THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Three

Following the somewhat triumphant debut of our live show, I sensed it was time to head into an actual studio and give Whitney something to hear. There was no way I was going to be able to capture the true sound of this band at Centraal, so I got in touch with my friend Jimmy Fiero, who operated a small studio in Middletown where Greenmanville, Bold Schwa, and Borealis had recorded or done some mastering .

Jimmy was the perfect producer for a band at our level- finding out what the group was capable of within the context of their development. The first of two scheduled nights was exceptional, the band getting tracks down in record time, and the direction from Fiero being implemented immediately. We ended the four hour session with all of the instruments recorded and dialed in- in addition, scratch vocals from Todd and Jocelyn were recorded on both tracks. We all agreed that the next session would be to finalize the vocals, and to possibly get the entire mixing slate done, bringing us in at budget and accomplishing the goal of having a three song demo to begin showcasing the Piercing sound.

When I arrived at Jocelyn’s Mom’s house to pick her up for the second session, she wasn’t waiting for us in the yard. That wasn’t particularly uncommon, but with so much riding on the night, I thought she might be agitated to the point of uncomfort; anticipating singing her first final vocal session in a real studio.  Jimmy had an old fashioned light in the studio with “RECORDING” written on it that she had taken a photo of the night before, and posted online. I thought that was encouraging, as we would more than likely need to boost the social media aspect of our existence in shrift time.  I hated to honk the van horn to get someone’s attention- it has always felt so rude in a residential neighborhood, so Rudy volunteered to call Jocelyn on his phone.

“Hello…?” Rudy drawled into the cell.

We could hear through the static of loud voices that something strange was going down, something that we shouldn’t be privy to, and that this was a backward moment for Jocelyn. Rudy turned off his phone.

“She’s not coming tonight…..”

“What?!??!” I replied. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Something bad man, I don’t really know…..”

I had an overwhelming urge to turn the van around, drive back to Mystic, and say “Thanks, but no thanks……” How do you cancel a studio session at the actual last minute? Jocelyn was living in her Mother’s house, with her boyfriend Marcus, which I was sure created its own inherent hazards. But Jimmy was running a business, not some demo studio or home recording nirvana, like Steven. We were going to have to pay Jimmy for the session whether we showed up or not, so I put the van in drive and headed up the rural highway toward Middletown, without her. Little did I know at the time, it was the first glimpse of how the band would almost always exist in a fragmented form.

Upon arrival, Jimmy immediately noticed that Jocelyn wasn’t with us. I could sense a slight pang of disappointment in his voice, as if he may have been waiting all day to record her singular sound.

“What’s up with Jocelyn?” said Jimmy

“A domestic issue. She won’t be here tonight. Which means, we will probably have to book a third night to finish everything….  perhaps we can get the bulk of the mixes programmed in, and when we come back… she can add final vocals and we can mix accordingly.” I replied, trying to mitigate anger and opportunity.

“That sounds like a plan.” Jimmy responded with his usual delicate nature- which kept everyone focused on the task at hand. Jimmy was right, let’s not get sidetracked by inconvenience or interruption. Keep moving forward. It was a lesson we were lucky to learn at such an early stage.

The night went by in a blur without incident, as Jimmy rolled through the three songs with, professional ease. We had the bulk of the mixes set, and we had a burn of the tracks to listen to on the hour long ride home. Salvaging the session was paramount, and fortunately Jimmy had an opening two days later so we could bring Jocelyn in for final vocals and to clinch the mixes.  I had to come up with $200 of my own money to cover the third session, which I was confident we would be able to recoup, having made $220 at our very first show. I had rarely let myself think within a band situation that there would be enough income to offset the expenses, and yet with  this group that detail seemed completely different. Perhaps it was the absence of the street gang mentality- we were all together to be professional, and not simply a sequential hobby that might sprout wings. Ours was a singular determination, even at this early stage, that we all seemed to share. It made Jocelyn’s cancellation all the more puzzling.  I asked her about it when I called to schedule the third session.

“You don’t want to know anything about it.”

There was a certain totality to her vacuous answer. For a moment, I was absolutely petrified- was she hinting that something in my own personal life had leaked over to her own personal life? I had to come to terms that the possibilities of that were remote, and that we were also not quite as transparent with each other as I had previously thought. I was fine with that development; as long as the music and the band her primary focus.

The third session with Jimmy went as well as I had imagined the second session would have gone. Jocelyn was fully prepared to sing, and get her ideas across in a moment’s notice. That night reaffirmed to me that the entire foundation I had built with Jocelyn, and Todd to a certain degree, was strong enough to get us through the momentary distractions, which I well knew would be voluminous. With Jimmy, we had captured a raw version of our sound, and we could now begin to imagine what it should be, at least musically. There was not a conversation to be had as the five of us put the burned disc into the stereo and hit repeat. Four passages of our first EP culminated as Adrian, Todd, Rudy, and I crossed the drawbridge in the center of town; it’s grid platform ringing out under the weight of the van.

We had decided as a group that Jocelyn would dictate the image of Piercing, not necessarily what people would wear onstage, but the cover image for the EP was the first test of her acumen, visually.

We exchanged a few days of emails, when she came to her conclusion:

“What I envision is something like a Lichtenstein comic panel- “a woman in distress”.

“Somewhat Lynchian?” was my reply.

“Not directly, but an image that conveys there is so much more going on. I think it’s fitting for where we’re coming from.”

That night, I began to pour over back catalog work from Anne’s portfolio; thinking there must be a singular image within that would catapult our cover to completion. The very first picture I pulled out of the twelve archival storage boxes was a shot of June Geneva, one of Anne’s longtime models. For that particular shoot, Anne had a concept loosely based around “What Price Fame?”  Since she had hundreds of test prints of June over the years, she was able to cheaply set up a photo shoot where June was in a room plastered with photos of herself, trapped within her own fame. This particular picture had each element Jocelyn was looking for; June with hands clasped over her face, showing a weave of fingers, her bowed head, and nothing else but beautiful photos of herself. I immediately felt this was the perfect image- “A Woman in Distress”. Black and White. Stark. Produced by our circle of artists. A Mystic thing. But I insisted to myself that I must look through each of the twelve boxes, the chances that my initial intuition was correct seemed to be too confident for the work at hand. Three days later, that very first photo I pulled would be chosen by Jocelyn as the cover of our first recording.

We released the EP on a website designed and run by Malthus, and printed a small batch of 200 CDR’s to send out to whatever media outlets we could approach, and mostly to give away for free to the people who made it out to our shows. “Be prepared to give your music away for free” was something I remembered empirically from an early internet diatribe about where the business of selling music was going. That was in 2002. This was ten years later. Malthus took the Anne photo and put it through his machines; getting an incredible crop that only added more tension to the concept. He also found the font that would help define the Piercing image, a singular grace sitting between the future and the near past, which we would use on every subsequent show flier, cover design, and PR kit. In some senses, we were enacting the next stage of The Infectious Reality, where I would have joined Todd, Jocelyn, and Jeremy- as the drummer for their third EP. That never materialized in the wake of their splintering. I asked Jocelyn about it one night after a Piercing practice.

“What really caused you guys to break up? I never was really able to put it together…. ”

“I just didn’t like the direction the music was heading, especially Jeremy’s newest songs. I felt that TIR was being pulled in three separate directions, and none of them really appealed to me as a long term, viable option. And I am so happy with Piercing, it’s exactly as I imagined when I approached you”

Some local reviews started to trickle in, and that was when I realized what a slough this was going to be; creating a media groundswell for a band that was simply one of thousands of groups using the same channels to gain some traction in the indie music world. The landscape was dominated by a few major music blogs- similar to the era when Thames were going through the same PR machinations. But instead of Rolling Stone and Spin as the polar opposite directives, today it was web based giants Hellhound and EarCandy. And yet, every review noticed the presence of Jocelyn on the recordings, a trait that would continue with each subsequent release. As good as the band was musically, as much prowess as the musicians brought to the table, it was her voice that made all of the difference. We collectively knew this, and it seemed in this early moment that people we didn’t know could sense the same thing. I decided then to make sure that getting Jocelyn in the proper place to achieve maximum effort was paramount. Managing the band as well as being in the band was starting to fall into place. I found the perfect Gemini situation for me to exist in- as I began to think of myself as two different people within the context of the group- the drummer, and the manager.

I decided to send the songs to Whitney after a few weeks of debating when would be the right time. The more I pondered it, the more I literally didn’t know when the right time was, so I may as well take that chance- she had asked to hear us after all- yes?

“hey! im listening right now, so cool! v dino jr SY etc, but if kim sang like gwen stefani, right?! these demos are rly solid but you guys should maybe get someone to produce for you in a studio. Massive is really really cool. i love jocelyn’s voice! if you guys feel like going to new york, you should record with my dear friend michael. he’s done every all in the family recording, and has been doing a bunch of other great stuff – get on a cool label! Go on tour! Etc etc! michael is expensive but amazing… I’ll get you in touch if you want. very cool stuff, send me more when you have it.”

I was a bit taken aback by Whitney’s response. I knew we were onto something good, but to head into Brooklyn and record a debut single within six months of the band’s inception was an acceleration I had not anticipated. I found Michael and his studio online, and sent them a simple email request, referencing Whitney in proportion. They got back to me promptly- the very first evidence of how professional they were.

“Whitney is a great friend of ours, and if she recommends a band, we always look into it. We have a basic schedule for a single ten hour session at $750. Normally, we can record and mix one song in that time frame, but sometimes, if the band is prepared, we can get two in during the same ten hours. It all depends on how well the band can execute in the studio.”

I was thrilled they actually responded to our inquiry, but coming up with $750 was going to be pretty tough. The kids in the band had no money, except for Rudy, who seemed unlikely to part with any for a “frivolous” recording project. I was confident his response would be that we could do the same thing locally, for much less. But this was a real chance to solidify the group once Adrian left for Brooklyn- he would be living there as we began to craft an identity within the New York indie scene. We could become bilateral- if everything worked out efficiently. We would have the connections from the studio, and some instant credibility, in the sense that our PR could be bolstered by the fact that we recorded with Michael, and not some home studio which was the ubiquitous reality of the modern age.  It was too much for me to pass up. I sent an email to one of my very best friends- a regular at the Palace for over 15 years.

Robert Spargo’s nickname was “Folk Mass” at the Palace. Many of the regulars at the shop had similar nicknames, based around their collecting obsession. There was “Bobby Byrd”, who was not a funk fan, but a Byrds collector- Blues Dave sought out first pressings of early blues. Beatle Bob, GaryU2, REMCharles- this list was endless after thirty years of being in business. Robert had always been kind toward my drive for musical aptitude. More than once over the years he offered to help financially, within the context of a current musical ambition. I had always refused, as his friendship meant far more to me than money. But Piercing was different; perhaps that was why I had waited all of this time to ask for his assistance. If the Folk Mass could loan us $500, the remaining five of us should surely be able to come up with $50 dollars apiece to make up the difference. Even if the band imploded after recording with Michael, the experience would be worth much more than $50. I knew this for a fact, as during the Thames days, Brent’s parents fronted us thousands of dollars to afford to record with Russell Johnson. Those were some of the very best days and nights of my life, so if borrowing $500 from Robert could facilitate that for Jocelyn, Rudy, Todd, and Adrian, it was well worth the risk. Even if I had to repay all of that money myself.

After procuring the investment from the Folk Mass, and getting everyone in the band to contribute their $50, I emailed Richard at Stormy Harbour, the business side of the operation. He and Michael were partners in the studio, and while Richard was an exceptional producer/engineer in his own right, Michael handled the bulk of the day to day recording and Richard handled their finances.  He offered us Saturday the 22nd of September- two weeks away. Following several phones calls, emails, and Facebook messages, I was finally, after full day of communication, able to get the members of Piercing committed, so I could confirm the date with Stormy Harbour. It was the beginning of a routine that would dominate each day of the week for me during the next year and a half. The dynamic had totally shifted.

The attempts to get in touch with the four of them illustrated that. Previously, if I didn’t hear back from one of then about a practice night, there was little at stake other than our forward momentum. But Michael and Richard at Stormy Harbour were professionals, and fortunately, I had plenty of experience dealing with people in the recording field. Once we agreed to borrow capital, and follow through for our connected friends efforts on our behalf, everything was at stake.

Jocelyn, Todd, Rudy, and I left Mystic at 10.30 am for a scheduled 2pm session in Brooklyn. Adrian had already moved to the city three weeks earlier, and had the luxury of a morning that was not delineated by a commute. I had done my time in NYC when Thames reformed as Greenmanville; so the drive in and out of the city was no big deal to me. I had driven there and back hundreds of times, and even learned a secret “no toll” route to any of the five boroughs. As I drove down the Hutchinson Parkway making our way in, I thought of Adrian grabbing his guitar case, opening the door on Montrose, and taking a left down the street toward Broadway. The kid had been in Brooklyn for three weeks and yet, there he was, just as so many others were, plying their dream on the street. As much as I wanted Adrian to stay in Mystic, this was the best scenario for him as a writer, which would certainly benefit the band. I admired him for it. The longest time I spent in the LES was four days, exiting up the 95 corridor to work and make some money while playing with Greenmanville.  This slender reed was just twenty years old, and had a drive that was pure determination. Adrian and I had been friends for years, with him telling me stories of teenage pranks that had landed him in jail from the moment I met him. We were always open and convivial with each other, and I instinctively knew I had to make a greater effort to enhance our relationship while he was living 177 miles away.

When we arrived at Stormy Harbour, I was somewhat surprised that it was so far inside the building. We had to descend two flights of stairs, toward a long corridor that turned left at the end of the hall. I was feeling a bit claustrophobic, which hardly ever happened to me. When people ask how tall I actually am, I always like to say “five foot, one” in deference to the Iggy Pop song; and yet most people don’t catch on. When I then say “I’m five foot, five”, it frames my lack of ever feeling that the walls might be closing in. But as we opened the door to the actual studio, another long corridor greeted us, this one filled to near capacity with seven full drum kits, each descending tom size stacked upon the bass drum, with cymbal sets balanced precariously on the top. I began feeling as if maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, and that maybe I should have done more research. It was a brief moment of paranoia. As we entered the main studio, you could see Michael and Richard’s genius on display in the incredible Feng Shui execution that was their personal work space. Every inch was meticulously maintained, in a room no bigger than the Palace in Mystic. Amplifiers were stacked four high and three deep in the unusable bathroom. The isolation booth Rudy and I were to be mic’d up in was about four feet by eight feet with a slant on the corner facing the engineer, so those in isolation could see the control board, and the other band members. Michael believed in getting live takes of all of the instruments, then adding only the most necessary  complimentary tracks, while creating a vocal spectrum as intense as the need for getting the band in one take.

Michael greeted us with a story about his lone visit to Mystic.

“So, you guys are from Mystic. I went up there for a weekend with Whitney about two years ago.”

“Really?” I replied. “What did you think of the big town?”

“I loved it. We didn’t go out and do the social thing, but we did swim at this pond on a local farm that left a lasting impression.”

“Kittles Farm?” we all responded in unison.

“Yeah, that was it! There was this kid who was doing reverse back flips off of the diving board secured to a floating dock.”

“Brian Capuano!” the five of us shouted in misplaced harmony- our totality surprised Michael.

Yes. Even Michael had his exposure to the Mystic kids. They were unforgettable. This was the mantle we had begun to articulate with Piercing, this notion that it was now our responsibility to capitalize on all of the advantages the people before us had carved out. And one unique link was that I was there. I had been on the “Cruise to Nowhere” ferry shows in the ‘80’s, I was there for the resurgence of the local rock clubs in the early ‘90’s. I was at Station House, I was at Saturn Hall. I was at the Portersville Collective. It made sense that I would be here for the final quest for the grail, a moment if only briefly, where the efforts of our inspiration were exalted in the musical culture. Piercing was straddling an irreplaceable opportunity, as many before them had.

As I began to set up my drums in the isolation booth, Michael noticed that this was not a commonly seen drum set.

“Hey man- where’d you get these drums?” he asked with genuine inquisitiveness.

“Back in 1990, I went in to the local music shop just to pick up some sticks, or something. The drum guy, who had sold me my very first drum set- the Stewart Copeland Imperialstar, complete with 4 octobans-..”

Michael let out a hearty laugh that interrupted my statement. I was hoping he would get the reference, hoping that he would realize I didn’t take myself seriously, but that I did take the music seriously.

“Sonor had just sold their distribution license a week earlier. The previous distributor was still sitting on a bunch of stock, so they were offering these kits at incredibly low prices. If I could come up with fifteen hundred dollars before the next day at closing, I could get a Sonor kit for half price. At the time, I simply had to make it happen. The funny thing is, these drums are older than most of the kids in the band. Todd and Adrian….  Joss was a year old, I think, when I bought these. Rudy was about five years old.”

“Wow, that’s an incredible sequence of events.” replied Michael, a telling response that began to reveal his depth of what musicians were going through combining their day to day lives- making money to exist- and making the time, having the energy, and the mental acuity to actually write original rock music. And perform it in a live setting. To be able to make succinct recordings. All artists come up against the same terms of commitment, but Michael and Richard were illustrating a new breed to me. As I finished setting up the last of the cymbals, and as a Broadway Brooklyn sweat began to seep in, we had come to a moment that we had built for ourselves. It was all up to us.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Two

“What kind of music are you thinking of?” was the first thing I asked Jocelyn in reply to playing drums in this new band. Her musical taste was somewhat all over the place, and I wasn’t going to come out of retirement to play in some fey indie rock band. If I was going to go back to being a full time drummer, I was going to play The Drums.

“My heart really is in the warm 60’s garage rock that i grew up listening to, and that’s what I want to do…. not that directly. I don’t know if any of that would appeal to you but I would love to be in an actual band with you.” was her reply.

She had caught me at the lowest artistic point in my life. The previous summer, I threw a handful of DJ nights at the local all ages performance space. I was able to get a good friend of mine who was a world class DJ to headline the event, while I did a fairly simple opening hour. The first two nights were some of the best nights of the time; the bulk of the next generation finally getting their dance on as a group. My intention was that if the kids could see how a dance floor of people can function to inspire each other to higher levels of creativity and commitment, it would spill over into their rock bands that were flourishing. The third night was a let-down; the group mind was already dissipating, and having it the weekend before the holidays sapped energy. I thought to myself, we’ve had a nifty little run here, let’s put it back on the shelf until the next summer. Unfortunately, I let myself get talked into doing an opening set on New Year’s Eve; breaking one of my long standing rules- do not leave the house on New Year’s Eve. I ended up playing to a completely empty room- literally, there was not a single person in the room. I asked Anne to not watch, shooing her away when she made an attempt to hear my set, as she would have been the only person in the room. After my hour was up, I packed the crates and went straight home; not even a goodbye to anyone who was involved in putting on the event. New Year’s Day, 2012. I was sitting in a remorseful slouch, totally convinced that my live performance career had ended in an empty, old lumber yard building a half mile from my house. Six weeks later, Jocelyn and I
began talking about the influence of Echo & the Bunnymen, and how that would be the perfect direction for our new band.

Class Ring were the next generation’s best band. One day while working at the Palace, some of the band members asked me to come out to one of their practices and point them in the right direction. To visit them, i had to drive into an exclusive neighborhood in Stonington. A multi-generation family of five stare me down as a long haired, sunglasses wearing, van driving weirdo who takes the right turn toward the band’s practice space.

They had an interesting blend of a punk ethos combined with classic rock structures, and I was intrigued by their potential. As a five piece, they could truly branch out into expansive counterpoint, largely due to the guitar talents of Adrian Pearson, another slender reed of the scene. He had cut his teeth at an early age shredding metal riffs, and when he had mastered that craft and became bored with it, branched out into folk and gypsy punk. Dexterous, and melodic, he could coax a classic styling from a fiddle, or an amp cranked to eleven. Their practice that day left me encouraged; it seemed as if my experience in music was simply to help guide this group toward their own success. Class Ring became the biggest draw in the new Mystic scene, and I thought, could become a new Thames, perhaps even more so as their diversity created a larger context in which they could create. Fronted by a female / male duo, with a killer rhythm section featuring two brothers, their star quickly rose. But even with a modicum of success comes an added layer of new pressure to maintain upward movement. As they began branching out and playing in New London, and the Greater Southeastern Connecticut Autonomous Zone, inner turmoil began to tear them apart. In an effort to clear their heads and move forward, they deemed the underlying issue to be Adrian’s commitment to long term success. I was working at the Palace when the front couple and the two brothers met to tell Adrian he was no longer a member of Class Ring. Outside of the Palace, they tried to convince themselves they were doing the right thing. Under murmurs and bated breath, Adrian arrived to the meeting.

“Let’s go down to the Art Center and have a talk” one of the brothers said to Adrian.

I knew what they were planning to do, but you could clearly see that Adrian had no idea what was coming. About thirty minutes later, I caught a glimpse of Adrian as he made his way back to his car. The look on his face was something that would stay with me through some of the more difficult times in this new band. His entire world had been turned upside down by the people he trusted the most, and that sense of abandonment can lead an artist in one of two ways- disruption of continuity- or a revealed vigor one did not know was available beforehand. As Jocelyn and I began to discuss the possible members of the group, we knew that Adrian was our guitar star.

“I think we have to have Todd in the band.” Jocelyn wrote to me, kicking off another day of a hundred emails back and forth between us. The two of them go all the way back to TIR, and it made total sense to have Todd in the group; his intensity and emotional songwriting would be the perfect complement to Adrian’s more muscular offerings.

“Do you think Jeremy will try to wedge his way in once he knows we are all working together?” opined Joss.

“No. He’s dead set on moving to New York. And I think it will be good for him; he needs to get out and not be the loudest guy in the room anymore. He’ll find his way into some hotshot NYC band in no time.”

As we traded more emails about the perfect bass player fit, it suddenly dawned on me that with Jeremy’s departure, the answer to our fifth member was opening up right under our noses. Geneva Holiday was a long running, instrumental surf trio that somewhat bridged the end of the Thames/Station years and this next generation. Kids like Todd and Jocelyn had found their own “Thames” in their teen years watching Geneva cut up the night into 30 two minute surf screeds; with a matching energy and the matching uniforms they wore at every show. Rudy Badenhoff was their six foot, intimidating German bass player, and came from a long line of family musicians. Gangly, hyper, and yet an incisive definition; he was the heart and soul of the instrumental Geneva experience.

Without Rudy’s stage presence and panache, the Holiday would have been a two tiered moment, not the 3D spectacle that they were at the height of their powers. But in the last year, they had expanded to a four piece, adding Jeremy on guitar. Jeremy brought out a more rock driven side to their surf instrumentals, and as the song structures became more complex, they dropped much of their older material in favor of the expanded palette. But that was all going to vanish the moment Jeremy left for the city, so I suggested we recruit Rudy to play bass in the band.

“That is an inspired idea, I can’t believe I didn’t think of him.” wrote Joss in the ensuing email thread.

We decided to have the five of us meet at my house, to discuss whether or not we had enough of a musical overlap to create this new group. I was completely confident that we would, and personally was more interested in hearing what kind of goals they each would want to achieve. Adrian had already informed us before the meeting that he was moving to Brooklyn on Labor Day weekend, so we had roughly seven months to build up enough songs to play live. In the back of my mind, I felt that we could achieve whatever we set our goals as, but I insisted to myself to keep that well hidden; there was no need for me to create an agenda for the five of us. The best case scenario seemed to be that we make something dynamic, and continue with the lineup after Adrian relocates. The worst case is that we play a handful of local shows and have a great summer.

The meeting was in what I like to call the “mother-in-law” apartment- a tiny one story addition the previous owners of our house attached to the original 1930’s structure. As a kid, with a single mom, there was no way our unfinished basement was to become one of the cool rec rooms that were so prevalent at the time. So, now that Anne and I owned a house, we succumbed to the idea we could achieve what our parents could not. A homemade “bar”- fake porcelain tile, rugs from the discount store. It was where we kept the TV. I began the discussion by saying “What would you each like to achieve in the band?”

Jocelyn went first:
“I would love to be able to tour to some degree, regionally- the East coast. I could be very happy with that level of success.”

Rudy was a rock lifer, somewhat like me without the constancy.
“I just wanna rock, you know? I want to be able to play shows where people are like “oh my god, what the fuck did I just see?….”

Adrian was next.
“I know you guys know I’m moving to Brooklyn in the fall, but I just want to work hard for these next few months and see where we can take it. I don’t know if I could tour once I get to New York, but I’m really curious to see what we can come up with. We could make my move to Brooklyn work for us”.

Todd was incisive, as he always was.
“I just want to write the songs I hear in my head, and whatever happens, happens.”

I reassured them that I would harbor our collective perception of what may be possible.

“I’m an open page; I never even thought I would be in this position again. So, I promise you guys, I will do everything that I am capable of to keep this moving forward, as long as everyone agrees to what may evolve.”

There was one more thing that needed to be addressed right then, as I would not allow myself to participate in a band dynamic I had already lived through.

“I only ask for three things from the four of you. No band tee shirts on stage, no sneakers onstage, and no narcotics. If I even catch a hint of there being narcotics in this band, I will walk away.”

The band tees and the sneakers were more of an issue of seeking discipline. If you can’t get your wardrobe up to par without sneakers and band tees, you’re not really trying. It’s a basic request. But I had already lived through three waves of narcotics within a band, and it simply isn’t pretty. There is nothing so soul draining as being on the road with someone who can’t get their fix.

Practices were held in Centraal, and I went out and spent $600 to get us a working PA and microphones for the singers. The studio was also designed to invoke the classic Rec Room basements of my unrealized 70’s childhood. The walls were painted in three foot squares of rotating burnt orange, midnight blue, and Carolina blue, with an olive drab stucco panel between the two doors. As we settled in and the guitars were tuned, I asked if anyone had a basic tune we could get in to as a starting point.

Adrian piped in:
“Yeah, I have this pretty simple riff…..”

Playing through a tinny sounding, 10 inch amp, Adrian began a slow, churning line that all four of us fell into right away. I found a stuttering tom beat that supported the slinky guitar line, and Rudy punctuated that with a pulsing bottom end. As we had locked into the groove, Adrian went to a different riff, something much more upbeat and rocking. We began to grasp that the beat was changing, and Todd began staccato stabs against the quickening pace. We looped through the second riff for a few minutes, eventually harnessing it with relative ease. At that point, I had to stop us.

“So, you have somewhat of a song structure to this, don’t you?” I said to Adrian.
“Yeah, I have like, three or four parts.”
“Take us through each one really quick” I replied.

Adrian proceeded to lay out the entirety of our first original song- “Decisive”. I was a bit taken aback. My thought process was that we might be able to get through a few hours of playing, and hopefully feel comfortable with each other. But as we began to create the bed of rhythm for the song, it became clear that this was no ordinary group of musicians. A frisson was apparent, and within the first twenty minutes of our first practice we had the elements of an entire song. This is when Jocelyn invoked all of her experience in the studio, finding a cooing, breathy melody over the more turgid opening riff. Suddenly, everything clicked. You could sense that after Jocelyn began singing, even in a sort of scat form, the tonality of the group could be immense. We took a short break after about an hour, and when we came back in to begin again, Jocelyn had a rough draft of lyrics for the entire song.

“Let’s do this intro into the verse bit on a loop, so I can get the timing down during the change. That will totally set up the  chorus to be something like this.”

“I’ll remove every bit of you”

No one responded to her, and the room that had been bursting with sound moments earlier fell silent. I don’t think anyone could believe how good and how quick we had come up with the song. The psychic sense between the five of us was that maybe we could do anything we wanted to. It was like hitting fast forward, arriving at a moment that should have been weeks, if not months away, in the span of an hour.

We settled in to a regular two practices a week schedule, and songs started to sprout. But, with such a limited time frame due to Adrian’s impending departure, we used found songs to make our own as well. Todd had recorded the lone non Borealis recording project at Steven’s studio; he recorded two of his own songs backed by Jeremy and the Class Ring drummer. They were beautiful pop tunes, and we learned “Mind over Body” in a few hours. We added a few cover songs as well, just to get used to playing more than four songs in a night, and to begin to stretch the band out to a set long format. There is a beautiful flowering tree, a weeping cherry, in the local cemetery that I always wanted to get a PR shot my band with Malthus and Brooke; Surface of Ceres, in front of. I was never able to get the timing down, as there is a very short window while the tree is in full bloom. Anne and I had a gorgeous flowering Japonica in our garden; it’s delicate white flowers blooming into infinity with sheer volume. I decided at the very last minute I would not lose the opportunity for that “blooming” group shot in front of a mass of flowers, much like Peter Hook described the cover to “Power, Corruption, and Lies”- a famous painting by French artist Henri Fantin-Latour reproduced by Peter Saville . “The design captured us in the exact bloom that reflected our musical growth” Hook said. I wanted that shot.

Anne and I hurriedly set up basic lighting before everyone arrived for that night’s practice. She had been working as a fine art black and white photographer for twenty years; her photos well received by galleries between Boston and New York, as well as being commissioned to illustrate several local publications during that period. By the time of the first practice break, with a healthy glow and modest sweat enveloping each of us, Anne captured the photo that would catapult us beyond any previous expectation; the blooms of the Japonica illuminated behind our perfect visage with an infinitesimal depth. She captured the intention of each member- Jocelyn in short hair intriguing, Adrian gazing skyward, angelic- Rudy and Todd in a close near embrace with myself slightly distant and behind them, right arm tucked underneath my left arm in a nod to the very pose I held during the first Thames PR shoot. We had all agreed not to speak to anyone but our very closest friends regarding the group; it was better for us to work in secret and develop at our own pace rather than expose ourselves to unfounded criticism, and a possible subtle jealousy. By the time of the first photo shoot, we had accumulated enough momentum to finally go public with the idea. The next day I put the group photo up on my Facebook page. What happened next was something that would change everything.

Whitney Roberts and Phoebe Stahl were the first of the next generation to migrate to New York City. Luckily for them, they were able to relocate just before the great recession, which kept many of the kids here in town. Not that they lived a life of glamour- bedbugs, squatting, and illegal performance spaces defined the climate of their time there. And the bedbug infestation of New York forced Whitney’s small camp to relocate with Phoebe and her roommates in a two bedroom flat in Brooklyn. What came out of that moment was quite extraordinary. The five of these folks, clinging to each other in a very Station House way, formed a band called All in the Family, and out of those humble beginnings ended up playing their slinky minimalist funk on several continents, getting signed to a record label, and achieving a level of success the Mystic musicians could only dream about. Their very first gig was at a tiny coffee house in town. I remember thinking “How are they going to get a five piece band in there with any room to have people watch?” Plenty of people would be watching in the near future.

The day after I posted the first group photo of the new band, and in the first days that we began to openly speak about it, Whitney posted a comment to the photo page.

“SUPERGROUP! I wanna hear!”

She totally nailed it in one word. We were a sort of supergroup, but not necessarily trying to relive some past glory- instead, essentially five people who came together for one reason- to create new music. This was not the street gang mentality of a bunch of friends sitting around watching TV deciding to start a band because they were bored.This was a situation where there were expectations, and for Whitney to comment in such a way built a confidence in us very few new bands receive. As word started to spread into the local scene that we were an actual band, we were busy crafting the last songs we would need to have a full set, and begin to play live.

Adrian and Jocelyn wrote another killer, rocking tune, Todd contributed three new originals, and we solidified a jam based number into a cohesive song. We had seven original tunes, and felt it was time to book our first show.

The Wishing Well was our local indie rock bar, an incredibly tight space that somehow accommodated the best shows in the area for well over seven years. It had been transformed from a sort of sad, little dive bar into an amazing showcase room, equal to the institutions of New York City. I had known their booking agent Caron Morris for years; I actually pleaded with him to manage Bold Schwa when I knew the business side of things was starting to overwhelm the band’s musical creativity. I emailed him and asked if we could possibly play a Wednesday night; an off night for them show wise, simply to lessen the burden on our own expectations, and to not ask Caron to sacrifice a spot on a weekend with a totally unknown group.

“Why do you want to play a Wednesday?” was his response to my initial request.
“I just figured it is one of our regular practice nights, and I didn’t want to put you out on a weekend show.”
“Forget that! How about Saturday, the 27th of July?”
“We’ll take it. Let me get in touch with everyone to confirm, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. But yeah, we’ll take it.”

Caron had booked our first gig without hearing a note of music.

However, we had nothing but fruitless efforts at finding a proper band name. With our debut show ten days away, we took a break during practice and I implored everyone that we needed to come up with a band name that night. It was usually cool for July, and we congregated in the middle of the gardens at my house to give the band name one last serious push; all of us in agreement that the name we decided to play under for the first show did not have to be the permanent name. I had been emailing ideas to everyone for weeks- with each of them being turned down. In all actuality, none of the names I suggested would have worked- the kids were right. I was famously known for finding great song titles, and terrible band names. However, as we began to talk with days to go, I became somewhat exasperated at their lack of seriousness. Adrian then blurted out “how about ‘Sarah Palin’s Nipple Piercing!’ ” I let out an exaggerated breath, and simply said “we can’t name the band that; for her that’s probably slander…..”

“That’s it!” shouted Todd, “Slander!!!”

Rudy responded with equal exuberance. “Yeah, that is IT!”

“Slander is a possibility……” I replied. I went inside quickly and looked up Slander on the web site the Palace used as one of their primary distributors. There was an English metal band that began in 1992 named Slander, and a burgeoning electronic duo from California also named Slander.

“How about Piercing?” proposed Jocelyn.

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter One

A FICTIONAL INDIE ROCK MEMOIR

It’s getting harder to deal with the blood in the toilet.

I had always subscribed to the notion that I would succumb to a stroke, as my father, and each of my four grandparents had. Perhaps this is the totality of my chosen lifestyle; a detriment to all concerned. I fear I am rotting from the inside, repeating the same mistake I vowed not to. Succumbing to a stroke was the main tenet of my mortality- that thought was something I always could depend upon; like holidays, or capitulation. The lesson from the experience of coming out of “retirement” and joining an active rock band at age 43, and playing drums with Piercing, has been that you never know.

You never know what is going to happen. My health could be due to stress from the band, or perhaps the larger context in which the band contributes toward it- the rescheduling, the negotiating, the cajoling, the convincing: The reinforcement of a belief system. I’ve been doing the work of four people for two years now; drummer, manager, roadie, publicist. Perhaps my body is rebelling against the demands I have placed on it. Hopefully, it won’t take long to find out; I have never before felt my musical life would threaten my actual life.

Jocelyn emailed me, a random inquiry I was not expecting, asking me to play drums in her new band. At that point in my musical life, she was the only person I would even consider coming out of retirement for, but I was shocked at first. Jeremy, a mutual friend and regular at the Record Palace- our local record store where he was a regular and I worked, had regaled me about her disappointment in the studio project Borealis, which Jocelyn had participated in with a coterie of musicians- creating songs at random, in a total studio setting. Steven Giles, Malthus Prufrock, and I had spent half a decade- from 2006 until 2011, deep in the studio, crafting two full-length albums and four singles as Borealis, and Jocelyn had sung on roughly half of those songs. Steven, Malthus, and I had been friends since meeting in 1985, as high school students with an inherent and sincere love of music.

Jeremy loved to tell me about Jocelyn’s reservations about the Borealis material, mostly the production.

“She doesn’t even like it, you never built the reverb bed she was striving for…” he would say, reveling in my frustration, as we felt the songs, and the production, were spot on. I couldn’t understand his motives in revealing this information to me. Was he jealous of Jocelyn having the opportunity to appear on the Borealis material? And why did I not hear these criticisms directly from her? And yet, I had trouble reconciling within myself why it would matter what he said, or what she told her friends who were not involved. Was I being possessive? Did I subconsciously view Jeremy as a threat? A threat to what? I had given up on a career in music, but by returning to the fray as the drummer in Jocelyn’s new band, was that feeling to be exposed?

I first met Jocelyn when she, Jeremy, and Todd arrived at my demo studio in 2005 to record their teenage band The Infectious Reality. Jeremy and Todd were local Mystic kids of the next generation of musicians from town, a tradition that had gone back twenty years by the time they started their first band. While becoming regulars at The Record Palace, they would spend hours there, buying all of the correct albums of the time, such as Broken Social Scene, Daft Punk, and Outkast. They also were privileged to be a part of the extended Palace world, which exposed them to the timeless catalog- Byrds, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Spirit, Primal Scream, and Augustus Pablo. I had been working at the Palace for eleven years when the two of them first showed up to haunt the bins.

The Palace was one of the last great record stores; one of the few that survived the transition from the analog world to the digital world. A great portion of the store’s survival was due to owner Benno Bluhm liquidating his entire savings and retirement, as well as selling his house,to keep the store afloat during the Great Recession. In addition, there was his clientele’s fierce loyalty to the tiny 600 foot store, it’s walls covered in a collage of promo posters, autographs, and local memorabilia- located at the very heart of Mystic. The Palace was the only place I knew of where you could buy a used copy of the Carole King LP your mother used to serenade you to sleep with in the seventies, see actual tickets from the Woodstock Festival which Benno attended, as well as albums signed by the Beastie Boys, guitars signed by Blink-182, or the ubiquitous Graham Nash autograph, who was a close friend of Benno, following Graham’s first visit to the store, in 1989. In this small town, The Palace was a unique treasure.

One afternoon, Jeremy and Todd asked me to record their new band, and I immediately agreed; secretly thrilled that there might be new music born in the town. The entire philosophy surrounding my musical career was to put our hometown on the musical map. As someone who watched plenty of talented musicians leave town for the more fertile ground of NYC, which was a short two and a half hour drive from Mystic, I found a direction as a young musician that arriving at “success” would be far more meaningful if it was accomplished here. I had spent the past twenty years playing in bands, playing in side projects, producing demos, setting up shows and curating festivals. In addition, my extended group of musician friends ran a collective rehearsal space for five years, hosting various musical acts for practice space, and darkroom services for photographers. We also organized underground raves to help offset a sudden $700 heat bill in January, or any other financial issues. And, of course, the DJ’s were all members of the Collective.

The talent of The Infectious Reality hooked me immediately. Once Jocelyn stepped into the studio, that night of our first recording session, I knew she was a star, or at least I had the overwhelming feeling that she could be. She carried herself with a graceful insouciance beyond her years. But what really attracted me to the project of recording their first demo, was the quality and breadth of their music; and Jocelyn’s singular voice. The Infectious Reality had a sound which was perfectly retro; a groove driven punk rock aesthetic, with searing dual vocals unheard from such young musicians, while simultaneously lacking derivation. It was a tall task on a canvas that had been almost completely filled, and for a pair of fourteen year old kids, with a 16 year old singer, it seemed that their possibilities were endless. They wrote the basis of their songs on an outdated Casio sequencer, and yet both Todd and Jeremy could sing, play bass, guitar, and keyboards. In all of my years of making music, and striving to get traction in the music world, here were three kids who I thought represented a better chance of making it than any of the previous groups in town.

The Infectious Reality recorded two four song EP’s at my humble demo studio, which I dubbed Centraal Studios, in a nod to the Amsterdam train station. I had been to Amsterdam twice on the recommendation of Benno, and found the train station so immense, it was a perfect opposite of my studio. The room was twenty-two feet by twelve feet, and every inch was filled with recording equipment, drums, guitars and amps, as well as my turntables and mixer. And the kids loved working at Centraal, so different than their own or friends bedroom studios,with parents listening down the hall.

After completing their first EP, they hawked their home recorded CDR’s, with Xerox cover art I had designed, in the halls of their high school, and at their shows. The cover image was an ancient abacus with an electrical cord photoshopped onto the left side of the first analog computer. They believed in the analog / digital contrast of the cover design, as they were musically mixing live guitars over drum machine programs. I explained exactly how they could go about selling it to their school peers, as the members of Thames utilized the exact same strategy when we released our first home recording. The Thames EP was on cassette tape, which was the only available medium at the time. The Infectious Reality sold their record on CDR- “Digital Cassettes…” said Jeremy.

“Ok, during breaks between classes, find the busiest hallway, and offer the record for a plain five dollars.” I explained “and what makes you think you know the busiest hallway when you haven’t been there in almost twenty years?” sarcastically offered Jeremy.

“I don’t think he means the same fucking hallway as in 1987 ya punk….” Offers Todd in a slow drawl, at once to poke at Jeremy and to let me off the hook. “Look, it’s easy. Have you ever been offered to buy a local bands CD in the hallway at school?”

“No.” they respond in unison.

“That’s the hook. And people want to be around people who are getting things done, making things themselves.”

“See and be seen.” Jeremy restates an axiom from the Greenman Collective days that I have weaned them on since I first felt they were worth the investment of my energy and the Post Generation ethos.

“Get the grinder and eat it.” offers Todd.

“Point of completion.” I add as a final statement, as if we were fighters pointing our swords toward a central point.

We agreed the finances of the group, which I meticulously accounted for, (having been part of many monetary mishaps within a working band) would not discount their voices. After six months of selling their first EP, they were able to buy their own PA and began to see a return on investment in real time. Invigorated, they recorded their second EP- distributed it in exactly the same way, and built a considerable local audience within the all-ages set. For the most part, everything was going according to the plan- there was a great working relationship between the four of us, and yet Jeremy and I held a more intimate bond, as he began to work at the Palace, and was constantly honing his depth of knowledge through countless hours of listening and conversation.

“Did you know Radiohead is named after a Talkingheads song?” offers Jeremy in the cool silence of an early summer Friday morning at the Palace. The heat at the Palace could become unbearable as the day went on; the sun clearing the roofline of the building around 1 PM.

“Wait, what?!?” I offer somewhat shocked. I was a huge Talkingheads fan, I chose their song “The Great Curve” as the submission for my Music Listening 101 exam as a high school sophomore.

“Yeah, side two of True Stories.”

I head over to the Talkingheads bin about ten feet in front of the counter. Sure enough- a copy of “True Stories” is there; it’s minimal yet garish design so evident. I flip over the jacket, scanning the song titles. Track two on the second side. The kid was paying attention to the details.

The Infectious Reality eventually got a big break, an opening slot in New Haven- their first out of town show. I volunteered to drive them down in my conversion van; a pretty nice ride for your first excursion beyond the city limits. They acted like young professionals, each of them dressing it up in an appropriate manner- Jocelyn especially shined in a purple dress with satin regality. They certainly presented themselves as wise beyond their years, but the music would have to back it up. And it did. Slashing guitar lines, pristine harmonies, and a smooth transition between songs, with no amateur fumbling.

They performed to the height of their capabilities, and after the set, the headliners, a New York City band of mid-twenties guitar slingers couldn’t heap enough praise on them.

“You guys are just teenagers? That show was fantastic! You should definitely keep it going and we could probably hook you up with shows in the city.”

Unfortunately, their set at The Free Frame of Reference in New Haven would be the final Infectious Reality performance.

I had known Steven for twenty years when we both found ourselves, for the very first time, without a live working rock band as part of our daily routine. We met in high school in 1985, when he was a junior while I was a sophomore. For the next nine years, the two of us, with Brent Davis and Thomas Field, would play music as Thames until 1994- our ungainly end included a $20,000 debt. Steven had recently built a studio in his house, a transition solely made toward recording over assembling a live act. It was the smart move; as the internet was becoming the new record label, and as such, you could now reach a possible wide audience without ever packing the van or risking a finger being smashed in a closing door an hour before the show. As much as Steven and I had worked together in the past as members of Thames- sharing a vast musical dialogue- adding Malthus was the easiest answer to a way forward. While Steven was building the studio, he put in an incredible amount of time to learn the new technology, but Malthus was already a tech genius. He and I had lived together for a few years in the early 90’s, and I’ll never forget one particular night when he called me downstairs to his room.

“Hey man- you have to check this out.”

On his desk was a phone receiver sitting on a small plate with two recessions to let the phone settle into its framework. I immediately recognized the “plate” from “War Games”; one of the seminal 80’s movies we had all seen a hundred times. Malthus was the first person I knew who was on the internet.

Steven had recruited me by promising that I would not be involved in the project only as a drummer- after twenty three years of being told to “sit down, shut up, and play the drums.” My evolution as a drummer followed a somewhat predictable arc. In the early days of Thames I was a spastic bundle of energy, desperately seeking the attention of the audience above what the band was attracting. I even came up with beats for two early songs where I stood up and played the drum set more like a marching band drummer, so I could stand on stage like everyone else in the group. Years later I realized it was another attempt at attention, although the beats actually worked perfectly within the framework of those songs. If they didn’t, Steven and Thomas would have let me know about it. I was able to eventually settle down into the role of the drummer, and once I made that adjustment, Thames truly took off.

I was looking forward to exploring, within the structure of Borealis, what I was actually capable of musically, without having to replicate the song for a live performance. It took quite a long time to actually get to that point, as at the very first session to record raw material to the computer, with designs to later cull and splice the best indeterminate moments, I was sitting behind a mic’d up drum set in Steven’s new studio. As it had always been between the two of us, once we began to play together, I could sense exactly where he was going melodically, structurally, and where the arrangement was headed. Within the first hour we had written enough material for the very first song we would complete; a driving off beat stomper that had more in common with music from our teens than what we had initially set out to do in this project. And the song was incredible. It was exhilarating to feel the grab of youth again, because of the upbeat tempo and pulsing beat. And yet, it was our maturity that was the most intoxicating element of the session. It seemed we had become adults who possessed the tenacity of youth through our ability to make music.

A week later, Malthus and I showed up for the second session, and Steven had arranged an entire four minute song from the various takes of the previous week. He had created an incredible pop number with rock flourishes none of us had used in our respective previous musical endeavors. We were stunned at the accuracy of the intention, and immediately decided to work for 4 more weeks cutting tracks from live guitar and drum sessions until we had an album’s worth of material.

A month later, after volunteering for an arduous schedule, the three of us felt comfortable that we had a full album. We had to be meticulous and get inside the songs in a way only a recording project allows, as there were no live ramifications. The liberation was palpable. We faithfully worked twice a week, honing the initial ideas with added layers of programming, keyboards, and the singular vocals of Malthus. The majority of the tunes were being realized within three working elements: rough, guitar driven rock songs, slinky electro grooves, and a minimalist blend of live guitar and sequencers. But there was one scintillating number we couldn’t get our heads around. “Out at Home” was an ambient song which was built around the application of a trip hop beat, yet was an expansive piece that demanded the listeners attention. While struggling to find its place among the other songs, it dawned on me that Jocelyn would be the perfect vocal fit. “Do you think she’ll be up for it?” asked Steven. I felt confident that she would, but there was no sense in making promises at this stage.

Jocelyn arrived ten minutes late, which I thought was a sign of confidence for her first serious recording session in something more than my little demo studio where I had recorded the two The Infectious Reality releases. Malthus and Steven had heard all of her recorded material, and seemed to be supporting me in my decision to bring a 19 year old into the fold. My initial sense was that Jocelyn would have no trouble finding her place in the working environment- she displayed a secure sense of her abilities, and never seemed to shy away from getting the actual work done. As she entered the front room and we rose to greet her, there was a palpable sense of disbelief- how could this slender reed of a person exhibit such a soulful, powerful voice? Since I had worked with her before, this was of no surprise to me. And yet, Malthus and Steven were speechless; I actually had to prompt them to get past their initial shock. This wouldn’t be the last time a producer or engineer would be taken aback seeing Jocelyn in person for the first time.

Steven had prepared the studio before we arrived, one of his incessant traits while recording; a possession that was so much of the attraction for both Malthus and myself. The four of us listened to the song a handful of times, discussing the peaks and valleys, and what we thought would work vocally. With some slight trepidation, Jocelyn stepped to the mic in the faceless basement. I stepped into the opposite half of the room with Malthus to give her a bit of space, but after a pass of the first verse, Steven could not contain himself from peeking around the corner, hands on head in a complex mesh of disbelief; realizing how good the song would become, and how she had changed everything. Her range was voluminous, hitting all of the appropriate high notes without ever sounding strained, and a full throated lower range adding a confidence contrasted against her revealing upper register. After each pass of the song, we were finding more and more subtlety in Jocelyn’s delivery, which prompted us to have her sing backup vocals on two additional songs. She added sublime moments that coaxed even more out those tunes. Jocelyn excused herself after a final pass of the vocal mix, and headed up the wooden cellar stairs, her tiny heels clicking on the treads, as if a tap dancer were warming up. The three of us again looked at each other in silence.

“I feel like we have a complete debut album.” stated Steven, which broke the quiet of the basement; the computer buzz and the water pipes having been the only audible sounds for the last minute.

“Well, let’s put it out!” added Malthus.

“I’m sure I can cobble together a PR campaign, but it’s going to be a tough sell with no live act.” I suggested, hoping to plant a seed that might lead to a live act, which I was sure would be an incredible band to see in person. We had all of the tools and all of the people.

Steven, Malthus, and I decided to take a few weeks break from writing and recording to focus completely on getting music blogs to review the record. It was as I had predicted; with no live act it was hard to build any momentum in the music press. The local paper did a piece on “veteran musicians” of the Mystic scene, but that was the extent of the coverage. We decided to reconvene and write an entire new album based around what we thought Jocelyn could do as the sole singer on a record. After writing sketches of new ideas over two months, the three of us felt we had the framework of a great recording, a specific growth from the first album. There were sixteen ideas, and a bunch of other snippets, things we would casually poach from- similar to an auto mechanic that had a parts car. Deciding it was finally time to bring Jocelyn in to suss out the new material, I volunteered to reach out to her, and to get the four of us on a regular working schedule.

I called Jocelyn on the night of a new moon, secretly hoping the lunar cycle would work in our favor.

“Hey Joss, it’s me Twining.”

“Hey, how are you? I’ve been meaning to get in touch but I’ve been incredibly busy. How are the sessions going?”

The connection was pretty bad for modern phones- it somewhat reminded me of phone calls from my grandparents in Florida on Christmas Day. I had spent approximately some or all of 27 days in my life with them in any capacity. That noise, and their physical distance, always defined their emotional distance. But this was a local call to Jocelyn.

“Fantastic. We have an entire album worth of material, and we really would like you to sing the whole thing, with Malthus adding some counterpoint. But we basically wrote the whole album with you in mind.”

“Wow, I’m honored, and thrilled, but as usual with me, the timing is off. I’m moving to Boston in two weeks.”

After I hung up the phone, I began muttering to myself “shit shit shit Shit Shit SHIT….” Malthus had already done proof cover art, as he was always looking to be one step ahead of the music with the image. His designs were minimalist takes on the visible spectrum of the northern lights, and he found the perfect font for BOREALIS as the working title. Well, that brilliant idea had just gone and walked out the door and cruised the 95 corridor to Boston- we would now have to reconfigure the entire album. Undaunted, we strove for a concise point of completion over the next four months, crafting a wider palette that would include many of the singers from the first album. Brooke Easterhaus, who also sang brilliantly on the first record, was asked to listen to possible tracks that she might feel a fit with. Meanwhile, Malthus had started tracking some rough vocals as we massaged the material into song form. While we were creating a working blueprint for the new record, I decided to give Jocelyn a call in Boston about five months after she relocated. I was hoping we could catch her on a weekend home, where we could squeeze in a few sessions- and at least repeat her singular performance on our new album.

“Hey, how’s it going up there?” I asked “Terrible. I’m working at an Urban Outfitters following people around all day picking up after them. It’s like being a chambermaid for some low grade royal family” she replied, with a resignation of someone who had walked into the first serious misstep in her life.

“Are you going to be in town anytime soon?”

“Yeah, I’m going to visit my mom for three days in exactly three weeks.”

“Do you think you might be able to carve out a few hours and sing on some of the new Borealis tunes?”

“Oh my god, thank you- that is something I desperately need right now…. Just the chance to let loose for a few hours, do something creative. I’m in.”

She seemed genuine about getting into the studio to at least sing on some of the songs, and even expressed resignation about moving after the whole album was written with her in mind. But at this stage of our music career- people who committed themselves to getting “a record deal” and fell short of that goal, nether Steven, Malthus, nor I had any expectations of success in traditional terms, or even finding an audience. We were quite content making the music we heard unfettered by any concept of “success”. The weekend after the Fourth of July holiday she would be back in town, and we booked a session for that Saturday night. As I had anticipated, it was as if she was in the studio the night before, not a six month absence. Pouring herself into the work, she was editing lines as we wrote them, and then singing the revisions immediately.

“no, that just doesn’t work as an idea after the first verse”
“no, that makes little sense in the overall scheme of the song”
“no, that’s really a rebuttal when we need a rallying cry”

Steven had relocated the studio from the basement to the room over his garage for the summer, to access air conditioning. And for the most part it worked out; the bulk of what we recorded was unaffected by room noise. But tracking live vocals was something else entirely for the controlled climate of the room over the garage. There was no way to record the vocals without the mic picking up the air conditioner hum, and the windows had to be closed as well, to prevent ambient sounds from the outside to leak into the live track. Malthus was wiping sweat from his brow with a soaking wet handkerchief. Steven was wiping his glasses on his shirt every two minutes. Jocelyn was unmoved, with no outer emotional reaction to the heat. I am dripping sweat and loving it, remembering that one never has to shovel humidity.

Jocelyn knew what she was capable of, and was cognizant about the flow of words within melodies almost to a savant like degree. The three of us always trusted her on her take, and were furiously writing the song lyrics line by line, word by word, right there in the studio. We would reach consensus on a single line, and she would nail it in two or three takes, and we would write the next line, repeating this process until we had a finished vocal. Unconventional, but thrilling; as the pressure was really on, knowing the limited time frame coupled with the rawness of the arrangements. And again, by the end of the session, we had a completely finished vocal, with background accents and harmonies working in a seamless tapestry. A week later, the song sounded like we had wrestled with it for months, not one four hour studio session.

We continued with the sessions throughout an incredibly hot summer. The feel of the humid wall after sitting for three or four hours in the air conditioned studio was like a re-entry into another world. The music we were creating was our new world; it was that intoxicating. Malthus and I would drive the twenty miles from Steven’s to Mystic listening to the new mixes, and each songs fruition led us to believe we had something special on our hands- and in true Burroughsian fashion, we were exploring “how random is random?” One thought was constantly at the forefront of my mind on those drives home- maybe everything was leading up to this moment, to Borealis. The deep green of the leaf canopy belied the scorched fields between the ancient stone walls of the farms which covered the back roads we traversed. Perhaps we were now mature artists who were becoming the canopy, and not the scorched earth?

The first week of September, I received an email from Jocelyn:

“I’m coming back home, the Boston thing is just not working out.”

It’s tough being twenty and moving out on your own, much less to a metropolitan setting, and even as we knew she was going through an unfortunate moment of growth, I was inwardly thrilled with this prospect. “I say we still keep everything that Brooke worked on,” proposed Steven, “but let’s add Jocelyn to the Malthus songs, and we’ll re-record vocals with her that didn’t seem to be on par with some of the more interesting performances.”

Once she was ensconced in her mother’s house, we began a grueling three nights a week schedule in order to finish the recording in time to submit it to our local music scene’s awards show- which was really just a huge party thrown by the major local music promoters. Their idea for the awards show was “Theme Party” and the theme was “Awards Show”. Local booking agent Caron Morris was the brainchild behind the TAZZIES- in an interview before the inaugural event he was quoted in the local paper:

“I love awards shows!I watch them all whether it’s the Grammy’s or the MTV music awards. I love the whole idea of celebration. So, I thought, why not a TAZZIES show?”

The judges were a collective of booking agents, promoters, and club owners in the NYC to Boston corridor who worked with Caron, and a separate online “people’s choice” balloting. At the show seven or eight bands would do a single number, and interspersed among the performances were awards in categories like “Best Indie Group” and “Best Americana Group” as well as more traditional awards like “Song of the Year” and “Album of the Year”. We were working feverishly in the late winter, the album we titled “Our National Emblem” was submitted for the TAZ Awards right on the deadline., January 31st 2011.

I decided to wear my vintage Beatles Apple Boutique Nehru jacket to the TAZ awards. Dressing in excess was encouraged, and I knew I could set a personal precedent with the evening’s wear. The jacket was given to me by Ricardo Maddalena, one of the cool uncles of my longtime partner Anne Maddalena. Anne and I had been living together for nineteen years by the time of the second TAZ awards, and Ricardo had bought the jacket at the original Apple Boutique in 1969, coincidentally the year of my birth. We had garnered the nomination we were hoping for, “Pop Album of the Year” and felt somewhat confident that we might win. And while the TAZZIES were not about winning and losing, and much more about having fun on a grand scale- it’s always more fun to win. And we did. After Steven, Malthus, and I heard “Borealis”…………… we looked at each other in the same dis-belief that we shared during Jocelyn’s first night in the studio recording “Out at Home”.

“Holy Shit!!” Malthus stated quietly under his breath, so only the three of us could hear it.

“All that hard work paid off, eh Malthus?” I replied just as quietly while we turned on the peastone gravel path. Steven was uncommonly silent. Winning always seemed to bring about some sort of internal conflict within him.

Making our way to the stage for an improvised “acceptance speech”, one of the local musicians with long time ties to the scene yelled out “Where did you get the jacket?” A thick audience laugh followed his witty comment- so perfect for this night of serious/not serious fun.

“Anne’s Uncle bought this at the Apple Boutique in London in 1969. Coincidentally, the year of my birth.”

“How old are you?” came from an unseen voice in the back.

“Well, let’s do the math” added Malthus in a deadpan PBS broadcast voice.

Consequently, much of our acceptance speech was me talking Apple Boutique. Certainly it was a functional facilitation of an awards speech, but I noticed one thing missing. Jocelyn, who I knew was at the event after running into her in the parking lot, was nowhere to be seen. I stammered through the necessary “Thanks You’s” trying to buy a few moments to see if she would make it to the stage.

“Where’s Jocelyn?” I eventually asked the crowd.

And in that moment, after a brisk walk, she skipped down the red carpet- wearing a beige mini dress with high black, glossy heels. The crowd was completely silent as she climbed the stage stairs and joined us. But by then we had already taken up too much time, so I said one last thank you to the crowd, and with both hands, pointed towards Jocelyn, and said “The Voice”. Little did I know at the time it was a moment that would come back to haunt me in Piercing.

After finishing Emblem, we decided to take a month long break before coming back together to take a stab at a completely minimal electro record. The vast majority of the songs Borealis had written featured guitars in traditional or transmuted ways. We decided to eschew them completely. There was quite a bit of static going around in Mystic musical circles as we began rough drafts of our new ideas, following the TAZZIES. It seemed that Jeremy again started speaking for Jocelyn, to some degree. And the impression we were getting was that she wanted to do something completely different from the studio environment. I couldn’t really blame her- the three of us were in full retreat mode from the rigors of a live band, but she was at the precipice of that possible moment in her own life. Why be cooped up in a studio with three “retired” musicians, no matter how creative the environment or the splendid recorded results? And yet, it was strange to hear of this second hand; Jocelyn never expressed these reservations or limitations to me, it was her circle of friends that frequented the Palace that conveyed the information. Perhaps she didn’t understand that the three of us had already come to terms with musical ambitions that had much more at stake than Borealis, and a new “New” beginning was nothing we had not collectively dealt with before. The three of us held a few sessions at
the studio- half-hearted- mostly due to sonic fatigue, but also somewhat because we were fumbling in the dark for the perfect exaltation of our new motivation.

“What do you think of this bass drum sound for this beat” opined Steven during one of the new recording sessions.

“Eh, it’s a bit full, you know? Not the crisp punctuality I think we’re looking for” replied Malthus, a bit reserved.

“Ellery, what do you think?”

“I agree with Malthus.”

“Now you guys are going to gang up on me?”

Steven was in full sarcastic mode, but he would reveal a hint of his true feelings when he reacted that way. I had been witness to it many times over during our years together in Thames and Greenmanville. And I’m quite positive he had lines I would cross that were as equally irritating. I suppose we all had moments of that nature, but Malthus and I simply exchanged glances of disbelief. We were now going to endlessly discuss the tone of the bass drum? It’s not as if we were the Cocteau Twins circa 1989, with unlimited time, drugs, and career choices.

A few weeks later, I received an email from Doug Roosevelt, one of the very successful local musicians who came of age when Steven and I were playing in Thames, our first band that we formed during high school in 1985. Doug was putting together a benefit show for a close friend, Matt Keller, who had passed away suddenly at the young age of 30 years old, from a congenital heart failure that was programmed into his DNA. It was a tragic time, as Doug and Matt had been roommates at a local house, rented by 5 or 6 people at a time during the early nineties when the Gulf War and the first Bush recession forced those of us in Mystic even closer together in an effort to survive. Anne and I, along with two long-time friends, had held the initial lease on Station House, beginning in December of 1991. As the years went by, and people could afford to move into an apartment without 4 other roommates, a next group would fill the void as those kids were trying to gain independence. Doug and Matt were part of the last phase at Station, and that moment held the same immense, interpersonal bond that all of the previous roommates had shared. Everyone was clinging to each other in a concerted effort to be as creative as possible and to stay there. Station House was something that would not exist for the next generation of Mystic kids, of which Jocelyn, Jeremy, and Todd were a part of.

Doug asked Thames to perform at the Memorial Show, which the four members were in total agreement with. It was a long standing trait of uniting under a banner for the common good that defined the two generations of Mystic musicians which preceded the kids now hanging at the Palace. Thames was the band where I first began playing music with Steven, along with Thomas, and Brent . The four of us had an incredible run at the prize, spending nine years together making music that almost catapulted us to the level we were striving for. The band had actually reunited as Greenmanville in the late ‘90’s, running the gamut of the NYC indie scene from 1998 until late 2000, as one of the band’s earliest supporters had become a minor player in the music management circle based out of an office on the Lower East Side. Thames were actually repurposed simply because of the efforts of James Quirk, an NYU graduate working in the management office that handled Jeff Buckley. The Greenmanville concept was that the band would showcase to all of the important NYC players and redeem the Thames season. It was all for naught, as James quit managing the band after three years amid the strife of timelessness and the lack of timely success.

The four of us shared an easy camaraderie that occurs when creativity and close living quarters are enmeshed over decades. The Thames practices were fluid and furious; the details that made the songs come to life in the first place were being heightened by our musical and personal growth. On the night of the show, I was curious to see which of the next generation would come to see if all the stories I had told them over the years of Thames’ “prowess” were simply overblown memories of a past failure. Surprisingly, the audience had swollen to near capacity by the time we went onstage, and it was impossible to gauge the extent of attendance. Thames were in peak form, an elastic time travel which only further revealed the depth of the songs- and on this night, the long wished for ending of an incredible effort came to fruition. The applause was deep and genuine, with a touch of a goodbye that had never previously materialized. There was no nostalgia.

After packing up the gear into the van, thinking that very well could be the last time I ever play in a live band again, I head to the outdoor patio adjoining the club. It was a sweltering July night, and after changing out of the gig clothes which were soaked in sweat, I was surprised to find Jocelyn waiting for me outside. I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in over three months, so it was nice to see that she made the effort to see Thames play.

“You guys were incredible! It seemed as if you had never even stopped playing together.”

“Thanks” I replied with a coy twist of my head. “Now do you believe me?”

I let out a chuckle, hopefully assuring her that I was as deprecating about Thames as anyone, but that we were as earnest as a young band could be when we were active. We took ourselves very seriously; but that was a function of putting your entire faith in the power of the songs. It was how we defined ourselves.

“How are you doing, what are you up to?” I asked with genuine curiosity. Other than her time spent in Boston, this was as long of an interruption in our working relationship since she first walked into Centraal.

“I’m not really doing much of anything. I got a job at the new senior housing complex in town, working with the dietary department making sure everyone gets their pills. And I moved back into my Mom’s house… which is…. daunting. I’m as much of a pain in the ass to her as she is to me. But I love her.”

“Borealis are working on some new material. No guitars this time, just machines and programs.”

“How’s that coming along?” she replied, with a touch of distancing herself from the topic.

“Ok, I don’t think we really know what we’re shooting for yet, and there is a bit of sonic fatigue.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean; I was totally burned out after the rush to finish Emblem. I didn’t even want to sing along to the radio.” She had a nervous laugh before continuing with the train of thought.

“I’m sorry I didn’t stay more in touch with you after the record was done.”

“Hey, that’s ok. We made some incredible music, and I couldn’t be more happy with Emblem; it’s the record I always wanted to make. I don’t even care if anyone ever hears it again, I know I can listen to it, and be instantly back in the studio with you guys and feel that rush of excitement.”

That was the truth. Things change, circumstances shift; even Thames came to an ugly end. The four Thames members were, after a time, able to manage to become closer friends following the conclusion of the group; but normally- these things end badly. At the same time, I had recorded nearly every single piece of music she had ever sung on or written. We had a fantastic working relationship, and she always seemed to push through an issue with a single minded determination that belied her laissez faire social stance. She had guts; a quality not every young musician is blessed with.

“I just didn’t want to be cooped up in the studio all of the time. I think I’d like to do something else, but I don’t even have an idea of what it could be. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

“Yeah, I kept having Jeremy come in to the Palace and tell me how disappointed you were in the results, that the reverb bed wasn’t appropriate…. I would have rather heard it from you, but you know how
he likes to slip into his Asshole Costume and poke at people with a hot match head…”

I replied, trying to contain my disappointment in not hearing it directly from her. Jeremy was a singular talent, to be sure, but he loved to get under peoples skin just for the reaction. He himself didn’t even believe half of the bullshit he’d spew, as long as people were uncomfortable.

“I never told him to tell you that….”

“Look, I know what the recording experience was like for all of us, and its fine….”

She interrupted me before I was able to complete the thought.

“I totally enjoyed my time in the studio. Sometimes I would get a little irritated because I don’t have the technical skills you three have, and maybe not enough of a musical dialogue to get my point across. But I’m very proud of how I sang, and proud of the record.”

That was a relief, and it sounded as genuine as she could’ve been about it.

“Look, I just want you to be happy.” I told her.

How to Remove a Memorial

“He stands, today, as every day, in a pose of attack. The sword is being drawn as every sunrise arrives.”

A period of upheaval surrounded the removal of the Major John Mason statue in Mystic, Connecticut. The public discourse around the relevance of the memorial grew heated, and local factions clashed. The result of that discourse was the relocation of the statue. The Mason statue was moved to Windsor, Connecticut—the American hometown of the Major—after pressure from Native groups. The controversy around its removal eventually led to a collective understanding by the local population that their society was far different from the post-Civil War era that created the monument. During the decades following the end of the Civil War, many Americans funded the creation of memorials to lost figures in American history who had participated in the colonization of the US. The citizens of Mystic, Connecticut chose Major John Mason as their historical hero. In 1889, the Mason Memorial, designed by sculptor James G. C. Hamilton, was placed at the intersection of Clift Street and Pequot Avenue.

Mason led a coalition of English soldiers and Native tribes in a coordinated attack on the Pequot settlement at Mystic during the Pequot War of the 1630’s. What ensued was the first large scale military operation on American soil. The Pequot were nearly annihilated in the course of one day. Had it not been for the Pequot warriors who resided at Fort Hill, a few miles away, they most certainly would have.

The conventional wisdom about the battle is that hundreds of men, women and children perished at Mystic because of their lack of defense. But Kevin McBride, former head researcher at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, determined that the Pequot warriors made the trek from Fort Hill to Mystic just in time to drive the remaining combatants off, chasing them through the nearby wooded area to the west, and then further south toward the coves around the peninsula at West Mystic. Archaeological digs have uncovered evidence that the English and Native coalition was not successful in eliminating the tribe, despite the massacre of over 400 people.

Why did the Pequot need to be forced into submission? They sat on the largest concentration of wampum in the southern colonial settlements, the currency that was at the center of the fur trade, which brought both English and Dutch explorers to the area. The Pequot essentially were The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut.
They were also not looked upon kindly by neighboring Native groups, for that reason and others.
In 1636, the Pequot took to the offensive, attacking settlements at Saybrook and Wethersfield. On the first of May 1637, the Connecticut colony ordered war against the Pequot. Twenty-six days later, the attack at Mystic began.

By 1910 there were only 66 members of the Pequot tribe. Today they oversee an international casino empire, and the power which they leveraged in the early 1990s to bring about the removal of the Mason statue was real.

“You cannot alter history…”

Following the tragedy at Charlottesville, I found myself thinking back to 1991, when the residents of Mystic began their discussion about the removal of the Major John Mason statue. Of course, those opposed offered as their central argument that such removal would be “Altering History”. I wanted to remind Mystic about how local debates over the Mason statue had resulted in its relocation. I also wanted to make a public statement about how to move forward with the removal of Confederate memorials. I decided to add a touch of confrontational graffiti to the jersey barriers acting as a replacement guardrail on US Rt. 1, near the Baptist church in town.

WE REMOVED MASON’S STATUE

My goal was to send a message that removing controversial memorials had a precedent, right here in Mystic. I was surprised that the graffiti had been covered by slate grey paint the following day. Undaunted, I decided to return two nights later, to restate the message. After all, I painted graffiti on the original Mason statue in 1990:

AMERICAN FREEDOM FIGHTER

That was during the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal, a period when the Freedom Fighter moniker received renewed scrutiny. I returned to the jersey barriers and again sprayed in black paint:

WE REMOVED MASON’S STATUE

The message was again painted over and covered up the next day. I was shocked: it seemed that our community wouldn’t broach the topic that we had defined decades earlier, to help assuage another similar issue in another part of the country. A friend told me that descendants of Mason would have painted over my graffiti. But I was still convinced that Mystic could give our fellow citizens a roadmap toward a future that would represent shared values. Confederate memorials could be approached the way Mystic dealt with Mason. We had already established an historical precedent around the topic.

During the writing of this piece, my research has been two-fold: the resistance to change among the local population regarding the Mason Monument, and how our local controversy mirrors the protests against removing Confederate statues from the public square.

“In his effort to clarify and simplify, noted local historian, William Peterson has stated; ‘Many of us have gotten lost in a forest of peripheral issues …. The implications of removing this statue go far deeper than our own parochial interests. The real issue is not about who was right or wrong in the early 17th century; it is not about justice or injustice; it is not about sacred sites or battle sites; it is not about John Mason or genocide. The merits of these points can be argued (or acted) convincingly and emotionally, but to no one’s satisfaction. The fundamental issue is FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION – one of our basic American ideals! The location of the statue may be insensitive by today’s standards but a past generation could not possibly anticipate the moral persuasions and cultural sensitivities of future generations. The site, the plaque language, and the statue are part of the 1889 expression. The reasons that the site was sacred to the Colonists and their descendants may be different from the reasons given by other people today, but they are no less valid.’ Mr. Peterson believes
“That the statue should remain where it is, unaltered.”

The moral and cultural sensitivities of future generations.

This is the lesson that the generations before us did not recognize. This is not an accusation. This is a description of an awareness that is an undeniable fabric of modern American life.

The most revealing element was the counter argument from the defendants, as presented by the Mason Foundation during negotiations. The family foundation was surprisingly accommodating at every level of the negotiations, and yet they ended up with no concessions at all.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

We, the members of The Mason Family Memorial Association Inc., being descendants of Major John Mason, do
hereby submit the following specific recommendations to the State of Connecticut.
1. REMOVE ENTIRE STATUE from its present location on Pequot Ave.
2. REMOVE ORIGINAL PLAQUE and loan it to a local museum. Suggested museums: The Indian and Colonial
Research Center, The Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Museum, The New London County Historical Society, The
Mystic River Hist. Soc.
3a. INSTALL STATE HISTORICAL COMMISSION MARKER at the Fort site. b. Promote acceptance and
implementation of Marcus Mason Maronn’s entire proposal for an alternative monument at Pequot Ave. site.
4. RELOCATE ENTIRE STATUE TO HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT. Site on the grounds of the State Capitol or the
State Library.
5a. REBIRTH IMAGE to represent John Mason as a whole person. b. INSTALL NEW PLAQUES as per M.M.M.
proposal.
6. PROCLAIM DAY OF HONOR for Major John Mason.
7. PRODUCE DOCUMENTARY FILM of the entire process for historical and educational purposes.
8. APPOINT M.F.M.A. MANAGEMENT STATUS in regards to J. M. Statue.”
However, their initial stance was confrontational:
“Marcus Mason Maronn has the right idea when he says, ‘We could save a lot of time and energy if the council simply passed a motion to dismiss this entire issue, which has no basis other than the motivation for revenge by certain radical extremists.”

Letters to the editor of the local newspaper echoed those sentiments:

“No matter the right or wrong John Mason acted according to the best thinking of the time. What happened, happened. Our monuments and writings must remain undisturbed.”
“I must be dreaming – having a nightmare, that is. An article in The Day is headlined, ‘Groton OKs loan of statue to Pequots.’ Going back in time a little, the Pequot Indians approached the Groton Town Council requesting that the John Mason statue be removed because it was ‘too painful for (them) to look at.’ Now the Pequots are to gain possession of the Mason statue for their own museum? This was a gutless decision by gutless town officials. Only Town Councilor Frank o’Beirne had a grip on reality, stating that he’s “having a hard time understanding how a statue that was offensive to them (where it is located now) … would not be offensive if they put it in their museum.’ Councilor O’Beirne expressed his concern for the welfare of the statue in an earlier meeting, a concern I share. Just how much time do the Indians spend cruising Pequot Avenue, being ‘hurt’ by the presence of an historical monument?”

The writers of these letters have attitudes similar to those of people opposed to the removal of Confederate memorials in the South. My southern friends like to remind me that the North is not so innocent.

Chicago. Cleveland. Boston. Philadelphia.

I kept turning it over in my mind, what I might have blocked out at the time, due to a myopic focus on my own expectations toward a certain outcome. The point of view that we cannot remove specific memorials was not isolated to a predetermined understanding of Southern values, but was readily expressed by Northerners during a similarly divisive discussion on inclusion and exclusion. And yet, after all of the arguments, the opinions being stated, historical precedents being presented, our community finally removed the Mason statue.

Mystic, Connecticut can show the nation a road map to the future. Our story can teach others how to remove memorials that create hate and division, through thorough negotiations with all sides represented equally.

The conflict delineates history. American history deserves to be a truthful recitation.

source links: indianandcolonial.org

additional edits by rvljones

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The Pedestrian

our next door neighbors on Ashby Street
were a decade older than my parents.
they felt an intrinsic responsibility to
impact their wisdom on our young family.
their most consequential advice
was to have our family join
the congregational church
that they belonged to-
in the City of Groton.

my Father never attended the services
my Mother ascribed to,
following the recommendation of our respected
neighbors. She was the one to wake up early
on Sunday; to get my brother and me
into the appropriate clothes, and the appropriate attitude
to mingle with the good Christians recommended to my mother.
what i did not know at the time
was that my Father was literally
incapable of attending a church service.

the car shuffled to a slow stop;
about a hundred yards from the entrance
to the highway exit that led to our house.

“ok, Richie, i need you to walk to Nana’s house,
you know where that is, right? near Ocean View but closer
to the Ice House. do you know where i’m talking about?”

our house was located at 56 Ocean View Avenue,
two blocks below the intersection
of US Rt. 1 and the Ocean View Avenue.
Nana was my Father’s best friend’s mother,
Polish for “Grandmother”
my Portuguese Grandmother was known as
Vovo.

her residence was my destination;
following the command of my Mother,
at the end of the exit ramp.
a two mile walk was of no consequence
to me- i would have walked as far as
she instructed me to.

when i arrived at the home of the Hoinsky Matriarch,
my parents best friends were waiting for me.
“where is Linda?”
“she’s at the entrance to town, at the foot of Exit 89…..
Allyn Street…..”

i had walked two miles
in an effort to help my Mother.
no one thanked me for making the trek.
i was an afterthought in the “rescue” of my Mother.

_____

i was fortunate to be drafted as a nine year old,
added to an expansion team of our Local Little League.
that was not something to bring up
in the schoolyard.

at the end of an early season Little League practice, it became apparent
three players waiting for their parents
to arrive late would be revealed.

i immediately decided that walking away,
toward the parking lot, that would allow me a certain plausibility.
if i made a run for it…
on my own…

the driveway of the Ramada Inne
that sponsored my Little League team
was where my Mother spotted me,
walking alone.
i would catch the yellow of her Volkswagen Bug
out of my peripheral vision,
as she makes an abrupt left turn.

“why are you out here? why are you walking
home? why did you leave the practice?” my mother’s voice was forceful,
withholding an inherent terror.

i realized that negating a public embarrassment
was paramount, and it did not rest exclusively
within the wealthy families of Mystic.

it was an incisive insight.

youth football had a very low
return on investment for a five foot one inch
Portuguese kid;
who would have been a soccer player in Stonington Borough,
but grew up on the Groton side
of the Mystic Village.
few of the neighborhood kids
who participated in Little League Baseball
arrived at that first football practice.
i was there. and i realized that certain families in town,
whose kids participated in Little League Baseball
were not present in this public sphere.

the rationale for youth football was
Regional Rivalries;
a clash with a neighboring town
according to an accumulated sense
of self-worth.
the parents against the parents, articulated within the specious
athletic ability
of their children.

i was a first round draft pick,
but my mother had yet to arrive
after the practice.
i was petrified to be the last player
in the parking lot, holding the coach up
in an untenable situation.
i decided to simply walk home.
i decided to disappear.
i walked into the woods between the
junior high practice fields,
and our neighborhood; higher up the valley
than the basin.
i felt confident no one would find me
as i followed President Carter’s “Fitness Trail”
built by federal funds,
to encourage a more healthy population.

i emerged from the woods,
onto Prospect Avenue.
i was quite scared of the Judson Avenue climb,
toward Ocean View Avenue.
a woman had just set the weekly trash
at the curbside, as i passed in heavy breaths.
a cavalcade of tears.

“do you need to call somebody?”

“yeah…. can i call my Mother….?”

“of course you can……”

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The Bates Woods Monkey House

birthday celebrations
during the decade
of my childhood
revolved around what my parents
could afford.

for my sixth birthday, my mother booked an event,
in a private room
off of the main seating area
at the local McDonald’s.
parents could rent a room for a
celebration, and skip the lines
at the counter,
for double cheeseburgers,
or the Happy Meal.

we were sheltered under public park structures,
at the second stage of my celebration;
anticipating the rain
which was a frequent factor
of an early June birthday.

Bates Woods was a small woodland
park in the neighboring town of
New London. to the kids invited to the party,
it represented the City.
after all, there
was a Monkey House at Bates Woods.
a Zoo.
there was nothing resembling a zoo
in Mystic, especially
if we discounted the mammals
in our public aquarium,
deliberately caged.

a picnic commenced. the park grills,
covered in an excess of soot,
were nonetheless utilized.
as the final hot dog,
and the final burger
were slapped onto
the wicker basket plastic plate holders,
the rain announced itself.

“hey kids, let’s head
to the Monkey House! you can leave
your plates here
at the table.”

my mother, trying to control
the situation,
led the group of us to the Monkey House.
the other moms present had to
deal with the aftermath of a picnic
in the rain.

“it’s ok Linda, we can clean this up.
take the kids to see the monkeys!”

i could sense the subtext of her statement…..

“i would rather clean up this mess than
deal with the Monkey House.”

the structure was built with
cinder blocks, the cages were
anchored into an industrial
definition of confinement.
these mammals were imprisoned,
to maximize my
birthday experience.

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The Neighborhood Fire

during the 1970’s, even in my small riverside village,
a certain social order revolved around
what type of swimming pool
was installed on your property.

the scientist who installed the first
solar panels i had ever seen
did not have a pool.
he filled a cheap plastic substitute,
bought at the local discount store,
with cold water from the garden hose.

the businessman, who ran a recycling plant,
installed a solar blanket,
to keep their in ground pool
at a consistent temperature.
he openly invited us to swim
and share what his children,
who were our friends,
were privileged to know.

my best friends in the neighborhood;
a set of identical twins,
were the fortunate recipients of an
above ground pool-
twice the size my parents could afford.

the Eastman’s house was exactly halfway between
my house and the twins.
they also had a pool. it was surrounded by a wooden deck,
and a traditional slat fence where the Eastman’s
had hung a few humorous signs dictated by that
particular decade. the wooden signs were held
by loose framing wire on exposed
nails which were already showing signs of rust.

“i don’t swim in your toilet-
don’t pee in my pool.”

my family, under some social duress,
bought an entry level pool
at the local discount store.
i was surprised my parents felt a need
to keep up with the Eastmans,
or the Carpenters, or the Peters.
were they actualizing equality,
or an illusion?
perhaps,
it was about their own
reconciliation.

the local firehouse was located
a city block from my childhood home.
we were not in a city- however the opening of the firehouse doors,
and the initial blare of the sirens,
were intoxicating to us; the unknowing dictated our attention.
everything would cease
as we tried to catch a glimpse
of the deep red vehicles
as they exited
under the perforated glass walls
that would would ceremoniously rise
after the alarm.

the trucks never had to enter
into our neighborhood.

in the twilight of this evening,
as i toweled off, pleading
for one last minute in the pool;
we heard the first siren.

“they are coming down the Avenue.”
stated my mother, with an unavoidably
specific declaration.
she was correct, as we heard the tires of the firetrucks
grind as they took the right hand turn onto
Overlook Avenue.
ambulances from various districts
began to appear,
the Hoxie Hook and Ladder arrived in support.
as we watched the distress unfold,
we crept closer to the fire.

“where is Jeremy? have you seen him?”

i watched my mother ask my father
a question
he had no answer to.
the sirens continued to commandeer
the frequency of an emergency.

i suddenly understood their temporary
commitment,
their vows.

i followed my mother down the Avenue,
as she began asking anyone in earshot, out of desperation,
“have you seen Jeremy….?”

“hey Mom, i’m over here…”

he was standing next to one of the firetrucks,
whose tires towered over him.
“that tire could have killed you!”

“i just wanted to watch…”

i walked briskly past the Eastmans driveway,
toward our house,
toward what i anticipated was coming next.

i overheard the Fire Chief ask Mr. Eastman if the Fire Department
could drain his pool to fight the fire.

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