Adrian calls my new phone at 7.05pm
“We’ve just cleared New Haven.”
“Ok, cool. Just keep on trucking. I have all of your gear set up; Todd is tuning the guitars, so you just have to walk on stage.”
“Alright, man. I’m trucking!”
I get a text from Brent moments later:
“Old Saybrook, on express to NL”
I gather a huge breath, and exhale slowly. Brent should be here with moments to spare at the worst, or at least have a few minutes to catch his breath. Adrian will only make it on time if there are no accidents on the stretch between New Haven and New London; a dicey proposition even in the best of conditions. I felt we had to come up with a contingency plan if one, or both of them, didn’t make it on stage by the time we had to start.
Ross Coscialetti was the manager of Royal Park, and he had booked the gig with Caron Morris. Together, they worked in tandem to bring the bigger shows in town to the Park, and were also the chief architects of the TAZZIES. We had also spent four years together in Bold Schwa; as he was the band’s bassist. Ross sidled up to me as we began to prep our gear backstage; the second band would finish in about a half hour.
“Hey man, you look frazzled. What’s up?”
“Brent and Adrian are both coming in from the city right now, and they’re both delayed. I’m praying they get here in the next twenty minutes.”
“Do you need some time? With the drizzle, I could easily back it up ten, fifteen minutes.”
“Thanks. Ten minutes would be great. If they are not here by then, well… the show will go on.”
“Alright, I’ll come back with a start cue.”
I was quite fortunate to have friends stretching back decades, who also were striving to live up to their responsibility in this creation of our own world. We had both been working in ways to build something that didn’t yet exist; secretly hoping for accumulation. I return to Jocelyn and Todd, reassure them that Ross has stretched out our start time by at least ten minutes. They both looked relieved, and simultaneously petrified. I decided to throw out a few scenarios where we could pull off a three person version of Piercing.
“Let’s do “Mind over Body”, but slowly. Lean on the country underpinnings, and stretch out the vocal. That could be about 5 minutes, and if it’s still the three of us at that point, I suggest we do “Spirit” as a slow, jazzy number, something I’ll use rimshots on instead of flush snare hits.”
“And what if we have to do a third number?” asked Todd. He’s worried.
“We’ll play that cover tune you love so much.”
“The Mac.” I reply, heavy on the The. It was about confidence at this point; nothing else was going to salvage this situation unless we went out and were Entertainers.
I spot Brent strolling through the ornate wrought iron gates at the front of the Park. He is wearing his sheepish grin; usually reserved for when he had one too many and was caught at the fridge grabbing one more. I was delighted to see that wry smile, as I climbed down the steps at the front of the stage to exchange beaks with him.
“That was tight” he offered
“No worries. Ross gave us an extra ten minutes, we go on in fifteen.”
“Is Adrian here?”
“Last time he called he was in East Lyme. That was ten minutes ago.”
“Do we have a plan as a four piece?”
I went over the details of our backup plan with Brent, and he sounds confident.
“We can make that work.”
Ross comes up to the edge of the stage; Todd is getting in one last tuning of Adrian’s guitar.
“We have to start in two minutes.”
“No problem, we have a backup plan in place.”
“Hi, we’re Piercing, and as of now, we are missing…… one of our members…… Adrian is coming in from the city and he’s in a bit of traffic…… so…… we’re going to start with “Mind over Body”. And hopefully, you will see him come running down the center aisle between you all in a few moments. This is “Mind over Body”…..
I was impressed. She nailed the static electricity of the moment and did so completely unprompted- a perfect delivery. For a second I had hoped Adrian wouldn’t make it so she had to address the crowd through the whole set in that manner. As I raise my hands up to begin to click off the tempo for our first song, Adrian runs on to the stage through the open backstage door. He almost stumbles over his amp; as if he were a sprinter leaning forward to catch the finish line. The crowd began clapping in unison immediately. Perhaps this would be a victory after all.
Following our set, I grab a beer and find Ross to thank him for accommodating our hectic commute.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Maurice coming in the front gates, and excuse myself from Ross.
“Hey man, good to see you!”
“Good to see you as well. You guys were fantastic, much better than when I saw you in March.”
I take it as a compliment.
“Thanks man, thanks for making it out.”
“It was nice to come to a venue and just be able to chill, yaknow?”
“How long have you guys been out on the road?”
“About three months straight.”
The two of us talk through the next two acts, occasionally pausing to catch the general vibe of the songs,and the crowd. The Park is wall to wall by the time the headliner comes on, and I can sense Maurice yearing for participation in the scene that was unfolding in front of him. Tonight wasn’t about the “music business” which was obviously draining him of some of the spirit of performing; of making music. This was a large group of people who simply loved music, and loved seeing it performed live. It was the bedrock upon which Piercing existed, and Maurice was seeing it in full effect. When he was living here and coming of age, the Royal Park was a gravel parking lot. Now it was a first class outdoor venue, snuggled into the heart of a small city, and providing moments like tonight.
“Do you think you could book us a gig here in New London? It seems like people really love music here right now.”
“Of course!” When do you want to play? I can walk over to Caron right now and tell him you guys want to play and he would most likely book it and find the perfect venue.”
“Well, I’d have to go through all of our channels, but yeah, I think it would be an awesome time. Piercing should open for us.”
“Maurice, I would be more than happy to bring that to fruition for you.”
“Hey man, are you going to come down to the show?”
Adrian finds me talking with Maurice. Class Ring have booked a show at another club in town for later in the evening. He wasn’t going to be arriving at the last minute for that gig. I bit my tongue.
“Nah, I’m going home. We still have a long weekend ahead of us; Todd is shooting with Anne on Saturday afternoon, and we are heading back to Brooklyn to practice with Wall on Sunday morning, remember?”
“Of course I remember. Well, I just wanted to let you know- I gotta head down there now.”
“Cool, have a good show, text me tomorrow night so we can finalize travel plans for Sunday.”
“You got it. See you guys.”
Adrian leaned over and gave me the beak; I was thrilled to see Maurice reach out to Adrian with the closed fingers of our secret handshake. He beaked Adrian, and gave me a sly grin.
Wall called that Friday night- he eventually will need surgery on his broken collarbone; the initial set was completely botched. And once that event took place, he wouldn’t be able to even pick up a bass for a month; much less practice or continue to learn the songs. He suggested we head into Brooklyn to practice one time before his surgery, so we could meet in person and at least begin the process. I thought it was a sure sign of his commitment, and the definition of why we were waiting it out for him to heal. Wall was going to be the New Bassist.
“I’m at Ellen’s house, across from the post office W Mystic”
Adrian’s first text of the day. Jocelyn and Todd were already at Centraal; I was plying them with tea.
“Cool. be there in ten mins”
When we arrive, the front couple of Class Ring are taking guitar amps from a Jeep and bringing them into the house, of which neither of them lived, or practiced in. It was a strange sight, as if we were seeing the film being rewound, not the forward expanse in present time. Adrian came running out of the same door the amps were being loaded into- he almost tripped over the second one on the porch. With bounding leaps, he made his way across the lawn and into the side door of the van.
“What’s up, people! My dudes!”
Beaks were exchanged all around. This wasn’t unusual for Adrian to minimize the emotional content of a moment with a quite masculine bond attempt. It didn’t work on that level, but it did clear the air.
“Hey, what’s up with those guys and the amps going into Ellen’s mom’s house?”
“We had a gig in New Haven last night.”
“What?” gasped Joss, Todd, and myself simultaneously.
“Yeah, I didn’t tell you guys before I came up, but they booked a gig in New Haven, a sort of “pay to play” gig. I didn’t book it, those guys did. They thought it would be a good opportunity to play since I was going to be here this weekend anyway.”
“You played two gigs with Class Ring this weekend?” posited Jocelyn. She had never expressed this kind of anger towards a band member outside of our own relationship.
“Hey, hey hey…” responded Adrian.
“Don’t get worked up about it, c’mon guys ….” offered Todd, playing the role of the referee.
I resisted commenting.
“Well, it didn’t fucking go so great, if you want to know!!!!” Adrian leaned on the van headrest to make his point to Jocelyn.
“Hey, take it easy” she responded.
I was proud. She had the high ground, I wanted to see her actually defend it- defend everything we had been building since she sat cross legged upon the Thames sound system in 2005; recording the first TIR EP surrounded by equipment from another age. That progress would corrode without enhancing its intention, it’s meaning. It was all at stake now.
“Me, and Sawyer and Heide (the Class Ring front couple) headed down there about three hours before the gig. The two brothers called us an hour later, said they were in bridge traffic, and couldn’t make the gig. He fucking booked a gig he ditched on two hours before show time. What a dick. Bridge traffic? Fucking bridge traffic? The fucking bridge goes up and down up and down every fucking hour. Did they think I was that stupid? I’ll never play with those guys again.”
Jocelyn turned and looked right at me. I knew immediately what was on her mind:
‘See, I told you these things can’t be put back together again.’
I didn’t mind her being right at all.
In an unexpected turn, the palette was cleared. There would be no more interference from Class Ring. Rudy was gone, and Wall was playing with us today. The relief was palpable; it was the first time I had let myself truly exhale in ten months, since our first recording session at Stormy Harbor. The extraneous pressure had been removed, and we could rebuild the band with Wall without distractions.
We also now had someone in the city to help bond with Adrian; to bring him closer to the fold. The sky was cloudless, and the Sunday traffic was minimal. We should arrive in Brooklyn a full half hour before the start of practice, which should give Joss time to get another coffee, and walk the streets of Brooklyn. She often talked of moving there.
“But I actually want to be able to afford it, not just couch crash and beg for work. I don’t have that in me. I couldn’t do what Adrian has done since he moved here.”
Adrian asks me to pull over as we pass his apartment.
“I just wanna go in and grab some money; I’ll be right out.”
Ten minutes later, he emerges. I resist probing my thoughts for clues; we need to get to the Foundry. Unfortunately, my directions took us from the Williamsburg Bridge to the Foundry; now we were in a slightly different neighborhood, and I wasn’t sure how to get there from Adrian’s apartment.
“So, do I take a left up here at this light?”
“Yeah, yeah. Take that left, and then go three blocks and take a right.” Replied Adrian
Twenty minutes later, we pull up to the door at the Foundry. One thing I learned that I had never known before this afternoon, in all my time driving around the city: never ask directions from someone who only walks in the borough- they have no clue about the vagaries of one way streets. But we are there. As I begin unloading gear with Todd, Jocelyn tells me she wants to still get a coffee before we start.
“Ok, cool. but why don’t you get Adrian to go with you, we’ll load up the rest of the gear between the two of us.”
“Nah, that’s just wasting more time. I’ll be fine, I’ll be right back.”
“Do you know where you are headed?”
“Yeah, I saw a shop a few blocks back while Adrian was navigating.”
“Ok, cool. Be careful.”
She laughed her insouciant laugh and turned on the toe of her right, booted foot. The sidewalk was dry, mid-July, and I could sense the specific frequency of that small imprint on the surface of the city. I let her walk away with trepidation, because if something should actually befall her while we were here, or any of the other many cities we may find ourselves in shortly, it will be my fault. I will be responsible. I feel the same with all of the kids, but much more so with Joss. There are people in this world who might take the chance of getting their hands on her- I had seen the same reaction to her since the TIR gigs. I watched her fade into the heat blur of the sidewalk, and thought a silent prayer:
“Not today, Lord. Not today.”
Wall is already there, sitting in a deep recess of the entryway, on a tattered couch. He stands up as we pass him, and out of the corner of my eye I catch his movement and stop myself.
“Hey, Ellery, how was the drive down.”
“Easy. Sunday morning. Drove in circles a bit trying to find this place, but we’re here. Thanks for making it.”
“Thank you man. I’m the one putting some limitations on us.”
“Ha, no worries man.”
The practice space is surprisingly nice; baffles suspended from the ceiling, heavy red velvet curtains hung ceiling to floor on three sides- a Lynchian vibe in the depths of industrial Brooklyn. The Foundry was in the same neighborhood as Huntington Grounds, which made me a bit upset when we lost our extra half hour trying to locate the space. By the time we get all of the gear set up, prepare ourselves to play, and wait out Jocelyn’s coffee run, it’s 3pm. I recalled, for the first time in years: you are always going to pay for “unused” time at a practice space. The fantasy I had of us getting going at the of the two o’clock hour were always ludicrous; even if they were subconscious. Let’s just jam and see what happens.
And that is exactly what we do. Wall is locked in to about half of each song; but when he finds the groove and grabs it, you can sense a widening of our sound. It doesn’t become more intense, or louder, but more succinctly stated; wider. Wall was working in frequency ranges that allowed the main guitar riffs to have more bite, while also adding Tabitha’s promise- a funky underpinning that didn’t exist with Rudy. After an hour of working on six songs that he had somewhat of a familiarity with, we took a quick break and then began working on a new Adrian song; his first in months. It was trademark Pearson- a quick stuttering rhythm with melodies that turned on a dime. Wall found the core groove after two run-throughs, which was the most encouraging sign so far. If he could write this quickly in real time, the distance between Mystic and the two of them would seem to be an illusion. The constant effort to balance the band these last six months has been akin to standing on a tree trunk in the water of a cool lake. With the Class Ring dissolution, and Wall’s obvious integrity, I felt as if the current had begun to change course. It was as if I realized I had been wearing a lifejacket the entire time.
We pack the gear, load the van, and I wipe the sweat from my brow as I ask Wall to give me directions to his apartment from the Foundry.
“Take a left three blocks down, and then go four blocks on Humboldt- take a right on Siegel.”
I put the transmission into drive and hit the signal for the left blinker. As I stepped on the gas, I realized we hadn’t paid for the time at the Foundry. I hurriedly put the van in park, and told everyone
“I’ll be right back, I forgot to pay.”
This was met with catcalls and jeers, in a playful way. I had become so caught up in what the possibilities were now that the lineup was sorted, I was just going to head to Wall’s. I walked into the office and handed the Foundry founders the cash. They laughed.
“We thought you were going to ditch on us!”
“No no no , I wouldn’t do that. I ran a space like this in Connecticut for years, I know what it’s like. We just auditioned a new bass player, and he seems like a perfect fit. I lost track of my shit for a moment.”
“No worries. We’ll be telling this story to people for years to come.”
“Well, I’m glad I could contribute to the folklore of your fine establishment.”
They laughed. It was all good.
“We’ll be back.” I offered, turning toward the exit.
“We’ll be here.”
Once we settle into Wall’s apartment, everyone breaks out a bit of their stash before we head out and get something to eat. At one point Wall reaches into a canvas bag, and pulls out a prescription pill bottle, undoes the lid, and pops two pills with no water. He’s dealing with a broken bone, so I don’t give it a thought. All of the sudden, Jocelyn pipes up:
“Hey can I get two of those?”
“Umm, yeah, sure” replies Wall. It’s obvious that this isn’t the first time he has been asked that question.
“Hey, I’ll pay you for five right now, if you can spare them?”
It’s Todd. How could he not know that I knew what had been going on behind closed doors? If that was the case, why would you ask to buy scripts in front of me? I had bought into my own theory of progress, but now it was being threatened. Was Todd still stuck in a cycle of using pills? Why else would he bargain for them in front of me? And how hard was Jocelyn’s day? Was she so comfortable in our burgeoning reality that this hidden realm would now come to light? In all the time I had known Joss, using pills was never part of her milieu. So, why now?
“Hey, guys, Wall probably needs them more than you. He just broke a bone, umm and you guys broke….. what exactly?” I decided to say something to turn the direction away from more drug use.
“Ohh, sorry, man. Old habit. You probably used to do the same thing if you found out there was LSD to buy on a Sunday afternoon in July… of 1990 …. unexpectedly …” Replied Todd.
“That’s true, you got me.”
“I’m just feeling really cramped up, like my stomach is shrinking. Can I still get two from you Wall?”
That was totally unbecoming of Jocelyn. Not so much that she might like to take some pills once in a while, but that she would be so public about it. I had known her for seven years and knew nothing more of her extracurricular activity than smoking pot. I decided to file it away and see if pattern recognition would reveal itself.
“Didn’t Squish and English spend a summer putting pills up there asses? So they could get off more?” Adrian throws in a story from the old days.
“Hahahaha, yeah, I remember that. Those guys were really reaching…” replies Jocelyn.
“I mean, how high can you get? How high do you need to get? I understand the whole ‘there’s more out there’ argument, but really…. You can’t put the pills in your fucking mouth? Really?” risking that I was sounding like Dad. I didn’t give a fuck.
“I agree” replied Jocelyn “you should never put something up your ass that doesn’t belong there. I thought I had something wrong with me a few years ago; something digestive. So I did some research, and decided that a salt water enema was the solution to all of my problems. Again, you should never put something in your ass that doesn’t belong there.”
The only sound after that was the air conditioner, working perfectly.
We walked the four blocks to the coffee shop on Bushwick Avenue. I would imagine the denizens of this Burgh were in the presence of musicians all of the time, but something in the way the passersby’s double takes made me think:
‘We must look like a real band to them.’
And we did; without a coded, uniformed presence. We were separate from that presence, and did not have to adhere to its rigidity. We were free; and the music could be our sole focus. Our image was like settling concrete. When Joss asked Wall what his latest musical interests were, he responded in a way that gave her the wrinkled, upturned smile that she reserved for moments of clarity.
“I love the new Daft Punk.”
“So do I” she replied, deliberately.
On the ride home, it was just the three of us; Todd, Joss and me. There was a new privacy between us that hadn’t existed in the period when Rudy was in the band. We always had to acquiesce to Rudy; to make him feel comfortable. When it worked, it was more than worth it. But those days are behind us now. We are driving north on the Hutchinson Parkway blasting Saint Etienne.
“Every time I hear this song, I think about living with Jackson in Boston. “
It was “Carn’t Sleep” from Foxbase Alpha, their debut album.
“I can’t sleep, wishing you were here with me…”
Jocelyn started to sing along with the main vocal; a wistful gaze out the mid seat window.
When i get home from work,
Sit down and watch tv,
The night falls
Just like a bad dream.
“Why does that remind you of Boston?” I offered, quietly- inferring we could leave the topic off limits if she wished to.
“Jackson was always out late, and then I found out he was cheating on me the whole time.”
“Ouch, that’s a brutal reminder. We can skip the track when we listen to it.”
“Hahaha, no, it’s really not that big a deal. And I love this record, why would I let him ruin it for me?”
Jocelyn stood up, and lay down on the floor between the two front captain chairs.
“Are you feeling alright? Do you want a pillow?”
“Yeah I’m ok, my stomach is a bit grouchy. Where is the pillow?”
“It’s behind that seat, in the back pocket.” I pointed; my left hand on the steering wheel.
Joss finds the pillow, lays it on the van floor, and slowly lowers the back of head. She’s staring straight up at the ceiling.
“It absolutely sucked to deal with him cheating on me. We broke up over it after a few weeks of screaming at each other, but I would still sleep with him when I wanted to. And when that got tiring; I decided to just go back home.”
“Wha? You did?” asks Todd. “I didn’t know that.”
“You did the same thing Todd.” her voice trailed off into a resigned sigh, with the emphasis on same.
“Too true. I guess that’s why I’m feeling for you.”
I also didn’t know. I decided to look at it as a moment where she felt free to reveal more about herself than I had ever anticipated. This was a new level of trust; something that had been acquired navigating our way through the madness. Or was it that I didn’t really know Joss as well as I thought?