THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Nineteen

Jeremy sidled up to me at the bar as I ordered another beer. In tow he had Bop, and his partner; the State Senator,  who represented Middlesex County. I recognized them from Jeremy’s Facebook feed.

“Joss, Ells, I want you to meet Bop and Tatum.”

I reached out to shake both of their hands, first Bop, and then the Senator. Bop’s hand was soft, his grip warm. The Senator’s grasp was firm; a politicians handshake. I was wishing that Jeremy had taken the time to show them the beak.

“And how are you?” Bop whispered toward Jocelyn, reaching out his hand with palm down; as if she would to be expected to bend over and kiss the exposed knuckles of his tanned right hand.

“Very well, thanks” as she grabbed his outreached hand palm up; her thumb clasping across to his ring finger. “Thanks for coming out, I know we had kind of an early show.”

“Girl, I wouldn’t have missed it if you went on at noon; we love your band.”

“Thanks, that’s nice to hear” I offer deliberately, as I think to myself ‘her band….’

Bop looks at me and rolls his eyes, ever so slightly, as if to say ‘Don’t even worry about defending your turf. I am going to own it.’ The THERAPY boys could be much the same. Never towards me, but I saw it happen frequently.

“Thanks, today has been fantastic” offers Jocelyn, obviously hoping to shift the topic.

“Well, nice to finally meet you both. We’re going out to the main stage.”

The Senator came across as genial, but somewhat distant. Perhaps it was simply because we were not part of his constituency. He put his right arm around Bop’s slender shoulder, and they turned toward the exit.

After they are out of earshot, I turn to Jeremy.

“Nice to finally meet you? How long have you known these guys?”

“Oh, I’ve been partying with them since I met Amber, about two months after I got back.”

“And what are these parties like?”

“You know man; I like to be in the company of men every once in a while.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Now you do!”

Jocelyn let out a hearty laugh. It was enough to let me know this wasn’t the first time she had heard of his extracurricular activity. Personally, I could care less, one way or another. And yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a vast world influencing Piercing which I was barely aware of.

As soon as Jeremy and Ian had committed to joining the band, I knew it would be at least a month to get a string of new gigs. In order to find something to keep the band in the public eye while we were re-learning the set, writing new material, and booking shows, I decided to make a four track CD, that I would mail out to college, independent, and internet radio around the country. I had a budget of $500, money I had stashed away from a few summer bonuses I’d received from the Palace.  In the ten days while I was awaiting shipment of the CD’s; I scoured the internet to divine the top 75 stations where we might get the most play out of the process. Day after day of sifting through best of rankings, visiting websites, copy and paste the contact info, listening to a few select dj’s to make sure they are part of the target audience, finding  them all on Twitter and Facebook. I was getting very good at this type of research, and its subsequent execution; but it could be tedious. The reward was acknowledgement.

The new lineup had five practices under their belt by the time we play our first show. The practices are efficient, and run mostly by Jeremy. Everyone seems to be getting along and the new sound begins to gel, even if Ian is a bit guarded. But Ian also went out and bought himself a high end, compact amplifier; an incredible piece of equipment that takes up less room in the van than Rudy’s tiny, custom built rig. The show is at the Well- after we did some low key warm up gigs at the Velvet Mill and a small record store in New London named Ruck & Rule. We were the opener at both shows; the Mill gig was a going away party for the drummer in Class Ring, and the record store was celebrating their third anniversary. The show at the Well is our first time on a stage with a real PA and lights.

“Hey, let’s do “Massive” into “Scattershot” to finish for tonight.” Jeremy hands out his last directive.

After he calls out for us to do our opening song into the second number on a split second shift, we execute- flawlessly.

The Wishing Well show goes as well as the entire month of practices would have predicated, but the turnout is somewhat disappointing. A touring band had gotten in touch with me looking to book a show in New London in an exchange for a show with them in Philadelphia. The chance of them adding to the draw was probably as minimal as our appearance in Philadelphia would be. But it was the definition of how everyone needed each other. The Ties That Bind were a hard working touring band, at the next level of what we aspired to be. These were the relationships that were necessary to break out into a larger world, and if we had to extend our PR efforts to bolster the audience, that’s what we would do.

And that’s what I did, in addition to our usual online campaign. I spent two frigid nights hanging fliers from Westerly to Niantic, and all of the extra effort didn’t quite make up the difference. As we begin our set, opening the night at ten pm in front of fifty people, I see Bop and the Senator enter the bar.

Todd is into his final semester at school, and we don’t hear much from him.  He returns all of the vital communication, but his head is buried so deep in his studies I’m a bit surprised when he brings a new song to practice. He has made every weekend practice, and even braved a few minor snowstorms to get in a mid-week practice. The tune is something out of left field for Todd; who was always consistent. But this was a new exploration of songwriting, and my first impression was ‘How are we going to make this song work live?’ Todd sat down behind the drum set; he was a decent drummer, and certainly could keep a beat and move the drums with depth. And yet, all he played was a galloping 16th note snare rumble.

“Can you play that beat, just like that?”

“Yeah, sure. Of course.”

I had to bite my tongue from saying out loud “Oh, now you’re going to write the drum parts as well? I suppose it won’t be long until you get rid of me and go on as TIR…..” But it crossed my mind.

“So, something like this” as I place myself back on the drum stool. I begin the gallop and add a solid four on the floor bass drum line.

“YES! Yes, that’s fucking it…. Now, just keep looping that. Jeremy, I showed you these chords over the weekend. Joss, here’s the lyric sheet. Ian, it goes A to Gm to D# to E, simple.”

“I like it” says Jeremy. “Does it have a title?”

“My working title is Cassiopeia”

The radio campaign is yielding few results. But I distract the lack of a monumental build in our public image by reminding myself of the one in ten rule. The CD garnered 7 fantastic reviews, and I was able to parlay them into weeks of social media content, but there had been a $500 investment to get that. Was it worth it? I had to remind myself that to bridge that gap, it would have been a minimum $1500.00 investment with a pro agency that might have brought us twenty-one great reviews, and charting on some obscure stations top ten list. It was everything I could do at the time. I was getting keyboard tension in my knuckles from tweeting the stations and dj’s that were actually playing us. Upon checking my email, I find that Maurice has reached out to me about playing in New London again. He sends along The Constitution agent email, and I immediately write to him and explain what Maurice had proposed.

“Yeah, he told me all about it. Let me see if I can squeeze the show in. what was the date again?”

I write back:  “November 30th”

“Ok, that’s going to be tight because the father of the brothers is having a 60th birthday party the weekend before, which they have told me in no uncertain times they will be attending. So, getting them here two weekends in a row might be tough.”

“No worries, if we can make it happen, fantastic. If not, we can revisit for next summer.” I replied

“Great idea. I’ll be in touch.”

We never were able to coordinate them appearing in New London with Piercing. They would, however, headline the NLNM, the following Labor Day Weekend, right in the center of New London on the Plaza.

After my exchange with the Constitution agent, I head into the Palace full of positivity. There was much work to do while we were rebuilding the band; but over the course of the past three and a half months of turmoil, we haven’t regressed in terms of how our audience witnessed our growth. Bands never survive what we had been through; unless they are a cash cow. It was basically me spending every available dollar of my own money to keep our operation functional. As I settled in with Darjeeling tea and the Moon and the Melodies playing quietly, I opened up the Palace email. I felt as if I was a piece of vinyl, and someone had just flipped the record.

“I’m so sorry to let you know like this, but before it comes out in the paper, I wanted you guys to know. Jerry passed away last night at 2am. You were one of the major things that kept him going through these painful years, and I want to thank you both for that. To all of the Palace people. God bless, Rita”

Beatle Jerry was gone. We had witnessed his deterioration as he battled cancer over the years; defiant against something that would get in the way of his time in the store, his time to pick up a new solo McCartney record. Benno and I attended his funeral, and we were in tears from the  moment we entered the church until we closed the doors on the Piercing van across the street from the sanctuary.  Jerry made one last trip to see me at the store, on a Friday; his favorite day to hang out as his work week ended. That afternoon, I caught a glimpse of him getting out of a car in the lot across from the store. He had lost the bulk of his hair; the remaining traces of his flowing sixties ponytail had been reduced to a tuft. He clawed his way into the store, using just a cane and visibly turning down assistance. When he made it across the threshold of the store’s front door, he flashed me his wicked grin; the grin he would introduce himself with after a boisterous weekend of being Jerry. What balls, I thought to myself, as I was fighting back tears- I did not want him to see me cry. If he could be that tough to crawl in to the store, I could be tough enough to act like it was just another day at the Palace. He asks me about the band, how we’re doing.

“Are you still getting regular gigs in New York?”

“Yeah, sort of. We had to get a new guitar player”

“Again?”

“Well, actually, that first thing was the bass player, we had to get rid of.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s right.”

“So, our guitar player moved from Brooklyn to Portland Maine within a week, at the end of the summer.”

“That was Adrian, yeah?”

“Yes, Adrian.”

“Nice kid.”

“Yeah, he’s doing well in Maine. And then we found a guitar player and a bass player here in town.”

“Ahhh. So now everyone in the band actually lives here?”

“Yeah, finally.”

“Good luck with the band, man, you know I’m rooting for you….  Well, I gotta get going, I get totally wiped out after these excursions. But I wanted to see you while we were out and about; my cousin is in from Nashville.”

“Always good to see you my man.”

I reached out with a beak; he gave me one back.

“C’mon man, I need more than a beak.”

I reached out and we embraced, like old hippies would. A subtle swing, side to side. He whispered in my ear before he let go of me-

“I’ll see you again.”

“Yes, you will” I replied.

I knew it was a mistake when I booked the show, but I did it anyway. A national touring band had reached out to us to open a show at the venerable BaBa’s, which had been displaced as the go to room in town by the Wishing Well years earlier. But BaBa’s had history on its side: in the heyday of touring bands working their way up the ladder, the club was the first rung for many later notable acts. The week before I made my club debut at BaBa’s, while faking birth certificates, a band named Dinosaur played. A barely known San Francisco supergroup  from the ‘80’s known as ‘Dinosaurs’ sued them for copyright infringement. They would then become Dinosaur Jr. But BaBa’s was a long way from those days. That was the reason why an unknown touring band would take a headline gig at BaBa’s- they simply didn’t know any different from a few cursory Google searches. But when the booking agent for the band guaranteed us $200 to play a 45 minute set to open, I couldn’t pass it up. We were making no money as we got our shit together with Jeremy and Ian, and in the very near future, we were going to have to return to the studio and follow up “Decisive/ High Tide”. I booked us a shitty gig because we needed the money. And I knew they weren’t going to take in $200 at the door on a Thursday night at a club in its death throes.

There was an unexpected experience linked to booking this show; it was the last time I would be in that room. After we loaded the gear in, I found a spot at the bar, alone, and ordered a beer. After my customary overtip, I pivoted on my swivel barstool, and my mind began to see the club in its various incarnations. The bar was now corralled by a two by four plywood wall with chain link fence stretching to the ceiling, in order to comply with the state law on alcohol being served at an all-ages show. The bar was literally caged off. But it wasn’t always that way. The very first show I played at BaBa’s there was a complete wall between the bar and the stage, with only a regular door as its entrance. That design of the club was left over from its days as a stripper bar in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, when New London was a Navy town; deep maroon vinyl booths with ornamental wood of Scandinavian influence crisscrossing the walls.  The lead singer for the headliner sauntered up to the four young members of Thames, as we were preparing our setlist in one of the booths before the show.

“You guys do ‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang?”

We could sense his dread at the thought of these skinny white kids playing a Kool and the Gang song, as if he were sweating profusely, but only on the interior of his skin. There was no visible sign.

“No, no, it’s a U2 song; the first single they released.” replied Steven.

“Phew…. I didn’t want to have to suffer that…..” and he walked away.

We found out a few weeks later that he was on a weekend pass from the psychiatric ward at the local hospital.

I could see the custom mini-helicopter that someone built in the 90’s to house the soundboard. It was an interesting sight to see a touring band, casually watching one of the openers, find the soundperson ensconced in such a set up; reclined as if in ascension, turning dials to hone the sound while sweeping through a possible sky. Tonight, the soundboard is behind a dull plywood platform at the back of the room, spray painted a matte black.

“Hey nice to finally meet in person. Robert Wahle.”

I reached out and shook his hand. Robert was the manager of Ties, and he had booked the gig. I immediately felt transported back to the early 1990’s- he was sporting a long ponytail, black jeans, and a floor length leather jacket.  I instinctively knew there was no way we were going to be paid $200 by Robert after we finished our set. Any money that came into his hands was going to be funneled to Ties, and we would be left with the promise of payment at a later date. I realized before we had even played a note of music, that I was going to have to explain all of this to the band. I had set myself up to be questioned. Robert finds me at the end of the Ties set.

“We barely made enough to cover expenses for the band tonight. And they have to get to Boston for the next show. I can’t pay you anything tonight, but I promise, I promise, I will pay you the full $200.”

“When do you think that might be?” I offer, trying to hide the disgust I had for myself; lest it be construed as contempt for his effort.

“As soon as I can, man. As soon as I can. The band has seventeen more shows, and I will get you your money before we head home.”

“Ok”

What choice did I have?

“Did you get paid?”

The first words out of Jeremy’s mouth are the words I wish to hear the least. But they all knew this night was booked solely for the money; and now the realization was setting in.

“What do you think?”

“No, of course. There were twenty people here for us and just the five of us watched them play.”

“Well, he promised to send me the money before the end of their tour, probably in about a month.”

“We’re going to need that money to get back to Stormy Harbor.”

“Yeah, I know, I know.”

It was tough to hear him discuss the bands finances when I had been paying the bulk of them for months, out of my own pocket.

We have a full band practice the following Saturday night, and Jeremy arrives with Amber and the Senator.  Since he has yet to learn to drive, she has to transport him to most places. Jeremy thought he would live in the city forever;  hence the lack of driving expertise. But why

was the Senator here? It was Saturday night- party night? Ian, Todd, and I are already set up, tuning the instruments when they arrive.

“Hey people, I have a great idea. Let’s do ‘Psychic Vortex’ from the Boyfriend set.”

“Oh man, I love that song. Did you write the whole thing? I thought that was a group effort.” I ask with genuine curiosity.

“No, no, no, I wrote everything; lyrics, the keyboard parts, the whole bit. Sheesh, you think I would just co-opt someone else’s tune?”  I could sense an early tinge of Chivas on his attitude.

“Well, we’ve rebuilt songs and re-purposed them from almost day one, having such little time to write when everyone was scattered. Now, it’s different. We all live here.” I reply in a soothing tone, so as to not wind him up at 7.30pm, especially with a new song on the table.

Jocelyn enters the studio as Amber and the Senator open the door to leave; she looks like a parting gift framed in the window for “our lucky contestants!” Amber throws a hug around Joss as the Senator looks over at the four of us.

“Hey Tatum, how are you?”

“Quite well, thank you Joss.”

Not everyone was afforded the opportunity to refer to Jocelyn as Joss.

I open a third beer, and it’s only 7.30. Every five months I would have a shitty day, and carry it over into that night’s practice; drink too much beer, get sloppy early. It was usually as a result of another screaming match with my estranged brother over the landline, or another plea for money from my Mom. But my instincts were pointing me toward a new direction- who were these people?

Since we’re all familiar with “Psychic Vortex’”, except for Ian, we plow through several rough versions and harness more on each take. By 10.30, Ian is absolutely locked in- the choruses build in intensity, and the only thing left is to nail a complete stop after the final guitar solo, and rebuild on a dime to maximum volume for a climactic ending. But I keep botching the middle beat because I’m now drunk. Jeremy playfully taunts me about messing it up, but we’ve made such progress tonight he lets me off the hook. That’s when I notice he takes out his Chivas and drains the last drop.  As if on cue, we all put down guitars and click off the PA system;  Amber and the Senator walk in.

“You guys sound good on ‘Vortex!” One session and it’s already that far along!” says Amber , as she sashays between cords and amps to give Todd a hug.

“Goddamn right, and it’ll be our next goddamn single!” states Jeremy

“I can get behind that idea.” I offer, quietly.

“Hey Tates- what idea are we getting behind tonight? Huh? Huh?” and then he cackled, catching the air at the back of his sinus to keep it under control.

“I have a speaking function in Hartford tomorrow morning, so tonight will be quiet. A few glasses of wine, although you might only get one, baby.”

“What about you Joss, what ‘choo up toooo.”

“I worked all day today, and the store was swamped. My voice is getting a little hoarse; a little tired. I’m going to go to bed and tea up all day Sunday.”

“Ian, IAN, what choo up to.”

“Umm, I’m going home?” most of his answers were starting to sound like questions.

“Twining, come out with us.”

“Jeremy, I’m done, I’m going upstairs to chill with Anne.”

I have booked us a “home and home” set of shows with Love Me Not, a slinky guitar driven band led by former All in the Family member Ira Walrath. Ira took an immediate interest in Piercing after the initial wave of Earcandy hype, and now that his new band was up and running, we decided to trade shows; Love Me Not would open for us at the Well, and we would open for them in Brooklyn at the Owls Nest, one of the all ages DIY spaces on Broadway. The shows were a week away; Friday in New London and New York on Sunday. We would only have one chance for the five of us to practice before the shows- the night after the BaBa’s gig, a Friday.

Ian is the first to show up at Centraal. I haven’t had much time alone with him, so I decide to ask him how he thinks the band is coming along.

“Pretty good, yeah. Jeremy and Todd are really good players, Joss is really good. I like it.”

“Cool, cool. I think you are adding the missing piece. I’m impressed with how quickly you’ve been able to get up to speed. Your dad told me as much. Not that I didn’t believe him…”

“Ha ha, yeah, my dad.”

“He’s a good guy.”

“Yep.”

Todd and Jeremy arrive together a few minutes later, and they are excited by a new song possibility.

“Let’s rework ‘Final Time” into a song for our set! “ suggests Jeremy

“Final Time” was the single best song they had written as The Infectious Reality; Adrian had actually suggested it a year earlier when we were trying to build up the set. The song was a barreling rock number, with a piquant sweetness- a grappling desire between the lyrics and melody. It was also Anne’s favorite song by them; although she adored everything they had written.

“Have you heard from Joss today?” asks Todd

“Yeah, she texted me an hour ago, said she’d be here on time.” I reply.

“Well, fuck it, let’s just plug in and start getting Ian familiar with Time.” instructs Jeremy.

Jeremy and Todd quickly go over the chords and arrangement with Ian, piecing together the elements of the song for him to easily adapt to. It only takes Ian three or four passes on each section until he has the chord structure; I add quiet backbeats to underpin the direction. Once Ian is confident he knows where the notes sit in each sequence, I begin with four clicks, and we charge through a full version of “Time” at top volume. After three passes at it, there is a loud knock on the Centraal door. At first, I was a bit stunned because the only people we were expecting were Joss, who surely wouldn’t knock before entering, or Anne, who actually owned the house. Todd turned to his right and opened the door, and there stood Anne- hands clenched, with both held tight to her lips.

“Are you guys going to do ‘Final Time’ for real, or are you just messing around?”

“No, we’re going to add it; this is the first run through. Todd, Joss, and I have been kicking around the idea for a few days.” Offered Jeremy, excited to hear Anne’s immediate reaction.

She takes a seat in the room, and asks us to play it again. We get to the half way point, and in walks Jocelyn. She exchanges beaks with Anne, and sits down next to her, a near identical smile on each of their faces.

Anne’s father had been admitted to the hospital later that night with an irregular heartbeat, after Piercing began reworking “Final Time”. He’d gone through a bypass surgery two years prior, and this was his first complication since. Anne took the phone call during practice, and waited until the other members had left for the night to inform me.

“My dad’s in the hospital for some tests on his heart.”

“What?!?!?! Is he alright?”

“Well, he had some palpitations in the last thirty six hours, so he decided to check himself in. as a precaution.”

“Sheesh, it must be serious if he admitted himself….”

“I think it is serious, but he’s such a fighter. They said his potassium levels were drastically low, so maybe it’s just he lost his way on the diet end of things. You know how he loves garlic…. they don’t want him eating as much as usual…..”

“Always pushing the envelope, that man.”

“Too true. I’m going to visit him tomorrow afternoon. I’m going to leave work early at 3 and head over there until probably 7, maybe 8. Then I’ll catch the last of the game with you here.”

The Red Sox were in the World Series for the fifth time in my life. They had already won two titles, something I never thought I would realize during my baseball fandom. The Folk Mass and I made plans to watch the game at Centraal, and hopefully work the mojo to keep the game close until Anne returned from visiting her dad at the hospital. Benno also lived on my street, two doors down, in a small apartment he moved in with his daughter after divorce and the recession forced him to sell his house.

He would however not be watching the game with Folk Mass and myself- Benno, being a staunch Yankee fan, could never sit through a possible celebration of anything regarding the Red Sox. But he and I had a tacit agreement, along with Anne and his daughter Frances- if something was awry at their apartment, simply call Ells and Anne if you are worried about anything  while at home. At 9.30 pm, during the top of the fifth inning, our landline rang at Centraal.

“Hello?”

“Ells, its Frances. You gotta come down here right now! I think my Dad is choking to death!!!!”

“We’ll be right there!” I throw the phone against the wall and tell Folk Mass “that was Frances, Benno is choking to death!”

I open the door and the Folk Mass sprints ahead of me. I am running as fast as I can, and the four beers I had in me made it feel as if I was gliding over the pavement. We open the door and find Benno hunched over at the waist, gasping for breath.

“It was something I ate” he mutters, a garbled explanation when we had no time for one.

I had always thought of the Heimlich maneuver as something akin to getting your wisdom teeth out- it was going to happen at some point and there would be nothing you could do about it. I grab Benno above the waist, and begin pulling my clenched fists into his abdomen; it almost feels like plunging a backed up commode- if I hit it just right, the food will dislodge and everything will return to normal. Seconds tick off, Frances’ face is frozen, The Folk Mass looks concerned, and I think we should be calling 911- it must be what he’s thinking. Benno is in top shape, and I begin to tire of lifting his muscle mass while exerting maximum strength for this  maneuver. How long has it been?

“Wait, wait wait, stop! Hold it!!!!” says Robert. “It’s lodged in his lower esophagus, below the windpipe. He can still breathe, but not swallow.”

Benno takes a glass of water and tries to down a gulp. It comes right back up, partly through his nose. I then notice there is phlegm and mucous everywhere; the table, floor, refrigerator door.

“We’ve got to get you to the emergency room.” states the Folk Mass in a very quiet, distinct voice.

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