Jocelyn continued her train of thought:
“I know we have a show tonight…..”
“What the hell happened? Was this last night when you guys went to hang at Marcus’?”
“Yeah, Rudy came with us, and everything was fine for the first hour or so. Jeremy showed up at about 11.30, and then you could sense a noticeable shift in Rudy’s comportment.”
Hmmmn. Comportment. I liked that word. I was silently impressed.
“I don’t know if Rudy still has some residual angst about Jeremy moving to Brooklyn and throwing Geneva into rebuild mode, but he was such an asshole after Jeremy arrived. He started berating Todd and Jeremy about their taste in music, which is of no real news in the context of things. But still, the night before we play at the TAZZIES? You think he could hold it together, but oh no, not Rudy. It was simply awful. And then when I started to defend their right to like whatever music they liked, and that Rainbow was no great shakes as a band, he starts going down the misogynist avenue he loves to pretend isn’t real. But it is fucking very real, and I cannot be in a band with him anymore! I will not be treated like that!”
It was of no surprise to me. I had reached out to Rudy in every way I knew how, to get him to move beyond his anger and paranoia. I kept imploring him to look at the big picture, and that this very band could provide him with the creative outlet he was so desperately seeking. Or was I misreading it? Maybe he was satisfied within the cult of Geneva Holiday; their uniformed visage morphing from one iteration to another- not so much a costume but a cloak. There were no cloaks in the world of Piercing.
“Ok, ok, ok….. Don’t worry about it. We will simply show up and play tonight as if nothing is wrong. Don’t betray your feelings tonight, and relay that to Todd. I’ll talk to Adrian about it privately. I agree with you, because he delineated me as a faceless facilitator during the whole thing that went down on the trip to Cabinets last Thursday.”
“Yeah, what was that all about? We barely have a draw in Brooklyn and he suggests we headline a show with bands from town who have never even played in the city? Delusional”
“I know. And that is where we can define the reason why he needs to go. I don’t want to publically expose him as a misogynist asshole; that is for other people to decide. But we can remove him because his commitment isn’t there.”
“And you are willing to handle that?”
“Of course. Let’s just get through the weekend. We’re still going to have to practice with the five of us on Sunday before Adrian heads back to the city. We all agreed to it.”
I leave work at five on Saturday to give myself enough time to load the van and prepare my outfit for the night. I loved getting dressed up for the Awards Show, and I had found my outfit for the night months earlier. I had come across a waist cropped black wool jacket, adorned with square silver buttons, which ran the length of the front and were graciously placed in rows of three on the lower sleeve cuff. It was unseasonably cold on this night, hovering around 48 degrees in a weird, late winter echo. I decided to add a layer of thermal underwear to my outfit, sensing that the cold temperatures and the frigid wind off the river would be more than enough reason to sacrifice fashion for comfort. As I took one last look in the mirror before exiting our walk-in closet, I felt as if I would be able to pull off the multi-layered look. I turned the doorknob, and entered the kitchen, where Anne sat silently going over the mail. It was six o’clock.
“Are you going to get dressed?” I asked, quietly.
“What did you say?” was her reply.
My hearing was definitely going, to some degree. The most noticeable effect was that people couldn’t hear me talk, because I spoke so quietly due to the fact that my ears were so shot every sound was loud and present to me. I had to wear ear protection just to vacuum the floors. A clanging ping of colliding glasses in a restaurant would make me flinch. So, perhaps, she had not heard me.
“Are you going to the show tonight?”
“No, I’m not going to go. It’s business for you, right? You have to go, but I certainly don’t.”
“Wait, we always go to this show, and this year I’m actually playing the show, and my band is actually nominated. The night I actually play the TAZZIES is the night you are not going to go?”
“I didn’t get an outfit together… You have to go already because you’re playing. its just a timing issue, and really….. I’ll help you in the ways I can, like shooting photos, but I don’t want to have to be put in the role of den mother, you know what I mean? It’s hard enough taking care of you, much less the kids.”
I was shocked. I had always agreed that they were my responsibility, not hers. Each time they were scheduled to be at the house for a practice, or a gig, or a video shoot, I cleaned every room of the house. I tried to make our daily life as invisible to the band as possible. The idea of getting into a huge argument about this didn’t sit well; I had a long night ahead of me and didn’t need the extra layer of tension.
“Ok, then. I gotta go.”
“Ok, I’ll see you later tonight.”
She stood up from the stool in the cold kitchen and gave me a kiss on the lips.
I parked the van two blocks from the outdoor theatre at Royal Park, where the TAZZIES were annually held. By the time I make it to the entrance, you can sense the weather was already wreaking havoc upon the event. The promoters were total pros, so I had no fear of a cancellation, but they were constructing an awning at this very last minute, to shelter the red carpet from what seemed to be inherent rain on top of the frigid temperature. Joss, Todd, and Adrian all met me at the front gate, when I pointed out the awning being hastily assembled.
“That’s not a good sign. Let me go find Caron and see what the deal is.”
After wedging myself in to ask Caron this question, who was answering questions to what seemed like half the attendees and musicians, I find out they are running an hour late. The event is set to go according to the schedule, once they open up the red carpet at 8pm. I head back out to the sidewalk to inform everyone just as Tabitha arrives to meet us. We had regaled her with tales of how much fun the event was, and she was curious and excited by the idea of a night out in town on this scale. She was decked out in a cool, spangly dress, and I reached out and gave her a beak.
“How’s it going? Pretty cold, huh? What are their plans?” Tabitha asked me, obviously looking to frame the evening where some time getting warm could be factored in.
“8pm is go time.”
“Hey, can we chill in the van for the time being?” asked Jocelyn; shivering.
“Yeah. It’s down on South Pier.”
As we walk away from the Park, Rudy is backed up into a deep shop window at a store next to the Park. He’s wearing the trademark Geneva uniform. A voice swelled up inside me a blurted out something I had not intended to actually say.
“You’re here early……”
I turn away in contempt. I had to listen to all of the whining and cajoling about even getting to the stage by 9.30 and here he was in the deep cold at 6.45? It was as if he knew he had stepped over the line, and was now taunting me to do something about it. That time would come. And before this night was through, there would be even more damning evidence to allow us to walk away from Rudy without fear of reprisal.
An hour later we depart the van and its confines, and brace against the chilling wind coming off of the river. When we make it to the gates of the Park, the night is under way, and we get ourselves into the formed line. There is a cadre of eight photographers, in some senses “playing” the role of the paparazzi, but the photos of yourself do matter to some degree on this night. Not so much in a way to further your career, that would be a faux pas at the TAZZIES. Rather, you wanted to contribute to the magic. As we made our way toward the front of the line, and the parallel sets of four photographers gracing the carpet, I noticed that I was standing between Jocelyn and Tabitha. There was no way, after our tet a tet earlier tonight, that I could let Anne see pictures of me flanked by Joss and Tabitha the night she stayed home. Right as we were being given the cue to walk the carpet, I reached back and grabbed Todd by the sleeve:
“Hey! Come up and be in the pics with Joss and Tabitha!”
Todd eased his way past the few people ahead of him, and he held each of them in an elbow lock he exaggerated by raising his hands for the last few steps. Cute, perfect; I thought to myself. And then something very nice happened, something I needed to stop and recognize as it was happening. A few rows behind me were James and Charlize Affeldt, the husband and wife duo I had spent five years in Bold Schwa with. They had left New London and relocated to western Massachusetts after the band had collapsed six years earlier, but with so many friends in the GSECAZ musical community, they made it a point to come down for the TAZZIES. I excused myself as I cut the line in reverse, so I could talk to them. And yet, even more so, I wanted Anne to see TAZZIE photos of me walking in with the Affeldt’s, and not anyone from Piercing. I suppose it was a conscious ploy to convince Anne I was serious about the music, and not the social possibilities of success. I was grounded as a musician; and desperately trying to allow none of this to be a detriment in my life with her.
“Hey man! Can I talk to you for a second?”
It was Tim Jones, who was stage managing the night. He was a fantastic drummer who played in several different groups at the same time. I turned to meet him as he handed me a copy of the itinerary.
“Hey Tim, how’s it going? Smoothly, I hope.”
“Well, the time is an issue, so were trying to get everybody on the same page regarding load in and set times. Do you guys have all the gear you need?”
“Yeah, I only brought one guitar amp because they said there would be backline guitar and bass.”
“Yes, we have one guitar amp, so you should be all set. Now, you guys go on at 10.15. I need all of your stuff set in the backstage area by 9.30. can you do that?”
“Of course, no worries from us man. We’ll be totally ready.”
“Cool, thanks. If you need me I’ll be in the backstage area or that front bar over there.”
He finished with a laugh, and then peeled away on a single heel turn. I knew what the staff was going through; hopefully it wouldn’t be a long night.I took another glance at the schedule and noticed that the award for “Best New Artist” was the second envelope of the night. The show was due to begin in about five minutes, so I began searching the Park for the other Piercing members. I finish three complete laps without setting eyes on a single one of them. Starting to feel a bit worried, I made my way out onto the street and began walking the few blocks around the Park; perhaps they were keeping warm in one of the bars, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of anyone. I head back to the park, a brisk wind settling between the classic brick architecture of the side streets of downtown New London. I remind myself to feel good about preparing for the cold and having the extra layer of thermal underwear. Hoping to see them on the street parallel to the backstage of the Park, it suddenly dawns on me that if I had a cell phone, I would simply text them and they would materialize out of thin air. And then I became possessed with an opposite, angry thought:
“I’m supposed to text these damn kids to let them know their career is going on?!?!?!?!?!”
“Fuck that” I thought to myself, as I rounded the corner to the entrance of the park, blasted with another strong dose of brutal wind. “Now I’m never going to get a cell phone.”
I wind my way through the encouragingly large crowd to stake out a spot among the beautiful, thin limbed trees that are the demarcation between the lawn caressing the stage, and the pebble gravel walkway further back. Once I was comfortable, I took a sip of beer, and the show began. The first act was a hip hop collaboration between several of the area DJ’s and four MC’s. it was a brilliant performance, sculpted just for this night, and truly established the depth of the possible. There was a full frequency, a pure spectrum of music being celebrated tonight, and it was exciting to be an integral part of it. The first award followed their performance- “Best Hip Hop Album”. One of the guest MCs from the opening act took home the TAZZIE, and the crowd roared in appreciation, especially after his dazzling freestyle moments earlier. I took that as a very good sign- in the cold and near sunset, the crowd still wanted to create the TAZZIE magic.
We were up for the second award, “Best New Band”. This was the one award I truly wanted to garner, mostly because you can only win it once, but moreso for Adrian. When Piercing attended the TAZ Awards a year earlier, the band had written about five songs and had yet to play its first show. But Class Ring were nominated in 2013 for “Best New Artist”, four months after they had replaced Adrian, and I couldn’t possibly forget the look on Adrian’s face as I stood next to him when the award was revealed. His face was scrunched up in a cyclonic fold, as if a sudden tension in his skull had wound his facial features into a pinwheel. He turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, the depth of his blue irises increasing with his frustration. Adrian reached out for his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth’s hand, and walked out. The image of his contorted face was the well I went to over the long winter doing PR for the singles. Winning a TAZZIE was not a “goal”, that’s not what they were about to begin with. But to see Adrian have the opposite reaction once Piercing took home the prize- I used that as fuel to keep pushing forward when there were no reciprocal emails coming in. when there were no gig offers. When the latest email blast to bloggers produced not a single review. We were making so much progress, that it was easy to play this game in my mind, to motivate me to keep moving forward. The shark that never sleeps. It’s was the joy on Adrian’s face when he finally had payback. Class Ring had basically won on the merit of songs he had written. But I had still not heard or seen from anyone in the band.
“And the winner is ……. “PIERCING!!!!!”
Applause. Tangible excitement. But I was petrified, because I actually wasn’t one hundred percent sure they had said Piercing. I leaned over to the person standing next to me; I had no idea who he was, and said:
“Did they say Piercing?”
“Yeah, man! That’s you! Go go go!”
I could feel the nightmare beginning. I would be onstage, alone. In of itself, that was of no worry to I had begun my “career” in show business playing Moses in the Ten Commandments, at a Christian summer camp I attended for a week each summer during my junior high school years. The program I signed up for during the summer before 9th grade was a theatre/musical conference. Basically, hippie Christians from around Connecticut that had worked in musical theatre volunteered to spend a week in northwestpart of the state crafting a musical for the attendees to perform within that limited time frame.
At the final group rehearsal for the overture, I had let myself get a little too into the music. The entire conference was seated in a great hall, and the live band was cranking out the song. The band was made up of professional musicians, who were committed Christians, hoping to spread the good word through their art. I absolutely loved the environment, and committed myself wholly. On this day, perhaps a bit too much.
“With all your Heart, with all your SOUL
You can love the Lord
with all your HEART“
It was a catchy tune, something you might hear on side two of a cool country-rock LP from 1975. And I was dancing while seated, singing out loud, gesticulating with both hands, lost in the music. The director suddenly stopped everything, and said aloud, waving his hand palm down toward me:
“Ellery, you seem to be really into this song.”
“Yeah….” I didn’t want attract this kind of attention, and had unwittingly done so.
“Why don’t you come up here and lead the whole group?”
“Do you mean, like, conduct the group?”
“No, no, no. just come up here and stand up and sing; like you just were.”
Hmmn. I wasn’t so sure about that. Why me? I thought, I was just, you know ‘giving energy’; that’s what the counselors were constantly asking for. I could feel two hundred eyes upon me. And I remember thinking to myself, right before I stood up to walk to the front of the hall:
“ok, ok. That’s what you want? I’m going to give it to you.”
My biggest obsession during the whole week was to be able to get a few minutes and play the house drum kit, which was gleaming in 1970’s red flake sparkle. It had hydraulic drum heads, a recent definition of the “serious drummer”, and the oil between the two plasticine layers produced subtle rainbows of color. I figured, if I went up there and did Sammy Davis Jr on their ass, I might parlay that into a few minutes playing that beautiful drum kit. I would eventually be right about that. But I had to pull it off first. I stood up, and walked slowly, to the front of the room. I remember looking completely left and right, across the entire assembled group. And then the drummer clicked off the beat.
“with all your HEART
with all your SOUL
you can find,
you can love the lord!
WITH ALL YOUR HEART!!!!!”
And I started doing Vegas leg kicks-first to the left, then to the right. I began racing down the length of the assembly, shaking hands, high fiving people; imploring them to SING! I had the most limited idea of what Vegas even was, other than Elvis died after being there. That was all I could discern from the front page of the New York Daily News, driving to see my paternal Grandmother in New Bedford, Massachusetts on August 16th, 1977. My father had always bought The News and The Post each morning; I didn’t know at the time that it was due to his gambling addiction. But Elvis’ death was on the front page of both papers that sat casually between my mother and my father on the front seat. I kept peeking over the headrests, trying to understand its importance. Who was Elvis? And why was Las Vegas so bad? I was empirically drawing from a well of Jerry Lewis Telethons, and lonely Labor Days spent on the couch while the adults sedated themselves on the workers holiday.
“We’d like you to play Moses, are you up for it?”
I promised myself not to do the Vegas leg kick while I walked to the stage to accept the TAZZIE; alone. I even had a speech prepared just in case I might have to speak on this night. But as I took yet another step toward the stairs, and no other Piercing members were with me, I felt the old shudder of unfulfilled expectation. There was not a single person in attendance that wanted to see me give an “acceptance speech” for “Best New Artist” when I had been playing shows in New London since before the members of Piercing were born. The crowd, and the organizers wanted to see Jocelyn, and Todd, and Rudy, and Adrian bask in the delight of this fleeting moment. You could almost feel the deflation in the crowd when they realized I was the sole representative.
“I tell the kids at the Palace all the time- ‘there is no world out there waiting to validate you. You have to build your own world. Thanks you for letting us contribute to this world that you have built.”
I turned to my left, to make my way down the stairs, when I catch a glimpse of Jocelyn hurrying down the red carpet, toward the stairs. It’s the recurring nightmare- walking off the TAZZIE stage as she walks on to it. I reach out, give her a beak, and keep walking down the main aisle. If I had any balls, I would have walked all the way to South Pier, put the key in the vans ignition, and drove the fuck home. But I didn’t. We had to play tonight, and I didn’t walk out on a gig, no matter how incongruous the circumstance. I doubted whether anyone would even talk to me afterwards, so I simply took up residence in the same spot among the trees. Other than seeing Joss as I exited the stage, there was still no visible evidence of the Piercing members. The next award was an online vote by the music community for “Best Rock Band”. As much as Rudy poo-poohed the TAZZIES, Geneva was up for the award in this category. Suddenly, the next announcement caught my full attention.
“And the winner for Best Rock Band is ……………… Geneva Holiday!!!!!!!”
They had finally won a TAZZIE. I hadn’t seen Rudy for hours, and I was rather curious what their response to winning would be. Would they take a hardline punk stance? Or would they play the game?
“This is the happiest moment of my fucking life!!!” roared Rudy into the microphone, setting off an interesting feedback the sound engineers culled immediately.
When their name was called as this year’s recipient, I caught a glimpse of Rudy, sprinting toward the stage, his uniform black tie cascading back and forth across his chest. Peter Meeks was right on his tail, as Geneva was his brainchild. They were ecstatic about winning, which is exactly what the night derives its energy from; a willing consecration towards fun. And Geneva delivered, making self-deprecating remarks about how they had never won before and “Now we’re being recognized!” it was genius instant theatre, and I was supremely proud that they were Mystic kids. I was clutching our “Best New Artist” TAZZIE when Joss tapped me on the shoulder; one tap, quietly.
“Yeah. We did…” was my sullen reply
I didn’t even ask where they were, I didn’t want to know. Part of me just wanted the night to end in a cataclysmic rainstorm, but I knew that wasn’t a fair thought on any level. Anne wasn’t here. The kids seemed to have their own agenda that did not include me. I watched as Rudy and Peter raced down the stairs back into the crowd to make way for the next award. Somehow, Rudy had edged up against me in the row of trees where I was trying to remain invisible.
“Can you believe it??!?!?! I fucking won something! We won something! This is the first time in my life I have actually won anything!!!!”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, actually, the first thing you ever won in your life was “Best New Artist” for Piercing about five minutes ago. I chose not to say anything, other than a perfunctory “Congrats.” So he knew I was actually paying attention.
“I can’t be in a band with Rudy anymore”
And neither could I.
It didn’t even matter what Adrian or Todd thought. We had to take advantage of the out clause that defined our internal agenda regarding Rudy. He had brought this on himself.