THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Fifteen

As soon as the door closes on the mother-in-law apartment, I turn on the computer and log into my Facebook account. I immediately search out Tabitha, to find out if she’s online. Bingo. There she is. I open up the message box and type the following words:

“Hey- do you know any cool bass players looking for a gig in the city?”
“As a matter of fact, I do! My good friend Wall, who I went to school with at Sussex, is a great bass player. And his band just broke up two months ago.”
“How long has he been in the city?”
“Three years, same as me. He’s been playing with this band that just broke up for the past two years.”
“Oh yeah? what was their name?”
“Cause:Effect”
“Cool name.”
“Yeah, they were really great; slinky funk grooves. Wall could add quite a bit to the Piercing sound.”
“That’s what I was hoping to hear. Do you have his phone number?”
“Yeah, hold on a sec…”

It had only taken me five minutes to find the replacement for Rudy. I was well chuffed. I immediately start searching for the online presence of Cause:Effect.

I phone Wall two nights later, and he picks up on the first ring. Tabitha had given him a heads up on my inquiry, and he is very much interested in joining theband; he had even done research on where we were at, referencing several non-Earcandy reviews that we had gotten over the past year.

“I’m all in, unless we play together and it just doesn’t work.”
“No, no, no. I feel totally comfortable with you. Tabitha speaks highly of you, and we trust her intuition, not simply as someone who likes the band.”
“Cool, can you guys come down on Sunday the 30th?”
“Sure. What time works for you?”
“What time works for you guys, I’m just getting into the thing.”
“Wahahahhaa. No worries. How about 2pm, we’ll book a space at the Foundry; 2-5pm?”
“Great. I’ll meet you guys there.”

Earcandy finally debuts the Decisive video on the following Tuesday. It had been a three week grind to get them to run it, and now I was free to spread PR about the video as far as I could reach. Tabitha became an essential ally that I had not counted on before this moment. Over the course of the next few days, her PR acumen opened up a whole new avenue for Piercing; one that I was barely aware of. She was simultaneously shopping the Earcandy link to her contacts, and suddenly fashion/style blogs were running the link. Music was only a small part of their overall focus, so there was more of an impact of being noticed with the lower content ratio. In light of the fact that we were going to be spending at least the next two months rebuilding the band with Wall, I thought the best way to maximize our PR reach was to capitalize on this new found avenue. I envisioned Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian in a classic Anne black and white photo shoot. But instead of a group shot, have each of them pose solo. I would then shop those photos to these various culture blogs that had at least run a review or linked the “Decisive” video. I had seen some fantastic photo shoots that both Whitney and Phoebe had participated in, but they had the rapt attention of an audience they had established, while we were still building one. But the exposure to the culture blogs gave me the opportunity to showcase each one of
them in that style. Anne is in complete agreement, and immediately schedules a shoot with Joss at 6pm on Saturday.

They shoot within massive Victorian columns; the front of one of the local mansions built on money from the seas in centuries past. Jocelyn is styled by Anne in layer after layer of lace, taffeta, and spangle. The resonance of the photos lies singularly within Jocelyn’s gaze toward the lens- a physical articulation of her insouciance. She nails the shoot, and both Anne and I are bowled over checking the contact sheets later that night.

I kept coming back to the dilemma that seems to exist within Jocelyn. When she arrives two days later to proof the final shots with Anne, I overhear the two of them making plans for a completely new spread, involving June, and Joss; as women re-enacting a Greek myth.

“I was quite impressed with how you approached the solo shoot. You were totally there.” Anne said to Jocelyn upon her arrival. “So, I’d like to schedule something with you and June, say, maybe in the next two weeks, wherever you have a break in your schedule?”
“Oh, I would so love to work with June. She was fascinating to watch making the Spirits video; creating that entire character in the moment. It was inspiring.”
“Is that ok with you, boss?” Anne asked me sarcastically.
“Oh, yeah….. as if you two need my approval.” I replied, just as sarcastic.
“You know how much I love the videos, and the photo shoots. Branching out into modelling is a good thing for the band.” opined Joss.
“I agree.”

Did she want to be a Rock and Roll Star? Or an object of adoration? I couldn’t figure it out. Perhaps she wanted both? If she wanted both, why wasn’t she able to fuse those two elements on stage; the person whom all eyes are upon? They seemed to me to be one and the same- you needed a specific, innate confidence to actualize either. But Jocelyn had the voice. She had the missing talent that most other people would never possess.

The next day is the beautiful summer we had been dreaming of as we endured the worst winter of my lifetime. June 30th, the day of our first band practice with Wall. It had been quite an exhausting twenty-seven days since we let Rudy go, and today would prove to be just as telling toward the definition of Piercing. The phone rings at 9.30, and I hurry down two flights of stairs to Centraal, already thinking the worst.

“TWIIIIIIningggggggg! Wake up my man, pick up the-“
“Hey man, what’s up” it was Adrian. He sounded exhausted. I took a deep breath and was silently hoping the two of them had hung out until the wee Brooklyn hours; wanting to push back our start time. I could pay for an hour we didn’t use, as long as we got in some work, and met Wall in person.
“Wall, me, and Tabitha were having some drinks last night at a bar near Wall’s place.”

Easy.
Rock and Roll.
No worries.

“And he just called me. He got hit by a car last night riding his bike home. We weren’t even drunk, it was like 11.30”
“Yikes. Is he okay? Is he really hurt?”
“He broke his left collarbone.”
“ …… that’s the strap side…… ” I sighed.
“Yep….”
“I suppose that means we won’t be practicing in Brooklyn today?”
“No, that’s why I wanted to get ahold of you, so you weren’t getting ready, and maybe there is some time to let the Foundry know, and maybe they won’t charge us for the time.”
“Maybe.” I knew I was going to have to cover that bill out of my own pocket.
“Okay, cool. I’ll get in touch with Joss and Todd. I’ll call Wall later this afternoon and check in to see where we are at with him. Do you think he still wants to be in the band?”
“Oh, yeah, very much so. He was cussing up a storm this morning when I talked to him; wishes he broke a leg.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow once everything is sorted.”
“Cooooool. Thanks dude.”

There is a saying among the artists I know who write for grant money, and they all profess the same thing- it doesn’t matter how many you apply for, as long as you get what you need. Pushing a band through the modern grinder of PR was exactly the same thing; I began to refer to it as the Inherent Internet Resign:

All efforts are a 1 in 10 success rate. If you have 400 fans on your Instagram, you’ll more than likely get no more than 40 likes on a post. If you have 40,000 followers, you can bank on 4000 each post out. So, when I opened the email Monday morning from BATTLECATS, a fashion oriented blog that had both reviewed the “Decisive” single and linked the video, I found they wanted to run the photo shoot of Jocelyn by Anne. And in a stroke of good fortune, because that’s the fortune of consistent hard work, they wanted to run an interview with the other members of the band, in and around seven photos they had selected of Joss.

The very next email was from the Dutch magazine that had gotten in touch with us earlier in the year. They had linked the “Decisive” video as well, and now wanted to do a full page interview with an accompanying photo for their September issue. I immediately replied to Ferry at Gezellig! And told him we would love to talk, and the best time to get all of us in the same room with the time change is about 2pm, our time. Any weekday. Jocelyn had lost her job at the Senior Housing complex due to budgetary constraints, and Todd was off for the summer from school. Both of them had gotten retail jobs in downtown in early June, so It would be easy for all of us to sneak out of work for a half hour in the middle of an afternoon. Adrian would do a separate phone interview once the three Mystic folk were on the record.

The BATTLECATS interview arrived in the email box Tuesday morning; my day off. I dutifully sent out Word documents that they could add their answers to, and pleaded for a speedy return of their replies. The questions were straightforward-

“Describe your music for our readers who may not be familiar with you.”
“You worked with Tabitha Williams for your new video, “Decisive.” What was the shoot like? Who came up with the ideas used in the video? What was your favorite part of the shoot and final video?”

To my utter surprise, all three of them had sent me their meticulous answers by the next morning. I collated the photos into a Dropbox file, and emailed the Word doc to BC’s, as we began to affectionately refer to them as. Two hours later, they would email me back with hearty congratulations and thank yous, and that the interview would run next week. I was taken aback, again, at the speed of the new world. What took months when I began playing music now took hours, if you were paying attention. I couldn’t stop thinking about Thames. If only we had the internet in 1992…..

Ferry’s assistant editor Marcella calls us promptly at 2pm EDT on my landline.

“Hi, how is Piercing feeling today?”
“We’re fantastic!” I reply with the proper muted enthusiasm.
“Ok, I’m going to ask questions to each of you. one at a time, but the questions will all be the same. Is that fine?”
“Sure, Marcella. Anything that works for you.”
“Ok, I’m going in alphabetical order, so Ellery, you speak to me first.”
“Ok, I’m here.”

Her questions are genuine, and I try to keep my responses clipped and to the point. I have a tendency to wax rhapsodic at the most inappropriate time, so I decided to adhere to the new reality- that the kids were the ones responsible for shaping our identity. The last question was interesting, something I couldn’t remember being asked before-

“If you could turn success of your band into something else, what would it be?”

There was only one answer to that question for me.

“Make more music.”

Todd said the exact same thing.

Jocelyn and Todd were eloquent during their time on the phone with Marcella. I could tell they were embracing this world of having conversations with people you had never met, at a time of day you hardly even speak to your closest friends. Over the course of the interview, I could see clearly that i was not the Dad figure making the Kids realize some long lost dream; the entire subtext of the Dad reality seemed to dissolve over the length of that one phone call. That, in and of itself, was indelible progress. I had lost myself in that train of thought, not really hearing every word that Jocelyn was saying to Marcella, but when I heard this answer, I knew what the question had been:

“I’d love to be in a David Lynch film. Anything… An extra, a delivery person, a clerk. But, yeah, that would be a real dream come true.”

We had a show in New London in eleven days, with no bass player to speak of. Jeremy was obviously out as an option, and I couldn’t think of anyone I had approached the previous month that could pull it off with so little time left. And then it dawned on me; there was a way out of this. Brent Davis had told me he would love to fill in with Piercing if the need arose. Well, now was the time.

“Hey man, Twining here.”
“Hey what’s going on? How are you and Anne?”
“We’re doing great. she has been shooting a bunch of new work; the Piercing shoots have really gotten her back on track artistically.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen all of her new work with you guys; as fantastic as she ever was. Tell her I said so, please?”
“I will. Hey, remember when I asked you to fill in for Piercing last month when you were in Carolina?”
“Hahahahaha! Of course I do. Why? Do you still not have a bassist?” I loved his possessive wording of “bassist” rather than “bass player.”
“Yeah, umm, no. We have a gig at Royal Park a week from Saturday. The 12th. Do you think you could do it?”

I knew Brent could do it; as in learn the songs in a few nights and practice once with us while totally nailing the live set. But would he be able to make it?

“Oh yeah! I’d love to do it. I can practice this Saturday, easily. Other than that, it would be hard to get to Mystic before the gig.”
“I totally understand. Let me get in touch with everyone and see if we can schedule a Saturday night, say…. 8pm?”
“I can do 8pm, no problem.”
“Ok, I’ll get back to you by tomorrow at the latest.”
“Cool, I can’t wait to play live with you on drums again!”
“We’re going to rock, kid!”

Jocelyn and Todd get back to me first; they can make practice with Brent on Saturday. Adrian is stuck in the city.

“I have like, no money, and I’m not working this week because the building we occupy is being sprayed for bugs, yaknow; exterminators and shit.”
“A whole week?”
“I think the owners just wanted a blow, yaknow? But I’m still wicked low on cash.”
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll pick you up in New Haven Saturday afternoon, and drive you back on Sunday afternoon. You don’t need to give me any gas money.”
“Ok, that’s cool. I can do that.”
“We really need to practice at least once with Brent.”
“I agree.”
“It’s kind of a big gig.”
“It is kinda a big gig. I want to play as much as you do.”
“Thanks, man.”
“Thanks to you!”

We have a spirited practice that Saturday night at Centraal. Brent is completely within the songs, and the few moments where he misses a spot, we correct in two or three passages of the segment. For the time being, we are still alive and moving forward. In a scant few weeks, Wall will be the new permanent bass player, and we will be set up to make our next strides in NYC, and begin stretching our boundaries, to include other cities for the first time- Boston, Hartford, Providence, Portland. And if we can solidify those routes, we can then expand into Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That was the tried and true method toward building an audience on the East coast. After brunch on Sunday morning, I drive to the Palace to pick up Adrian for his return trip to NYC; I was transporting him on the Town-to-New Haven leg of the trip.

Sunday was the 7th of July, but what I had not anticipated was that this particular weekend was the unofficial Independence Day Celebration within the GSECAZ. With the 4th of July falling on the Thursday before this weekend, I should have known the highway would be jammed with travelers; their power drive is to get home before sunset on Sunday night. As we descend the last mile of the Gold Star Bridge, I can see the traffic stalled across all three lanes a mile ahead. I exit on the local service road, to gauge whether or not this was a momentary backup, or something that could last for miles. As I approached the last exit on the frontage road, it seemed the highway was clogged for miles; as far as we could discern. I took a hard right onto the exit; knowing I had one last secret tool in the box to avoid a day long commute. I would tap into my father’s driving knowledge. When I was a teenager, I could navigate the entire GSECAZ effortlessly. The same tactic served me well while on the road all of these years. I knew every back road from Mystic to NYC. We didn’t need a highway to get Adrian to the train on time.

When I merged onto State Road 80, I asked Adrian what he thought the role of the musician was in today’s world.

“I think it’s the same as it has always been- provide an outlet for the people, for the audience.”
“I agree”
“Why do you ask?”
“Do you think we provide that thing for our audience?”
“Almost.”
“What are we missing?”
“I think we have everything. The songs; they matter the most. Without songs you ain’t got shit. We got songs. We just need to own that shit, you know what I mean?”
“I agree”

After a slight silence, I allowed myself to let Adrian know what I had been thinking since the Spirit video was linked all over the musical net.

“I don’t have years to pursue these goals. I’m kind of on a tight schedule.”
“I know. I think everyone knows. It’s why we’re waiting for Wall, right?”
“Yes.”

Monday
Record a demo of Detainee on 8 Track for Brent / Soundcloud
Schedule Anne photo shoot with Todd
PR BC’s interview
Check train times / NYC to NL for Brent and Adrian
Print flier FFR for New Haven show in two weeks (Heirlume) / weds trip

Jocelyn and I head to New Haven to hand out fliers for our show there in two weeks. We’ll be opening up for Heirlume on the night of our show, but tonight they are opening for a band with a huge cult following. Marc at Myopic Insights had booked us for the show largely because Piercing is starting to get a serious local buzz; but he also remarked that he remembered me making it to the WESU radio interview to promote the Scare Tactic show back in March. You have to be willing to play the game. The flier I made had to be sent into the Heirlume people for approval, before they would let Marc use it as the main show image. Fortunately, the very first submission was accepted by the band- a relief and a sense that we were calibrating the details as they arose. Tonight was the very first time, in all the years I had known Joss, that we went to the same show together- outside of the local gigs, that is. I was curious to see her take on what Heirlume singer/guitar player Lora Leigh had to endure across the long night of music. After every gig we played, Piercing went home to their beds- the road musicians were sleeping in vans, or maybe bunks in busses; perhaps some shitty motel room off the highway. I implored Joss to watch and pay attention to Lora at every chance.

“that’s what you are signing up for.”

We hand out about 50 fliers to folks as they begin to arrive, and I notice we need to stop , so we’d have enough to ply the leaving crowd with a second wave. The two of us head into the bar, and I get a beer. Joss has a glass of wine. After a tip of a fiver; because it’s always a good idea to overtip the bar staff, we head back toward the front of the room, but I stop us about halfway in.

“Let’s watch from here.” I say to Jocelyn.
“Ok. Why here?”
“Can you see Lora? Sitting over there on the folding chair?”
“Yes.”
“She has to wait out this interminable local opening act every single night, everywhere she goes.. And notice, she’s dealing with it; not hiding in the bus, or walking around the club. She’s participating. Every night.”

Following the headliners set, we camp out on the front steps of the cinder block industrial building that houses the FFR. It’s a gorgeous Connecticut summer night, with the fog rolling in, creating a field of streetlight cones across the parking lot; a line of cars are disappearing onto the woodsy backroads. As the members of Heirlume make their way out front, Marc grabs me by the arm to introduce Joss and I to Lora.

“Hey Lora, Tim, this is Jocelyn and Ellery from Piercing, they’re opening for you in two weeks at BRICKS.”
“Nice to meet you both” as Lora extends her right hand toward us. Jocelyn reaches out and shakes it.
“You were spectacular tonight, I loved watching you rock out like that. Totally refreshing!” Joss offers.
“Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.”
“Yeah, at times it was like we were living in an Eddie Van Halen reality- you would rip off this sick riff out of nowhere and slide right back into the groove, effortlessly. And you sing lead as well!!! Incredible!” I hopefully offer with a blend of modesty and awe struck fandom.
“Thanks, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
“Hey, who does your PR?” asks Tim, who played bass in their three piece. These were the folks who had to approve my design for MI on the flier for BRICKS.
“Umm, I do.” I replied, looking down at my shoes. Why did I look down? I suppose I was trying to be accommodating; humble.
“You do? You don’t have an independent PR company doing all that work?”
“No, I pretty much do it all. But, I have been doing this for a long time.”

I turned to see what Jocelyn’s reaction was. Her mouth was slightly open, as if she just remembered he had left the stove on while driving to work; and then took a deep, cool breath to calm the initial wave. But her eyes remained fixed on a point somewhere beyond the small group of us, on the horizon. Could she see the future coming to fruition?

I finally give in and buy myself a smart phone- the last luddite. The final hurdle was learning how to text Wall, during our recruitment effort. I had figured out how to text him on our primitive Tracphone- something that was an annual Holiday gift from Anne’s family- so they could keep track of us when we were travelling. Wall thought it was cute; my attempts to learn while he was acting as a guidance counselor on the finer tips within the societal norms of “texting”. I plied him with paragraphs of wishful text, and he let me know that I was abusing the forum.

“Hey, like, I have to pay for these things…”

I had no idea. I had made a joke sign at the Palace, years earlier, and placed it next to the most visible electrical outlet: “CELL PHONE CHARGE $1.00 P/MINUTE”
I had no idea how long a cell phone needed to charge.

We have a show later tonight, which is why we needed Brent to fill in, at Royal Park in New London; a small festival with six bands to raise money to offset events like the TAZZIES. The show had now become an annual tradition, and it was a marked move up locally for the band. However, we have yet to hear from Adrian since he called me and said he on the West Side Highway at 5pm, in gridlocked traffic. I almost began to tell him to get off at 34th and head east, across town, to the FDR, but I internally debate whether that would make them even more lost.

“Ok, man- do you think you can get here in the next 2 hours or so?”
“We’re going to try.”
“Ok, keep me posted.”

As I am turning the door handle to leave, the landline rings again. This time it’s Brent, who is leaving Manhattan at the same time as Adrian, only taking the train. We had talked over the past few days that he was getting on an express to New Haven, and then the commuter rail into New London. Brent was a pro, I had no worries about him being there. Adrian was driving with his father, and you could never tell what was going to happen out on the racetrack that is I-95 in the corridor.

“Hey man. Bad news. The schedule for the train was all fucked up. I’m on a local stopping at every bedroom community outside of the city.”
“Well, can’t you get off the train? Flag the next one, hope it’s the express?”
“Hahaha, very funny, country boy.” A sly reference to one of my favorite Miracle Legion songs.
“I might be able to switch out at Stamford, I’ll call and let you know.”
“Ok. We’ll be fine.”

I head to the venue and meet up with joss and Todd, huddling under the backstage awning avoiding the slight drizzle in the air. It’s an unseasonably cool summer night.

“Did you hear from Adrian and Brent?” asks Jocelyn, in a whisper. I can tell she’s actually thinking there is no way those guys are going to make it on time.
“Yes, I did. Brent is on the local out of Grand Central, by accident. Adrian and his Dad are stuck in traffic
on the West Side Highway.”

I tried to sound as if this were the normal state of operations. This show was too big for us to fuck up, and I didn’t want them to think I was worried. I was plenty worried, but showing any outward emotion of that wasn’t going to bring the two of them into town any quicker.
And if the three of us had to pull off this show by ourselves, there was certainly no need to create a negative environment before we made an unscripted, unrehearsed debut as a three piece. I shook my head at the thought, realizing again how we always seem to exist in some fragmented form. Jocelyn caught this deviation from my outward cool.

“What is it?”
“Ahh, nothing. It’s not like the old days anymore, eh?” I mutter
“Which old days?”
“Good point.”

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