will you ever read this?
will you even read this?
we have seen the darkest side of freedom
flags on staffs wielded as weapons
the misinterpretation of Gadsden
the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia
co-opted by a misinformed majority
a context to perpetuate points of view
that could be only be described as expiring.
who do you want to be, America?
what is American Exceptionalism?
is it a Department of Defense masquerading as a
unique entity, a projection of strength,
which actually exists as a social works program.
( shhhh, don’t tell anyone….” )
how does your Socialism feel?
we have seen the Pettus Bridge
we have persevered beyond Mississippi,
when it was burning.
hearing fifteen year old girls in Arkansas
casually drop the N Word in private
to musicians from the North
who were making money in the South,
led us to leave town, and drive to the next gig
we have seen America.
we have seen the darkest side of freedom.
it is a bomb perpetuated in Oklahoma City
it is a cult siege in Waco
it is a White Bronco heading slowly
down the freeway,
while helicopters hover in place.
we have seen Ferguson and Minneapolis,
Breonna Taylor’s killers
still walk among us.
we have seen America
lay waste to the thatch huts,
to the Baghdad neighborhoods,
as clearly as we have seen
the tank brigades in the hedgerows
and landing craft on the beachhead.
we have seen the protests-
to dismantle Wall Street
to defund the Police
to dismantle The State
where is the future we all subscribe to?
Exceptionalism requires a definition of Quality,
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
(thematic inspiration from Robert Pirsig)
my birthday this year was monday, 1 June. that day, Trump called for the security forces to “dominate the streets.” defense secretery Esper called for security forces to “dominate the battlespace.”
gas, meet fire. the images pouring out of the streets were far too succinct to leave in yesterdays newspaper.
I wake up on Friday morning and send the new single over our Dropbox account to the mastering lab in Brooklyn. After checking our email, I notice a bunch of shows I’ve been working on the past few weeks are starting to come together. I immediately send out a group email blast:
Hey everyone- hope yesterday in the studio was as fun for you as it was for me. and the record is excellent, you should all be quite proud. A bunch of show stuff updates:
Dates we need an immediate confirmation on-
6 March Thursday
This is a live appearance on WRIU radio, in Kingston at URI. It’s a long running show and it will be good for us to play there, in addition there will be a short interview segment.
25 February Tuesday
Same type of thing as WRIU, but this is at MIT radio / WMBR. They have a decades long in-studio show. Check out their website, I think you’ll recognize some of the bands that have played there over the years.
2 March Sunday Hartford / Nutmeg New Music Festival
This is a good thing for us, the three day fest showcases the best bands in Connecticut right now. Sycamore Tree Productions is behind it and those folks have been doing shows since when Thames were together. It could our biggest in state gig yet.
Dates we already have confirmed:
5 February Wednesday BRICKS New Haven this is with Snow Falcon, a national headliner.
21 February Friday
at the Well w/ Blow Up and Scare Tactic
21 March Friday
Live on radio at WHUS UConn Storrs
Ferry from Gezellig got in touch; they are running the interview in their March issue
Please get back to me as soon as you see this
The first response is a text from Ian.
“Hey man- I thought I told you I was going to Florida with my family from the 5th of February until the following Wednesday the 12th”
“So you can’t do the BRICKS gig?”
“No, I’ll be away.”
“Godammit Ian, there is no fucking way you told me about this beforehand. I would have written it down in my datebook, like every other important piece of information that I come across.”
“Hey man, take it easy. I’m going to Florida. That’s the deal.”
“What?!?!?! I told you that the band has to take precedence over fucking vacations!”
“I can’t make it. Ask Brent, maybe he can do it.”
“Oh, now I need your advice on how to move forward?”
“This conversation is over.”
Fuck this shit, I thought to myself. Well, the worst case scenario is we have to find yet another bass player; and that hasn’t stopped us yet. I text Brent about doing the BRICKS show.
“Oh yeah, man. New Haven is easy for me. What’s up with Ian though, kind of last minute?”
“I think he’s a bit like Laurence Fishburne in Apocalypse Now, when Willard does a voice over about him on the river. “The wide open spaces really messed him up”
“Hahahaha, been there…”
“I tried to tell him what he was in for, I suppose he didn’t believe me.”
“Well, you’ll find out soon enough.”
“Thanks for covering”
Depressed by the turn of events, I check the band Facebook page to see if there is any action from the studio posts. A few likes, a few shares. I skip over to Jocelyn’s page:
“Best recording session EVER!”
Suddenly, everything seems fine within the world of Piercing.
Brent is able to sneak in a two hour practice with us around a fortunate family trip home. Saturday night, at Centraal, we have a scintillating rehearsal with him; it was more of a music session than a practice. The entire time however, I kept thinking our real bassist was ten miles away. The BRICKS show with Snow Falcon would be postponed due to snow, during this endless winter. The rescheduled date is Wednesday the 12th of March. I felt that this was interesting turn of events, where we could gauge what the Nutmeg Fest would actually mean on our out of town draw. If we play up to our capabilities in Hartford, it should translate to New Haven. That was my hope, that these shows would reveal whether the long term plan was working. Earcandy reviews could only take you so far. And we would have Ian with us for the important Hartford and
New Haven shows.
On the night of the postponed show, Jeremy calls me, inquiring about the cover design for the new single.
“Have you talked to Anne about the cover?”
“Yeah, she scheduled Joss for this coming Sunday. They’re going to shoot here at the house, taking the fabric between trees concept as the basic idea.”
“So, Joss is going to just stand in front of some fabric stretched between trees?”
“Well, sort of. But we let Anne do her own work. We don’t ask people who work with us to acquiesce to our every demand. We have a framework, and we go from there.”
“That’s not what fucking happened on the Tabitha video.”
“Good point. But that moment was a sea change. That’s where Joss really understood what it would take to shape our image. After we fought about it, I was behind it totally.”
“I don’t know if that was the right decision.”
“What? Giving Joss free reign?”
“Yeah, you can’t be one thing, then another, then another”
“I know, I know, totality of image. But we had no idea all of this was going to happen. I thought we’d play three gigs in New London and Adrian would move to Brooklyn and that would be it.”
“So that’s why you went from black and white to color?”
“Yes. Yes. Jocelyn makes these decisions, not me. I just send out the emails and the texts. And book the photographer.”
“Well, I’m going to want to proof the shoot before we release this single.”
“Of course; when have I released a single without everyone in the band in agreement? Really? Come on man.”
“Ok then, let’s schedule a session to proof the cover art next Monday. Do you think that will give Anne enough time to make the images available for us to proof?”
“That sounds great. Monday the tenth; I’ll text everyone about it now.”
Jocelyn arrives fifteen minutes late for the cover shoot on Sunday. It’s just as well as I struggle to get the fire going in our outdoor fire pit; it’s 22 degrees and snow covers everything as far as the eye can see.. Anne and I took a trip to upstate New York to visit her sister the previous weekend, and this winter was the first time our entire trip was defined by white snow cover, from Mystic to Buffalo. I would burn two years of fallen limbs from our trees over the course of the photo shoot. Fortunately, there is no presence of wind.
”Hey Joss, how are you doing? offers Anne as she clears the threshold of the Centraal door.
“Ok, I guess. I can’t believe how cold it is; it feels so much colder than 21 degrees.”
“I saw 22 degrees a few minutes ago…” trying to add levity to the situation. They both look at me with heads askew, and frowns.
“Not funny” replies Anne.
“Hey, hey, hey, I’ll be out there, tending the fire.”
“Yeah, Joss, we set up the fire pit so if it gets really unbearable, you can scoot over to the pit. But we’ll take quick shots and warm up inside as much as you need.”
“The fire smells tremendous. Especially with no wind; it’s lingering in the air.” offers Jocelyn
“Point of completion, and all that, all that.” I whisper this as if to imply the secret cannot be revealed.
Jocelyn is a pro. She goes from shivering next to the fire, to a bench covered in a gold tapestry; in front of a burgundy fabric stretched between a pair of trees, looking relaxed and elegant. She and Anne repeat variations of this idea for the next two hours. I tend the fire when they take a respite from the cold inside Centraal; in an attempt to be unobtrusive, mostly because I rarely assist Anne on her shoots. It’s Piercing’s cover, but we have to trust the artist. I rearrange the embers at the base of the fire, add a few more logs, and give the two of them beaks as they make their way back to the staged area. The sun is starting to fade in the western sky, above the river valley.
Todd has picked up Jocelyn and driven her to our cover meeting at Centraal, right on time; 7pm.
“Hey man, how are you?” I ask Todd upon his entry.
“Good man, good. Having the whole school thing behind me is such a relief. Now, I just need to get a job, ya know what I mean?”
“You’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.”
I contain a giggle when he tells me that. My inner conceit conceded to thoughts of tours and recording projects; not of jobs to justify getting a college degree. We were on the precipice, and I could recognize its inherent presence. It was 1992 all over again. That concept created one lingering thought that declared it’s assertion to be addressed: this couldn’t be the repetition of the same cycle, could it? Jocelyn was far different than Thomas. Todd and Jeremy were young equals to Steven’s prowess on guitar, and as songwriters. Brent was routinely bailing us out, but Ian was in essence the reincarnated version of the young twenties Brent. And it was Twining on the drums. In both cases. This time, it had to work.
I get a text from Malthus
Hey man just checking in. are we still on for tonite?
Yeah, as far as I know.
ok, cool. see you in a few
“Hey Malthus, how are you?” Joss offers as Malthus steps into Centraal.
“Good, good. I love the new single. Wait, no…. I Love the new single; both songs.”
“Hey man, good to see you, thanks!” Todd reaches out and exchanges beaks with Malthus. Joss and I do the same.
“No Jeremy yet?” asks Malthus
“He asked both of us for a ride, but I can’t drive him back to Niantic at 10pm, and then back here.” explains Todd, with a hint of resignation.
“Neither can I. He offered gas money but I didn’t even get out of work until a half hour ago. I wish he would just get his driver’s license and be done with it.”
“Wait, Jeremy can’t drive a car?” says Malthus, as if he found out that Jeremy also didn’t drink water.
“Nope. He was going to be a city boy. ‘I don’t need to learn how to drive when I know the subway like the back of my hand.’ He would always show you the back of his hand after saying that as well. I expected a tattoo of the subway each time, but that never happened.“ Todd replies without mincing his words.
“There is no train service in Niantic…” I offer in a low drawl.
“Nope.” Jocelyn had the final definitive statement.
“So, is he going to make it?” asks Malthus with a hint of reservation. You could sense that he did not want to get wrapped up in the scheduling conflicts of Piercing.
“I doubt it. We should just proof what we have, and hope he agrees with the concept and the imagery.” I reply, trying to sound as forward thinking as possible, while containing my antipathy for Jeremy’s travel situation. Jimmy Fiero to the psychic rescue.
“Ok, cool. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
The bulk of the photographs don’t seem to capture the spirit of the single. As we scroll through the hundred shots Anne took of Joss in the backyard, nothing is grabbing any of us as The Image.
“See this one here…” opines Malthus “Let me try something here with the mirror image.”
It’s a shot from behind Jocelyn, as she is adjusting lip stick in a hand held mirror.
“Now, let’s get rid of anything in the background” states Malthus
He deftly moves his fingers around the keyboard, cutting and editing with minimal usage of the mouse under his right fingers. It’s a complete white slate, with only Jocelyn’s long, flowing hair- the hand held mirror containing her face; judiciously adding red to her lips. It was a trance like take on any snow bound heroine. I immediately felt this was the image.
One particular detail I had yet to address once Ian joined the band was to get a new group photo. Tabitha had captured some fantastic stills from the “Decisive” video that I had used to promote that single. The entire cycle before Adrian moved to Portland I was stuck using six video stills of Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian- two shots of each- as the sole imagery for the second single and video. One of Jocelyn’s haunting spots during her Boston days was the Boston Public Library. She wanted us to go to the Library for the new PR photo shoot.
why don’t we take a road trip up there with the new lineup for the next band shoot?
sure. let me start putting it together
But it wasn’t that easy to find a night where everyone could commit seven hours to a photoshoot. We needed a similar location within a much shorter distance. I started to reminisce about all of the band shots I had done over the past twenty nine years: Surface of Ceres, who were an early believer in possibilities of digital rock, posing around an old 1960’s living room organ. Bold Schwa had an incredible shoot with liquid lights projected over the band against a centuries old brick wall. The last Thames shoot, which took place on Sergio Franchi Drive in Stonington- in homage to the singer who lived in town and coincidentally recorded all of his late period music with Russell Johnson, who recorded the vintage Thames. As my mind wandered over this photo book of memory, I recalled an earlier Thames shoot, at the Stonington Free Library. Thames were photographed that day by Jan Van Derveen, a Dutch exchange student who we met thru friends at UConn during that time. He had us pose outside the library, using it’s embodiment as the backdrop while we ensconced ourselves on a rail bench near the entrance. Those shots helped propel Thames from being a local band to having a regional audience. And the interior of the library was far more impressive than the façade. The Piercing shoot should be inside the Stonington library- much easier to access than Boston’s equivalent.
The day after the botched cover proof for the new single I head over to the Stonington Library. After parking the van on an icy slope, I walk towards the front door, and realize I could take a fair amount of interesting photos outside of the library for the Piercing Instagram account. After six months with the cell phone, I have finally figured out how to turn Jeremy’s social media edict into a tangible reality-
“You are letting the audience peek behind the curtain.”
I often thought that was the most salient description of the new media and its effect on music; bands like ours who had opportunities undreamt of in the Thames time. After capturing some fairly interesting reflections on the massive library windows, I headed toward the front door, with its wrought iron detail prominently glowing in the late afternoon sun.
“Can we help you?” asks the shorter of the two librarians behind the desk.
“Hi, my name is Ellery Twining. I manage a band called Piercing from Mystic.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of you guys. Calvin Truffant from The Day is a friend of mine, he told me all about you. I even watched that interview he did with you guys at that music festival in New London.”
“Yes. That is us, I mean, me. Anyway, we’re looking to do a group photo here in the library, do you think that would be an issue?”
“Well… Not really. Can you schedule it for a Thursday? It’s the one night we’re here until 8pm, and with this awful weather, I’m sure you won’t be disturbing any patrons.”
“Thank you for the offer. Do you have an email address? I’ll totally confirm the shoot with the band and the photographer and then let you know.”
“Here, take our card. Everything is printed on it.”
“Do you mind if I take some photos right now, for framing ideas?”
“No, not at all. Take your time.”
I proceed up the white marble stairs adorned with a deep black wrought iron rail, and arrive at the glass brick floor above the reception area. The fluorescent light being diffused through the wired glass becomes my sole focus, and I snap off ten photos. I immediately send them to Jocelyn with the tagline
I think I found it
omg, yes! I should have thought of that my brother and I used to go to a day care there after my parent’s divorce twice a week
I am brought out of slumber by the sound of the ever present snow plow working its way up our street.
“SHHHHITTTTT!” I bark out loud, to no one
I clear the security number on my phone and pull up the Stonington Free Library Facebook page:
The library will be closed today due to the impending storm. Check here Friday morning for updates on library availability. Thanks SFL
Their time stamp is 6AM. Cursing this winter, I email the band about our cancelled photo shoot. I attach the cover art to Jeremy’s email.
“Hey it’s me, pick up….”
“Hey man, how’s it going?”
“Good, other than another Piercing cancellation.”
“It’s a good idea, we’ll pull it off. And we don’t have to go to Boston and back.”
“I really like the Malthus edits. I think we can go with that for the cover art.”
“Cool. I’m going to use the outtakes for headers and avatars around the new single. Once we get the new band shot I’ll move towards that. Hopefully, right as the single begins to get some traction.”
“Sounds good. I gotta head in to work, but I wanted to get hold of you before.”
“Cool, thanks man. And remember: we’re sitting on a massive single.”
“I hope so. I feel very good about it.”
I spend eight hours that Sunday cropping photos and uploading the images across our varied internet presence. Jeremy liked to preach that we were in a position to let the audience peek behind the curtain, and I didn’t want to look like we took the easy way out and used the same image on every site. Our new plan was to release the single on our own website on Tuesday the eighteenth; let it sit for a few days, and then Thursday night, send out the first wave to blogs in hopes of the perfect review. Seeing as we had a full band practice that Tuesday night, I could let everyone voice their opinion on the photo edits and placement. If there were any issues, I would have two days to adjust. And then we would really find out where we stood; if the single was “massive” or not.
We have an exceptional practice heading into the Friday night gig at the Well with Scare Tactic and Blow Up, and there are no reservations about the new cover art. I work a half day at the Palace, and at 2pm, Benno comes in so I can begin the PR campaign for “Walking the Psychic Vortex b/w Cupid’s Pulse”. The organization from Sunday’s photo edits, and the general routine of pushing the band over the past year and a half makes the PR effort smooth. By 8pm that evening I have sent the single to each and every outlet I can reach; the west coast addresses being the last to go out. I head upstairs to grab another beer, when I hear a shriek from the Centraal level of the house; rushing back down the rickety Dr. Suess like stairs to the basement level, I find Anne somewhat violently crossing off long lines in a ledger book that has been her
constant companion for the past three months.
“Hey, what’s up, are you okay?”
“Yes. YES!!! I just finished all of the paperwork for my father’s estate!”
“Hey, hey! Congrats babe! You have been working so hard on that, for months. It must be a relief.”
“It is, it is…..” she let out a slight sigh, and a tear fell. Anne was quite close to her father, in a way I always slightly envious of; having zero relationship with my own father.
“Hey, hey, he’d be proud of how you handled everything. You know that, right?”
“He trusted you more than anyone else. And you did it.”
“I submitted the single to all of the outlets. Just finished the west coast. Interesting intersection, eh?”
“ Ha ha ha, yeah; a Mystic thing. Congrats. And now, we wait?”
“And now we wait.”
. . .
I wake up out of a restless sleep at 8pm, when Anne closes the door to head into work. I down an Emergen-C, as I do after brushing my teeth every morning. I grab two bags of Darjeeling tea, and hit the 3 minute button on the microwave. At exactly 8.17 am, I open up the Piercing email. There is a Twitter account notification, from Earcandy.
New Piercing single “Walking the Psychic Vortex b/w Cupid’s Pulse” premiere today
It had taken me weeks to navigate the initial Earcandy interview. I cajoled them for three weeks to run our follow up single, and video by Tabitha Williams. The third single was online in fourteen hours. I had a long day ahead of me. Fortunately, Benno didn’t mind at all if I had to run PR for the band at the Palace.
“Why the hell do you think I’ve been working so hard all these years; one of you goddamn kids has got to make it!”
As I am furiously spreading the Earcandy link around our network, I catch Jocelyn heading into the coffeshop out of the corner of my eye. I load up the review on my phone, and wait for her to exit.
“Hey, what’s up?”
I show her the screen; one of Anne’s recent photos of her is the main illustration. The look in her eyes in the photo illustrates that she belongs. Jocelyn replies with a squelched squeal, and the tightening of her fists at the side of her face. No words. She skips across the melting ice of the parking lot between the store she works at and the Palace. I think to myself, ‘That was not the reaction I was hoping for’. Was it all becoming routine? After a break for lunch, I email the rest of the band, and that’s when the day takes a dramatic turn for the better. The inbox is full of gig requests. Six shows in total; two confirmations on in-studio radio gigs in Boston and at UConn, as well as two NYC shows, a Hartford show, and another gig at BRICKS in New Haven. But this was the first time four of the gig offers came from a mid-level booking agency in Brooklyn, and the Hartford and New Haven clubs themselves. Tart! Tart! , one of the premier NYC promoters is the next level we have been working so hard to attract the attention of, and on this day, it seems as if it is all going to work out according to plan.
My facebook chat box opens up; it’s Tabitha.
Oh my god you guys such good news about Earcandy today!
Thanks. Hard to process it all; I submitted to them yesterday, they published today.
Holy shit! It took three weeks to get them to run the video for Decisive!
I know. I’m trying to not get too worked up about it. We just got two more NYC shows today as well
Cool! I haven’t seen you guys in weeks! Hah hah
They were from Tart! Tart!, have you heard of that agency?
Oh yeah, they do most of the big and mid Brooklyn shows.
I didn’t ask them for the shows, they asked us.
Wow. I know we didn’t get to make a video for Flood, so let’s do one for Vortex, I’ll do it for $500 again
That would be fantastic. I know Joss will be totally thrilled
Yeah, she’s the best
On top of everything else that has happened today- the big Blow Up / Scare Tactic show that we are opening is tonight at the Wishing Well. Todd and I pack up all of the gear, as everyone else has asked to simply meet at the club. I joke to Todd that we are each getting $40 tonight for roadie fees. He lets out a sour laugh, because it’s not nearly as funny said out loud as it was inside my head. I still share too much, always trying to mitigate struggle with laughs. As Dave Chappelle said “all musicians think they’re funny”
We arrive on time and step over the threshold at exactly 9pm. Jeremy is already inside the club, with the Senator, Amber, and Bop. A few other regulars are at the bar, but it’s the usual quiet before a big night. I take that as a good sign.
“Hey, where’s the van? I’ll get more stuff” asks Jeremy from the back of the club, near the stage.
“No man, don’t get up we got it.”
“Fuck off punk.” Jeremy stands and walks towards Todd and I with outstretched beaks, which the three of us exchange.
“It’s in the usual spot out back.”
“Have you seen or heard from Joss” asks Todd to no one in particular.
“She’s at her mother’s house for dinner, just over the bridge. She’ll be here by 9.30” answers Jeremy
As we are about to head through the door, it swings in; Ian has made it with his bass rig.
“Hey guys- I’m not late am i?”
“No, man, it’s all good. We can go right ahead and set up on stage.”
Tonight was another episode of the winter we were all dealing with; the left pair of van wheels were sitting on a two foot ice bank that required me to draw on decades of parallel parking expertise. Hopefully, the New Londoners would disregard the bitter temperatures and make the scene tonight; they usually did. I thought to myself, I could actually deal with a slow night if Rudy doesn’t make an appearance. I click off a round of photos on my phone from the drum seat, frantically trying to post to Instagram as the kids are tuning, I notice the room is nearly full. This performance was going to be it for us here in town. We made our debut here a scant eighteen months ago, but as supportive of the new acts the audience typically was, at about the two year mark you had better be showing some serious progress. There is so much music that has been made in the GSECAZ over the past three decades that the standards for continued attention were quite high. I always loved that element of the music scene here- somewhat competitive, in an ‘athletic’ way. I notice Jeremy put the tuner down on his black tuck and roll vinyl guitar amp, something I bought during the Surface of Ceres days and loaned to him during The Infectious Reality. I click off the beat to “Massive” after Jocelyn gives me the look in the eye, that tells me she is ready.
“This is Massive!!!!!!!”
The set is lithe and concise, thrilling, and momentous. Ian is punctuating the driving bottom end on the earlier material with more fluidity and power than Rudy was capable of, and it makes a huge difference. Far more people are actually grooving to the tunes, and not just watching us to see if we could actually pull it off. Their minds were becoming lost in the music, not lost trying to find the music. We were as articulate as we could be, and being there was what we would have to coalesce around to make it to the next level. We make the debut of Todd’s newest song, with its repetitive marching band beat, and even though we play it flawlessly, there is a slight pause in the audience’s reaction. Every song up to that point had garnered applause from the whole room; you could hear it. But this was a more muted reception. I had started to become resigned to the idea that the song wasn’t as far along as I had thought, and there was much more work to be done. And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the applause started to build, and there was a genuine reflective emotion coming from the audience. It might have taken them a few extra moments to discern what they had just heard for the absolute first time, and when it sunk in, the applause rang out. I have had very few moments onstage that were that pure. The New London crowd was sophisticated, but their reaction to this brand new song allowed me to think in larger avenues about the possibilities afforded to us by this dedicated group of people. We close the set with a thunderous version of ‘Vortex’, and as we thank the club and the crowd, several people are yelling “PIERCING!!!!!!!!!!!!!” within the sound of many hands clapping.
As we load the last of the gear into the van, Ian reaches out to me with a beak.
“Hey man, great show, but I gotta get out of here. I have to work at 8am.”
“Ok, cool man. Thanks, you were awesome tonight- I think the people could tell the difference with you in the band.”
“Thanks man, I really appreciate that.”
“I mean it. I could sense it in the room. Anyway, we have the radio gig on Monday in Boston, and the Hartford gig a week from Sunday. I’ll be in touch about the drive details Sunday night.”
“One last beak, man!”
Our clasped fingers reach through the frigid February night; touch, beak, and open.
As the rest of the band heads back toward the club, I sequester myself in the van for one last moment of silence, before the remainder of the night takes hold with its loud promise. I overhear a few people mention “Vortex” in Earcandy, and I wanted to get a bit of a buzz heading back into the music. When I make it back to the bar an order a beer, I notice Scare Tactic are still setting up their equipment. I secretly whispered a prayer for them to not be the typical out of town band milking the set up time to maximize their audience. But why would they? The place was packed. I sauntered up to the stage to get a closer look. It was something I should have surmised sitting at the bar, thus negating my tip toe trek toward the stage. They used dozens of effect pedals mounted to soundboards, and as the stage at the Well was so tiny, they had to deal in master class interior design on the fly. Just then I noticed their guitar player take a three foot by two foot pedal board and learn it up against the brick wall to his left, necessitating a sort of soccer kick with his right foot to select the next pedal. They were professionals, and I was both impressed with their acumen to adapt, and relieved that we had given them a tight opening set.
As my thoughts settled into a smooth river of give and take, a finger taps me on the right shoulder. I turn around and it’s Jeremy.
“Hey man, nice job. I think we made the leap tonight.” I offer, reaching inward for the generous spirit to communicate these words.
“Oh yeahhh man! Rock and fucking Roll man!”
“No, really, I mean it, I think we’re getting to that place.”
“I know, I know, I totally agree. But yannow, fuck tomorrow, tonight fucking rocked!”
“I’m glad you feel that way!”
“I do, and you know what else? I’m so pumped these guys are taking so long to get set up, because it’s giving the acid time to kick in.”
“Ohhh, I always thought I was a good influence on you…..”
“Hahahhaa! You were, you are. … Oh, hey, yeah, that’s it. Oh man, this is good shit.”
“Man, I haven’t taken acid in twenty years.”
“That’s cause you took a lifetime supply in three years, don’t you remember! Hahaha”
“Of course I remember.”
“We’re all gonna remember this night.”
“I hope so! Earcandy today, all the gig offers, the applause after Todd’s new tune? Wasn’t that sick? I’ve never been onstage before and heard that kind of slow motion groundswell acceptance of a number.”
“I know, that was nuts. Todd’s a fucking genius, whatddya expect?”
“Fucking bingo. Hey, I’m going up front, I’ll catch you later.”
“Ok, man. Don’t drink too much tonight.”
As Jeremy passes by me, I scan the bar to locate Anne. She is at the front of the room, obviously having a conversation with June. I catch her eye, and we exchange long distance beaks; she needs the time with June, so I settle in on the last stool at the bar, tucked up against the elevated riser booth just to my left.
After ordering and not being charged for my beer (“you guys nailed it tonight, congrats!”), I take a sip and glance toward the booth. Jocelyn is there, situated on Amber’s lap; Amber’s left hand cradled around her ass, while her right hand gently wound a circular motion over Jocelyn’s right shoulder. Bop was standing directly to the left of them. I turn away and scan the stage, trying to gauge how much longer it will be until Scare Tactic begin. But my head is pulled right back to the booth like a tractor beam. Joss is laughing, seemingly enchanted by the attention. Was it simply because of her stellar performance?
Because the band was on the precipice of living up to it’s potential? That we were finally capitalizing on all of the advantages that we have had since day one of Piercing? As I was trying to distill the flood of thoughts, when I notice out of the corner of my left eye that the Senator is standing on the floor level, right behind me. His visage reveals an overriding worry. I turn back and look at Jocelyn, her full back to me now, and Bop has moved as close to her as possible. Weaving his fingers across the small of her back while Amber continues to caress her ass, covered in denim.
It was then I realized why the Senator looked distraught- bringing anonymous boy toys from local colleges into the cult was one thing, but the singer of an up and coming rock group might put a bit too much attention on his public life, were it to become public knowledge. You could sense his mind going through the risk/reward scenarios. They didn’t appear to be adding up to me, as a casual observer. But I knew Bop regarded Jocelyn as a trophy. Would any of that matter in regard to the bands trajectory? Perhaps not, but if my paranoia about Jocelyn seeking not musical fame, but a way towards achieving the desired status, an “object of adoration”….. being the object of adoration would surely be easier than the grueling life of the touring musician. I had never felt so threatened, creatively. Seven years of working with Jocelyn to bring us to this point couldn’t possibly be at risk because of the proclivities of Jeremy, Amber, and their friends.
I notice as the Senator gets Bop’s attention, and he breaks away from the group. I tap Jocelyn on the shoulder, and ask her if she wants a drink.
“Sure, yeah! Ummm, the merlot here is pretty good, I’ll have that.”
Our bartender returns in seconds, and says “on the house.” I put a ten dollar bill on the bar as a tip.
“What did you think” asks Jocelyn, seemingly as invested as I have been, finally. It’s a relief.
“We played our best show when we had to play our best show. I think that bodes well for the future.”
“I know, I know, you’re totally spot on. I was nervous. Well, I’m always a bit nervous, because I take this very seriously.”
“But tonight, it just, it…. It simply flowed out of me. It was easy.”
“That’s what happens when you have an audience; trying to build one is the hard part, but we may be breaking through. Having an audience…”
“It’s great. And we got all of those gigs today, I mean, could today be any better?”
“You know, I love you, and I’m doing all of this for you.”
“I know, thanks. Aww, thank you!”
I lean forward and we exchange a genuine hug. As we part, I get the overwhelming urge to get out the phone, and take a picture of her right now, in this moment, when it seems our entire future is in front of us. A document of the transition from here to there; I had yet to scale the back of that wall. But I had two feet solidly planted on the breadth of its density. I would be over the wall in moments. As I finished snapping the photo, Jeremy came towards us. I held a slight trepidation as he approached that very few people had even given me. He walks around the stool Jocelyn is graced upon, and lays his left arm over her left shoulder.
“How’s it going?” he asks.
“Great.” I offer with pithy enthusiasm. He doesn’t even notice.
“Hey, get a pic of Joss and me, on our big night!”
“I think my phone just died.”
“Hahahahaha, still haven’t figured out how to use that thing, eh?” opines Jeremy, as sarcastic as someone tripping face could be.
I glance over to my right, and catch Anne’s eye. She’s still in conversation with June, but when she gets my attention, she rolls her outstretched right finger, silently asking me if I wanted to wrap it up for the night. I give a two nod bow of my forehead, and put down an empty pint glass.
Anne drives the van back to Mystic. We barely look towards each other, much less speak. I have an intuitive flash that Anne and possibly June witnessed the fleeting moments of Jocelyn on Amber’s lap; Bop’s hands on her shoulder…
“What was up with Joss and Amber tonight? And Bop? What was he thinking?” asks Anne as we settle in for the night, the TV loaded up with live Pet Shop Boys from 1999; a show in New York we were actually at.
“I don’t know. They are putting their plan into action?…. Remember what I told you about the NLNM show, before we played, reading Bop’s lips……..”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Object of adoration.”
“Object of adoration.”
“Well, if this is going to be a factor we’re going to have to deal with, let the Senator find the money to run the fucking operation. Let them foot the fucking bill……”
Our next show is an on air radio program in Boston. I text a last minute reminder to everyone that we have to be in the van, ready to go by 5.30pm on Monday.
Yeah, I’m good – from Jeremy
See you then- from Jocelyn
That’s the dealio, coolio- from Todd
I can’t make it- from Ian
I am apoplectic. I had alerted everyone weeks ago that the show was confirmed.
I can’t do it. Couldn’t find anyone to cover my shift
The band can’t fall apart again, can it? At this point? After the success of last Friday night? I decide to get off the internet and call Jeremy on the landline.
“Can you believe this motherfucking shit!?!?!?!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, calm down.”
“Calm the fuck down? Does he not remember Friday night? What the fuck!?!?!?!?”
“Getting all flipped out isn’t going to get him to play the gig.”
“Let’s just play as a four piece; I’ll play bass parts and we’ll sort of fake it. How many people could be tuned in anyway?”
“It’s actually a big deal for radio. But I think you’re right. We can do an abbreviated set with just the four of us.”
“I think so.”
“Ok, I’ll call Todd and Joss.” I reply, trying to be the responsible one.
“Nah, I got this. I’ll call them both. You might be too worked up.”
We park the van high on icepack along 3A, outside of the studio. Loading the gear in has become exponentially easier on everyone; I found a rolling drum stand bag which eliminated the worst carry of all of our equipment. Once we had everything inside, the engineer positioned each of us for maximum capture. There were only ten minutes from the end of our sound check to air time, so I decided the smart move would be to take a dozen photographs to upload to our Instagram an hour or so later, during the post-performance interview. Suddenly, as I was at the far end of the room, the studio assistant opened the heavy door, and whispered
“thirty seconds to air.”
The first song of the set is Todd’s newest song. We have practiced it incessantly, and played it magnificently Friday at the Well. The tune begins with a drum roll on the snare drum, and I inexplicably begin the song with a four stick click of the tempo, as if we all began together. As soon as I hit the third strike on my sticks, I realize my mistake, and try to execute the actual drum roll that starts the song on the one downbeat. The element I do not anticipate is the rest of the band committing to the one downbeat after my stick clicks, which they handle effortlessly. And yet, as they cover my initial mistake, I compound the issue by trying to replicate the drum fill while they are establishing the groove that follows the intro. I catch up to them after a few measures, but the dirty look from Jeremy says everything: you were unprepared. I felt the stress of management slip into a performance.
Preparation was everything to the kids who came of age at the Palace, of each generation. It was the central tenet in Benno’s philosophy, which was spread liberally and with the countenance of an interior discipline only the most committed hippies espoused. It was a philosophy akin to the kids who stayed Monday and Tuesday after Woodstock to clean up the unholy mess. Accountability above all else. It mirrored Pirsig’s concept of “Quality”. I had blown it, even as I had made up for my mistake in real time. The rest of the set goes fine, and the interview following allows me to actualize the new stance of my role in the group: I say nothing; It was their interview to succeed at or fail. And they rose to the occasion; adding the needed self-deprecating banter amid our concurrent success.
“When is your next show?” asks the dj
Radio silence. The worst kind. I notice all three of them are at different levels of trying to sneak a peek at me- to catch my attention. Jocelyn blurts out an “Ummmmm..”
“We’ll be in Hartford for a Sunday show, as part of the Sycamore Tree productions music fest that whole weekend. And we’ll be in New Haven with Snow Falcon on the twelfth; they’re from South Portland, Maine…. I think” I reply, trying to fill in as succinctly as possible.
“Actually , they’re from Scituate.” corrects the interviewer
“Scituate!” I blurt out, trying to overlap my voice with his on the hometown of Snow Falcon. It was why I brought up our show with them in the first place; they were local to the Boston market. I feel as if I have a blunt edge, a butter knife through a fresh loaf of bread.
“We also have two shows in Brooklyn later in the month, the 26th and the 30th.”
“Well, it sounds like you guys are really making a name for yourselves.”
“Thanks for having us here, and letting us contribute to the show.”
“And that is a wrap on this week’s show with Piercing, from Mystic, CT. Up next we have Kindling with “Young Thirties” from their new album ‘Spare Room’.”
After loading all of the gear across the frozen concrete expanse in front of the studio’s building, I couldn’t help but notice the stark lights of the Boston skyline against the endless black of the night sky. Was Piercing becoming the light, or the endless darkness? There could be no rational way I was making the same mistake again. I had come too far to let a bad night on the radio derail my intentions. I began to think back to the end of our most recent set at the Well, with people cheering and yelling the band name out loud. Was it only four nights ago that we were in New London? It seemed much further into the past than four days. My train of thought is interrupted as I close the back door of the van, and Todd taps me on the shoulder.
“Hey man… is it ok if we get some food before we hit the highway? I’m starving.”
“Me too” adds Jocelyn.
“I keep telling you guys that you are going to have to learn how to live on one meal a day. It’s like, you think I’m just doing a bit, the ‘old guy in the club’ routine. But this is a perfect example of it. What if we had to drive to New York right now? You want to stop on I-95 and eat shit rest area food?”
“Alright old man. Take it easy.” Jeremy.
“Look, I haven’t been up here at night in a few years. I’ll drive into Kenmore Square, and the first food option you guys see, that’s where we’ll stop.”
“Cool” breathes Todd
“Thanks” coos Joss.
Fortunately, they spot a Mexican place that looks like it’s not a chain restaurant. I take the left turn onto Ipswich Street, pull over onto an ice embankment that is omnipresent in the city, and let the three of them out for the short, one block walk to the restaurant. The flashing lights of the turnpike gave a simmering glow to Fenway Park, which reminds me that I know of a few parking tricks in this section of town. I put the van in drive, hit the left blinker light, and pull back out onto the street. Three complete loops around the block later, I haven’t found an open spot. As I prepare to take another left turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, I see the three of them gingerly traipsing the icebanks toward the van. Each one of them has a look of contentment on their faces that I have rarely seen when things are going well for the band. Jocelyn looked more excited to have a taco in her hand than when I showed her the Earcandy review on my phone four days earlier. I’m secretly seething, but initiating that kind of conversation would have no sway in this moment. The smart move is to let them eat in peace; knowing there will be another day that will illustrate just how different life is as you strive to create a modern rock band.
“Every time we would play in Hartford in the Thames days, something would get lost, or stolen…. every fucking time.”
This is our first show in Hartford, as part of the Sycamore Tree festival; three nights in the club with the best of the Connecticut indie scene. This kind of invite would never be afforded us without the Earcandy and other online banter about Piercing, even if we were sounding just as good as at the Well gig. Exposure is an interesting word in the lexicon of musicians. Some exposure works, some does not. And the ratio of good to bad is just like anything else in this digital world. 1:10
“One night, when I had a pick-up truck with a cap on it for our primary transportation, an effects rack with $1500 worth of effects slid over the top of the amps, and broke the back window, falling out the truck onto the highway. The biggest problem was, we didn’t notice until we got to the club. I fucking raced back out onto the highway to look for the case, but we never spotted it. And of course, we couldn’t just stay out there until we found it, we had to get back to do the show.”
“I’ve heard that story before, at the Palace” chimes in Jeremy, with the louche response of someone who heard another tall tale at the family holiday gathering.
“I never heard that, what happened to the gear?” asks Todd, earnestly trying to reconfigure the tenor of the discussion.
“Anne loaned me $700, and the band chipped in the rest to replace the units. I never totally paid Anne back all of that money.”
“She’s too fucking good to you!” shouted Jeremy.
There was enough of a sense of self-deprecation in his voice to keep me from getting worked up about it. What did he know about long term relationships, other than bashing his head into a car windshield as a last method of defense? I could already tell that this was going to be another night in Hartford, and that I was driving into a total shitshow. You could sense it, like the wind suddenly shifting and lifting the leaves of a new born spring upward; the rain will commence, shortly.
“Hahahahahahhaa! I just got the best text message of the new year!” Jeremy suddenly exclaims, flashing his phone backwards to Todd and Jocelyn, who are sitting in the middle two seats of the van.
“Yes! That’s priceless!” offers Jocelyn
“Another night at the office, eh?” adds Todd
“What is it?” I ask, feeling somewhat left out of the moment. He slowly turns the screen towards me.
It’s a photo at a party, and if I remember correctly it’s after our most recent show at the Well; going by the outfit Jeremy is wearing. In the photo, the Senator is draped over his shoulders, hands clasped inelegantly around Jeremy’s neck. The Senator looks as if he is a trophy pelt; the fur of an exotic animal with its head still attached, bobbing toward one side to define it’s lifelessness.
“He looks pretty loaded” I offer quietly, trying not to betray my emotions.
“Oh yeah, he was fucked up that night!”
“My favorite text of the year so far is the one you sent me from the bar at the Well on New Year’s Eve.” Jocelyn openly addresses Jeremy on the topic.
“Oh yeah? The one where I said “hey joss, too bad you’re not here right now as I make out with everyone at the bar to celebrate the new year!”
“Yeah, yeah, that one! I was laughing my ass off at that.”
The only thing I could think of were Jeremy’s South Park teeth; all pointed inward to the same degree, and the spittle that would strand itself between his lower lip and the overbite of his top jaw. I focused on the road to distract myself from the conversation.
When we arrive at the club, I’m able to park the van in the spot closest to the stage door, a huge benefit as the temperature drops. Jeremy leaps out of the van, and attempts to light a cigarette before his left foot hits the ice, and he almost ends up on his ass. Fortunately, he’s able to catch his balance, and still light the cigarette. He gives me a stern look, as if to gauge how much I was anticipating his probable fall. I don’t change my expression at all.
“Hey Twining, c’mon, man, let’s go get some hookers and blow!” Jeremy is in full on mocking-me voice, as he is fully aware I have never seen cocaine in my life, much less solicited a prostitute.
“Yeah, man. Let’s do it!” offers Todd in a mock catharsis.
“Guys, let’s just get the gear in, ok?”
In my time living in the rock world, if someone wanted hookers and blow before, during, or after a gig- they just went ahead and did it, it wasn’t some precious drama unfolding as a rock life goof. You want coke and prostitutes? Fine. I just don’t need to know about it. As we begin to unload the gear, I notice that each one of them has slid off and on the fourth and final trip out to the van, it’s only me. I grab the rolling drum stand case and a guitar and head back inside the club. They are hanging out, meeting the other bands on the bill. I have to resign myself that this is what the next six months will look like; me being the roadie, the driver- hoping they embrace their roles as the band.
Brent shows up right then, which is a breath of fresh air for me.
“Hey man- thanks for making it” I say to him with an outstretched right hand beak, which he returns.
“Of course, man. No worries! And I nailed “Vortex” yesterday; that tune is going to rock.”
I head over to meet Robert, the head booking agent at Sycamore Tree Productions. After pleasantries and greetings, which seemed quite genuine in a place where genuine behavior is not to be expected, he asks if I brought my own drum set.
“Oh, yeah, of course. We always travel with everything we need.” I replied, trying to sound prepared and yet willing to acquiesce to his impending demand.
“Well, we’re going to have everyone use one kit, if that’s ok with you….”
“That’s fine. Will I need cymbals and kick pedal, snare; that kinda thing?”
“Yeah, perfect. It’s just with five bands tonight….”
I cut him off with a slow wave.
“No worries. I’ll pack up the excess and prep after the opener finishes the sound check.”
“Cool, thanks. I can’t wait to see you guys tonight, I’ve been hearing very positive things.”
I am fumbling with my phone trying to get the camera up in the near darkness just before our set begins. I’m trying to get in the routine of posting a photo to Instagram the moment before each show begins. Jeremy unplugs from his amp to retune one last time before we start, which gives me the extra minute to be ready. I snap a shot of “the drummer’s view”- basically the corona around Jocelyn’s head highlighted in a dark purple/blue mix. Click. Post.
“Hello people, we are Piercing, from Mystic, Connecticut”
I click off the four beats to begin “Massive”
The crowd numbers sixty people, from my “field of vision” stage count; but almost none of them have seen us play live before. The opportunity of these showcase type festivals was laid out in front of us in the finest fashion possible. And fresh off the heels of the Well performance, we are tighter than ever, even with Brent filling in. Joss seems perfectly comfortable, and I think maybe it’s playing in front of people that she has a relationship with that hinders some of her performance. There was no Marcus here tonight, no Whitney, no Phoebe, no New London. I take that as a very good sign, crossing my right hand to clasp a cymbal hit at the precision conclusion of “Decisive”. Jeremy has become more like Adrian; new, stabbing gestures punctuate his stellar riffing. Jeremy was always acting like a star, but I could sense a gentle deferment toward Todd, and more so, toward Jocelyn. They were embracing, and not becoming overcome, by their onstage roles. Our set concludes with another blistering version of “Vortex”, Brent fluidly integrating his style, Jeremy wailing in full throat, Joss pinning the high octave like stars in a planetarium. We exit the stage to genuine applause, and I notice a small crowd gathering around Joss as the rest of us offload the Piercing set-up. Good. Let her be the face of the band; it’s about time.
The three kids begin to attract a bit more attention, so Brent and I retire to the bar, and order pints. After hearty congratulations to each other, and trying to frame the concept that we were both here together “in fucking Hartford, of all places”- noticed Brent. I change the topic to spring training baseball, which has commenced over the course of this weekend.
“Remember, in 2003, when we appealed to your better nature and asked you not to go to Spring Training that year?” Brent is setting me up for a wicked fall.
“Yeah, of course. Because after the 1999 ALCS loss to the Yankees, I was sure they were going to win the next year. Positive. Pedro, come on!”
“Hahahaha! Remember the Offerman phantom tag in ’99; ugly times.”
“Yeah, so if you remember we went to Florida in 2000, 2001, and 2002. And not one of those years did they even make it to the playoffs ….”
“That’s when a bunch of us figured it had to be you going to Spring Training every year!”
“Hahahahaa, I know, I know. I take the entire blame!”
“By the way, I don’t think I have told you this yet, but it’s okay with everyone if you want to go back now…..” he whispered this in my ear. I almost fell off the bar stool. In our lifetime.
The club is a fine blend of aged wood panels adorning the walls over deep maroon booths, and a wide open area in front for the audience. The stage was low and wide, not very deep; I always loved playing on that sort of stage. I was feeling extremely comfortable, in Hartford of all places. I let myself think that we had righted everything, and finding a permanent replacement for Ian would be as easy as any other episode we had endured. That tonight was another small victory. At that very moment, I could hear Jeremy’s signature laugh arise in volume and sit distinctly at the top of the frequency range between bands. I look over my left shoulder, and see Jocelyn, Todd, and Jeremy in absolute buckled over hysterics. My initial thought is paternal- good, they are having a fine time while we are out here; It was crucial to a band’s survival to be able to enjoy the moments. I looked at Brent. He knew what was on my mind from the look on my face before I had even reconciled it within myself.
“Hey, are you okay?” he says
“You know, if things keep going your way, it’s going to be like this most nights. And I’m not going to able to be there with you.”
“I know, I know.”
I felt completely isolated within my own band. Socially. It’s happens. That’s what Brent was referring to. He knew it, he’d been on both sides of the equation. It had been heading this way since Jeremy joined Piercing, a gradual shift toward the three ancient friends and the guy who drives the van. And yet, I had signed up for this; I could have walked last August, when the whole thing was teetering. And there were ample opportunities to excuse myself before now. No, I had signed up for the whole ride, wherever it may end.
“Hey Twining, c’mon man- let’s go into Hartford and paaaaaaartaaaay, baby!” drawls Jeremy as we exit the parking lot of the club.
“Are you fucking kidding me? This is the shortest drive home from a gig we’ve had outside of the Well. I’m going to actually sleep tonight.” I reply, somewhat sarcastically. I was still fuming over the cocaine/hookers bit from earlier in the night.
“Fine, fine, suit yourself indie rock warrior chief!”
Just let it go, just let it go.
As I merge onto the south highway that will lead us to Jeremy’s Niantic abode, I abandon all van protocol, and put on a CD of music that should be listened to alone, or at least with a sympathetic audience. If I have to hear any more of this faux rock star shit, when I am fully aware that Jeremy is an open member of some underground sex circuit, and that I have nagging suspicions that this same group of people are trying to declare proprietary rights onto Jocelyn….. Fuck it. Let it all go. Yeezus is at top volume, while we navigate the western spine of the Connecticut River Valley.
We arrive at Jeremy’s house, and he exits without saying a word to anyone; no late night beak for the driver who got us there and back safely. I was so angry inside, I barely noticed how long it took for him to get his guitar out of the back of the van. I figured that he was finally as drunk as he had been trying to get all night, and that navigating the gear was like a mining expedition for him. I hear the back doors of the van close, and see in the passenger mirror that he has made his way toward the house. I tap down on the left blinker, and head toward Mystic.
As we cross the drawbridge, the familiar clang of the heavy van on its deck is a reassuring feeling; that we made it through another night, to another day. Jocelyn and Todd are whispering quietly to each other, as the Kanye is still at a somewhat higher volume than necessary. I’m still trying to suppress my night of dealing with Jeremy’s attitude. And then I hear clearly, Todd say to Jocelyn-
“I don’t know how many more nights like tonight I have in me.”
My mind begins racing. Was I meant to hear that? What was so difficult about tonight for him? Why does he feel the need to express that to Joss? Is it about the band at all? I can’t help but insert myself into the conversation, for the first time in roughly an hour and a half.
“None of you guys are committed enough to this, none of you are totally one hundred percent in. and that’s what it fucking takes- and look at all the fucking advantages we have had!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, take it easy man.” offers Todd immediately.
I take the right turn onto my street, and jam the van with a hard left turn into the driveway.
“No man, you take it easy. You guys were more excited to get fucking food after the Boston radio gig than any of you were when the latest Earcandy review came out- fourteen fucking hours after I submitted it to them! Do you guys understand the fucking significance of that?”
“Hey, don’t fucking tell me how committed to the fucking band I am! Was I in New York with Wall? Was I? Was I fucking in New York with Wall?”
Jocelyn is screaming at me, in the same tone I’m addressing them in. It’s brutal and ugly.
“Yes, you were in New York with Wall.” I shout back, feeling the dissipation of our bond chipped away with each word.
“And I was fucking BLEEDING! AND I WAS FUCKING THERE!”
“I KNOW! I KNOW! I WAS FUCKING THERE AS ALWAYS, RIGHT!??!?!?”
“you’re just a drunk……………..”
She let this out almost as if she were waving a white flag. I give up. But that’s not what she meant. It was far more cavalier than that. She meant I was the one who wasn’t fit for this particular adventure, regardless of my previous track record. Or was it that I wasn’t part of her future, with or without the band? And suddenly, a thought pierced everything- she doesn’t argue that way. Over the course of our heated exchanges and full throated battles, it was always about the work, and the method of creating it. It was never personal. And here, at this juncture, she was going to use the strongest weapon in a verbal arsenal. That wasn’t like her at all, but it was just like something Jeremy would say.
He must have been positioning Joss against me for months for her to break that statement out in this situation. Yes… the protracted cover battle for the single. The arguments that Joss wasn’t up to the task- were they more subterfuge? I knew If I stayed in the van a second longer I would regret it for the rest of my life. I grabbed my gig bag, opened the door, and walked into Centraal. Anne was on the couch, perusing late night television. It was 11.30 pm.
“We’ll, I don’t think Jocelyn is ever going to want to speak to me again.” I said as I closed the door behind me.
I wake up out of a troubled sleep at 10.30 am. Anne hadn’t set the alarm clock, which was totally unlike her, as she had to work at 9am, but I didn’t have to open the Palace until 11am. I head downstairs for a pint of water, when I spot the handwritten note on the counter, from Anne:
“I called Benno late last night. He’s going to work today, take a day off to get some peace.”
It was quite a gift.
I make a Mothertrucker in the kitchen, with sports talk radio cluttering the background with talk of a possible Red Sox World Series Championship repeat in 2014. Coupled with the Piercing situation, and hearing disembodied voices pontificate on another Sox title, I was completely unmoored. Thames were supposed to make it. Ceres blew up right as we finally nailed the concept. Bold Schwa had the chance. And yet, Piercing was on the literal doorstep. And I imagined my pink slip would arrive via electronic communication any minute now; they would go on to success without me. I decided to be enlightened about the situation. Instead of fighting the new development, I would take consolation in knowing my investment in these kids was worth it; even if I were to become a footnote, a detail in the larger story of their talent becoming what it was possible of. From my point of view. I could acquiesce to their decision to move on without me, if it came to that.
After eating, I head downstairs and log on to Facebook. Scrolling through the feed, I notice a shot of Joss and Todd; they are in the clothes they wore at the Well gig nine days earlier. In the photo, Jocelyn is being held tight to Amber, her right arm pulling Joss close to her body. Todd is grinning as if he was on top of the world, and I thought to myself I hope that was due to the great set we had played that night. I was about to click off the image, when something caught my eye, in the top right corner of the picture. It was someone draped around someone’s shoulders, seemingly drunk. I had seen that image already- it was the text pic Jeremy showed us of the Senator on the way to our Hartford gig. This picture was taken at the same moment, from a far wider angle, which included Jocelyn and Todd. They were all there. Fait accompli.
I decided to just get in the van and drive; the motion of the road with music blasting was always my meditation when my mind became cluttered. Or unhinged. The winter grip remained, and it was my brothers birthday as well. I felt bad for him about his birthday because it was always cold and dreary; never the celebratory weather experienced during my summer birthday. This was yet another reason to feel bad on March the Third. The Yeezus disc was still in the player, and it incidentally was cued up to “Hold my Liquor”, the intense, yet languorously ambitious bridge track that the record pivots upon.
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“You’re a drunk……….”
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“You’re a drunk……….”
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“You’re a drunk……….”
I was not a drunk. A drunk was my mother’s boyfriend who bled and fought with those he supposedly cared about. But didn’t I fight with Joss? I had. And yet, our conflagrations were always about the creative process, our image; our impression on the audience. We had never argued and made personal details a part of the debate. A drunk was my father who died and wasn’t found by anyone for two weeks. I was working to bring Jocelyn’s dream to fruition. How could I simply be a drunk and be simultaneously pulling all of these various threads together? For her. For her career. I had already been in this place in my creative life; I knew I could exist if Piercing fell down the stairs once they had reached the top step. But how could she walk away? She asked me to be in her band, and I had done everything I had promised her, everything she asked me to.
“I can’t hold my liquor, this man can’t handle his weed….”
“you’re a drunk……….”
Object of adoration.Z
I drive in two overlapping figure eights, across the Greater Southeastern Autonomous Zone. The stereo is playing so loud the speakers and power amp struggle to keep up with my desire to block out all thought with volume. I receive a text from Anne.
“How are you? Where are you?”
I text her a photo of my step-father’s gravesite at the head of the river, in an ancient Catholic cemetery.
I make my way toward Stonington, with the vague idea that staring at the sea from the winnowed peninsula at the end of town would bring some clarity, much like my trip to Provincetown twenty years earlier at the end of Thames. But I become distracted as I pass the cemetery at the outer edge of the Borough. I remember that there is a Twining family plot there; although none of my immediate family were buried there. I get another text from Anne:
“I’m worried about you. Talk to me.”
I text her a picture of the Twining family plot, and get back in the van.
‘Shit’s all over the place……….’
This new disparity is surreal, and all I can focus on is the ambient noise surrounding the lyric in the Kanye track. It’s the sound of pinging digital tones, evaporating upon recognition. It mirrors how I feel, as the information of being excused from Piercing must be making its way across the internet, while I drive between gravesites. I decide to turn up the volume again; and proceed to blow the entire set of speakers in the van. Surprisingly, this makes the songs sound even more visceral. Not many records could sound better on a blown stereo system- Sonic Youth’s “Bad Moon Rising”? Maybe? “Psychocandy” by Jesus & Mary Chain? Perhaps. But I knew that Yeezus sounded incredible in this manner. I pulled over finally in front of the house where they found my father after he was face down in a mattress for two weeks following his fatal stroke. I checked my phone.
“Where are you? are you ok? Talk to me, please!”
I texted a photo of the bedroom window of the room they found my father in.
“Don’t punish me for this! I want to help, to be there for you!”
Anne and I have had Tuesday as an off day for twenty years. It was her idea, that taking off a midweek day would offset the fact that weekends didn’t truly exist in retail. Everyone worked Saturday, so to have Sunday and Tuesday off each week, the four day sprint from Wednesday to Saturday was minimized. I sat on the couch after brunch, phone in hand, awaiting the guillotine that did not drop on Monday. At 3pm exactly, I receive a Facebook message from Jeremy.
“We’re going to need all of the log in / password info for the band’s social media.”
I was a bit taken aback. No “Joss never wants to speak to you, so you are out” or “you betrayed our trust, everything was going fine until you had to flip out, you can’t just keep freaking out on people.” I decide to keep my response as simple as possible.
“That’s it?” as in, I can understand you want to get rid of me, but is that the only explanation I’m going to get?
“I was trying to keep it cival, but if you want poetry Fuck You”
This was the consequence of my losing the plot with Joss two nights earlier. If she wanted to accuse me of a violation that would impede her career, the “fuck you” seemed to illustrate the reality of this situation, and the divide. It was something I was going to have to accept. I had never been kicked out of anything, except that one time in sixth grade when my teacher found me stuffed in a garbage can by my so called best friends. “Ellery! Just, just, just … go home!” That was easy enough, my house was on the same street as the school, and so I left. I had to hide in the low shrubs of my parent’s house when I noticed the principals white Corvette slowly pacing the street. But, this was different. This was my career. I lean over and show Anne the message.
“He spelled ‘civil’ wrong….”
I immediately send a text to Jocelyn, and a Facebook message to Todd:
The next day at the Palace is a struggle, but I make it through. Benno is completely conciliatory- “You did everything you could.” The store had recently bought an incredible collection from a Navy family that was going to be re-stationed to Hawaii, and it was my job to sort out the rock from the jazz, the disco from the funk, and file the odds and ends in the various catchall bins we had for such recordings: one such bin was the dj resources bin where we stashed the language translation records, or the National anthems of Austria, Norway, Sweden, and Luxembourg performed by the High Guard of Vienna. I check my phone every few minutes for a response from Joss or Todd, and after checking in on the Red Sox spring training news, I head to bed. There is no news from either end of the spectrum. And yet, like a digital member of the modern world, I send one more text message to Jocelyn.
“I hope we can still be friends after the dust settles.”
I wake up Thursday to more of the dreary weather this winter keeps providing us with. The stinging cold of the kitchen floor wakes me up a bit. I have a Facebook message from Jeremy.
“Who’s going to cancel all of the shows we have scheduled?”
“Not me. I’m not in the band anymore. It’s yr responsibility.”
This would be something to keep my eye on. Piercing were scheduled to play an on-air in studio show at WRIU in Rhode Island this very night. And all of the band gear was still in my van; untouched since I had fought with Jocelyn following our Hartford gig.
I check the email, and the first missive is from Ferry at Gezellig! the Dutch magazine that has been putting off an article on us for six months, while we rebuilt the band three times over.
“Hey Ellery, how are you? We are going to run the full interview in the April issue. You are going to be mentioned on the cover, and we are going to use the Tabitha Williams solo photos from the Decisive video.”
“Hey Ferry. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that they kicked me out of the band with a “fuck you” two days ago. I’m not sure if there is going to be a band.”
“So sorry. What happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m sure you understand I can’t run the piece with the band in such flux.”
“That’s why I responded immediately. Thanks for all of your interest in the group. I’ll let you know if they get their shit together.”
“Ok, man. So sorry, again.”
I still acquiesce and send the log in information for the full array of Piercing’s online presence to Jeremy. I don’t feel that getting in the way of their continuation adds anything to the equation we have been building for the past eight years. I had the distinct parental experience of your kids leaving the proverbial house. I had to mine the feeling that would liberate me from what I thought was immense betrayal- I had done my best, and if my most sincere efforts landed them in the world of music without me being a part of it, I would still have to believe that my role was executed as expected.
Todd shows up at my house, unannounced, at 7.45 pm. His knock startles me, as I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by on this dreary March Thursday. I immediately pop up, and notice he’s holding my Epiphone guitar I had loaned him at the beginning of the band, because he had nothing of his own to play when we started Piercing. He worked that guitar for the first year and a half that we were together, until he was finally able to save enough cash for a Thinline semi-hollow body Telecaster. The seamless frequencies on “Vortex” were largely due to the fact that the guitar tones were so harmonious; between Jeremy’s custom built hollow body, which was twice the width of Todd’s Thinline. Their dexterity added depth to the band’s palette; which was the central idea holding everything together, with Joss’ voice as the centrifuge. We had already showed that we could articulate the essence of the Piercing idea with a bevy of bassists. The core was as solid as could be, containing relationships built over years with trust as the fulcrum.
It was all vanishing in real time. The very idea that I had to reconcile these differences seemed an affront to me. Every thought was a personal violation. Or transgression- I truly could not decide. Things end badly. This would be a new low.
“Hey man, how are you.” Todd offers upon entering Centraal.
“Umm ok. Are you guys really going to go on as a three piece, and replace me with machines?”
“Oh, hell no. fuck those guys, I never want to speak to them again. I don’t even want to make music anymore.”
“What?!?!?!” I asked incredulously.
“Yeah, fuck this shit. We were right there, we had everything within our reach, and you’re going to just blow the whole fucking thing up?!?!?!”
“Wait, what are you talking about?”
Todd handed me my guitar, and turned around to open the door.
“They asked me to join their sex cult. I said ‘fuck you’. I’m done. Goodnight, Mr. Twining!”
And he left.
As he closes the door, my phone emits its reverse Lightsaber sound to alert me to a new text. It’s from Jocelyn.
“I appreciate you reaching out. I don’t regret a second of the experience.”
When I wake up earlier than ever, I finally decide to come to terms with the fact that I have to empty the van of the gear, and to actually step foot into Centraaal which I have avoided for the past week. I gather up my wits to tackle the challenge, and then give up immediately, deciding to check the email before heading out. It’s as if I’m going to get that email from a record label, or a booking agent, asking Piercing to forward our career with them. Perhaps then the band could be rebuilt, again. What I find instead is a scathing email from the WRIU radio hosts. Not only did they not show up to play the show, the first of several more booked through March, they didn’t even bother to email the station to cancel.
The darkness begins to creep in. is Jeremy trying to ruin my reputation? To make it difficult for me to begin making music again, at this level? I spend the next two hours deleting our entire online presence. And the only way I am able to do this is because Jeremy was too stupid to immediately change the passwords once I gave them to him. 500 Twitter followers, deleted. 800 PR contacts in the band email, deleted. The label page managed by Malthus, deleted. I almost delete all of our hosted MP3 files, but at the last second realize the Earcandy and other blog links would have been compromised. That part of the legacy would remain untouched by my assault. But, if they were going to go on without me, they were not going to gain access to the vast contacts that helped build Piercing. No, they would have to build it themselves. Certainly I had showed them how to achieve it, wouldn’t that be enough in the aftermath? I head to the Facebook page to delete its content and find that I am locked out, no longer an admin on the band page. The one place where I was blocked. Facecrack.
Satisfied that I have delineated the discourse of the band’s collapse somewhat to my own measures, I head out to the van to finally unload the gear. It’s the first warm day after the brutal season of the past winter. The sky is cloudless, and I raise my left hand to shield the sun from my eyes as I exit the house. The key slides into the van door, I turn it to the right, and open it. I immediately notice that something is missing, and have a mild panic attack about possibly leaving gear in Hartford after the last show; it would be near impossible to find it now after these days have passed. I then catch myself,
‘What fucking difference would it make if our gear was stolen? As long as my drum set is intact, fuck everything else’.
And yet, I notice the only gear missing is Jeremy’s amp, his guitar, but also all of the effect pedals and the case of cords for both guitar set-ups. Why would he take all of his gear out of the van when we had a practice in Mystic in two days, and a gig in Storrs the following Thursday? He couldn’t drive, and he would have to transport all of that gear for practice. There wasn’t time to do some home demos, where he might need all of that equipment. So, why? And then it dawned on me- he had quit the band, but that was a full thirty minutes before my fight with Jocelyn in the driveway. Had he already left the band when he took the gear with him that night. But why?
And then, with the clarity I would imagine comes at one’s final moment; I realized his work was finished. He had brought her to them. The band was a charade, a front. Could they have tried to recruit Jocelyn if she was simply a bookstore clerk? Certainly. But it made it much easier to gather her into the clasp of the cult while she was a hot shit up and coming rock star. Well played. Well played. Jeremy had been creating a negative atmosphere around Joss for months, so I would be less willing to fight him during the endgame. Well played.
I send a text to Jocelyn later that night.
“We need to talk.”
“When would be a good time for you.”
And then, the response I was waiting for:
“I would prefer if you ask me if I can talk rather than tell me I need to.”
“Hey- I’m not trying to challenge you. I’m simply trying to stop my mind from running in circles.”
“I know you are not challenging me and I’m sorry if that sounded aggressive. It was not intended to be”
We meet at the oldest establishment in town, in their cellar bar with fireplace, meticulously tended to in the never ending winter of 2014. I wanted to meet with Joss in public, so to assuage any fears she may have of me losing my shit during our ensuing conversation. The possibility had to be addressed, and I felt horrible about that definition. But it was true; we needed to meet in public.
However, Jocelyn wasn’t aware of specific developments in the days following our falling out.
“The reason I asked you to meet me is because, when I finally went out to the van to empty the gear after the Hartford gig, I noticed that Jeremy had taken all of his gear out that night; not just his guitar and amp, but all of the pedals and cords. Which, I bought for him as well. This was twenty minutes before we even began to fight at my house. So why take all of the gear out when we had practices and gigs that week, and he can’t drive? Was he going to do a solo album in twenty four hours?”
“Maybe that was the way he was going to get out.”
“I suppose so.”
Why were they trying to get out?
Object of adoration.
“I saw a picture of you on Facebook, looked like it was the after-party following the last Well gig, which was a good night if I remember…”
She laughs, tilts her head to the left, smiles.
“Yeah, that was a great set.”
“I saw the Senator draped over Jeremy in the background of that picture, did you notice it?”
“No, no… I didn’t.”
“It was the same shot he showed us in that text going to Hartford, with the Senator draped over him, all loaded…”
“Yeah…… I remember that……. ”
“This shot was the same night, but from a wider angle. It’s you, Amber draped around you, and Todd.”
“Is it because you think it will be easier to be an object of adoration, rather than the face of the band? Is that what is happening here?”
She looked away, over her left shoulder, toward the old stone fireplace. Slowly, she returned her gaze to me and looked directly into my eyes.
“Look, I just want you to be happy…” I offer.
Her gaze had yet to leave mine. And then, she abruptly stands up, wordless. She turns her heel on the ancient wood floor of the tavern and proceeds out the door.
I would never again record or write music with Jocelyn.
I had no mints on my person, so I sprinted back to my house, up to the main floor and brushed my teeth; deciding it was the better option of the two. When I make it back to the waiting car, I shut the door quietly, but let out a heave of breath.
“Outta shape there kid?” teases Benno
I didn’t want to remind him that the Heimlich took quite a bit out of me.
I receive a text from Anne at 10.30 while I’m in the emergency room with Benno and Folk Mass.
“He’s taken a turn for the worse. Not sure if he’s going to make it through the night.”
“I was halfway home an hour ago when I got a text from people who were visiting him, to get back to the hospital as soon as I could”
“Are you ok?”
“Well…. He’s resting, and taking calls from all of his friends.”
Her father certainly had friends. From every facet of his life he had made lifelong friends.
“I’m at Weekapaug, with Benno and Folk Mass. I thought you were watching the game? Frances called me and said Benno was choking to death. We raced over and gave him the Heimlich for a minute, for twenty seconds …. We realized he had a piece of chicken lodged below the windpipe, had to bring him here.”
“Oh my god! Is he alright?”
“We think so, but the piece won’t come up. He may have to go to New London.”
“That’s where I am…”
It was an eerie coincidence. The emergency room closed at midnight, and any inpatients that didn’t have medical clearance by the staff had to be transported to the main hospital in New London. The doctor came into the room one last time, and then, Benno was in the last ambulance to the hospital. Folk Mass had to drive me all the way back to Mystic, in case I needed to be there for Anne, and then drive to New London to help admit Benno; and stay with him through the procedure. I decided to watch the pilot episode of Twin Peaks while exchanging texts with Anne and Folk, trying to let the film’s unbounded intentions fill in the crevices between trains of thought.
“Here with Folk Mass, we found each other getting coffee”
It was 1AM. I responded with what I felt was acceptable credence, but I was exhausted.
“How long are you planning to stay there?”
“At least until Emmitt leaves.”
Emmitt was the youngest of her father’s siblings. A self-made man; he had created a distribution network for computer hardware in the late eighties, and was still in the game as a sole proprietor. His lifestyle was legendary in the family- Emmitt would work 21 days in a row programming code to complete a project, and then fly to Colorado to ski for a day, flying back that night and going to work. The Maddalenas adored him unequivocally. It was reassuring to know he was there in the room with Anne. I felt selfish about the realization that I was home and Emmitt was there. I could understand the definition of her stated intent.
“Ok, I’m here.”
I drift off to sleep and wake up at 3AM. Still no sign of Anne. I head upstairs, make a sandwich, down a pint of water and milk thistle, and head back to bed. I wake up six hours later, and the only person in the room is me. A sudden wave of unease arrives as I awaken. Was Anne here at all last night? I find her downstairs, in the add on room with the TV, and the faux bar. I notice the landline is off the hook.
“He died an hour ago.”
“I’m so sorry babe”
We huddle on the couch, crying for a few hours, not speaking at all. Anne knew I had been in her shoes. My step-father had died at age 41 from melanoma, and the two of us watched as he tested experimental drugs that would become lifesaving medicines a generation later. My father had succumbed to a stroke at age 55. At the time, we had been together for twelve years upon hearing the news.
“Benno fine, procedure worked. That was an unforgettable night, huh?”
I finally hear from Folk Mass at 11AM.
“Yeah. Anne’s father died an hour ago…”
“Oh my lord. Please, condolences from me. I can’t believe we were both at the hospital last night. Surreal”
Tuesday morning. It’s my off day, and I am behind on various PR for the band. We have shows in the works in Brooklyn, Manhattan, New London, and New Haven that I have to finalize or we are going to lose out. I have to check the radio stations that I shipped the CD promo to; gauging if we are garnering any interest. I also have to begin to budget the next single. We were almost at the tipping point where personal investment had to be balanced by band income. This was the one area I had trouble articulating to the kids; the financial reality. I loathed the discussion of money, on any level, and would avoid it at all costs- much to my detriment. Joss owed me $150 in gas money for studio sessions and gigs. And I paid her way into the TAZZIES because she forgot her purse in the car, waiting out the cold interruption of the awards opening. I was able to collect $300 from our last run of shows, and we were still owed for the BaBa’s gig, which would get us to half of the cost of a third single at Stormy Harbor. If the holiday season was as good as predicted, I might be able to parlay a Palace bonus with some savings of my own to schedule the sessions. The financial pressure was getting more evident with the planning of the next single. The fourth single would have to be recorded with band income alone, or investment from a label. Every group that gets this involved reaches the same conclusion. Even still, I was convinced we were going in the right direction. Everything was being realized from the original design. I had to remind myself there was a certain success in simply achieving that; a world created of your own efforts.
Anne’s fathers wake is scheduled for Thursday night, Halloween. Coincidentally, it’s the night of our last practice before the shows in New London and Brooklyn. In addition, the funeral would be Friday morning, and our show at the Well is that night- All Saints Day. I put on my funeral shoes at 6:00 pm Thursday evening, and Anne and I head across town to the wake. On the drive over, I begin to calculate just how many funerals I had been to; how many times I had to stand in the receiving line at a wake, being numbed by the overwhelming response to a family members passing. That was the methodology behind the wake ritual- contain the grief, even if it is only momentarily, with a barrage of hugs, thank yous, and tears. I could only recall eighteen, although I was sure I missed a few. And tonight, as a member of the Maddalena receiving line, I would draw on that experience. No one wanted to see a family fall apart at the wake; that was for the attendees. I was able to add enough levity to play my part, and when the seemingly endless line of people had settled into a final small group later that night, I realized not one of the Piercing members had made it. Even my thought process had been altered by the wave of emotion at the wake; I didn’t even notice until I realized I needed to get back to Centraal in a few minutes for practice. Jeremy would be the only one of them to attend the funeral the following
The general attitude toward Piercing had shifted once we showed the temerity to survive what we had been through the previous six months. There was a sea change in town about what we were doing- no longer were we a threat to anyone, but rather we represented a promise. It was the message we had been dispensing at the Palace to this generation: you have to create your own world; there is no world waiting to validate you. As we drove into NYC for the Sunday gig with Love Me Not, the van is as full as it can be. The light show kids from the Warehouse were thrilled to be asked to do lights for us in Brooklyn. June made her first trip to NYC with us. Anne was in the van, her camera bag full. The Folk Mass was with us. Jeremy’s new girlfriend Amber was with us, which made it nine total, including all of the light show gear. I prayed silently that we wouldn’t be stopped along the route; simply because of the seat belt laws. That was a new wrinkle in the drive to a show.
Our set goes over quite well; the light show is a particular attraction. Someone in the crowd close to my age grabs me after the gear is packed in the van. He has a cell phone video of one of the songs.
“Hey man- can I post this to my YouTube?”
“Yeah, sure man. Thanks for coming out tonight.”
Perhaps we have finally found the formula for our live show- a full mixture of the various elements of Mystic at this time. A totality. June gushes on the ride home about how the new lineup has “So much more fluidity, so much more depth, while retaining all of the aggressiveness that marked the earlier songs.”
“Ohhh, thank you June. I can’t think of anything I would want to hear about the band other than that.” replied Jocelyn. She sounded completely earnest.
“Hey Ian” I shout out over the din of the stuffed van
“Did you have a good time tonight?”
I was beginning to worry about him. Not his musical competency, which was exceptional. I was worried he was beginning to think, or perhaps realize, that he was in way over his head.
December is filled with practices, new songs, and one show in New Haven while we wait for the days to peel away until Todd finishes school on the 23rd. Anne and I hide out on New year’s Eve. Jeremy comes by Centraal on New Year’s Day to track a demo of his latest song. On Thursday the second day of 2013, we have a full band practice at 7.30pm. We have added six new numbers to the set, and I finally feel as if Piercing has every song that it needs at this juncture.
The first thing I need to attend to on Monday morning is emailing Richard at Stormy Harbour to book the session for our next single. We all agreed that ‘Walking the Psychic Vortex’ and ‘Cupid’s Pulse” were the best choices to represent the new lineup and the new sound we were getting. Thinking about the contrast while I stared at the screen awaiting a return email, I began to think that while the visceral edge of the original lineup was no longer as present, we did sound like the same group, and one that had matured. The songwriting did have more depth, the studio was almost routine to us, and we were finally, after nine months of fighting to simply keep the band together- the retrograde was seemingly ending.
“Hey Ellery- we have two dates available for you- weds 15 jan or thurs 30 jan.”
As much as I wanted to get in to the studio as soon as possible, we would have to wait until the 30th. Joss was due to be out of town with Marcus’ family for a winter jaunt to sunny Florida during the week of the 15th. I tell myself every element of delay has eventual worked in our favor, and this would more than likely as well.
“We’ll take the 30th, thanks for getting back to me- you guys are the best! et”
Jocelyn, Ian, and Todd meet me at Centraal at 8.30am so we have enough extra time to pick up Jeremy at Amber’s house in Niantic. He will not participate on the same level as the three of them today; who have to walk through the slushy mush toward my house in the winter that won’t end. We are due to load in at Stormy Harbor by Noon, and I’m hoping January traffic to the city is minimal. After we load the van and head out toward Niantic, Joss guides us through the streets of New London, hoping to buy us some time with a shortcut.
“This is my neighborhood; I didn’t really grow up in Mystic.”
I knew where we going the entire time, but I let her call the shots. I was still trying to get Joss to take a more pro-active role in the direction of the band beyond our image. When we arrive at Amber’s house, Jeremy is waiting, guitar case in hand, on the front porch.
“Jesus, could you guys be any more late? I was freezing my ass off!”
“You think this is late? Hahahahaha” I laugh. “And what, did you get into a fight with Amber and she made you wait outside?”
“Very funny, asshole. “
“But, am I right?”
“Of course you are; asshole. Can we go make a fucking record now, please?”
“Hahahahaha…. We’re on our way.”
We do not have a stop in Brooklyn to pick up Adrian, so I can simply follow my directions right to the studio. As we pull up, and I maneuver the van into a tricky patch of iced over Brooklyn pavement, out onto the street come Richard and Michael; they look genuinely happy to see us. My initial instinct is to chalk that up to the fact that we contributed to another day of the studio’s existence, but the hugs each one of them gave me dispelled any business notion. They were invested in us, as much as we were in them; our relationship with Stormy Harbor had only been strengthened by our return. I could barely hide my anticipation about the impending session to Richard:
“I think this is the best material we have written. I can’t wait to hear what Michael is going to do with it.”
“He really has high hopes for you guys, you can see from the work he puts into your sessions. He’s also noticed all of the press you’ve been getting. ”
“We truly appreciate it; I can’t imagine recording with anyone else. Have we namechecked the studio enough in our PR?”
“Hahah, yeah, you guys are great at that.”
Michael always wanted to get a single take drum track with as many other instruments locked onto that beat. He was masterful at arranging sound baffles, microphones, and the guitar amps so there was very little bleed through on each individual track. But, the tighter we all were, the more detail he could explore during the mix.
“How old are these drum heads, my man?” Michael asked me as I finished setting up my kit.
“I put them on a week ago, tuned them twice, played them once.”
Once I had completely set up, Michael began to tune the drums himself. I was always amazed at how quickly he could bring the whole kit into harmony. I had worked with producers who would take three hours to tune the drums, but those days were thankfully long gone; we would record exclusively at Stormy Harbor for the duration of Piercing- as far as I was concerned. While Michael tuned, I began to help Richard place the mic stands and unravel the corresponding cords over the length of the studio floor. Jeremy and Todd were fine tuning their effect pedals and amp settings; Ian is in the isolation booth warming up by playing scales ridiculously fast. Jocelyn is deeply settled into an old couch backed up against the west wall, and she turns to catch my attention. Joss motions with a nod of her head toward Ian, and mouths
‘Can you believe this kid?’
I nod back, with my arms splayed apart; ‘I know.’
I thought to myself: everything is in place. We are going to get a deal and tour. I almost let myself believe it was a foregone conclusion. And then I remembered 1994. If Thames blew it, we could blow it just as easily. That brief moment where I let my guard down reinforced an inherent
insight about managing the band- never project a possible success.
Jeremy was taking it all in, a subtle sense of awe and arrival detailed his wry smile. He walked through the room, gazing at the collection of guitars, occasionally asking Michael how a certain instrument had found its way into the studio. Todd was sitting cross-legged on the floor; gently strumming his guitar which was not yet plugged in. And then: insight into initiatives. Jeremy asked Jocelyn to go through his vocal warmup with him. He had a background in singing, having been a member of the Chamber Choir in High School all four years he was there. This piqued my interest, because Joss never warmed up before a gig, a practice, or a studio session. She was actually that good; she was rarely hindered by not warming up. I myself had to play drum rudiments for at least ten minutes before gigs and studio work, not quite as much before a practice. Jeremy had been trying for months to get Joss to take warming up seriously, but she always half assed it just to placate him. But, with Richard and Michael in the room, she knew a specific professional aspect was front and center.
“Follow me, just like this… up the scale la la la la LA la la la LA la la la Laaaaah
Jocelyn followed, flawlessly.
“Now, the next note up “
Jocelyn followed, flawlessly.
After the first few takes, Michael asks me to come into the control room.
“I want you to hear this, it’s where were having a problem.”
I carried plenty of anxiety with me when I went behind the drums to track for Michael. It wasn’t an issue of whether I thought I could execute his direction; I simply didn’t want the beginning of the session to be laborious for him. I wanted to nail these tracks on the first take, but I was having trouble during the bridge of ‘Vortex’. Michael leaned over the expansive mixing board, and rewound to the spot he wanted me to hear; the whirring digital code sounding like an impending typhoon. I was nervous.
“Hear how you’re galloping through this bridge transition? You need to slow down there and let the rhythm develop; you’re basically rushing it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I can totally hear it. Ok, let me just do a raw run through with those guys to nail it.”
“Ells, you know I’m going to run tape anyway. Try to nail it out of the box.”
“Ok, man.” I trusted him. As I reached for the door handle to the studio, a sudden realization entered my mind: he trusted me.
“Ok, Twining… can you nail it so we don’t waste the whole day getting drum tracks?” Jeremy judiciously instills a bit of sarcasm. He had a point, and I had to keep up with the kids musically. On the third pass of the song after Michael’s instruction, we lock in to the change effortlessly.
“Great! Great! Ok, Ells, there is one part out of whack toward the end, where you get a little behind, a bit off.”
“Ok, cool, can you cue it up?”
“Coming right up… and here, listen for it.”
The sound comes in at top volume, the way that I like it. After a brief pause where all of the instruments are holding a note in unison, the drum fill that I play out of the dissolving noise brings the whole band back to full throated volume with a concise guitar solo from Jeremy to wrap it up. The drum fill isn’t smooth at all.
“Can you roll back the tape for a second; play it again?”
“Sure thing Ells”
Now I can hear it. There is one solitary snare note that is out of place. It’s not obvious, it’s not glaring, but it is wrong. And Michael heard it; could isolate among all of that sound a single snare beat. It’s a good thing he’s not leading us into war, I think, because I would probably follow him.
“Are we rolling?” I say into the closest microphone, and gaze back at the control booth. I get the thumbs up, and the Michael nod; always reassuring. I reach into a place where I can draw the discipline to make this live edit: there already exists an audience that is going to hear this drum take.
“Got it. Good work, Ells.”
The recording of ‘Cupid’s Pulse’ is the complete opposite from ‘Vortex’. We track a beautiful version of Todd’s haunting epic on the fourth take; perfectly synthesizing the quiet/loud dynamic of the tune.
“Ok, ok. Great work people. Ummm, I need a smoke break, and then we’ll listen together the few spots I need each of you to do a quick fix on. Is that cool?”
“Of course, Michael. Whatever you need.” Jocelyn is the first to respond.
Michael found three distinct notes he wanted Ian to fix. It takes about eight minutes.Jeremy has one section to fix, a guitar solo on ‘Vortex’. One take. Done. He wants Todd to triple layer parts of the guitar solo that ends ‘Cupid’s Pulse’. Four takes.
“Joss! Your turn.” Michael bellows into the room mic. She is in the front room ordering take out for herself, Richard, and Michael. I have the picnic basket packed.
“Be right there.”
Once Joss has soundchecked in the vocal both, I head out back to their open air patio. One of the more interesting elements of Stormy Harbor were the double industrial doors you had to pass through to get outside. They sat only eighteen inches apart, and every time I went out back to partake, I could only think of some musician way past their limit getting wrenched between the two doors, and calling Michael, or Richard for help. I also didn’t want that person to be me, so I never drank in the studio until the mixing session began, among many other reasons.. I had to drive everyone back home from Brooklyn, so it wasn’t a rock life moment for me. More like a Dad moment, because I imagined it would be a great night to get totally loaded and mix new music with Michael. He was a singular human being, and an incredible music maker.
Jocelyn and Todd take a combined twenty five minutes to complete their vocal tracks. Jeremy was up next, and was essentially was recording the last tracks before we could begin mixing. We were way ahead of schedule, so there was no real pressure on Jeremy; he could take a bit of time to find his way into ‘Vortex,’ as he sang half of the main vocal. His first five takes, however, are completely awful; off key and out of rhythm. Joss, Todd, and I share a concerned look, as if to convey- there can’t be a way he’s been actually this off the whole time, can it?”
“Hey” I whisper to the two of them. Ian is on his phone and doesn’t seem to be aware of the tension in the control booth at all.
“Michael will get the performance needed out of him. Let’s be patient.” I offer encouragingly. But I absolutely believe it as well.
“I think that’s a solid.” replies Todd, in his typical unblemished whisper.
“He’ll get it. I know he will. He won’t let me down now.” Jocelyn adds this at a low volume. I can barely make out her words.
Jocelyn speaks these words as if in a trance, as if her exchange of conversation was not for Todd and me, but for some larger, extemporaneous force. Jocelyn’s personal identification toward the importance of the things we cannot see, the things that are hidden from us… asking “how random is random?” were the centrifuge I which I built my belief upon in regard to her talent. It was not simply her voice. Perhaps I was reading too much into it; completely projecting. But that sort of thing happened all of the time in the Mystic valley. There was no way I would not be influenced by her statement.
As we finish packing up the gear, Jeremy brings up the cover art. My first reaction is personal disappointment; hadn’t he been paying attention to Malthus all these years? And the cover art for the previous two singles was scheduled well before their respective recording sessions. This was the first real evidence that at some point, Piercing was going to be too big for a member of the band to manage. That realization was powerful, as it truly indicated our outward growth. But until that time actually arrived, I couldn’t let the proverbial ball to drop.
“How about Todd makes a collage, something based around the American flag?” states Jeremy with confidence
“Ohh, that’s interesting” opines Jocelyn
“The flag? What kind of progressive imaging led you from Joss in a bra to the flag?” I reply, somewhat incredulously. Had Jeremy not been paying attention to the Piercing totality of image? It was in Jocelyn’s hands, and she wanted Pop Art full color, with each of the glamourous, risqué entreats.
“You know- the fucking stars and stripes?”
“Haaha very funny. There is nothing political about our music. But the flag image is making me think about something…. Fabric…”
“And?” asks Jeremy
“Anne wanted to do this fashion shoot years ago, but it never materialized. Her idea was to take large swaths of velvet fabric and wind them between trees in the winter; shooting the models in the bi-chrome effect of the white snow and the heavily contrasted fabric. A ‘Snow White’ kind of thing.”
“That sounds very interesting.” Jocelyn speaks, and everyone else stops talking.
“Are you up for it? I’m sure Anne would love to have you model a shoot again; she always raved about your ability to capture the spirit of the moment.”
“Can you text her about it now?”
Jocelyn asks. I comply.
On the ride back to Mystic, the CDR of the session plays on the van CD player. The is a palpable sense of relief in the van as we pile up the miles on I95- we had survived the near destruction of Piercing only to come out stronger. Ian had been pretty quiet throughout the day, but I suddenly sensed the need to hear what his take on the day’s proceedings were.
“Hey Ian, did you have a good day?” I asked.
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”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?