THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Nine

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Clang

Clang

 

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

“Go Easy, Go Easy….”

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

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

“Why do you say that?” opined Joss

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

Jocelyn could sense my slow burning rage.

“You would deserve that.” she answered.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

“I am.”

 

 

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

 

“hey, you’re a hottie!!!!!”

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

I sent the first of many emails to Tabitha.

 

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

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

“How is a gun used playfully?”

 

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

 

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

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

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

“Cool, thanks.”

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Well fuck her, and fuck you too!”

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Thanks, man.”

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

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

 

Jocelyn calls me at 4.08 pm.

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok, please enlighten me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

“I can fucking take care of myself!”

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

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

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

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

 

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

ellery twining

the talent

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