THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Eighteen

In two weeks, we have  a show in New London. Ross and Caron have been staging an all-day free music festival in the downtown across two stages and inside several clubs like the Wishing Well for the past six years. I had actually never been to any of the previous New London New Music Festivals. The festival debut was held the same year I had left Bold Schwa, who appeared at the inaugural event with their replacement drummer. After that, I felt that attending without actually playing would bring on an afternoon and evening of regret. This year I would be  attending, as Piercing were accepted to play the 6pm slot at the Well. Rebuilding the band for a third time had a time limit to it: two weeks to show.

Jeremy agreed to play guitar in two seconds.

“Of course I’m in. shit, I would have been in from day one if you guys decided to form the band at any time before I left for Brooklyn.”

“That was all circumstance. And you needed that time in the city; it made you a more complete person, not always the smartest guy in the room.”

“I’m the smartest guy in the room right now!’

“Oh, stop it.”

“Did I tell you about my last night in Brooklyn?’

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Eleanor had kicked me out of the apartment, she had her name on the lease and I didn’t.”

“Lesson learned.”

“It was right after I got back from work, about 2 in the afternoon. So, I just left, and headed to the neighborhood bar I frequented.”

“That’s a bit early; but I can understand.”

“I get the casual three drink minimum on, and about 5pm, I head back to the apartment. The whole time I’m running this thread through my mind ‘I have to go back to Mystic now; I’m just like everybody else.’ And then I see her parallel parking the car in front of our apartment.  I pick up my pace, and catch her before she can get out of the car.”

“And what did you say.” I was thinking the worst.

“I was yelling, and then screaming- ‘Is this how it’s going to end? Like this?’ I was losing my shit.”

“Yikes. What did Eleanor do?”

“She rolled down the passenger side window, and began pleading with me to ‘Just come in the apartment, just come in!”

“I said, ‘is that what you told him? Just come in the apartment?’

I knew that there had been an episode of infidelity between the two of them. I had no idea what brought it on, nor did I inquire about the topic. They were becoming adults, and they knew where to find me if they wanted my advice on the encroachment of change.

“She said, ‘Fuck You Asshole!’ and I just lost it. “Fuck me? Fuck me? That’s what you should have been doing! Fuck You! … and your lost thirty something Brooklyn man-boys!”

“And did this catch the attention of anyone on the street?”

“Yeah, yeah, it did. These two bros came up to me, and started to break up the argument, pushing me away from the car. ‘Hey man, you need to chill out…’ that enraged me, like just “chilling out” would contain what was happening. I really lost it. I started banging my head on the windshield, screaming at them ‘Is this chill enough for you? is this CHILL ENOUGH??!?!?!?!”

“Did you bleed?” I tried to obscure how frightened I actually was by his admission.

“Yeah. Not too bad. El took me up to the apartment and cleaned me up. She put me on the train back here the next morning.”

“I’m sorry to hear that man. It seemed like the two of you were a good match.”

“In bed we were….”

The four of us practice Friday and Saturday night; getting Jeremy up to speed on the songs he had already learned on bass guitar three months earlier. This is the first time the four of us have been in the studio, without anyone else, in seven years. I keep thinking to myself where would the four of us be by now if we had integrated me on the drums within The Infectious Reality? Nine years was about the limit for any band writing original material, so perhaps we would be on our last legs in 2013. I cannot fathom that we would not found a modicum of success along the way, which would’ve changed everything. Now, there was only the future. And with the way the songs are coming together, it should be even more fruitful than what may have been accomplished. Jeremy was taking the reins as musical director from the second pass of the first song. He excelled at finding subtle nuances to explore, which almost always led to a higher expression of the original song, or arrangement.

“Take that one section just before the change, where I hit this chord…”

Jeremy slams a bright major G.

“Right before that, come off the beat a bit, and decrescendo- then slam that downbeat tight on the G.”

“Got it. Nice idea.” I replied.

The sound was improving as each minute went by, as each detail was explored. They were all familiar with each other’s individual writing technique, and how to criticize without getting personal. The traits that drew me to them initially were in full evidence. Perhaps we survived Rudy, Wall, and Adrian leaving to get to this point. It almost made complete sense; especially if you could ignore the miles accrued.    The Constitution are playing Huntington Grounds tonight, Sunday the first of September. Their home turf. I’m too exhausted to go. And I feel bad about it; I should be there. But we still don’t have a bass player, and there isn’t enough time to have someone learn all of the songs by Saturday night’s NLNM show. I again text Brent and ask if he can play the show; if he can’t make it for some reason we are more than likely have to cancel; which will put our local standing in severe jeopardy. I think a good thought, then send the text.

Oh yeah, sure. I love playing with you guys. What time?

We play at 6pm

Oh easy. I have the day off, I can be there by 4pm.

Cool. we’ll be at the festival all day, so just text when you get there. We’ll find you

Cool. can’t wait!

Thanks man. Yr saving our ass, again.

I email Todd, Joss, and Jeremy and let them know that Brent is in for the NLNM gig.

I get a text message from Benno

“I have yr bass player”

My first thought was that he was going to do a goof on me; a subtle form of sarcasm to allay my fears of finding a new bassist. He was himself an incredible bass player, and I was almost positive he would suggest his own services, as a way to buoy my spirits.

“Ian MacDonald”

Benno held bingo. I have no idea way how the four of us had yet to think of Ian. I thought how the situation mirrored finding Rudy as the last piece of the original Piercing lineup. Ian was an even better fit, especially at this critical juncture.

Brilliant! Do you have his number?

No, but I have his fathers, just give Jim a call.

“Thanks man. This could really be the answer”

“I know, the kid is a sick bassist.”

“Too true”

Ian’s father Jim and I had played Little League baseball together as kids, and he was also an exceptional drummer that played with local bands for as many years as I had. I call him the next afternoon from the Palace; where Jim was also a regular. He picks up after the first ring.

“Hey Palace, how’s it going? Is my Alice Cooper reissue LP in?”

“Hey Jim, it’s Ellery.”

“Hey man, how are you?”

“Very well, thanks. I’m actually not calling about store stuff- my band Piercing is looking for a bass player, and I was trying to get in touch with Ian.”

“Wow…. Yeah, he’d be pretty excited to join that band, I think. Wow.”

“Yeah, well, Benno suggested him to me last night. Can I get his number?”

“Sure! It’s 860-501-4421”

“Thanks man. We have a gig on Saturday that we found someone to fill in for, but we really need a permanent bass player from town.”

“You have a show this Saturday?”

“Yeah, in New London, for the New London New Music Fest.”

“He could totally be ready to play by Saturday.”

“I believe you, but I have Brent from Thames filling in. he’s already played with us this summer.”

“Cool. Brent is a great player. But I’m telling you, Ian could do the gig.”

“Thanks man. If you see him tell him I’m the one trying to get in touch.”

“Got it. See you at the store.”

Now that Jeremy is in the band, I decide it’s time to plunge the depth of his knowledge about the NYC music scene. While he was living there, he was always talking up his nights out in Brooklyn, and how he had hung out with all of the important players in the scene. I was intrigued by his stories before Piercing came into being, but now the information he had at hand could be invaluable to us. We had a certain grasp on the PR machinations of the indie world, but it was far more akin to holding onto a rope rescue ladder with not two, but one hand. We needed to get both hands on the ladder. My plan is to find out where our professional relationships overlapped; that would be the group we would first address about our new lineup, and to build off of his experience. We meet on Wednesday night at Centraal.

“Do you know Luc Torsten?”

“Yeah, he runs Daypaper; he was instrumental in building the early DIY places, before Huntington.”

“How about D Patel?”

“Yes. He runs the LES consortium, books Cabinets and Jenyk Bar.”

“Have you been in contact with these people?”

“Yeah. They get every email blast we send out; twitter, facebook. we’ve played both of those places.”

“Do you invite Michael from Stormy Harbour to all the NYC gigs?”

“Of course I do. But the kid is working all of the time. I do it just so he knows we’re not fucking around.”

“Does Paul White return your emails?”

“Yeah, of course. But Ii’s not like I send him emails all of the time.”

It suddenly dawned on me; he had nothing to add. Everything that he had experienced in the first person while in Brooklyn had no application to where Piercing was, or where we were aspiring to be. It was a good thing he was an exceptional musician, and a friend. Anyone who presented that level of knowledge at a real job interview would be shown the door.

Ian agrees to meet with Jocelyn and I the next night at Centraal; an interview to some degree but we were so desperate to find a bass player as long as he could find his way to the house that would probably have been enough to clinch the deal. Fortunately, Ian was the embodiment of the earnest, young musician. In many ways he reminded me of Todd when he was in TIR; full of boundless possibilities, due to his enormous talent. I take that as another in a long string of ‘good signs’.

“Hey Ian, I’m Jocelyn.”

“I don’t think we’ve ever met.”

“Well, good to meet you!”

“Hey man, how are you?” I had known Ian loosely from the Palace.

“Good, good. Excited to hear what you guys have to say.”

Shit, I thought. I was hoping this would be a slam dunk, where Ian was already convinced joining the band was the correct course. All we had to do was ask. But he was definitely asking us to give him a true reason why it would be a good idea for him; both musically and professionally. I had the presentation in my mind, coalescing the various threads of what being in Piercing would mean to him over the past few days. But this was no time to slip up. I had to be careful not to go out on a tangent, and also give space for Joss to make and support elements of our sell to Ian.  We might not survive if it doesn’t work out tonight.  After twenty minutes of small talk about what bands we all found an overlap towards, and his background as a musician, Jocelyn asked Ian the question.

“So, what do you want to accomplish with all of your musical talent?”

“I’d like to be able to someday make a living with it.”

“I think you’ve found the band you belong in.” I replied, with a smile. I reached out with a beak, and he gave me one back. Joss and Ian then exchange beaks, reaching across the table right in front of me.

The four of us squeeze in a practice with Brent the Friday night before our NLNM show; Ian will be in the audience as we play. During a spirited exaggeration of the bridge in Spirits, I catch Brent’s eye; he’s lost in the music. It was the validation I had been seeking for months, as his serene face and closed eyes said everything to assuage the worry of heading in the wrong direction with Piercing. If Brent was so possessed in the moment, we had to be onto something. And yet, as much as Brent has bailed us out, as much as he has contributed to the fact that Piercing still existed as a band, I’m praying that this will be his last show with us.

Geneva Holiday have garnered their first invitation to play the NLNM Festival, after being left out the previous five years; which Rudy always brought up during his habitual critique of the local music scene.  They are the opening act of the entire day’s festivities- the Richie Havens of this NLNM. Jeremy, Todd, and I agree it is paramount that we are there when the opening chord of the Geneva set resonates over the Plaza in downtown New London. The three of us meet for tea and coffee at Centraal, and walk into the Plaza as Geneva are plugging in.

“Hey… we’re Geneva Holiday, I’m sure you know who we are”

And they were off, flexing their terse instrumentals to a crowd of thirty people, in a setting that would see several hundred watch the festival headliner end the day on the same stage. Rudy played as a man possessed; as if fifty thousand people were out in front of them.  They were greeted with sparse applause from a group of homeless people, and the few musicians to be coherent at 2pm on a Saturday. We clap wildly, not trying to draw attention to our attendance, but rather to play the role; we wanted our audience to be excited to witness our set. It was still five hours away.

The local newspaper always had spot on coverage of the festival; and this year was no exception. During the years I was at work and not attending, I followed surreptitiously through Lionel Hoinsky’s Twitter feed and the papers own online presence. This year, they are interviewing  musicians at the festival site before they play- music scribe Calvin Truffant sidles up to me during the final Geneva song and asks if Piercing would like to do an interview.

“Of, course, man. Thanks for asking us.”

“Well, it’s going to be a long day, and it’s good to see you guys here for the first band.”

I had known Calvin for years; he had covered each iteration of my music since he arrived in 1996. The key for me was to let Jeremy and Todd do all of the talking; it was their time to define who they were. I drove the van and cleaned the practice space. And even now, with an opportunity to talk about the group, we existed in a fragmented form. Jocelyn would have made a great web interview at 2.45pm; in sunglasses and a scarf, catching the waterfront breeze. There is only one microphone for the three of us, and I gesture to Todd that he should be our key speaker.  His face betrays an interior fear, but he reaches out and grabs the mic with a new found authority. I was hoping he was coming to terms that it was their ass now. I drove the van and played the drums.

“So, tell me what’s going on with Piercing? You’ve got provocative videos out, some new stuff; what’s going on?”

“Right now, we’re actually in writing mode, we just got back into the gigging mode, so we’ll be playing a lot of gigs soon with new material.”

“What are you going to do with the new material?”

“We’re heading back into the studio for our third single in the next few months.”

“Nice, nice. That’ll be three singles in a calendar year, hunh?”

“Yeah, singles are the new LP, do you know what mean?”

“Hah hah, that’s great ,a Jefferson Airplane reference!”

do you know what I mean, yeah…”sings Todd in response

“You guys have been travelling a little; where have you been going?’

“New York and New Haven, mostly. We’re just now trying to branch out into the rest of New England and further south.”

“So, when you set out to establish a fan base outside of the town, how hard is it to get your foot in the door in someplace like New York?”

“it can be somewhat difficult, but, I mean,  the more you go there, the more people you talk to; it becomes easier and people tend to warm up to you, so it’s been good.”

“You guys have a very melodic, retro pop style. Is that a fair assessment?”

“Would anyone else like to take this one? Twining?” intones Todd

I lean forward and try to keep it as simple as possible:

“Yes, that’s fair.”

“Well, where does that come from?”

“I would like to say that since Jocelyn is a songwriter who doesn’t play an instrument, she’s very much a melodic songwriter….” muses Jeremy on the question.

“Yeah, yeah, I can see that.”

“So, since a lot of our melodies are written by someone who doesn’t play an instrument, that’s where the difference lies.” Jeremy elucidates the duality.

They nailed it; at least as best that could be expected in a tight frame. Perhaps we were totally on the right track; all worries being laid aside. It certainly felt that way.

We head over to Royal Park to catch the set by Truck Stop Inc., a wicked drum and bass guitar duo that storms their way through the depths of sludge metal in intriguing ways. The crowd is around fifty people; but these people are digging the TSI. Metal heads covered in tattoos raise a fist and stomp the grass of the Park in time to the bludgeoning beats; people on the fringe hold hands with open mouths, pondering the origins of this powerful duo. And yet no matter how much that segment of the audience enjoyed the music, at 3pm, on a cool September afternoon, it didn’t matter one iota to them that the sun was shining in a corona beam against the afternoon cloud cover. There was more to come.

Brent meets us at the wrought iron gates as we exit the Park, setting ourselves up to hand out handbills for our set at the Well at 6pm to the crowd exiting the Park and passersby on the street..

“I’m here, I’m here… not another repeat performance!” He offers enthusiastically.

“Beaks man, we’re all good.”

Todd and Jeremy descend on Brent to further their bond. It is an important show, and I could tell from their intentions they wanted to play a memorable festival show, not some walk through on a Thursday night at 9pm. Sunlight will be creeping through the front windows of the Well when we take the stage: it will be up to us to bring on the night. Our set is a small triumph amidst the larger triumphs of the day -long festival. But Piercing plays its role, and the applause that follows the conclusion of our set makes me feel as if it has all been worth it. There was also the background pressure of convincing Ian that joining the band was the right choice at this juncture of his musical life. His father Jim confirmed that for me as we loaded the gear out back and into the van.

“You guys have a tight band there, a good band. But I’m telling you; Ian could have played this gig. He’s that good.”

”I believe you, Jim. We’re going to need that kind of expertise because I don’t have much time left to keep pursuing this. We need to make good on what we are doing as soon as possible. And do you know what the crazy part of it is?”

“No, I don’t…”

“We are actually there. This band can put themselves in a position to seal the deal. I have been here before.”

“I believe you, but can you get these kids to believe you?”

“So far, so good.”

After I finished talking with Jim, I went back in to the Well and took a seat at the bar. I looked toward the stage and saw Jeremy being flanked by Bop and the Senator; who both keep popping up in Jeremy’s Facebook feed enough to notice. Jocelyn had just sidled up to me at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. I saw Bop gesticulating, his hands in a repetitive circle, but I couldn’t comprehend what he could be on about. I looked away, perusing the myriad of beer choices at the Well, when something catches my attention, out of the corner of my eye. Bop has taken both hands and placed them on Jeremy’s shoulders, and somewhat violently spins him around to face Joss and the bar. I see his lips begin to move, and I can almost make out what he is saying. I focus all of my attention in that most brief of moments to sense what was being said between them. I could almost make it out, as if the verbiage were trans-oceanic communiques, coming in letter by letter over the wire. And then, with the last final syllable slipping off of his lip’s, I knew what had been said between Bop and Jeremy:

“Bring Her to Me.”

My two best friends as a child were twins of deaf parents. It was then I learned the basics of lip reading, and how to enunciate for deaf people. Their presence in my life gave me a foundation that would serve me quite well during my creative endeavors: I never thought anyone had an advantage over any situation. When the oldest of their family came home stoned and drunk one night in the ‘70’s while I was sleeping over as a guest of the twins, Mrs. Smith laid into him like I had never heard any other mother before. Her throaty threats to his existence frightened me, and made me more in awe of her. Each slumberous exaltation regarding his intrepid behavior filled me with dread; I would never want to find myself in his position. And I never did, I didn’t partake of that particular cultural moment until I had graduated high school. I didn’t have my first beer until I was nineteen years old. But I had retained enough of their culture to know what Bop had said to Jeremy. The thought scared me, as I knew almost everyone who came into contact with Joss might take a piece of her if they could finagle a way to pull it off, without evidence. But Bop was different. He wanted what he wanted, and did not let the trivial nature of societal normalities get in the way. This much was evident, even from the back of the club. I had lived through a sub-culture of eroticism already.

My very first job was as a dishwasher in one of the local restaurants. After burning my hand one night helping out one of the chefs, I decided that the kitchen was too risky a venture for a drummer who could not afford to burn his hands.  I quickly found a new job at a Victorian pop art gift shop in town; an institution since before I was born. A gay male couple owned and operated the business, and being among their cultural reality went a long way in shaping my ideas of acceptance; of tolerance. I loved to tell the kids at the Palace that I was “raised by women and gay wolves”; a nod to my single mom upbringing and a slant rhyme on the origin myth of the Roman Empire. The “wolves” at THERAPY were brilliant minds; many of them possessing masters or doctorates, and the shop was a place where they could congregate unmitigated. Some were just kids, or party boys, but that was rare at the time. I was able to be a part of it for seven years in my late teens and early twenties, and it was an education unfound outside of those ancient walls. Outside of the boys asking me to “just show it to us” every few months, it was as inviting a crowd as I had encountered. They knew I wasn’t going to show it to them.  And yet, I adored the confidence in which they asked. It was intoxicating.

I would treasure the snowy winter days with B.G. He had left the Navy a few years earlier, vacating a position at the Language School where he translated Russian documents into English. By coming out as a gay man to his superiors, he could easily remove himself from service and enroll at Harvard in their prestigious foreign language Doctorate program. And then, a strange thing happened to him: his superior officers wouldn’t report his status if he simply agreed to stay on. This was a generation before “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” would be instituted.

“I appreciate the offer; I really do. It’s just time.”

He would tell me the secret stories of what he and his boyfriends were up to after hours. One of their favorite weekend events was cruising between the rest area and the truck stop just over the border into Rhode Island. They were three exits apart, and B.G. would circle that route for hours picking up random truckers for anonymous sex. One particularly memorable night found B.G. and his then boyfriend Anthony, so enraptured by someone they met on the road, they convinced the stranger to head to a motel.

“….to eventually watch the sun rise….”

As their unknown trucker commenced the latest hours of that night, Anthony was watching while leaning on the far wall. In a brief moment of near darkness, Anthony heard the trucker remove his condom; which was essential to these men in those days. Anthony took two quick steps forward and punched the trucker in the mouth.

“Don’t you ever try that shit again, with us or anyone else!’

I doubted my friends working at the mall were privy to such tales. And these men amazed me, they inspired me. Not to cruise truck stops, but to absolutely go for it.

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