On the Saturday between the Royal Park show and the practice with Wall in Brooklyn, Todd had his solo photo shoot with Anne. She styled him as if he were a Victorian poet; all in white, cast against the deep green within one of the local hiking trails. Stone foundations littered the property, and they were able to create a series of defining images of Todd; material I was going to need to keep the band’s profile visible during the next few months. As we waited for Wall to heal, it would still be another month or possibly two that we wouldn’t be playing any new shows, finalizing any new songs, or heading back to the studio. My plan to bridge that gap was to try and get the Todd photo shoot published, and then hopefully repeat the same scenario with Adrian. I also still had to get Adrian to talk to Marcella at Gezellig! , which would give us another outlet for exposure. I don’t think the Gezillig folks even knew Rudy was out of the band. The final detail would be securing Brent for our show with Heirlume in New Haven the following week. I go to text him as soon as I realize, for some stupid reason, I hadn’t booked him yet. Once I open the thread, I see that I had asked him the night before. He had already said yes.
What was I thinking? I had a pang of grief haunt me from years earlier: that moment when you realize this thing is getting bigger than you can handle alone. I remember distinctly when that happened to Brent and me; when we were responsible for the Thames business operations. Our inability to commit to serious management at that point doomed Thames; I wasn’t going to let it happen here.
Todd and I head into New Haven to do a mass flier campaign for the Heirlume show. I had always felt that if you were opening for a national or regional headliner in your town, or close to you, that it’s quite an amazing thing to arrive in some town, usually for the first time, and see their band name splashed as far as the eye could see. That was my goal tonight with Todd; not so much to fulfill my bargain with Myopic Insight of always going the extra distance; but for Heirlume to see the flier they had to approve on the streets. We were proving to live up to our obligations. Todd arrives five minutes early to Centraal.
I take it as a good sign, that he is excited by this night of somewhat heavy lifting. Maybe one day the entire group will head out on some PR adventure, but we continue to exist in a somewhat fractious state. As we headed over the bridge at New London, I notice an eighteen wheeler in front of us, with what looks like “JOCELYN TRUCKS” written along the top of the trailer. As we get closer, I can see that is exactly the name of the trucking company.
“Have you ever see one of those?” I ask Todd
“A trucking company named “Jocelyn Trucks. See it, over there, to the right of us?”
“Hahahaha. That’s nuts!”
I fumble for my phone, as a photo of this should make an interesting addition to the Piercing Instagram account. Joss had an Instagram, but she didn’t really know how, or want to use it. Todd didn’t even have texting on his phone; Adrian had no camera on his. So, the bulk of the social media was left up to me; a late arrival to the phone culture. As we inched closer, I was able to grab the photo I was looking for. Once we were safely in park in New Haven, I would load it up, hoping that wouldn’t be the only opportunity tonight to engage in the Piercing social media.
We start at BRICKS, where our show will be. Myopic Insights had been booking free shows at BRICKS for years on Wednesday nights. It was a brilliant move; having national touring bands, who were normally between New York City and Boston on opposing weekends, play an intimate free gig in New Haven to bridge the tour gap. As such, the nights were almost always packed; a handful of great up and coming bands with free admission and craft beer brewed on site. We arrive at the club by 7pm; the sun still hanging on in the mid-summer sky, amongst a quiet crowd. We order a beer each, and place three dozen fliers for our show on the tables. The rest of the night is the two of us circling the downtown area, and between the college campuses, which ends up taking us three hours to execute. My genius plan of getting in and out of town and home by 11pm is slowly evaporating. By the time we hang another four dozen fliers, it’s 12.30am, and we hit the road north to Mystic.
“Hey man, can we stop at the first McDonalds after the city?”
“Sure, I need to go as well.”
The Death McDonald’s. Even though it had been totally rebuilt in the past year, I couldn’t associate the building with anything but that description. When Thames first started to record with Russell Johnson in East Haven, it was the first rest stop on our way home. After a particularly late session, we had no choice but to wait an hour to eat, or stop at the first McDonald’s on the highway. I have never seen, nor tasted, such repulsive food in my life. The fries were frozen, and instead of actually cooking them, the staff threw hot grease over the top and put them in the shiny red boxes which they were synonymous with. The burgers were dried to a crisp, having been on the grill for hours past their prime. Three months later, as we were heading back to the studio for mixes, we passed the Death McDonald’s, and saw a car blazing away. The fire department had yet to arrive, and a curling black smoke kept climbing higher and higher in the heat of a summer afternoon. That moment clinched it; and I have yet to order food there in my many stop-overs since.
“I got some fries, want some?”
“No thanks. This is the Death McDonalds.”
“Wha ???? Come on now Twining, don’t play old New England shopkeeper guy…”
“Hahahhaha. No, it’s an old story from the Thames days.”
As I finish my spiel about burning automobiles and terrible fries, he laughs and offers me some of his fries, again. I accept.
“Are you happy with the progress we’re making? Is this still working for you? I only ask because I think we can really cook once January arrives, once you have finished school.”
I knew Todd still had one more semester at school this fall until he was free and clear from his responsibility to higher education. My new vision of managing the band was to simply make it to January; by then Todd would be done with school, Wall will have learned the entire set and written a handful of new songs with us from the start, and Adrian would have a solid partner on the ground with him in the city. I was worried about Todd, however. There was no way he could prioritize Piercing for the next four months- no matter how much he enjoyed the band and it’s possibilities. If his work load created a period of survival at any cost, the band may be the one area he could sacrifice.
“I am, I am. I do have a crazy workload this semester; two French lit classes where I have to read the French; and the English translation, as well as a social lab, and one more Psych class. But the band has pretty much been everything I had signed up for. I’m still digging it.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“Thanks man. Why are you still here, still driving to New Haven just to hang fliers, only to have to go to work in the morning? I mean, I know the history, but what is really making you drive this van right now?”
“That’s a dangerous proposition.”
“Yeah, I know. But if you are entertaining, the audience will let you know, am I right?”
“For me, I realized early on that the applause did something for me; as if it was a solution that filled in the cracks.”
“Well, you know my parents divorced when I was a pretty young kid, 7 years old, right?”
“Yeah, I know that part of the Ells story.”
“Many years later, during the Thames peak, when we would get that great applause, I realized it was filling the hole. And it worked.”
“So, that’s it? Applause?
“Well, it’s kind of like “quality” from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, have you read it?”
“No, no, I haven’t yet. I want to.”
“Well, Pirsig is able to distill life down to one single essence- quality. It is the value from which all meaning is derived. Applause works the same way for musicians and other performers, I would imagine. Applause recognizes Quality.”
“I can see that. Normally, I just want to make it through the next song without fucking up something.”
“You’re doing fine, kid. And I love the applause that we’re getting.”
We have to pick up Adrian at the New Haven train station at 7pm for tonight’s show at BRICKS. Brent is arriving by car from the city, and I can only pray that we do not have a repeat episode of the Royal Park gig. To everyone’s relief, Adrian is already outside of Union Station waiting for us to pick him up.
“Dudes, what’s up!!!”
And there are beaks all around. Before I pull out of the parking lot, Brent has texted me:
“Here at bricks.”
“Cool, at train. Be there in 5 mins”
We play a rough version of our “good show”, and a few of the locals who have seen us before tonight seem to notice. Applause is muted throughout the majority of the set, and I secretly wonder if I blew it with my projection about the value of applause. And then, as if feeling the same emotions herself, Jocelyn calls off the four count for “Massive”, and absolutely tears the cover off the pitch. It was as if she was finally pushed into a corner, and realized people came to see her perform, they did not come out to see her. It was the balancing point between the desires of the audience and the reserve of the performer. The balance was delicate, and precious. But there was always a duality, no matter how much actual talent you could muster. Joss didn’t like the half-hearted applause after our so-so performances. We were all a bit wiped out, and Brent had barely a single practice with the group- and here he was executing another gig within the same two week period. She was now singing from the gut, not just the throat. You could sense a sea change in the room; people who were on their way out stopped, people on their way in pushed forward. She had finally done it. She did it for the next two songs as well, and Piercing exited to a rash of applause. My heart was buoyant with the accolades that I desired, but the more important development was Joss taking charge. This is why you play so many repeat shows in cities you can reach, for this night, this moment. As we started packing up the gear, Jocelyn walked by. I tapped her on the wrist, as I was bent over stuffing cymbal stands into a road case.
“Hey. That’s who you are. That’s you, those final three songs……..”
“Can you believe in it?”
“I’ll let you know in the morning….”
I had scheduled Adrian’s interview with Gezillig! for the following Tuesday. I get an email from Marcella to confirm she has the correct phone number for him. I reply that, yes- she does; and to let me know how it went when she gets a chance. Two hours later I receive another email from the Netherlands:
“Have yet to hear back from Adrian. Have to call it a night.”
I wondered if Adrian realized the time change between New York and Amsterdam. He would never enter into a conversation about Piercing with Marcella. Or Ferry.
I have to cancel our scheduled practice for the next Thursday night, as one of the regulars at the Palace died suddenly on a camping trip with his college roommates. GaryU2 was a long serving city representative in Norwich, Connecticut’s local government. He changed the lives of so many people through his compassionate politics, that it was hilarious to reconcile his love of heavy metal, as well as his fastidious commitment to U2. Anne and I went to the wake; and you could sense how hard this sudden shock had wounded his kids. I knew the three of them empirically from the Palace; but this was new territory. They were in a place I had been many times before.
“Long day, huh?” I said quietly to his oldest son, a teenager.
“Oh, yeah…” he replied. But there was a sense of relief, that maybe I had lessened his burden by recognizing it.
“Your dad was a great man, always remember that.”
“Thanks for coming.”
Our rescheduled practice is for the following Saturday. Jocelyn cancels that an hour before the start time. Her diagnosis of Lyme disease had just been confirmed with an email. I decide to give everyone the next week off. There wasn’t much we could accomplish now; and it wasn’t as if songs were pouring out of Todd, or Adrian, at this point. Todd is obsessed with getting in two more weeks of his childhood in before his final semester. I have less of an idea where Adrian is at, and it seems to be diminishing daily.
Tuesday the 20th of August. This is the day we have all been waiting for. Wall will be cleared by his doctors to resume playing bass and other normal activities after his checkup at 2pm. I text him after getting out of work:
“Hey man, how do you feel?”
“Great! A huge weight lifted. Can’t wait to start practicing for real.”
Wednesday the 21st of August. I had always held an affinity for Wednesdays. I think it was the resonance of a day when there was full concert band practice, while I was in junior high. Sectional practices were held throughout the week, but Wednesday was the day when we had full capacity. Those afternoons were part of a complex weave which had brought me here, to Piercing. I was simply trying to make sense of the entire endeavor. From the garage bands of my childhood neighborhood, to the intoxicating reception of the early Thames, through all of the fantastic music I had contributed to over these decades; perhaps the best was saved for last. I was reveling in the purity of this train of thought, when my phone rang; the landline. Since I had acquired a smart phone, the only calls on the landline were of veterinary appointments for the cats, or bad news. It was Adrian.
“Hey man, how are you?” his voice had a static tone to it.
“I’m dealing. This month has been kicking my ass in ways I was unaware of.”
“Heh heh, me too. I know what you mean.”
“What’s up? Did you know Wall is being cleared by his doctor today to begin playing bass? We can probably start practices in the next week. And we can now come down to Brooklyn and work almost anytime. Shit, I’ve driven to New York City and back for practices plenty of times, doing it for us would be a blessing.”
“That’s cool man. Thanks. But I gotta tell you something. I’m moving to Portland Maine next week. I couldn’t find an apartment I could afford here and my lease is up at the end of the month. I just gotta get out of here.”
“You’re leaving the city in a week? That kind of flies in the face of waiting for Wall to heal, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry man. I think I can still make Piercing work from Portland though, listen to me, I have some ideas on how we could pull it off.”
I immediately call Jocelyn.
“Did you know Adrian is moving to Portland Maine next week?”
“No, I didn’t. How do you know that?
“I just got off the phone with him. He called me.”
Todd, Joss, and I schedule an emergency meeting at Centraal for the following night; a Thursday.
Todd shows up at 8pm, right on time.
“Hey man, what’s going on?” Todd reaches out for a beak.
“I can’t fucking believe this is happening. I thought Wall was the answer to all of our problems. Well, musically, that is…”
“I know I know. He’s really moving?”
“Yeah. And there is just no way we can make it work with him in Portland. I did some research this afternoon; taking the NYC>NH>NL/MYS method of transportation we have been relying on since he moved to Brooklyn, and flipped it- POR>BOS>PVD>NL/MYS.”
“And what did you find?”
“It will take him 6 hours to get to Mystic utilizing the available public transportation.”
“I mean, when he was in the city, it was a bit grueling to get back and forth, but it was doable. He’d have to get on a bus in downtown Portland at 2pm to get here for an 8pm practice. And he wouldn’t be able to get back until 2pm the next day. “
“He’d have to work in a restaurant to make that happen.”
“But what about a Tuesday gig in Brooklyn?”
He gave me a look of complete resignation, but not of loss. If I could read his mind, I would garner that he was thinking what a relief it would be to finish school without the added burden of this career.
I briefly thought about laying into him about this intuition, but decided it was not the time for conflict. Otherwise, why try to hold the band together at all? Was it vanity; the fact that if I ran into a friends mother at the grocery store, and the inevitable question that would arise:
“Are you still doing your music?”
Which I always heard as “Are you still eating dirt?”
Piercing gave me an answer.
No. my foundation was still built on the belief that these kids had the talent needed. And it was then I realized it was 8.30, and Jocelyn had yet to arrive.
“Do you want me to call her?” asked Todd. I think he had yet to adjust to the reality that I now possessed a cell phone.
“No, I got it. I’ll text her now.”
hey- Todd’s here. are you still coming over?
Can’t you tell?
Umm, no. what do you mean?
you have no clue. You can’t tell?
What are you on about?
He’s high. Right now. In your house.
I’m not coming over tonight. I don’t know what we should do.
I’ll call you tomorrow.
“Well, she’s not coming tonight, isn’t that fucking convenient.” I tried not to betray what I had become aware of.
“Sheesh… Why? Marcus? I wish they could just stop fighting all of the time….”
“She didn’t say…. ”
I leave three messages on Jocelyn’s phone the next day. Friday. I don’t hear back from her before I pack it in for the night.
She calls me at the Palace at 2pm on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m ready to talk.”
“Ok, cool. this shouldn’t be seen as some kind of intervention, a Yalta conference, Yadda, yadda, yadda”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How about Sunday at 3pm?”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”
Anne is out of town on Sunday; headed north to Leominster for a family baby shower. She wakes me before leaving with a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Hey babe, drive carefully.”
“You know I will.”
I lay in bed, awake for the next hour. One thought keeps finding its way to the forefront of my attention. Do I really need to chase The Dream anymore? And then I realized, without the band, I’d be headed to Leominster right now, for a baby shower. Was I afraid of growing up? Is that what being a musician meant; an extended adolescence? The thoughts seemed real, was the issue actually at hand? No, this music was meant to be made. But it seemed the idea of Piercing had run its course; how was I trust Todd would be in top shape as we moved forward, into the most pertinent portion of our career? We didn’t have a bass player. We didn’t have a second guitar player. I decided my presentation to Joss would be based around us rebuilding the band; and starting over as an electronic duo. We could bring Malthus in for programming; strictly as a studio member; he was in no position to tour. The two of us could capitalize on the Piercing publicity, with a completely new group. If handled properly, we could catapult ourselves further up the line; the rock band who refused to give in to circumstance, and re-invented themselves. I get out of bed and cook myself a Mothertrucker. It’s probably going to be a long day.
I take our front porch furniture; a tasteful table and set of two wrought iron chairs, and relocate them to the center of the gardens for my meeting with Jocelyn. I grab the exquisite pair of teacups Anne had brought back from a Scotland trip visiting one of her early childhood friends at school, twenty years earlier. I stoke a full teapot with boiling water, and set it on the table. Jocelyn arrives at the same moment, exactly on time. 3pm.
“Wow, nice set up.”
“I thought I should do something to commensurate the gravity of the moment.”
“Hahahah. Have you started writing poetry again?”
“Hahahaha. No. But grandiosity is my most favorable trait.”
“I know.” She replies with teeth closed.
“Thanks” I offer sarcastically.
“I just don’t think I can be in a band with Todd anymore. I mean, that’s the entire reason I brought it up in the very first meeting we had. I wasn’t kidding about that; and I have acquiesced to the situation twice against my better beliefs. But that’s what some success will do, eh?”
“That wouldn’t leave us with too many options going forward.”
“I think we should rebrand, use as many contacts that we have built up over the last two years, and become an electro duo.”
“Well, that certainly sounds exciting. And I’m sure you could pull it off… put it together.”
“But, I still don’t want to be a Diva Front Person. I just want to be part of a band.”
“We could get Malthus in to help us flesh out the songs, and make sure we have our tech tight to play live. He’ll never want to do live gigs, but you could sing live, I could play live drums, and the machines can do the rest.”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to be in Borealis.”
“But it would be the two of us, with some help from Malthus. No stops in New Haven, no Rudy body odor, no Adrian moving to Portland. ”
“It’s just not me, Ells….”
“Who are you Joss?”
A bitter smile crept into place on her face. She took a hearty sip of tea.
“I’m a singer, Ells. That’s who I am.”
“So, what do you want to do.”
“I want to keep the band together. I want to keep Todd in the band. I understand where you are coming from, but you didn’t even know he was high at your house three days ago. I had his issues under control. You didn’t even know. There is another thing you have no idea about.”
“Remember when I asked Wall for some pills at his apartment?”
“Yeah. I thought it was out of character for you.”
“Well, it normally is. But I had an emergency appendectomy after the Royal Park show.”
“What?!?!?” I responded, in shock.
“ I had been feeling bad all day, and then at about 3am Saturday morning after the show, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even turn over onto my side. So, I had Marcus drive me to the hospital, because I was really freaked out. it was only my appendix, but they decided to take it out right then and there, thirty six hours later I was in Brooklyn practicing with Wall, and I was in so much pain. That’s why I asked him for some pills. It wasn’t an opportunistic moment like Todd had; so embarrassing.”
“Is that why you laid out on the floor of the van the entire trip home from Brooklyn after playing with Wall?”
“Yes. And the memories of Boston and Jackson came from that place. It was an awful drive home for me.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t notice. I guess I was so enthralled with the idea that we had found Wall, and that he was our answer, I didn’t look beyond that. I’m sorry.”
“But I made it to New York and back, didn’t i? I didn’t cancel that practice, knowing how important it was…. was supposed to be.”
She was undeniably tough. I thought to myself, if some other musicians I had been in bands with were as tough as Jocelyn….
“Ok, ok. So we keep Todd, and sweep his issues under the carpet. Fine. Do you want to add Jeremy on guitar?”
“And we find a bass player from town, or somewhere around here?”
We were going to become The Infectious Reality.