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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