However confused I have become, I try not to let it get in the way of enjoying the night. The performances were inspired, and people truly seemed to be having a fine time, even after the frigid sunset. At 9pm, about an hour and a half before our set time, Adrian finds me having a beer with Malthus at the bar.
“hey man, can I talk to you for a second…”
“Yeah, sure.” I reach back and give Malthus a beak as I walk away with Adrian.
“That amp up there, is that the backline amp?”
“Yeah, as far as I know. I have your tube amp, I left Todd’s at my house.”
“That thing is a piece of shit, man. “
“No man, I’ve played that amp a handful of times, it probably won’t make it through the night.”
That was a sobering thought. And Adrian had no idea what was being set in motion regarding Rudy after tonight. The last thing we needed was to have a complete meltdown on stage. If we bomb here, after all of the promise we’d shown, and then get rid of Rudy, the consensus conclusion would have to be that we were in way over our heads. That alone could be an embarrassment which might derail the local support we’d been given. I decide then and there to drive home and grab the good amp for Todd; it was far more important for us to play a stellar show than for me to miss a few awards.
“I’m going to run home and grab Todd’s amp, it’ll only take me thirty five minutes. Don’t even tell anyone I left.”
The highway back to Mystic is surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night. But the closer I get to the exit, the louder the voice in my head becomes. I was petrified of what I may find, or not find, when I get home after Anne’s decision to not to attend the show. Would she be alone?
tear it away, and think good thoughts
I had learned years earlier how to quell my anxiety, at least momentarily; by purposely thinking good thoughts, forcing my mind to think good thoughts….. But I truly had no idea what was going to confront me at the house. Why would she bring someone to the house; she must have factored in there could be an equipment issue that would force me to come home? Certainly that had to cross her mind? So, if she was home, everything would be fine. But what if she wasn’t home? That would send a different message entirely.
‘I don’t even care if you find the house empty on an emergency gear run’
As I pulled the van into the driveway, I hadn’t even considered the other options. I open the door and she is visibly stunned, but in a concerned, motherly way.
“The backline amp is a piece of crap, so I decided to come back and get Todd’s good amp. I don’t want to take any chances tonight.”
“That was a good idea. How is it going?”
“Cool. It’s cold, but we won “Rookie of the Year” I relay in baseball parlance, hoping to mitigate my anxiety.
“Oh, babe, that’s so great! Congratulations!”
“Thanks. I gotta get the amp and get back there.” I walk across the room and give her a kiss on the lips.
It seems much warmer than a few hours earlier.
“Ok, cool. Come home right after the show ends!”
“I will. Love you Bebes”
She blows me a kiss as I turn toward the stairs, and sends me a long distance beak.
I throw the amp in the back of the van and slam the door shut violently in disgust. I spent the entire drive speculating on the worst possible outcome, when I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. I felt pathetic. When I opened the door at the house, Anne was filing negatives from her catalog into three ring binders. Not only was she home patiently awaiting my return, she was doing what she always did- creating art. I was hoping none of the band would notice my mood shift, as I was experiencing the after effects of completely misinterpreting intuition.
When I return to the Park, I find the four of them sitting on one of the raised walls that border the lawn area in front of the stage. I can see Adrian holding a TAZZIE in his hand, which initially brings me a sliver of excitement, but then the dread of what was the probable reality sharpens. Piercing had won “Song of the Year”, it was the only award we were up for once I left to get the amp. Sure enough, I had deduced the slender math.
“Hey man WE WON!!!!! Song of the YEAR!!!! How awesome is that!” Adrian exclaimed, holding the trophy outward like an offering.
Adrian held the award with his thin, guitar player arms; all sinew and tight lines. I thought he was looking for a beak.
“I didn’t know. I wasn’t logged in to Lionel Hoinsky’s Twitter feed.”
I immediately tried to turn the winch in a desperate effort to pull the words back in to my mouth, but it doesn’t work that way. I let the unconscious out. Maybe I was getting too deep, too wrapped up in the possibilities, and maybe I wasn’t seeing the present. I decided at that moment that I would get a cell phone. I actually could have seen the Lionel tweet:
“Piercing wins song o/t year 2013 TAZZIES #piercing #tazzies2013”
I was trying so very hard not to be the indignant old guy- “Dad” as the kids would label it, but I was silently incensed. It’s not as if Adrian had made the extra effort to procure a working amp in a big spot. And the amps that both Adrian and Todd used were loaned to us by Steven Giles when we started the band, when we had no idea if we’d play four shows or four hundred. I needed to remain composed, as we still had a show to do, and if I was to draw on my experience, and utilize that as a catalyst toward the success of Piercing, I had better live up to the challenge.
The crowd had dwindled to a few hundred hearty souls as we take the stage at 10.30pm. This meant that the Park was at half capacity, and the TAZZIES have always been a sell-out night until the final note rang thorough the vast expanse of downtown New London. The cold weather had cleaved the crowd, but we are grateful for those who have remained. Before I click my sticks together four times to give the band the tempo for “Massive”, I take a brief look over at Rudy. This would be his last live performance with Piercing, and he wasn’t even aware of it. His face was locked into Rock mode as I peered towards him. “Massive” comes across perfectly, as I can hear the drums clanging off the brick buildings across the street from the Park. We then seamlessly segue into “High Tide”; my pitch perfect drum roll acts as an axis between the two songs. We had succeeded in adding something special to the Awards; living up to the responsibility of the moment. However, the dichotomy of the situation with Rudy did not go undefined. Upon coaxing out the final note of our performance, Rudy packed his bass into a Cordura nylon case he had used for years. With no responsibility to load his own amp, as we were using the provided backline, he slung the bass case over his shoulder and put his free arm around a girl I had never seen before. He sashayed away down the sloping handicapped access ramp behind the Park’s backstage entrance. We had a Sunday practice scheduled already; hopefully Joss and I could maintain our composure before we made our final case to get rid of Rudy to Todd and Adrian. That conversation would have to wait until after the Sunday practice.
We meet at four o’clock to get our work in. As was to be expected, everyone was a bit sluggish from enduring the parties, and the cold, of the previous evening- to say nothing of our underlying tension. There is not a single word spoken between the four of us about the incongruity of our dual awards: neither award we had won was represented by the entire group onstage as we accepted them. The simple fact that we would always exist in some fragmented form had come to its utmost fruition at the TAZZIES- in public. And the dividing line was me being alone, and the four of them being together. If it were not for Jocelyn’s request to remove Rudy, I would be seriously fretting about my own imminent dismissal. That was a nagging thought that crept through today and originated during the initial success of Bold Schwa. Since I was not a songwriter or an integral melodic presence, I always thought that if true success actually came calling, it would be obvious to replace the older guy on drums with someone who was younger, who could be manipulated more easily. The same paranoia was true in Piercing, but in this instance, I could easily walk toward the shadows if Jocelyn were able to attain her own success. An inevitable exclusion was much more muted than it had been a decade earlier. I remember having business meetings with James and Beatrice, when Bold Schwa were recording their first proper LP with a producer who had cut several albums released by Sub Pop in the 90’s. I would repeatedly say to them –
“You know if a label wants to pick us up the first thing they’re going to do is get rid of me and Cozy …” Cozy was our pet name for Ross Coscialetti, the Schwa bassist, who shared the year of my birth. I became worried that Piercing would go on without me. And then I laughed a little to myself- always waiting to be left behind, the ever encroaching after effect of being a child of divorce. Fear of abandonment. I silently told myself, whatever happens this time, it will be different.
None of us were playing up to our capabilities as we waded through a few songs to warm up.
Jocelyn’s voice was scratchy, Adrian was off beat, Todd was singing as if he’d been up all night talking, and I was missing almost every key cue between changes. But Rudy’s play was of actual concern, even amongst the mess were all contributing to. He was unable to even get through a single verse without getting lost, something that never happened with him. I was sure he slept less than any of us, especially if he was able to get back to his house with the woman he draped his arm over following our set at the TAZZIES. As we plowed through the rest of the set, he became completely unglued, constantly stopping mid-riff and adjusting to the proper key. It was then that I realized he had something like fifty songs in his head between Piercing and Geneva, and he was having trouble triggering muscle memory to play the correct part. It was the proverbial Trojan horse- Geneva had over loaded his circuits, intuitively knowing that this would contribute to a musical backlog that would hinder progress for Piercing. It came to light during the most contrite of practices; coming on the heels of our most perverse night. In addition to his “I’ve never won anything in my whole stinking life” moment, it was becoming more apparent how I could frame Rudy’s exit. Did he really want out anyway? But couldn’t think of a “cool” way to quit the band he was in with “all the indie kids, and the art fags…….” ?
I call Jeremy the next day, a warm spring Monday, to ask him about the inner dynamics of Geneva and how it may overlap onto the Piercing reality. Since he played with those guys for a year, and as we were close friends ourselves, I sought his input, parlaying the notion that it would all stay internal.
“The medley worked great at the TAZZIES, nice job.” Jeremy opens the discussion.
“Thanks. It did work out well, I was happy with it. The practice where we worked on it was hilarious; you would have loved being there that night.”
“Oh yeah, why’s that?”
“Because I kept blowing the drum riff between the two songs, didn’t have the pickup note in the right spot. Adrian had to sing me the drum roll, and after that I got it, but we all had a good laugh at me being directed by Adrian. You would have been all over me. But I got it.”
“Hahahaha, yeah, you are correct! I would’ve grabbed the sticks out of your hands, StoPo style!”
“Hahaha , yr killing me.”
During the height of Thames all-ages shows in town, the Stonington Police were famously called in to break up a show at the Music Hall of Stonington; an unused theatre we repurposed within the framework of the collective community memory of decades before. We were accentuating a long lost occurrence, in modern time. There were 200 kids in the audience, and I for one, was not about to cede the context of the show to the Stonington Police. As they drew closer to the stage, imploring us to “Stop Playing” I began playing the drumbeat to a song where I stood upright, leaving the bass drum out of the equation. The entire concept of playing the drums in this fashion was selfish, as I was trying to get the audience look at Me. I was normally glued to the drum throne, but standing to play the drums afforded me an opportunity to overplay my importance in the group. But on this night, it worked as a tribal call; we played quietly over non-amplified drum patterns. The Stonington Policeman lept onto the stage and forcefully ripped the drumsticks out of my hands; effectively ending the show.
It was reassuring to know our friendship was still solid. We all knew that Piercing was a literal extension of This Infectious Reality, that this band could have easily been Joss, Todd, Jeremy, and me. But the timing was off, as Jeremy had relocated to Brooklyn when we began. He was here in town again, but we had accomplished so much as the five members of Piercing, it seemed there would be no possible inclusion of his talents in this iteration. And yet, I thought he could shed light on one glaring detail that defined the Piercing experience for Rudy.
“Hey, I wanted to ask you, when the Geneva guys are just hanging out, do they refer to the Piercing kids as the ‘art fags’ ?”
“You have to ask me that?”
Tabitha stayed in town through Monday to get one more shoot in with Jocelyn; solo at the Palace. I was silently thrilled that the store was going to appear in our video. It somewhat validated my intention of dressing the set for the Saturday interior shoot with records from my collection; which replaced the moldy LP jackets Tabitha had found in her parents basement. It was a dovetail, and I left a message on Jocelyn’s phone to wish her luck. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to dial her number from memory on my landline, even though I knew this would probably be our last communique via the hard wires.
“Hey- have fun at the Palace today, and can you do me a favor? Can you give me a call around 7pm? I want to talk about the Rudy situation. Thanks.”
Jocelyn called me at 7.05pm.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“How did the filming go today?”
“It went fantastic. We shot inside the store and out- she got some really great footage of me around a motorcycle that just happened to be parked in the lot across from the Palace. I think she even got some cool footage of the Peace Flag hanging out front!”
In an homage to the inside cover of Hendrix’s Fillmore concert LP from New Year’s Eve 1969, the Palace hung an American flag where the star field was replaced by the Peace symbol. It had been the flag that flew out in front of the store for over twenty years. Cross Pollination. Pattern Recognition. With Tabitha utilizing the Palace for the final shots of the video, it brought us closer to a succinct definition that she was one of us. Tabitha was a Mystic kid; the flag waving in the wind confirmed that fact.
“That’s great, exactly what I was hoping to hear. I know you want to have a bigger input on our business decisions, so I’m going to ask you to take this conversation and break it up into two parts. Compartmentalizing the issues, shall we say? I’m going to tell you my interior thought process, without regard to how you may react to it. And I want you to take that information and distill it through a neutral parameter. Can we agree to that?”
“I was completely devastated to be on that stage alone to receive the ‘Best New Band award’. Devastated. No one wanted to see me up there; they wanted to see You. They wanted to see You, and Adrian and Todd and Rudy. I couldn’t believe the same thing that went down with the Borealis award would happen again. Is this what you really want to do with your life? Sing?” Be the face of this band?”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes. To everything. I’m sorry we weren’t there for the award, I truly am. But with the cold, and the hold up on the start of the night, I guess we just lost track of time. if you had a cell phone-“
“Hey, hey- I can’t text you guys to let you know your career is going on.”
“Look, I don’t want to have some kind of investigation about where everyone was and what happened. It’s over. I suppose devastated is even too strong a word. I was, to a degree, but it was embarrassing; as if you guys and I were not on the same page regardless of our initial success.”
“Look, I really mean it. I want to take this as far as we can.” She responded. Convincingly.
“Ok, let’s move on. Now that you know my position, and I know yours, I want to discuss how we are going to deal with Rudy.”
I knew that it was going to be my responsibility to actually inform Rudy of the proceedings. I had to figure out a way to present it without jeopardizing the kids, and the band. Who knew what Rudy’s reaction would be to getting fired as we began to gain serious traction? He had sacrificed as much as any of us, in terms of time and travel, but there was no way we could articulate the next level of songwriting and performance with his disdain for the inspiration we all drew from.
“We have a scheduled practice for Wednesday night, with everyone except Adrian. What I’m going to do is give the same speech I just gave to you, but I want you to act as if Wednesday night was the first time you heard it. I want everyone to feel as if they are being addressed equally, but I’m not going to be leaning on you. And I’m not going to single Rudy out, or ask Todd where he was. The manner in which I present the discussion will be obvious that there needs to be some one on one conversation between “management” and “the band”. I need to isolate myself as the drummer to Rudy, and have him understand the “Manager” is kicking him out of the group.
The four of us meet for practice at Centraal at 8pm. A specific lethargy hangs over us; as if the teenagers left alone one weekend forgot to feed the cats and left the garbage piled up in the garage. The mood reminds me of a weekend with Thames back in December of 1985. My step-fathers family owned a cabin in the Maine woods, and most years we would spend the Christmas vacation there with his extended family. A week of snowmobiling and skiing, interspersed with wood chopping and deep cleaning; the cabin had to be left completely stocked for the next group of visitors. In the Maine winter, you never knew what elements you may face upon arrival at the camp, so the previous tenants prepared it for you. That December, I stayed at home in Mystic for the week recording the very first Thames EP- on a cutting edge four track cassette recorder. It was an incredible time- days and nights filled with writing, recording, and playing music; ensconced in a parentless environment. I hadn’t suspected that my family would return a day early, on New Year’s Day 1986. Every mattress and each boxspring from the house were spread out among the various rooms in my parents humble abode. My Mom entered my brother’s second floor bedroom as I struggled to get the box spring into its bedframe.
“What the fuck has been going on here?!?!?!??!!”
The same tension existed on this night. I broke the ice by saying I wanted to address the TAZZIES, in a calm voice.
“I was completely devastated to be on that stage alone to receive the ‘Best New Band award’. Devastated. No one wanted to see me up there; they wanted to see you guys.”
Rudy was the first one to leave practice that night. After his departure, I asked Todd and Jocelyn to think about what we were doing for a few days, and that we should meet Friday evening to finalize the plan. I would then talk to Adrian about the direction on Saturday night. Once I had discussed our intentions with him, and gotten his take of the situation, I’d meet with Rudy on Monday night at my house. That night, I would explain to him that the dual schedule between Geneva and Piercing can’t go on as it has; and he had to think of an idea to frame a way he could do both in the future, or commit to Piercing singularly. I seriously doubted he would choose us over Geneva, but it had to be his decision. Either he could manufacture a way to be completely immersed in both groups, or he had to declare an allegiance.
Rudy walks in to the Palace late that Friday afternoon, an hour before my meeting with Joss and Todd. It’s a gorgeous late spring afternoon, the one we pine for during the coastal cold of the Mystic winter. He seems to be in a jovial mode, but it is quickly revealed that he is in a heightened state of paranoia. I think to myself ‘who could have tipped him off to what was going down?’ In my initial burst of thought there seemed to be no apparent guilty parties. Perhaps I was simply worn down by the whole episode; looking for clues that didn’t even exist.
“hey man, how’s it going” offered Rudy in his elongated drawl.
“pretty good. It was fantastic to win at the TAZZIES last week.”
“yeah, I know how you love the thing…”
“well yeah. I appreciate all of the work that goes on to make the event happen. Those guys are working their asses off just to give us one night of entertainment. You’re an entertainer, don’t you have some empathy toward the promoters?
“oh yeah, yeah. I do.”
“I hope so. We can write the greatest song ever written but if no one hears it….”
“yeah, I know what you mean. It’s about commitment. Staying true to your ideals.”
“that’s the Punk ethos, isn’t it?”
I was secretly worried that at this late hour, Rudy would comprehend all of the details I had been preaching over the course of the past twelve months. You never know what can happen.
“it’s kinda like this video I saw on youtube last night.”
“oh, really? Who was it?”
“It wasn’t a band, it was this one guy. He was a soldier in the Mexican Army who was fighting drug dealers in the Baja Peninsula. He was captured, and the drug gangs were going to use him as an example, so other Mexicans wouldn’t get in their way. They cut the fucking guys head off with a sword, and the prisoner, he, he…”
Rudy paused here to catch his breath
“he just fucking took it man. He sat there, stiff as a board, man. And then they swept through with the sword, and he was dead man, dead. I’d never seen anything like it; it was amazing how a man could just sit there and take it like that.”
Did Rudy know we were about to kick him out of the band? Who leaked this fucking information!?!?!?!
Did Jeremy find out from Todd one night late after all the others had passed out? Of course, Jeremy would totally relay that information to Rudy- it set up his own end game within the structure of Piercing. But how could I be sure? I could confront Todd about the possible leak, but what would that do for his songwriting? I began to reassure myself that if the worst case scenario was that Rudy knew what was coming, it would make my life easier for a change.
The three of us met during the early evening of that Friday, in the back stretch of the gardens at my house.
“I don’t want to go through with this until we have Adrian totally on board” opened up Jocelyn.
“I agree, we have to be of one mind to make this move” opined Todd.
“ok, what I’ll do is talk to Adrian tomorrow night. Once we have his input, I’ll schedule a meeting with Rudy at my house on Monday. If we cannot come to a clear fruition during our conversation Monday night, I will call him and reveal that he is not a member of the band on Tuesday.”
Saturday night, at exactly 8pm, I call Adrian on his cell phone.
“hey man, what’s up?”
“Joss, Todd, and me met yesterday about Rudy. We want him out of the band.”
“yeah, I know where you’re coming from. But I’m kinda busy tonight.”
“hey, I’m not trying to trample you, but we want to get Rudy out by Tuesday, so we can push the PR for “Decisive” and be secure in the fact that we are moving forward.”
“yeah, that’s cool, but I’m really busy right now. Do whatever you guys think is the right thing to do.”
And then he hung up on me. I had already had a distaste for the telephone before tonight.