? Do you still not have a bassist?” I loved his possessive wording of “bassist” rather than “bass player.”
“Yeah, umm, no. We have a gig at Royal Park a week from Saturday. The 12th. Do you think you could do it?”

I knew Brent could do it; as in learn the songs in a few nights and practice once with us while totally nailing the live set. But would he be able to make it?

“Oh yeah! I’d love to do it. I can practice this Saturday, easily. Other than that, it would be hard to get to Mystic before the gig.”
“I totally understand. Let me get in touch with everyone and see if we can schedule a Saturday night, say…. 8pm?”
“I can do 8pm, no problem.”
“Ok, I’ll get back to you by tomorrow at the latest.”
“Cool, I can’t wait to play live with you on drums again!”
“We’re going to rock, kid!”

Jocelyn and Todd get back to me first; they can make practice with Brent on Saturday. Adrian is stuck in the city.

“I have like, no money, and I’m not working this week because the building we occupy is being sprayed for bugs, yaknow; exterminators and shit.”
“A whole week?”
“I think the owners just wanted a blow, yaknow? But I’m still wicked low on cash.”
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll pick you up in New Haven Saturday afternoon, and drive you back on Sunday afternoon. You don’t need to give me any gas money.”
“Ok, that’s cool. I can do that.”
“We really need to practice at least once with Brent.”
“I agree.”
“It’s kind of a big gig.”
“It is kinda a big gig. I want to play as much as you do.”
“Thanks, man.”
“Thanks to you!”

We have a spirited practice that Saturday night at Centraal. Brent is completely within the songs, and the few moments where he misses a spot, we correct in two or three passages of the segment. For the time being, we are still alive and moving forward. In a scant few weeks, Wall will be the new permanent bass player, and we will be set up to make our next strides in NYC, and begin stretching our boundaries, to include other cities for the first time- Boston, Hartford, Providence, Portland. And if we can solidify those routes, we can then expand into Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That was the tried and true method toward building an audience on the East coast. After brunch on Sunday morning, I drive to the Palace to pick up Adrian for his return trip to NYC; I was transporting him on the Town-to-New Haven leg of the trip.

Sunday was the 7th of July, but what I had not anticipated was that this particular weekend was the unofficial Independence Day Celebration within the GSECAZ. With the 4th of July falling on the Thursday before this weekend, I should have known the highway would be jammed with travelers; their power drive is to get home before sunset on Sunday night. As we descend the last mile of the Gold Star Bridge, I can see the traffic stalled across all three lanes a mile ahead. I exit on the local service road, to gauge whether or not this was a momentary backup, or something that could last for miles. As I approached the last exit on the frontage road, it seemed the highway was clogged for miles; as far as we could discern. I took a hard right onto the exit; knowing I had one last secret tool in the box to avoid a day long commute. I would tap into my father’s driving knowledge. When I was a teenager, I could navigate the entire GSECAZ effortlessly. The same tactic served me well while on the road all of these years. I knew every back road from Mystic to NYC. We didn’t need a highway to get Adrian to the train on time.

When I merged onto State Road 80, I asked Adrian what he thought the role of the musician was in today’s world.

“I think it’s the same as it has always been- provide an outlet for the people, for the audience.”
“I agree”
“Why do you ask?”
“Do you think we provide that thing for our audience?”
“Almost.”
“What are we missing?”
“I think we have everything. The songs; they matter the most. Without songs you ain’t got shit. We got songs. We just need to own that shit, you know what I mean?”
“I agree”

After a slight silence, I allowed myself to let Adrian know what I had been thinking since the Spirit video was linked all over the musical net.

“I don’t have years to pursue these goals. I’m kind of on a tight schedule.”
“I know. I think everyone knows. It’s why we’re waiting for Wall, right?”
“Yes.”

Monday
Record a demo of Detainee on 8 Track for Brent / Soundcloud
Schedule Anne photo shoot with Todd
PR BC’s interview
Check train times / NYC to NL for Brent and Adrian
Print flier FFR for New Haven show in two weeks (Heirlume) / weds trip

Jocelyn and I head to New Haven to hand out fliers for our show there in two weeks. We’ll be opening up for Heirlume on the night of our show, but tonight they are opening for a band with a huge cult following. Marc at Myopic Insights had booked us for the show largely because Piercing is starting to get a serious local buzz; but he also remarked that he remembered me making it to the WESU radio interview to promote the Scare Tactic show back in March. You have to be willing to play the game. The flier I made had to be sent into the Heirlume people for approval, before they would let Marc use it as the main show image. Fortunately, the very first submission was accepted by the band- a relief and a sense that we were calibrating the details as they arose. Tonight was the very first time, in all the years I had known Joss, that we went to the same show together- outside of the local gigs, that is. I was curious to see her take on what Heirlume singer/guitar player Lora Leigh had to endure across the long night of music. After every gig we played, Piercing went home to their beds- the road musicians were sleeping in vans, or maybe bunks in busses; perhaps some shitty motel room off the highway. I implored Joss to watch and pay attention to Lora at every chance.

“that’s what you are signing up for.”

We hand out about 50 fliers to folks as they begin to arrive, and I notice we need to stop , so we’d have enough to ply the leaving crowd with a second wave. The two of us head into the bar, and I get a beer. Joss has a glass of wine. After a tip of a fiver; because it’s always a good idea to overtip the bar staff, we head back toward the front of the room, but I stop us about halfway in.

“Let’s watch from here.” I say to Jocelyn.
“Ok. Why here?”
“Can you see Lora? Sitting over there on the folding chair?”
“Yes.”
“She has to wait out this interminable local opening act every single night, everywhere she goes.. And notice, she’s dealing with it; not hiding in the bus, or walking around the club. She’s participating. Every night.”

Following the headliners set, we camp out on the front steps of the cinder block industrial building that houses the FFR. It’s a gorgeous Connecticut summer night, with the fog rolling in, creating a field of streetlight cones across the parking lot; a line of cars are disappearing onto the woodsy backroads. As the members of Heirlume make their way out front, Marc grabs me by the arm to introduce Joss and I to Lora.

“Hey Lora, Tim, this is Jocelyn and Ellery from Piercing, they’re opening for you in two weeks at BRICKS.”
“Nice to meet you both” as Lora extends her right hand toward us. Jocelyn reaches out and shakes it.
“You were spectacular tonight, I loved watching you rock out like that. Totally refreshing!” Joss offers.
“Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.”
“Yeah, at times it was like we were living in an Eddie Van Halen reality- you would rip off this sick riff out of nowhere and slide right back into the groove, effortlessly. And you sing lead as well!!! Incredible!” I hopefully offer with a blend of modesty and awe struck fandom.
“Thanks, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
“Hey, who does your PR?” asks Tim, who played bass in their three piece. These were the folks who had to approve my design for MI on the flier for BRICKS.
“Umm, I do.” I replied, looking down at my shoes. Why did I look down? I suppose I was trying to be accommodating; humble.
“You do? You don’t have an independent PR company doing all that work?”
“No, I pretty much do it all. But, I have been doing this for a long time.”

I turned to see what Jocelyn’s reaction was. Her mouth was slightly open, as if she just remembered he had left the stove on while driving to work; and then took a deep, cool breath to calm the initial wave. But her eyes remained fixed on a point somewhere beyond the small group of us, on the horizon. Could she see the future coming to fruition?

I finally give in and buy myself a smart phone- the last luddite. The final hurdle was learning how to text Wall, during our recruitment effort. I had figured out how to text him on our primitive Tracphone- something that was an annual Holiday gift from Anne’s family- so they could keep track of us when we were travelling. Wall thought it was cute; my attempts to learn while he was acting as a guidance counselor on the finer tips within the societal norms of “texting”. I plied him with paragraphs of wishful text, and he let me know that I was abusing the forum.

“Hey, like, I have to pay for these things…”

I had no idea. I had made a joke sign at the Palace, years earlier, and placed it next to the most visible electrical outlet: “CELL PHONE CHARGE $1.00 P/MINUTE”
I had no idea how long a cell phone needed to charge.

We have a show later tonight, which is why we needed Brent to fill in, at Royal Park in New London; a small festival with six bands to raise money to offset events like the TAZZIES. The show had now become an annual tradition, and it was a marked move up locally for the band. However, we have yet to hear from Adrian since he called me and said he on the West Side Highway at 5pm, in gridlocked traffic. I almost began to tell him to get off at 34th and head east, across town, to the FDR, but I internally debate whether that would make them even more lost.

“Ok, man- do you think you can get here in the next 2 hours or so?”
“We’re going to try.”
“Ok, keep me posted.”

As I am turning the door handle to leave, the landline rings again. This time it’s Brent, who is leaving Manhattan at the same time as Adrian, only taking the train. We had talked over the past few days that he was getting on an express to New Haven, and then the commuter rail into New London. Brent was a pro, I had no worries about him being there. Adrian was driving with his father, and you could never tell what was going to happen out on the racetrack that is I-95 in the corridor.

“Hey man. Bad news. The schedule for the train was all fucked up. I’m on a local stopping at every bedroom community outside of the city.”
“Well, can’t you get off the train? Flag the next one, hope it’s the express?”
“Hahaha, very funny, country boy.” A sly reference to one of my favorite Miracle Legion songs.
“I might be able to switch out at Stamford, I’ll call and let you know.”
“Ok. We’ll be fine.”

I head to the venue and meet up with joss and Todd, huddling under the backstage awning avoiding the slight drizzle in the air. It’s an unseasonably cool summer night.

“Did you hear from Adrian and Brent?” asks Jocelyn, in a whisper. I can tell she’s actually thinking there is no way those guys are going to make it on time.
“Yes, I did. Brent is on the local out of Grand Central, by accident. Adrian and his Dad are stuck in traffic
on the West Side Highway.”

I tried to sound as if this were the normal state of operations. This show was too big for us to fuck up, and I didn’t want them to think I was worried. I was plenty worried, but showing any outward emotion of that wasn’t going to bring the two of them into town any quicker.
And if the three of us had to pull off this show by ourselves, there was certainly no need to create a negative environment before we made an unscripted, unrehearsed debut as a three piece. I shook my head at the thought, realizing again how we always seem to exist in some fragmented form. Jocelyn caught this deviation from my outward cool.

“What is it?”
“Ahh, nothing. It’s not like the old days anymore, eh?” I mutter
“Which old days?”
“Good point.”

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Fourteen

I awake on Thursday morning. Adrian has rejoined his old band, Rudy has been fired, Jeremy is in the band and has no idea it is strictly temporary, and I’m spending day after day trying to get Earcandy to premiere the “Decisive” video. They have now proposed three different run dates, but major releases keep bumping us back. Tabitha is shopping it to bigger cultural sites that cover film and fashion, as well as music; to no avail. The band inbox is disheartening. I log in to Facebook and see if there is any buzz about our Saturday show with Finito.

“Friday Night / Velvet Hall / Mystic / 8pm / $5 / Class Ring / Geneva Holiday / Finito”

Gut Punch.

I felt as if I had seen an Instagram photo of a girlfriend at the club, without me. Adrian had reassured me during our conversation that this was a one shot deal- either something came of the new recordings or they would mothball the Ring.

“We’re not going to try and recreate our local audience.” he had told me.

But this was genius level PR from the Geneva camp. With Finito coming up for the Saturday show, it was brilliant to have them arrive a day early and play the alternative to a Saturday club night: an all-ages show in Mystic. Coupling that with the close bond that Rudy shared with Phoebe, it was the smart move. Having Class Ring open as they played their first show in over a year, with their original lineup, was a booking coup.

Thames had built their audience playing all-ages shows at the Auditorium, in Stonington; which half of Mystic was within the border of. The Aud, as it was known in local parlance, was a privately run community center that was repurposed from an old 1920’s movie theatre. Several varieties of craftmaking and artisanship were taught in the former office spaces, but the main stage area was kept intact; a place for local theatre groups to present new work, visiting authors to give readings, and where Thames played their most important shows while developing a local audience. When the neighbors began to become weary of 200 people attending the all-ages rock shows; their 100 cars in the parking lot, the sound of the crowds as they came and went within twenty feet of a residential neighborhood, and  the volume of the shows, – it was hard to blame them. One night, while I was struggling to come up with a replacement venue to keep pushing the local scene forward, a couple of young guitar players found me at work, and pitched a new venue idea.

“What about the Velvet Mill?”

I shuddered, hoping I didn’t visibly appear to. I had only been to the Mill one time in my life; and it was harrowing. Following the dawn of the twentieth century, enterprising Americans built specific mills in the Mystic valley to capitalize on a new global market. These mills housed some of the most important velvet production in the world. Germans were the purveyors of the most intimate knowledge of the velvet trade, and hundreds of them came to Mystic to work in these new  mills. “Society Hall”, which was the original name of the Mill, was built by these German immigrants, to recreate some of the spirit of their homeland. By the 1970’s, it had become a private “club”, operating outside the bounds that legal drinking establishments had to adhere to. To gain access the Mill, you had to be a card carrying member of the club, or give a written recommendation for the guests you asked  to enter the establishment. My only experience at the Mill up to that point was on a cool August night in 1979- when my mother’s boyfriend brought my brother and I there, while he was charged to watch us while she worked an overtime shift.

Russell was an alcoholic, who had recently gone through the first real period of clarity in his life. Instead Of pounding beers all day at his job as a weld grinder at the local submarine  manufacturing plant; he was behaving more like the neighborhood fathers we had grown up with- they waited until after work to intake their initial libation. My mother’s relationship with Russell began to take on a kind of normalcy, and I couldn’t blame her for harboring a borderline maniac to help from having to sell the house. But something about the Mill made him lose control that night. I had always equated the strange behavior I witnessed in Mysticites to some kind of weird, psychic vortex that must reside deep in the valley. Whether the vortex is real or not, something got to Russell that night. At 10.30 pm, he piled us into my mom’s 1972 VW Bug, and headed up the valley side the mile to our house. Of course, my mom would be waiting for us; or rather, him, on the front steps.

“Where the fuck have you been?” she hissed at him

He stumbled forward a few steps and gave the whole charade away. I had seen my father fuck up like this many times in front of my Mother. She would never miss that sign.

“AAAAANNNNNNNND  you’ve been drinking! With my fucking kids, you’ve been drinking?!?!? I ask you to watch them for two fucking hours and you dragged them where? Franks? The Mill? Where the fuck did you take these kids? Isn’t it bad enough I have to hear them tell me all of the time they spend in the bar with their asshole father twice a month? Jesus Fucking Christ, you are a one-of-a-kind fucking prick!!!!”

Then, the right hand punch.  Bang. It caught my Mom flush on the left side of her face.

“AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

YOU MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!!” she screamed in response.

She stormed forward and slammed him with all the force she could muster into the back door of the house. I raced toward her, and tried to open the door, desperately grasping at the knob. As my mother had him pinned against the door, he noticed me reaching, and clenched his left hand into a fist and swung it toward me, as a direct punch was impossible. He landed that swing perfectly, as drunk as he was. I fell backward onto my ass against the refrigerator. I looked up and saw my brother was standing absolutely still, with both arms slack at his sides. I was as shocked by his non-reaction as I was to the entirety of the moment.  Russell, in a moment of weakness, stopped his struggle with my mom when he saw the blood seeping from the side of my head. She corralled him and opened the door, pushing him outside; the resulting fall down the concrete stairs left him momentarily immobilized. And then, his scream. I saw my mother quickly lock the door, but his fist burst through a lower pane of glass. He was grabbing at the door handle, desperately trying to unlock it and gain entry, but the blood was flowing from his wrist like hot, watery ketchup packets that you get with a hot dog at the Little League Snack Stand, or an amusement park.  He passed out from the loss of blood moments later, and the ambulance whisked him out of my life forever. That was the emotional level that the Mill brought up in me. That had been my first time there.

Over the years, I had played dozens of shows at the Mill; and other than glancing at a faded scar, the night with Russell never plagued me while I performed there. Perhaps I was locking the lid on that experience, in an effort to not be influenced by it. But going to this show brought back wave upon wave of bad mojo. As I walked across the parking lot between my house and the Mill, I simply put one foot in front of the other, knowing that this repetition would eventually bring me to the hall. Adrian had called me earlier that afternoon, asking to use Steven’s amp for the show that night. Our deal lasted all of five minutes. What was I supposed to do, deny him access while the same piece of equipment sat unused 500 yards away? I acquiesced.

“Yes, you can use the amp, just pick it up before you head over to the Mill.”

“Thanks man! Yr the best!”

Tabitha was in town for the weekend, so she joined Joss ,Todd and me as we trudged toward the club. As we walk, Tabitha brings up the progress with Earcandy.

“Anything look promising?”

“Well, they reassured me this week that we’re in the pipeline, but we did submit two weeks ago. I suppose the question is, how long until we shop it elsewhere?

“I say one more week.” replied Tabitha. “If they won’t run it next week let’s take it to Schwag, and see if they’ll premiere it.”

That caught Jocelyn’s ear. She stopped right then and there and turned to face Tabitha.

“Do you think you can get Schwag to run it? That would be a fantastic place to debut the video!”

Schwag had the corner on an “edgier” presentation of the alternative culture; and the edge-pushing

“Decisive” video fit perfectly into their milieu. I could see Jocelyn’s excitement about that possibility, but I thought there was a remote chance of them highlighting an unsigned band in that fashion. Earcandy built their reputation on finding unsigned, or unknown groups. I felt it best if we wait it out, but I knew Tabitha’s career was a factor in the project.

“I agree- one more week and then we will begin to actively shop it to other outlets.”

“Cool. Thanks. I still feel confident that Earcandy is going to run it.”

“Me too.”

We walk into the hall as Class Ring begin their first song. The crowd is nearing 200 people; it’s evident the band has been missed. A great night tonight could easily propel them into a concise   commitment, the likes of which they may have never imagined before. And yet, Piercing had passed this same point months earlier. It was hard to watch Adrian enjoying himself when our band was so close to capitalizing on the hard work we had all put in. and after the removal of Rudy, further fissures would be difficult to cauterize.  But as their set continued, the audience began to lose interest. As they finished their final number, they were playing to a room with fifty people.

Nostalgia is a fickle bedfellow.

Geneva Holiday earn a reprieve, as the audience reassembles; and they provide their staple of the local musical diet.  But by the time Geneva wrap up their set, it’s 11.30pm. Class Ring delayed the start of their set until 9.30, as the audience hadn’t swelled to their projection until then. That left Finito taking the stage for an all-ages show at twelve midnight. A scant ten people were in the hall to witness them.

After three songs, I decided to walk home, not even exchanging goodbyes with anyone involved with the night. Everything that had been built in this small riverside town over the previous two decades crashed and burned upon itself tonight. I almost felt singlehandedly responsible, but as the steps accumulated on my walk back to Centraal, those worries faded. Once, maybe twice in a generation a small town like Mystic has a returning star. Phoebe had accomplished things in her life that many of her generation of friends in town could not even dream of. And ten people stayed to see her perform.

Maybe the genius move that was centered around what Finito could do for Geneva and Class Ring should have been seen the other way around. Our show Saturday night would define its knife edge.

I arrive at the Wishing Well at 9pm, with a van full of gear. The kids are all arriving separately, so as to not be beholden to my schedule. After two trips through the steep alley to the club with amps and heavy gear, the rest of Piercing shows up to help. They grab the snare drum, and carry that and the guitars into the room; better to rest before their expectant expose of entertainment. We are the second band on the bill, so I stack our gear as close to the stage as possible- as Finito is using our equipment, this leaves a bit more standing room on the floor. After the load in, I head up to the bar and order a Sierra Nevada, which happened to be on tap. The Well was constantly rotating their 65 beer choices, so one didn’t have to travel to NYC for an equal experience. And that is what truly defined the Well- there may be only one world class club in the neighborhood, but we would hold up our neighborhood music joint to anyone else. It was as garrulous a claim as it was the totality of a specific truth. And after getting all of our equipment into the room, I find myself sitting alone on Steven’s old JC120 amp that Todd was using. I had been sitting on this amp before gigs for almost thirty years. But now I was alone. Jocelyn and Todd were at the bar holding court with Caron and Jeremy, while I tried to blend in with the dark wall that showcased local art- a residue of neon light resonated against the opposite brick wall.  It was now evident every success would define how alone I actually was in this endeavor.

Rudy is at the bar by 9.30pm. He would be at the front of the stage when we begin our set in an hour; a curious gaze settling over his face.  I couldn’t help but think of the dichotomy between Piercing and Thames; where everything seemed to be defined by the import of ‘life or death’. That prioritization did not exist within the parameters of Piercing. Phoebe was a long-time friend of Rudy’s, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to greet her at the earliest possible opportunity. By the time we take the stage, there is a near capacity crowd- certainly due to the curiosity of what Finito is all about- Piercing were the lucky recipients of the overflow crowd. And even with a handful of practices with Jeremy, the set is punctual, and it’s conscription evident. The sound is more bouncy, more pop than with Rudy, who provided a more visceral bottom end, but the songs were not hindered in any way by the distinction between Rudy and Jeremy.

Finito are completely mesmerizing. One of my favorite things about live music is seeing a great band almost instantaneously connect with an audience who probably hadn’t seen them before. Jeremy and I end up standing mere meters apart, about halfway through the set. We reach out between people in the crowd, and exchange beaks. During their next song, Finito guitarist Matthew lays down an incendiary solo over a lilting, noir rock. As he reaches down the fretboard and hits one final searing note, there is an audible gasp in the room, followed by immense applause as the band gently eases away from the moment; a slow decrescendo. As I turn around to gauge the reaction in the room as they finish the song, I notice Whitney is standing against the opposite wall. I make a mental note to head over to say hello as soon as the last song was complete. But that train of thought became interrupted when Jocelyn sidles up to me and announces that she is going to head home for the night.

“You should go over and say hey! to Whitney before you leave.” I opine to Joss

“Yeah, your right. I haven’t spoken to her in a few months.”

“No worries. Joss, Whitney wants to see us succeed.”

“Yeah….”

I was surprised at her resistance at embracing Whitney.  And as soon as that thought passed through my mind, I realized I should simply walk Jocelyn over to Whitney right then, before Joss entertained the idea of ghosting it.

“Hey, let’s go see her together.”

“Ok.”

We make our way through the thick crowd, and Whitney immediately brightens when she sees us approach. I was encouraged.

“Hey, you guys are getting so good! I am so psyched for you!”

“Thanks for coming out, it really means a lot to have you see us.”

“You’re welcome! I’m sorry I haven’t seen you guys in the city yet, my schedule has been so hectic, but I will!”

“Thanks, kid.” I reply with complete gratitude.

“Jocelyn, you are looking so hot, girl!”

“Awwww.. thank you Whit.”

I recede into the crowd, to give the two of them some time without me.  But as Jocelyn turns to leave, I lean in and tell Whitney

“Keep posting the Vines from Mystic, I love it!”

“Hahahaha! Every time I’m home- You know I will!”

The moment was disconcerting- why did Jocelyn need me to prompt her to “work the room”? Surely, she must have been aware that greeting Whitney was a total necessity;  but I still had to drag her over there to enact a conversation. And of course, she wanted to leave the club before the last band had finished their set. I could understand wanting to get out a bit early, but she lived the closest of any of us to the Well; I couldn’t tell if she was feeling run down, or if it was simply social anxiety. Whatever the issue, it was only going to move to a more intense reality than tonight’s episode. Joss and I were like two kids at the school playground, one of us pushing the other farther and farther up on the swingset. She kept insisting on more autonomy within our artistic definition, but was at the same time asking me to not push the swing so fast, so high. I could feel my hands falling by my sides.

Monday morning. I open up the email and right away I see that Tabitha is getting in touch about whether or not Earcandy is actually going to debut the video for “Decisive”. It has been over two weeks since I submitted it at Claire’s request, and several email exchanges between the two of us have yet to result in the magazine running the new video. It was vital for Tabitha to get this work published in the widest possible forum. She was still shopping her short film, with no success; but a highly regarded video could provide her extra ballast in the rough seas of getting a film distributed. The next email was from Jocelyn, asking me about the timeframe of informing Jeremy that he is not part of the long term plans for Piercing. I knew it. There was not even a sliver of belief that anyone other than me would have to make that particular call to Jeremy. I chalk it up to the benefit of age- if I was 25 and was tasked with terminating a musician who did us a massive favor, I would bitch and moan until they were sick of hearing it from me. I decided to remain silent about my own internal dialogue, and call Jeremy and tell him the truth. It wasn’t me who didn’t want him to join Piercing; it was Adrian backed by Joss. They were calling the shots now, I was just dialing the phone. No pressure.

I spend my Tuesday day off in the gardens at our house. Anne is in fine spirits; the Iris are in peak bloom, and we have totally caught up on weeding and mulching the beds before the height of their color. I’m dealing with internal disarray; knowing full well before the sun sets that I was going to have to make the call to Jeremy. At 5pm, I decide to dial his number. I am standing in the full sun of our front yard, which is bordered by beach roses; their fragrance wafting in the air amongst a hint of freshly cut grass.

“Hey man, it’s Twining.”

“I know. I have caller ID on my cell phone. You should get one.”

“Thanks for the tip, I was just trying to be polite. You kids are always fantasizing about what the 80’s were like- well, that was a part of it. There was no caller ID. You had to actually pick up the phone to find out who was calling. You should embrace it.”

“Yeah, whatever. How about that set Saturday night? Pretty tight, wouldn’t you agree?”

“It was tight, especially considering how quickly we had to piece it together.”

“I know, I know. Who else could you have called?” a hint of actual sarcasm within his tone.

“Well. I tried to get Brent, but he was in South Carolina visiting his Dad. He could have pulled it off.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t. I did.”

“I know, and I truly appreciate it, I imagine everyone does.”

“You imagine?”

“Hey- take it easy.” That was a go to phrase at the Palace when someone was beginning to cross the line.

“You take it easy! Hahahahaha!”

“Jeremy, I’m going to just get to the point. You are not part of the long term plans for Piercing. We are grateful you could fill in for us at such a desperate time, but we’re going to look for someone else as the permanent bassist.”

Silence.

“I can’t talk to you right now.”

And he hung up the phone.

I immediately send out a group message on Facebook to Joss, Todd and Adrian.

“jeremy is out. we need to find a replacement asap.”

Jocelyn was the first to respond.

“Let’s get together on Thursday and discuss this in person. We have practice that night usually, so let’s think hard about what we need to do over the next few days.”

“Yeah, I think that’s the smart approach” replied Todd.

“Ok, cool. I’ll see you guys at 8pm, Centraal. Yes?” was my contribution to the thread.

I spend a few hours cleaning up the mother-in-law apartment, as well as Centraal proper, before the two of them arrive. Todd gets there exactly at 8pm; we exchange beaks on arrival, and Jocelyn skips up the driveway in an effort to look as if she arrived at the same time as Todd. I saw it as an endearing moment; she truly seemed to want to see this through, regardless of the obstacles. As we enter the studio, Jocelyn camps out on the upright futon bed, which serves as a “guestbed” for some of Anne’s family members while they are in town. Or Rudy. Todd stands upright in front of Steven’s amp- the JC120 which enables Todd to tell his tale.

“And how was your day, Twining?” offered Jocelyn.

“Hahahahahaa! It has been fantastic! Do you know the past two nights, between midnight and 1AM, I’ve been getting vicious phone calls from Jeremy?”

“No, I didn’t. I haven’t talked to him. Todd, have you talked to him?”

“No, no, no…. I haven’t…”

“Well, I’ve had five different phone calls over the last two nights; I had to just let them go to voicemail. But he is eviscerating me on these messages. Here, have a listen…..”

“YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKING THIS THING UP! YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!”

“YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKING THIS THING UP! YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!”

“YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKING THIS THING UP! YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!”

It wasn’t that difficult to reconcile what we had actually achieved versus Jeremy’s wounded take on the same topic. But I intrinsically trusted him, as he was the most prescient of the Palace kids. That carried a specific weight with me-  what if he was right? What if I caved to the wrong vision? I had convincingly built the band into its present state; where they had artistic choices to make regarding their image, and their future. Was it a gift? Surely. There was no other way for me to frame my commitment to Piercing and this particular Mystic generation en masse. That realization also defined an endgame; the first time it had cropped up in regard to them. There would soon be a time when it would be too late to rebuild the possibilities. Of that we could be one hundred percent sure.

“Yikes, I’m sorry to hear that.” Offered Jocelyn.

“Yeah, man. That’s fucked up. But it doesn’t surprise me.” Added Todd.

“I’m just over making these phone calls to kick people out of the band. I have had enough.”

We began to discuss how we could possible find a suitable bass player. There wasn’t anyone in town who we collectively felt was the right fit, but I had my own idea about where we should look. But first, I wanted to let them speak, and untangle all of the thoughts they had about solving the situation.  After twenty minutes of

“how about …..?”

“I don’t think that’s a good fit…..”

“How about we think on a larger scale? We’re in New York all the time; it’s where we record and play the bulk of our shows. Adrian is there. What if we found someone in New York to play bass?”

“Hmmn. That’s a good idea.” Replied Jocelyn with purring interest

“I think that’s brilliant, if we can actually find somebody.” added Todd.

“But how are we going to find someone there? Do you think Adrian can find someone?”

“We could ask Michael at Stormy Harbor. He might know some people.” I offered, actually thinking on my feet because as much as I believed in our next bassist would be based in NYC, I had no idea how we could make that happen.

“I hadn’t even thought of that. We know plenty of people in the city.” Said Jocelyn.

“That’s true. I guess this is what happens when you keep working at it, eh Twining?” surmised Todd slyly.

“That’s right. We’ll find someone in New York, I guarantee it. Why don’t you guys head home and get an early night in. it’s been a hectic month, and if we find someone in New York to join the band- it will get even more hectic.”

“That’s totally cool with me.” Said Todd

“Another Piercing musician in NYC is only going to help us. I’m totally on board.” Added Jocelyn.

“Cool. I’ll start making phone calls and emails in the morning.”

“Beaks!” they reply in unison. I take that as a very good sign.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Thirteen

Rudy and I meet that Monday night at Centraal.

“I still don’t understand why you referred to us as “You Guys” when we were discussing the next possible Grounds show… “

“Oh, I do that all the time.”

“What, act like you are not an integral part of something- like this band?”

“No, no, no, just… sometimes… I get outside of myself. I get too amped up to see the big picture.”

“Well, the big picture is that you need to figure a way to do all of these things you are committed to, and not get in the way of the progress Piercing is making. It’s starting to show, because you were barely able to play any of our songs last Sunday after the awards show.”

“You want me to choose between Piercing and the Holiday?”

“No, I want you to figure out a way to make them both work. You’re headed down a slippery slope, and I don’t have any time to spare. I’m going to call you tomorrow to ask you what you think about this.”

He glared at me, but more in a way that did not reflect anger, rather that I had given him a homework assignment. I didn’t take it as a good sign. I walked him to the door. After all of the late nights where he spent the night in Centraal, or had to rush out of a foundry job to make a gig in Manhattan, the moments in the van where he was genuinely blown away by the ride ‘this van is fucking  Sweet!”, or the badass bridge in Magnets- he was one of a kind. But when the people who mean the most to you express feelings of being hurt, there has to be a certain protection. I would provide it, in distribution and defense. If I couldn’t muster up the fortitude to kick Rudy out of the band, how was I supposed to get us to the next level? The deed paled in comparison to what actually was waiting for us.

I called him at five o’clock that Tuesday.

“Hey man, it’s Twining. Did you think about what we talked about last night?”

“Yeah, you want me to choose between Geneva and Piercing….”

“No, Rudy. That’s not it at all. I asked you to find a way to make them both work. You obviously haven’t done that, so I’m going to make it easy for you. You are no longer a member of Piercing. I had no idea I would get this one last chance to make it in music, and I’m not going to let anything get in the way of that. You are obviously absolved of any financial responsibilities, and I’d like to thank you for everything you did to help us get to this point. But we need to move on.”

Silence.

“Alright, I guess.”

“You can come by tomorrow around 6.30 and get your equipment.”

“I’ll see you then.”

“I’ll be here.”

I had never been in a band where we kicked someone out.  I had my moment of Napoleonic vicissitude during Bold Schwa, a civil war over  how to manage that band; but the Schwa was nothing like Piercing. After an hour of mulling the event over in my mind, I emailed Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian the news. I heard back from Todd and Joss almost immediately- finally they were monitoring media for our latest developments. If only I could get them to surf Earcandy every day….

I stayed up until 2am, catching the Carson Daly show because Grimes was on. There was quite a bit of attention on her as she exemplified a powerful, modern female artist. And she was convincing; the depth of her voice hinting at Lisa Gerrard, the playful yet dangerous musical vibe aligning with the best of Debbie Harry. At the same time, whether it was to reassure myself after the madness of the previous week, or if I was truly being sentient- Jocelyn had that much talent, at least vocally and visually. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. A door convincingly opens.

It’s quiet at the Palace that Wednesday morning. I’m sipping Darjeeling and listening to the Cocteau Twins collaboration with Harold Budd- ‘The Moon and the Melodies’- as I do each morning at the shop.

As the climactic piano note on “Memory Gongs” rings out through the speakers, in walks Lawrence Steele, the founding member of the one, active metal band in town. LST, as he is known at the Palace, is a serious listener and is in the possession of a concise set of observational skills; unlike many of his contemporaries.  He looks up at me nervously as he passes the sticker covered front counter, decades of detritus, again.

“Hey man, how’s it going?” Lawrence offered a beak.

“Ehh, not so good.”

“Band problems?”

“Oh yeah. Some serious shit went down last night.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

I had the sense that Lawrence knew something I didn’t know, or that he knew everything I knew.

“Because I heard about some crazy shit last night as well.” He added

“Does it pertain to Piercing?”

“Uhh, yeahhhh. Why do you think I’m bringing it up?”

“Do you know we kicked Rudy out of the band?” I asked him, in an incredulous voice that was a complete stereotype.

“WHAT?!?!?!?!?! What the fuck did you just say? You guys kicked Rudy out of the band?”

He began walking around the front counter, taking a circuitous route amongst the merchandise.

”Man, there is nothing but fucking chaos here… Do you guys know what you’re sitting on? Do you know the fucking opportunity that is unfolding in front of you? Jesus fucking Christ, you fucking people!”

“Whoa whoa whoa, what the fuck are you talking about? You don’t think I can handle this shit?!?!?!”

“Do you know where Adrian was this past Saturday night?”

“No I don’t. I called him to weigh in on the Rudy thing, but he said he couldn’t talk and hung up on me.”

“That’s because he was in a studio, recording demos with Class Ring. They put the band back together.”

“Why the fuck would they do that?”

“Because of Esther Fowler.”

Esther was one of the Mystic kids who had relocated to the west coast. I had always implored the kids of this generation to leave town, because ‘Mystic is a great place to come back to’. Travel, tour, relocate, just get out and see more of the world. It was a long standing tradition over generations where kids would embark on a group relocation, and set up an Outpost in some new town, retaining the Mystic characteristic. After a few months in Los Angeles, Esther found herself wound into the crowd around Year Zero artist Sunset Haze. One night while pushing the envelope of consciousness, Esther broke out a CDR of Class Ring to entertain Sunset. Class Ring certainly had their strengths, and I was as big a supporter of the band during it’s time as anyone. But on this night, she caught the ear of a recording artist who had some clout in the business. And he was impressed.

“ I really dig this, who is it?”

“A band from Mystic, where I’m from. They’re called Class Ring, and they really are fantastic.”

“These guys are fucking cool. No one is doing this, this… this…  detached thing. That all went out the window with Pavement, because they cornered the fucking market on that one, eh?!!?!?!?!”

“Hahahaha. All the kids in town love Pavement.”

“Yeah, but these guys are better than Pavement. Do they have anything new? When is this from?”

“They recorded this about a year and a half ago.”

“Tell them to get me something brand new. I like it.”

When I phoned Adrian about his input about the situation with Rudy, he told me he was too occupied to take the call. He was actually recording the new Class Ring demo in Connecticut; twenty minutes from Centraal- to send to Sunset Haze. That’s why he couldn’t talk to me about one of the most crucial decisions Piercing would face. I knew why he wouldn’t have told me what was happening that particular night. Going back to Class Ring for Adrian could only seem like a betrayal, and he was reticent to begin that conversation with me. I again, couldn’t blame him. But now, after solving one major issue, I had to figure a way out of this mess, and keep Piercing moving forward. Moving forward was the one thing that never failed.

Before I call Jocelyn, I remember that I have an exit meeting with Rudy that afternoon; he still needed to come by Centraal and gather his equipment. I decided to put all of his gear in the back of the blue van- it seemed more Rock to at least take your gear out of the van for the last time, and also so he wasn’t in the house in case some phone call came down the line. For all I knew, he was already aware of Adrian’s return to Class Ring- but if he knew before, he didn’t let me in on that information. There was no going back now.

“I found out earlier this afternoon; Jeremy texted me around 2pm.”

“Can you believe this fucking shit?!?!? They kick him out, The Rock Star of that band, and then now, after we start to gain some traction, they want to put the band back together again?”

“Have you heard about Sunset Haze in all of this?”

“Yeah, sheesh. Don’t people know that these touring musicians have friends they party with in every town they play? It’s a big part of how you survive on the road, because you don’t have to be locked in a van with the same four or five people all day and all night. And how many demos does he hear and say ‘that’s cool’? Ten? Twenty?”

“I know, I know, I agree with you. But we can’t take an offensive stance here, let’s just let it play out and see what happens.”

“I know where you’re coming from, but when I went down to Brooklyn to master the “Massive” single, and he met me there, and I saw his toes were sticking out of his skate shoes, and I knew winter was coming; I went out and bought him a pair of boots and mailed them down to him last October. Did Class Ring buy and send him a free pair of boots so his toes wouldn’t freeze?” I was incensed.

“Why do you have to always make these things personal?”

It was a good point.

“Do you really think they’re going to last more than three months? It’s just like any bad relationship- you think about the good times, and when you try to recreate them, all of the negativity that drove you apart in the first place reveals itself all over again.”

“Like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton?” I said, trying to add some levity to the situation after getting so riled up moments before.

“Yes. Exactly.”

I was a bit taken aback that she corralled the reference so quickly. I had been aiming for some kind of humor; because Joss never suffered whiners, and I knew I was treading dangerously close to it. And she was right. If the accumulation of my efforts were true to my beliefs, this reunion wouldn’t interfere. In one simple statement Jocelyn had me re-evaluating my view on worth.  While we were weaving through the conversation, I was pacing through the gardens at the house. I hear the familiar sound of a sedan coming down our dead end street.

“I gotta go, Rudy is here to pick up his gear.”

“Good Luck with that…..”

“Thanks…..”

I clicked off the phone, put it in the front pocket of my chamois shirt, and approached the van, which Rudy was slowly walking toward. I put the key in the lock, turned it left, and removed it from the door.

“All my stuff’s still in the van?”

“No, I just thought it would be more ‘real’ to take the gear out of the van, rather than the mother-in-law apartment.”

“Hahahah, yeah….”

I had been dreading this moment for two days; but after the latest development, this exchange seemed no more detrimental than a field trip in elementary school to the nature center, where the staff would encourage you to touch and hold live snakes. The smooth scaled skin of this interaction with Rudy was little more than preparation for what was to come.  You never know which anxiety will actually be diminished by developments beyond your control. Later that night, Malthus comes to the house to finalize the cover design for our new single. I will be submitting the video for “Decisive” on Thursday morning, and he and I spend a few hours sprucing up images, which I will use to update the content of our online presence. We talk design theory, while he works his magic with instinctual keyboard shortcuts and precise mouse movements- it’s a thrill to see Malthus manipulate the machine toward his ideal. His dexterity creates a meditative essence within the studio, and I am thankful on more than one level. After two eggs and toast the following morning, by 9.30 AM I have collated all of the pertinent details of our new single, attached the appropriate files, and hit send for our email to Carol at Earcandy.

We have a show in New London at the Wishing Well in ten days. I had been emailing Phoebe for a few months, hoping that they might want to play a show in her “hometown” with the new band. We finally found a June weekend, where they were off from recording and could spend a whole weekend out of the city. But now that we had no bass player, I began to seriously worry that the show would be compromised- we couldn’t open and there was no way to reschedule for the night. I decided to take that Thursday off from work, submitting the Earcandy material after tea and plowing through every musical contact I could access in an effort to find a bass player to at least fill in for this one show with Finito. If we fucked this up, the repercussions in Brooklyn could be of serious consequence. Finito had to play in front of a great crowd while they were in town.  In addition, I had already promised Phoebe that they could use all of our equipment for their set, so even if Piercing had to cancel, I would be at the show all night. Not that I minded that at all; Phoebe was a Palace kid and deserved my help, but it would be minimized without Piercing appearing on the bill.

In my haste, and distilled through the recent distaste of the Piercing situation, I decide to call Thomas and see if Thames could play that night. It had only been two years since the reunion at the Station Show, and I figured one practice Friday night would sharpen us up enough for the gig. And that would also insure that Finito would have a large crowd to see them in town. I let my tea seep as I dialed Thomas.

“Hey man, it’s me, Ellery.”

“Good morning, good sir! What brings such an early phone call from the man who can’t stand the phone? You must need some tremendous favor from me to call at such an hour.”

“You got me, my mouth was open.”

My reply was a sly reference to our shared joy of Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” LP. I figured he would understand both levels of the nod.

“What’s up?”

“We have a big show coming up this Saturday in town. But we just kicked our bass player out of the band, and I can’t find anyone to fill in for the night. How about Thames opens the show, since it doesn’t look like Piercing can play.”

“Aww, mannnn. I would love to play. Why don’t you tell me about these things earlier?”

“Hahahahaha”

“Yeah, we’re going to be in Montauk for Philip’s birthday, so there’s no way I can make it. Even if I got on the ferry and made it before showtime, we’d probably never have the chance to practice beforehand.”

“Yeah, that’s all too true. Well, it was the first thing I thought of, on to the next idea.”

“Why don’t you call Brent? He could learn your songs in a week.”

I couldn’t tell if that was a dig at our songwriting ability or the sheer genius of Brent. I decided to buy into the latter.

“Brilliant idea. I’m going to call him now.”

“Cool, let me know what he tells you.”

I leave a message for Brent that he returns an hour later.

“Aww, shit man. I would love to play, but I’m in South Carolina visiting my Dad.”

“Do you think you could have learned all of the songs in a week?”

“Oh, sure. I’ve seen you guys enough times to know what you’re trying to do. So, yeah- I could totally do it. I feel bad that I can’t help you out for this show.”

“No worries, man. We’ll figure something out.”

“But hey- if you ever need someone to fill in like this again, don’t hesitate to call me; I’d love to play with Piercing.”

“Thanks man. You know you are my first phone call.”

The entire time I had been conversing with Thomas and Brent, I had been sending out emails to everyone I knew who could handle a bass guitar. I was delighted to find that every single one of them got back to me- I even pleaded with Phoebe to learn our set over the internet. She was classy, as always.

“I’d love to help but I have so many family obligations when I’m home, there is just no way I could pull it off. Sorry…..”

And yet, after six hours, I wasn’t any closer to finding a bass player for our next show. Jocelyn had gotten out of work at the top of the hour, so I called her immediately.

“I called everyone, even tried to reunite Thames to cover the gig, to no avail. I’m out of ideas, and I think we should cancel tonight to give the club a full five days to find another act. I’ll still bring all the gear over to the show for Finito to use.”

“I’ll help you with that, if that’s what it comes to.” replied Joss. Surprisingly.

“Ok, cool.”

“I’ll call Adrian to let him know we’re going to have to cancel.”

“Thanks.”

Jocelyn was assuming a position of responsibility. I was as thrilled as someone could be when it becomes apparent the apprentice that was revered handles the shield.

Five minutes later, my landline rings.

“Hello?”

“hey, man, it’s me, Adrian”

“How’s it going?”

I had been expecting Jocelyn to call, not Adrian. The yearning idealist in me came to the fore; I was curious what his take would be, circumventing the proper “channels” to get his message across to the top of the “food chain”.

“We can’t cancel this gig!!!”

“I know, I know, I know- why the fuck do you think I’ve been on the phone and on the machine for the past six hours? I just can’t find anybody!”

“Why don’t we just get Jeremy?”

“I thought you didn’t want to be in a band with him?”

“Yeah, I don’t. But we need to pull this show off. I say we just do it.”

After my conversation with Rudy at the Palace, Joss, Todd and me met at my house to declare we were all in on getting a different bass player. I assured the two of them I would get into contact with Adrian the next night; which is when he returned to the studio with Class Ring. When I finally did get in contact with him that next night, he stated he was fine with letting Rudy go, but he had one condition:

“I don’t want to be in a band with Jeremy.”

It was a surprise to me, because all that I could discern from their mutual time together in Brooklyn was amiable- two Mystic kids in an Outpost digging the new scene and being there to support each other, along with the handful of other Mystic kids in the city. He must have seen something that we were not privy to, or were not supposed to know, as it may expose certain other elements. It was hard to tell the depth of it, but one thing was certain- Adrian did not want to be in a band with Jeremy. I felt that I was being railroaded to a certain degree, but I wanted to get the show in as much as anyone.

“And are you prepared to handle the consequences of this action?”

What I was thinking was ‘Are you going to tell Jeremy he’s not part of the long term plan for Piercing? Or am I going to have to?’ I had already kicked out one member of the band, I was hardly looking forward to repeating the event a few weeks later.

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s just get through this weekend.” sighed Adrian.

He still hasn’t told me he is back with Class Ring. I wonder if he even knows I’m aware of the situation. I hang up the phone. I pick it up and dial Jeremy; I still had his number memorized. He picks up on the first ring.

“I suppose you need me to learn all of the Piercing songs on bass in the next four days?”

“Can I even get a formal offer on the table?”

“I can practice tomorrow night; Todd is off, I think Joss has to work. You, me, and Todd can get the foundation set then. The three of us could do a stripped down acoustic practice on Wednesday, without drums, and then we could do the four of us full electric on Thursday, what do you think?”

“That’s what I was going to suggest.”

Jeremy had been paying attention all of the time I had been friends with him. He, more than any other Palace kid, had grabbed the curtain and peered behind it to see what was really going on. And what was really going on was the never ending scheduling. Emails, phone calls, trips to the post, emails, emails, emails….

trips to the post

phone calls

emails

We would enact his proposed practice schedule almost to the minute over the next few days. Saturday night we would play the songs for the first time as a five piece- onstage. It would help us tremendously to have someone whose attributes included an understanding of creating an image, of the hard detail that had to be constantly considered. It would make it much easier on everything if Adrian could acquiesce to having Jeremy become our new bass player; even if the bass was third down on the list of his exceptional musical skills. We needed a bass player. He needed a band; and I was having trouble stitching the disparate threads together. The most obvious solution to a way forward seemed to be the one that could create a distinct environment that I had been so delicately cultivating. But what if Adrian was correct?

Adrian calls me the following night, unprompted.

“Hey, I don’t want you to get all pissed off and start yelling at me when I tell you this, ok?”

“Yes, I will not yell and scream.” I knew what was coming next.

“Class Ring is back together.”

“I have heard about your reunion.”

“Yeah, well, like, I had no idea any of this was going to happen”

“Sure, sure.” I reply, trying to coax him into continuing unimpeded. I needed to know as much as he was willing to tell me.

“But Esther was hanging with Sunset Haze in LA, and they were hanging out and partying and shit, and she played him the good recording we did at the Warehouse.”

“That’s a great EP. I love it.”

“And so, when you called me last weekend, I was in the studio demoing songs. It’s because he asked us to, and it feels like a real opportunity, yannow what I mean?  I’m sorry I wasn’t more involved that night; I know shit was going down and it was crazy.”

“Yeah. Have you spoken with Joss about Rudy and such?”

“Yeah, we talked at length a week ago. I understand where she’s coming from. But Rudy, man, he is the real deal. He’s rock and roll.”

“Yes. He is. But that’s only a part of who he is.”

“I know, man, I know…..”

Silence.

“I just want to let you know that this is not going to get in the way of me being in Piercing. You know I always get there on time, and that I’m always up to work, right?”

He was correct. Adrian had the toughest commute within the group; and none of us had it easy.

“I think we can make it all work. I’m only going to ask that you don’t use Steven’s amp for Class Ring.”

“Yeah, of course, no problem. And hey, thanks man- that’s what I really wanted to hear from you.”