We play another decent set, but as Jocelyn drawls “thank you, Huntington Grounds” over the last rise of our distortion, I was worried what Thomas was going to say. He had been faithfully attending each of our shows in the city, being a transplanted Brooklynite, and wasn’t convinced of my investment in Piercing. The band had yet to develop the pacing needed over the course of a night when you are playing third on a four band bill, and tonight- we were a bit exposed. Jocelyn, in the biggest live show of her life, had one too many by the last song. That part, I could understand, as the concept of “all eyes are upon you” began to truly sink in over the previous six weeks. Thomas was skeptical.
“She’s just not embracing the role. The voice is great, although it sounded like she ran out of gas by the last tune. She looks the part. It’s about confidence, and I’m not sure what else you can do to instill it.”
“We’re going to keep pushing as hard as we can, and keep getting shows so we can hone in on the exactness needed. I think we can do it. I know we can do it. And thanks for coming out, again. It’s always good to see you.”
We caught the first four songs of Lunar Calendar, who were spectacular, with driving guitars over precise synth programs.
But, my ears were getting a bit tired, and I wanted to catch up more with Thomas, so we decided to step out onto the narrow, elevated porch.
The cool spring air of the city was a refreshing change from the humidity of the club. Even though we did not exactly knock one out of the park in our biggest show to date- we had made it there, played well, acted like humble professionals, and would be back in Mystic in plenty of time for everyone’s work schedule. I sensed a certain moment of relaxation I had yet to find in this band. Being with Thomas, being slightly tired and sweaty, being in the club- these were the foundations of who I had been since 1985. And I was still in the game. And that is when I first met Maurice face to face.
There was no way I could have been prepared for what happened next. As Lunar Calendar wound down their final song, The Constitution crew began setting up a huge, wide screen TV, and started dialing in satellite dish images. Meanwhile, the sound crew for the club was busy getting the audio signal into the main house PA. A crowd of fifty of their closest friends had started to position themselves around the screen, so each person could see at the closest possible angle. Maurice leaned over to me, and said-
“We’re on Letterman in ten minutes. We filmed it yesterday, and they are showing it tonight.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, The Constitution.”
It reminded me of a night the extended Mystic kids decamped to Thomas’ house to watch the best indie band from Connecticut make their live television debut on Letterman, 24 years earlier. Miracle Legion was our single biggest influence; a band from our land that almost made it over the top toward a wider acceptance. And yet, I’m not sure any of us would sign up for the trials and tribulations that they went through along the way. Like all the local musical pioneers before us, we had to minimize mistakes to realize the ultimate value of what Miracle Legion had carved out. And then, The Constitution were on the screen; the volume was as loud for the broadcast as it had been for the previous four live acts of the night. It was an interesting peek into a new world, watching the Constitution community, and the extended Huntington Grounds community, together in their self-made space; experiencing the highest expression of their art on a national stage. We were watching them watch themselves. I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment on the ride home. Of all the shows and nights at the Grounds, Piercing was there when the musicians who made it all possible were watching themselves on Letterman. After their song had been completed, I went up and gave Maurice a hug, which he genuinely reciprocated.
“Congrats man, it was unbelievable to be here- of all nights!”
“Surreal…. But you know what made the whole trip worth it? Paul Shaffer. Coolest guy I’ve met playing music.”
“Well, that isn’t a surprise. Glad you got to experience it. We have to hit the road, thanks again for all you’ve done for us, we would love to come back.”
“Oh, most definitely! I’ll send you Lora’s email address tomorrow; she’s taking over the booking for the next four months while we go out on the road.”
“Thanks again, stay in touch from the road, ok?”
That would be Piercing’s only appearance at the Grounds.
Tabitha returned to Mystic with the rest of us following the Grounds show; we were scheduled to scout video locations for “Decisive” two days later on that Saturday. We had been trying to come up with location ideas for weeks, to no avail, sitting on a concept with no way to execute Saturday, and the two hour window I had to drive everyone around to possible locations during an “extended lunch break” would be our only opportunity to find the large scale construct Tabitha and I had spent so many hours dissecting. Cult of Piercing. There would be no stop in New Haven for Todd on this trip home, but after getting back on the highway after dropping Jocelyn off, I was worried I would have to drive Tabitha to her mother’s house in Rhode Island. Rudy was far closer, and his car was parked at my house. But, did I even dare to ask Rudy at this late hour to drive Tabitha home? Someone had to do it. Rudy was off on Saturday, so I took a stab at it.
“Hey man, can you take Tabitha home for the final leg of the journey…? So I don’t have to drive all the way back home?”
“Sure, little buddy. You got it.”
Rudy was a strange dude. There when you needed him the most, there when you needed him the least.
We met at 3pm on that Saturday at the Palace: me, Jocelyn, Tabitha, and Todd. An early lead we had stumbled across was the multiple building property at Town’s End, a sprawling 1800’s complex that was just now in the process of being subdivided. The owner was a fifth generation Burows that occupied the main dwelling, but after the slight economic recovery, decided to take a chance and sell it all off. There existed a remote possibility that one of the outbuildings could be used free of charge for the video shoot. We grooked onto the far side of the property, to get an unadulterated look at the open barn doors.
“Not enough light” muttered Tabitha.
Our next stop was an abandoned school for the blind, on the high, western side of the river valley. You could see the modern structures that were added to the campus in the 1960’s from the highway and certain roads in town. But that view belied the actual condition of the property, which had been vacated years earlier. The original structures from the 1920’s- dilapidated, were left to the ruins of budgetary concern. Todd grew up in a neighborhood built after WWII to accommodate returning GI’s, which happened to be within walking distance of the abandoned school. It was on his suggestion that we climbed up there to scout.
“Supposedly, it’s haunted, and that there was some ritual killing down the valley side toward the river, in the woods. A 1980’s fable.” Todd explained.
I found that incredibly strange, having lived in the valley my entire life, to have never caught wind of this tale. The bedeviling lore that encased my childhood was that of The Pafford Close, a looping route that encircled the local reservoir, which was supposedly haunted. A handful of period restaurants and businesses in town had exhibited haunted tendencies, as well. But I had never heard of this murder parable near the river in the 1980’s. Each generation perpetuates their own myth, more than likely devaluing them. This was one of the collisions of my own cultural experience and the kids. We shared the same mythology, without knowing the entirety of the others. I was still completely confident I could make these elements coexist.
For the most part, the school was abandoned. The State of Connecticut was the owner at this juncture, and the signs touting its potential for sale littered the property. We went to the front door of what appeared to be the main office, and found it unlocked. Tabitha just walked in. We followed her down the corridor, past administrative offices, and a few classrooms. Every inch of paint was peeling as if they were unclipped fingernails, curling into themselves. Dead desks littered the rooms, the detritus of decades. Around the first corner, we came across what seemed to be a performance area, not big enough to be a hall, but it had a proper stage , and room for an audience of at least a hundred people.
“This is it.” Tabitha stated, with confident authority. Each syllable given the same, exact enunciation.
I always found it fascinating to work with an artist convinced, and Tabitha exuded every element of such a creator. In the near distance, we could hear footsteps coming down the hallway. A timid look between the four of us conveyed the sensation that certainly we couldn’t be in any danger? And yet, no one spoke. The steps grew louder until it was apparent a person was entering the performance area.
“Hey, what are you guys doing in here?”
Tabitha took seven brisk steps toward him with her right hand outstretched.
“Hi, I’m Tabitha Williams. I’m a film maker from New York City and we’re scouting locations for a music video. These guys are part of the band.”
He blurted out a “Hi”, startled that she had taken such initiative.
“This room is perfect for what we’re trying to do. Do you think there is any way we could get in here, say, in two weeks for about six hours?”
She had the confidence of a political donor negotiating a date to stay in the Lincoln bedroom. I was impressed.
“Well, ummm….. you could maybe sneak in here for about an hour during a Saturday afternoon, right about this time of day. I would be here and I could cover for you, but I might be risking my job.”
This was getting a bit far-fetched. Did Tabitha and Todd arrange this “chance” meeting? This guy was really going to go out on a limb for a music video with some local kids from town?
“Thanks for the offer, but that sounds a bit risky, don’t you think? I’d need more than an hour to maximize the space, so how about we make a deal? I know a state senator that may be able to get us in here with clearance. But if that fails, would you still give us an hour to shoot?”
“Yeah. I can do that. My name’s Ty. I’m here every weekend.”
“Nice to meet you Ty, I’m Tabitha, and this is Piercing.”
“Cool band name, what kind of music do you play?”
“Post-punk; a modern minimal take on rock- with a healthy dose of pop.” I offer. “Go to this music site, Earcandy, and search for “Piercing.” You can hear what we’ve recorded.”
“I’ll check it out”
Tabitha adds a final word: “Thanks. We’ll be in touch”
“I really want to make an R rated video.” offered Tabitha as we were riding to a local diner after the scout.
I was just dropping them off, as I had to return to the Palace. I slowly turned to her, and rolled my eyes.
“C’mon now, haven’t we been over this? What makes you think that is sequential to forward our current image?” I coolly responded.
“I think the song is so dirgey during the intro, and it goes on for a bit…. I thought we could have Joss and a male lead in undies and skivvies, to enhance the slow grind.”
“Yeah, really. I think we can get a tasteful blend of lovers on the edge and the band doing interiors at the school.” said Tabitha, in the coaxing voice of a film director.
“Twining, you need to totally lighten up. I’d be up for that kind of a shoot Tabitha.” Jocelyn said, campaigning for the R rated video.
I said nothing, trying to hide any outward emotion; but I was livid. I accompanied everyone into the diner to continue the conversation with Tabitha. The issue was continuity. Todd was just ahead of me, and Joss made a bee line for the rest room. As we waited at the velvet rope cordon, and Joss was out of earshot, I couldn’t contain myself:
“Lighten up? Lighten up?!?!?!?! Let her buy a fucking van if she wants me to lighten up.”
We decided to take the entire week off from any kind of band activity. The five of us been in such close proximity to each other over the past six weeks, I thought we needed a break before the video shoot for “Decisive” which was to begin ten days later. Rudy also had another Geneva Holiday gig in the middle of that stretch. It wouldn’t be a week off for me though; there was more than enough PR to be addressed, and it was multiplying regularly (which of course was the goal). A new NYC blog had done a photo spread from the Grounds show, and I had to talk with them to get permission to use the photos within our own media. There were several online radio stations that were accepting uploaded tracks, and those had to uploaded. One New England website had even nominated us as one of their “Bands of the Month” to be voted on by readers. Malthus needed final proofs on the business cards and a rough idea for the new single. I had begun to submit to the regional music festivals that week, and had to coalesce each bit of our online presence into a coherent platform, so none of our outlets were out of date, out of synch. That element of the band was the treadmill, but what I would’ve given for the social platforms that existed today during the Thames time.
Tabitha emailed me Tuesday morning, and told me that none of her connections could procure the school for the shoot. I had tried to find a few places in town, restaurants or stores that I had worked at over the years; but no one would touch the project. It was somewhat disappointing, as I was really hoping the fact we were doing something beyond the local scene would turn the tide, but that carried no credence with the businesses.
“I think my mom might let us use her house.”
“Really, where is it?” I replied, intrigued by a last minute reprieve.
“She lives on an island, just off the coast in Rhode Island. There is an apartment over the garage, and I think we could repurpose the main bedroom into a performance area.”
”Interesting. What is the concept? Or are we looking at a mood piece.”
“Oh, definitely a mood piece.”
The shoots had been scheduled for Friday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday afternoon. Jocelyn and Sean Murphy, a local kid Tabitha picked out of thirty Facebook profiles I had sent her for the male lead, were shooting Friday; the rest of Piercing practiced at Centraal that night. Adrian had a new song, and we wrestled with it for about a half an hour, before giving into some classic rock; half played jams of tunes Todd, Rudy, and Adrian knew, loved, or sort of remembered. I thought these digressions into their adolescence were endearing; they truly loved the music they came of age with, regardless of how “cool” the perception of it was. Todd was an unabashed lover of seventies soft and slow rock. His palette was quite varied, but this was more than a niche experience for him. It reminded me of the innocence I had about music listening to the AM radio in my mom’s ‘70’s VW bug; the reception maxed out at five stations of varying programming, but I didn’t care, I just wanted those sounds coming out of the tiny speaker below the handrail on the dashboard. Rudy cared not one iota what people thought of his music taste, and Adrian was a true folk outsider- a superior technical musician who need not define his tastes when his hands could easily explain. And that is not to depress the musicianship of Todd or Rudy, they were both exceptional within the framework they had decided to focus on. It was inarguable, however, that Adrian was an outsider. Not only within the construct of the band, but in America. And that’s how he liked it.
I woke up early, about 8.30 am on the Saturday, the second day of shooting. We were due to arrive at Tabitha’s moms house by noon, and I was going to have to load the entire set of gear into the van, including the practice PA, and a CD player which would allow us a soundtrack to synch to. I had spent a few hours late Friday night burning CDR’s of the song so that we would be completely prepared if I accidentally didn’t finalize a single disc. The phone rang at 9am. It was Tabitha.
“We’re getting a goddamn rainstorm today, around 2-3 o’clock. It’s going to be hard to get any of the exterior shots today unless you can get here sooner. Any way you can get a hold of everyone and bump it up to 11?”
She was cool about it. I had become accustomed to that.
“Suppose we can’t shoot outside today at all; can you get all of the interiors today?”
“Totally, but I still want to try and get outside today. Can you make it happen?”
“Yes, I can make it happen.”
I get on the phone and keep dialing and keep leaving messages until I have all five of us on the same page- get to my house as soon as possible; all of the gear will be packed up and we just have to get in the van and go. Rudy can meet us there. And that’s what happened. I make a kettle of tea for everyone, and we piled into the van, headed east toward the island, crossing the causeway to Tabitha’s mom’s house at exactly 11:11AM. After unloading all of the gear into the apartment, the skies turned a violent black, almost instantly. There was at least a hundred yard walk out onto the lawn to set up where she wanted to get the exterior shots, and by my calculation, in the hour and a half it will take for us to set up, the rain would have come.
“Ok, we’ll just set up in here, and get the exteriors on Sunday. Has anyone checked tomorrow’s weather?”
“I’ll do it right now” said Rudy in his most casual voice. “Sunny and clear, high of 71…”
“Hey Joss, how about you and I set the room, and while we’re doing that, you guys get all of the gear set up in the kitchen? We’ll move everything into place the second we have it ready.”
The view from the room was stunning. A sheer black sky, tinted at the far edge of the horizon with a brilliant blue. The tide was coming in, and the wind had picked up. You could sense the fescue sizzling like a static carpet across the grounds. Even though the island was twenty minutes from my house, I was still infused with the sense of being far away. Perhaps it was the absence of noise from the highway, and the rails, and Route 1. We set up for our second video shoot in four months while the storm was brewing. I mistakenly took that as a good sign.
An hour later, we had all of the equipment set up, staged to maximize each shot. As I began to assemble the PA and CD player, I realized I had brought the wrong connector cords for the CD to the PA. I had done exactly the same thing when we filmed “Massive/Spirit” at the motel. I remembered driving back to Mystic from the Rhode Island border that cold January day; salt sand mixture bonded to the windshield which diffused the low afternoon sun. I was repeating that same mistake, how stupid could I be? When I came back from checking to see if I happened to have the right cords in the van, I noticed Jocelyn and Tabitha had strewn about two dozen vinyl LP’s around the room as décor. Something caught my eye about one of the covers as I went to exit the room, which made me turn back and take a closer look- these records had been in the basement or a wet corner of the garage for years- mildew laden, stained covers littered the room. There was no way I could film a video with $1 records. Benno at The Palace would hound me for the rest of my life if I filmed such an important piece with trashed records. Since I had to go back to my house, I could rifle through my “dj resources” collection of LP’s- things like “How to Speak Italian”, the soundtrack to “Liquid Sky” or FCC control tower calls. I had dozens of weird, offbeat LP’s like that, and they would make a more scintillating visual than a moldy Monkees LP.
Tabitha had arranged each outfit for Jocelyn on the back of a low sofa in the main living area. Leopard print top with denim shorts. Tiny, white collar top over tight wool sweater with mini. Black tights with short shorts, and a loose fitting, sleeveless white tee. I couldn’t help but think of Jeremy’s second hand message from Jocelyn after the Tabitha “R rated” conversation.
“You gotta chill out, man. She doesn’t want you to keep dressing her up like a doll in period costumes. Let her create her own look.” Jeremy chided me.
I wasn’t making these decisions with a dictatorial outlook, but out of necessity. Jocelyn was great at a mood, a concept, but not so much the phone calls and emails and communication it takes to put these details into place. But I found it encouraging that I had no role in the wardrobe for this shoot, only being responsible for my own very simple look. I told Tabitha during our conversations about content to not even have me appear in the video at all. She would use that against me in the final cut, in a cute, “gotcha” kind of way.
Jocelyn loved the camera, and it was a consensual relationship. One of the patterns I had noticed over the previous year was that she could look like a different person in each setting. Perhaps not that drastic, but she appeared to be channeling several female members of the same family- a group of sisters who shared similar traits but exhibited subtle differences. That was Joss on film, moving or still. A multiplicity that made me believe even more that she had the star quality that could put us into the game.
We quickly locked in to the pre-recorded version of “Decisive”, giving Tabitha a convincing performance of a real rock band cranking it out while we faked it. When I was a kid, and MTV in its nascent form began to infiltrate the cable systems of small valley towns like Mystic, I thought it was difficult to enjoy the rigid re-creation of the performance for the small screen. But now, “lip synching” had become an interesting art form onto itself; something to be considered as an integral element. As Tabitha asked us to do the song over and over, you could sense a certain elevation of each of the Piercing members attitude of being told what to do. – “You want us to do it again, but better? No problem.” It was an encouraging sign for me. That was the singular precept of creating art and maintaining focus that could catapult us to the next level. It seemed to me that each of us were totally buying into the concept.
We returned Sunday at noon, under beautiful spring skies. The first order of business was to reassemble the gear at the far lip of the property; a slight rise to a glacial outcropping. Jocelyn spent the entire hour getting into her outfit; Rudy, Todd, and Adrian began hauling gear, and I took the PA apart for its eventual use outside. I had brought one hundred feet of extension cords, but once Tabitha had defined the exact spot, I was short a good two hundred feet. I began to scour the open garage and came across three extension cords that were jangled in a bunch around a sump pump- certainly the last time it had been used was after Hurricane Sandy, as many appliances were thrown in a heap following those weeks of repair. It took me twenty minutes to untangle the cords, and get them stretched out in a line, plugged into an exterior outlet and making it just far enough. Jocelyn appeared from the garage in the leopard and denim outfit. She posed for stills with Tabitha on the rocks at the other edge of the yard, while we adjusted the volume so we could hear the song through the slight spring breeze. I kept coming back to a singular train of thought; about how lucky we were, and how we had to embrace this time. During the weekend, there wasn’t a wasted moment; each minute was carefully crafted to maximize our artistic output, whether it was the sound, or the vision of who we were becoming. This was a defining detail, and that truly was what the commitment was about- building a life out of nothing, of your own effort. We were living. We were creating the moment.