THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Nineteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what are these parties like?”

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

“I didn’t know.”

“Now you do!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, sure. Of course.”

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

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

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

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

“My working title is Cassiopeia”

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

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

I write back:  “November 30th”

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

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

“Great idea. I’ll be in touch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Again?”

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

“Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s right.”

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

“That was Adrian, yeah?”

“Yes, Adrian.”

“Nice kid.”

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

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

“Yeah, finally.”

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

“Always good to see you my man.”

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

“C’mon man, I need more than a beak.”

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

“I’ll see you again.”

“Yes, you will” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok”

What choice did I have?

“Did you get paid?”

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

“What do you think?”

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

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

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

“Yeah, I know, I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey Tatum, how are you?”

“Quite well, thank you Joss.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ian, IAN, what choo up to.”

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

“Twining, come out with us.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha ha, yeah, my dad.”

“He’s a good guy.”

“Yep.”

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

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

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

“Have you heard from Joss today?” asks Todd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?!?!?! Is he alright?”

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

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

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

“Always pushing the envelope, that man.”

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

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

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

“Hello?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Sixteen

Adrian calls my new phone at 7.05pm

“We’ve just cleared New Haven.”

“Ok, cool. Just keep on trucking. I have all of your gear set up; Todd is tuning the guitars, so you just have to walk on stage.”

“Alright, man. I’m trucking!”

I get a text from Brent moments later:

“Old Saybrook, on express to NL”

I gather a huge breath, and exhale slowly. Brent should be here with moments to spare at the worst, or at least have a few minutes to catch his breath. Adrian will only make it on time if there are no accidents on the stretch between New Haven and New London; a dicey proposition even in the best of conditions. I felt we had to come up with a contingency plan if one, or both of them, didn’t make it on stage by the time we had to start.

Ross Coscialetti was the manager of Royal Park, and he had booked the gig with Caron Morris. Together, they worked in tandem to bring the bigger shows in town to the Park, and were also the chief architects of the TAZZIES. We had also spent four years together in Bold Schwa; as he was the band’s bassist. Ross sidled up to me as we began to prep our gear backstage; the second band would  finish in about a half hour.

“Hey man, you look frazzled. What’s up?”

“Brent and Adrian are both coming in from the city right now, and they’re both delayed. I’m praying they get here in the next twenty minutes.”

“Do you need some time? With the drizzle, I could easily back it up ten, fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks. Ten minutes would be great. If they are not here by then, well…  the show will go on.”

“Alright, I’ll come back with a start cue.”

“Thanks.”

I was quite fortunate to have friends stretching back decades, who also were striving to live up to their responsibility in this creation of our own world. We had both been working in ways to build something that didn’t yet exist; secretly hoping for accumulation. I return to Jocelyn and Todd, reassure them that Ross has stretched out our start time by at least ten minutes. They both looked relieved, and simultaneously petrified. I decided to throw out a few scenarios where we could pull off a three person version of Piercing.

“Let’s do “Mind over Body”, but slowly. Lean on the country underpinnings, and stretch out the vocal. That could be about 5 minutes, and if it’s still the three of us at that point, I suggest we do “Spirit” as a slow, jazzy number, something I’ll use rimshots on instead of flush snare hits.”

“And what if we have to do a third number?” asked Todd. He’s worried.

“We’ll play that cover tune you love so much.”

“The Mac.”

The Mac.” I reply, heavy on the The. It was about confidence at this point; nothing else was going to salvage this situation unless we went out and were Entertainers.

I spot Brent strolling through the ornate wrought iron gates at the front of the Park. He is wearing his sheepish grin; usually reserved for when he had one too many and was caught at the fridge grabbing one more. I was delighted to see that wry smile, as I climbed down the steps at the front of the stage to exchange beaks with him.

“That was tight” he offered

“No worries. Ross gave us an extra ten minutes, we go on in fifteen.”

“Is Adrian here?”

“Last time he called he was in East Lyme. That was ten minutes ago.”

“Do we have a plan as a four piece?”

“Yeah.”

I went over the details of our backup plan with Brent, and he sounds confident.

“We can make that work.”

Ross comes up to the edge of the stage; Todd is getting in one last tuning of Adrian’s guitar.

“We have to start in two minutes.”

“No problem, we have a backup plan in place.”

“Cool”

“Hi, we’re Piercing, and as of now, we are missing…… one of our members…… Adrian is coming in from the city and he’s in a bit of traffic…… so…… we’re going to start with “Mind over Body”. And hopefully, you will see him come running down the center aisle between you all in a few moments. This is “Mind over Body”…..

I was impressed. She nailed the static electricity of the moment and did so completely unprompted- a perfect delivery. For a second I had hoped Adrian wouldn’t make it so she had to address the crowd through the whole set in that manner. As I raise my hands up to begin to click off the tempo for our first song, Adrian runs on to the stage through the open backstage door. He almost stumbles over his amp; as if he were a sprinter leaning forward to catch the finish line. The crowd began clapping in unison immediately. Perhaps this would be a victory after all.

Following our set, I grab a beer and find Ross to thank him for accommodating our hectic commute.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Maurice coming in the front gates, and excuse myself from Ross.

“Hey man, good to see you!”

“Good to see you as well. You guys were fantastic, much better than when I saw you in March.”

I take it as a compliment.

“Thanks man, thanks for making it out.”

“It was nice to come to a venue and just be able to chill, yaknow?”

“How long have you guys been out on the road?”

“About three months straight.”

The two of us talk through the next two acts, occasionally pausing to catch the general vibe of the songs,and the crowd. The Park is wall to wall by the time the headliner comes on, and I can sense Maurice yearing for participation in the scene that was unfolding in front of him. Tonight wasn’t about the “music business” which was obviously draining him of some of the spirit of performing; of making music. This was a large group of people who simply loved music, and loved seeing it performed live. It was the bedrock upon which Piercing existed, and Maurice was seeing it in full effect. When he was living here and coming of age, the Royal Park was a gravel parking lot. Now it was a first class outdoor venue, snuggled into the heart of a small city, and providing moments like tonight.

“Do you think you could book us a gig here in New London? It seems like people really love music here right now.”

“Of course!” When do you want to play? I can walk over to Caron right now and tell him you guys want to play and he would most likely book it and find the perfect venue.”

“Well, I’d have to go through all of our channels, but yeah, I think it would be an awesome time. Piercing should open for us.”

“Maurice, I would be more than happy to bring that to fruition for you.”

 

“Hey man, are you going to come down to the show?”

Adrian finds me talking with Maurice. Class Ring have booked a show at another club in town for later in the evening. He wasn’t going to be arriving at the last minute for that gig. I bit my tongue.

“Nah, I’m going home. We still have a long weekend ahead of us; Todd is shooting with Anne on Saturday afternoon, and we are heading back to Brooklyn to practice with Wall on Sunday morning, remember?”

“Of course I remember. Well, I just wanted to let you know- I gotta head down there now.”

“Cool, have a good show, text me tomorrow night so we can finalize travel plans for Sunday.”

“You got it. See you guys.”

Adrian leaned over and gave me the beak; I was thrilled to see Maurice reach out to Adrian with the closed fingers of our secret handshake. He beaked Adrian, and gave me a sly grin.

Wall called that Friday night- he eventually will need surgery on his broken collarbone; the initial set was completely botched.  And once that event took place, he wouldn’t be able to even pick up a bass for a month; much less practice or continue to learn the songs. He suggested we head into Brooklyn to practice one time before his surgery, so we could meet in person and at least begin the process. I thought it was a sure sign of his commitment, and the definition of why we were waiting it out for him to heal. Wall was going to be the New Bassist.

“I’m at Ellen’s house, across from the post office W Mystic”

Adrian’s first text of the day. Jocelyn and Todd were already at Centraal; I was plying them with tea.

“Cool. be there in ten mins”

When we arrive, the front couple of Class Ring are taking guitar amps from a Jeep and bringing them into the house, of which neither of them lived, or practiced in. It was a strange sight, as if we were seeing the film being rewound, not the forward expanse in present time. Adrian came running out of the same door the amps were being loaded into- he almost tripped over the second one on the porch. With bounding leaps, he made his way across the lawn and into the side door of the van.

“What’s up, people! My dudes!”

Beaks were exchanged all around. This wasn’t unusual for Adrian to minimize the emotional content of a moment with a quite masculine bond attempt. It didn’t work on that level, but it did clear the air.

“Hey, what’s up with those guys and the amps going into Ellen’s mom’s house?”

“We had a gig in New Haven last night.”

“What?” gasped Joss, Todd, and myself simultaneously.

“Yeah, I didn’t tell you guys before I came up, but they booked a gig in New Haven, a sort of “pay to play” gig. I didn’t book it, those guys did. They thought it would be a good opportunity to play since I was going to be here this weekend anyway.”

“You played two gigs with Class Ring this weekend?” posited Jocelyn. She had never expressed this kind of anger towards a band member outside of our own relationship.

“Hey, hey hey…” responded Adrian.

“Don’t get worked up about it, c’mon guys ….” offered Todd, playing the role of the referee.

I resisted commenting.

“Well, it didn’t fucking go so great, if you want to know!!!!” Adrian leaned on the van headrest to make his point to Jocelyn.

“Hey, take it easy” she responded.

I was proud. She had the high ground, I wanted to see her actually defend it- defend everything we had been building since she sat cross legged upon the Thames sound system in 2005; recording the first TIR EP surrounded by equipment from another age. That progress would corrode without enhancing its intention, it’s meaning. It was all at stake now.

“Me, and Sawyer and Heide (the Class Ring front couple) headed down there about three hours before the gig. The two brothers called us an hour later, said they were in bridge traffic, and couldn’t make the gig. He fucking booked a gig he ditched on two hours before show time. What a dick. Bridge traffic? Fucking bridge traffic? The fucking bridge goes up and down up and down every fucking hour. Did they think I was that stupid?  I’ll never play with those guys again.”

Jocelyn turned and looked right at me. I knew immediately what was on her mind:

‘See, I told you these things can’t be put back together again.’

I didn’t mind her being right at all.

In an unexpected turn, the palette was cleared. There would be no more interference from Class Ring. Rudy was gone, and Wall was playing with us today. The relief was palpable; it was the first time I had let myself truly exhale in ten months, since our first recording session at Stormy Harbor. The extraneous pressure had been removed, and we could rebuild the band with Wall without distractions.

We also now had someone in the city to help bond with Adrian; to bring him closer to the fold. The sky was cloudless, and the Sunday traffic was minimal. We should arrive in Brooklyn a full half hour before the start of practice, which should give Joss time to get another coffee, and walk the streets of Brooklyn. She often talked of moving there.

“But I actually want to be able to afford it, not just couch crash and beg for work. I don’t have that in me. I couldn’t do what Adrian has done since he moved here.”

Adrian asks me to pull over as we pass his apartment.

“I just wanna go in and grab some money; I’ll be right out.”

Ten minutes later, he emerges. I resist probing my thoughts for clues; we need to get to the Foundry. Unfortunately, my directions took us from the Williamsburg Bridge to the Foundry; now we were in a slightly different neighborhood, and I wasn’t sure how to get there from Adrian’s apartment.

“So, do I take a left up here at this light?”

“Yeah, yeah. Take that left, and then go three blocks and take a right.” Replied Adrian

Twenty minutes later, we pull up to the door at the Foundry. One thing I learned that I had never known before this afternoon, in all my time driving around the city: never ask directions from someone who only walks in the borough- they have no clue about the vagaries of one way streets. But we are there. As I begin unloading gear with Todd, Jocelyn tells me she wants to still get a coffee before we start.

“Ok, cool. but why don’t you get Adrian to go with you, we’ll load up the rest of the gear between the two of us.”

“Nah, that’s just wasting more time. I’ll be fine, I’ll be right back.”

“Do you know where you are headed?”

“Yeah, I saw a shop a few blocks back while Adrian was navigating.”

“Ok, cool. Be careful.”

She laughed her insouciant laugh and turned on the toe of her right, booted foot. The sidewalk was dry, mid-July, and I could sense the specific frequency of that small imprint on the surface of the city. I let her walk away with trepidation, because if something should actually befall her while we were here, or any of the other many cities we may find ourselves in shortly, it will be my fault. I will be responsible. I feel the same with all of the kids, but much more so with Joss. There are people in this world who might take the chance of getting their hands on her- I had seen the same reaction to her since the TIR gigs. I watched her fade into the heat blur of the sidewalk, and thought a silent prayer:

“Not today, Lord. Not today.”

Wall is already there, sitting in a deep recess of the entryway, on a tattered couch. He stands up as we pass him, and out of the corner of my eye I catch his movement and stop myself.

“Wall?”

“Hey, Ellery, how was the drive down.”

“Easy. Sunday morning. Drove in circles a bit trying to find this place, but we’re here. Thanks for making it.”

“Thank you man. I’m the one putting some limitations on us.”

“Ha, no worries man.”

The practice space is surprisingly nice; baffles suspended from the ceiling, heavy red velvet curtains hung ceiling to floor on three sides- a Lynchian vibe in the depths of industrial Brooklyn. The Foundry was in the same neighborhood as Huntington Grounds, which made me a bit upset when we lost our extra half hour trying to locate the space. By the time we get all of the gear set up, prepare ourselves to play, and wait out Jocelyn’s coffee run, it’s 3pm. I recalled, for the first time in years: you are always going to pay for “unused” time at a practice space. The fantasy I had of us getting going at the of the two o’clock hour were always ludicrous; even if they were subconscious. Let’s just jam and see what happens.

And that is exactly what we do. Wall is locked in to about half of each song; but when he finds the groove and grabs it, you can sense a widening of our sound. It doesn’t become more intense, or louder, but more succinctly stated; wider. Wall was working in frequency ranges that allowed the main guitar riffs to have more bite, while also adding Tabitha’s promise- a funky underpinning that didn’t exist with Rudy. After an hour of working on six songs that he had somewhat of a familiarity with, we took a quick break and then began working on a new Adrian song; his first in months. It was trademark Pearson- a quick stuttering rhythm with melodies that turned on a dime. Wall found the core groove after two run-throughs, which was the most encouraging sign so far. If he could write this quickly in real time, the distance between Mystic and the two of them would seem to be an illusion. The constant effort to balance the band these last six months has been akin to standing on a tree trunk in the water of a cool lake. With the Class Ring dissolution, and Wall’s obvious integrity, I felt as if the current had begun to change course. It was as if I realized I had been wearing a lifejacket the entire time.

We pack the gear, load the van, and I wipe the sweat from my brow as I ask Wall to give me directions to his apartment from the Foundry.

“Take a left three blocks down, and then go four blocks on Humboldt- take a right on Siegel.”

I put the transmission into drive and hit the signal for the left blinker. As I stepped on the gas, I realized we hadn’t paid for the time at the Foundry. I hurriedly put the van in park, and told everyone

“I’ll be right back, I forgot to pay.”

This was met with catcalls and jeers, in a playful way. I had become so caught up in what the possibilities were now that the lineup was sorted, I was just going to head to Wall’s. I walked into the office and handed the Foundry founders the cash. They laughed.

“We thought you were going to ditch on us!”

“No no no , I wouldn’t do that. I ran a space like this in Connecticut for years, I know what it’s like. We just auditioned a new bass player, and he seems like a perfect fit. I lost track of my shit for a moment.”

“No worries. We’ll be telling this story to people for years to come.”

“Well, I’m glad I could contribute to the folklore of your fine establishment.”

They laughed. It was all good.

“We’ll be back.” I offered, turning toward the exit.

“We’ll be here.”

Once we settle into Wall’s apartment, everyone breaks out a bit of their stash before we head out and get something to eat. At one point Wall reaches into a canvas bag, and pulls out a prescription pill bottle, undoes the lid, and pops two pills with no water. He’s dealing with a broken bone, so I don’t give it a thought. All of the sudden, Jocelyn pipes up:

“Hey can I get two of those?”

“Umm, yeah, sure” replies Wall. It’s obvious that this isn’t the first time he has been asked that question.

“Hey, I’ll pay you for five right now, if you can spare them?”

It’s Todd. How could he not know that I knew what had been going on behind closed doors? If that was the case, why would you ask to buy scripts in front of me? I had bought into my own theory of progress, but now it was  being threatened. Was Todd still stuck in a cycle of using pills? Why else would he bargain for them in front of me? And how hard was Jocelyn’s day? Was she so comfortable in our burgeoning reality that this hidden realm would now come to light? In all the time I had known Joss, using pills was never part of her milieu. So, why now?

“Hey, guys, Wall probably needs them more than you. He just broke a bone, umm and you guys broke….. what exactly?” I decided to say something to turn the direction away from more drug use.

“Ohh, sorry, man. Old habit. You probably used to do the same thing if you found out there was LSD to buy on a Sunday afternoon in July…  of 1990 ….  unexpectedly …” Replied Todd.

“That’s true, you got me.”

“I’m just feeling really cramped up, like my stomach is shrinking. Can I still get two from you Wall?”

“Yeah, sure.”

That was totally unbecoming of Jocelyn. Not so much that she might like to take some pills once in a while, but that she would be so public about it. I had known her for seven years and knew nothing more of her extracurricular activity than smoking pot. I decided to file it away and see if pattern recognition would reveal itself.

“Didn’t Squish and English spend a summer putting pills up there asses? So they could get off more?” Adrian throws in a story from the old days.

“Hahahaha, yeah, I remember that. Those guys were really reaching…” replies Jocelyn.

“I mean, how high can you get? How high do you need to get? I understand the whole ‘there’s more out there’ argument, but really….  You can’t put the pills in your fucking mouth? Really?” risking that I was sounding like Dad. I didn’t give a fuck.

“I agree” replied Jocelyn “you should never put something up your ass that doesn’t belong there. I thought I had something wrong with me a few years ago; something digestive. So I did some research, and decided that a salt water enema was the solution to all of my problems. Again, you should never put something in your ass that doesn’t belong there.”

The only sound after that was the air conditioner, working perfectly.

We walked the four blocks to the coffee shop on Bushwick Avenue. I would imagine the denizens of this Burgh were in the presence of musicians all of the time, but something in the way the passersby’s double takes made me think:

‘We must look like a real band to them.’

And we did; without a coded, uniformed presence. We were separate from that presence, and did not have to adhere to its rigidity. We were free; and the music could be our sole focus.  Our image was like settling concrete. When Joss asked Wall what his latest musical interests were, he responded in a way that gave her the wrinkled, upturned smile that she reserved for moments of clarity.

“I love the new Daft Punk.”

“So do I” she replied, deliberately.

On the ride home, it was just the three of us; Todd, Joss and me. There was a new privacy between us that hadn’t existed in the period when Rudy was in the band. We always had to acquiesce to Rudy; to make him feel comfortable. When it worked, it was more than worth it. But those days are behind us now. We are driving north on the Hutchinson Parkway blasting Saint Etienne.

“Every time I hear this song, I think about living with Jackson in Boston. “

It was “Carn’t Sleep” from Foxbase Alpha, their debut album.

“I can’t sleep, wishing you were here with me…”

Jocelyn started to sing along with the main vocal; a wistful gaze out the mid seat window.

When i get home from work,

Sit down and watch tv,

The night falls

Just like a bad dream.         

 

“Why does that remind you of Boston?” I offered, quietly- inferring we could leave the topic off limits if she wished to.

“Jackson was always out late, and then I found out he was cheating on me the whole time.”

“Ouch, that’s a brutal reminder. We can skip the track when we listen to it.”

“Hahaha, no, it’s really not that big a deal. And I love this record, why would I let him ruin it for me?”

“Just offering.”

Jocelyn stood up, and lay down on the floor between the two front captain chairs.

“Are you feeling alright? Do you want a pillow?”

“Yeah I’m ok, my stomach is a bit grouchy. Where is the pillow?”

“It’s behind that seat, in the back pocket.” I pointed; my left hand on the steering wheel.

Joss finds the pillow, lays it on the van floor, and slowly lowers the back of head. She’s staring straight up at the ceiling.

“It absolutely sucked to deal with him cheating on me. We broke up over it after a few weeks of screaming at each other, but I would still sleep with him when I wanted to. And when that got tiring; I decided to just go back home.”

“Wha? You did?” asks Todd. “I didn’t know that.”

“You did the same thing Todd.” her voice trailed off into a resigned sigh, with the emphasis on same.

“Too true. I guess that’s why I’m feeling for you.”

I also didn’t know. I decided to look at it as a moment where she felt free to reveal more about herself than I had ever anticipated. This was a new level of trust; something that had been acquired navigating our way through the madness. Or was it that I didn’t really know Joss as well as I thought?

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Fifteen

As soon as the door closes on the mother-in-law apartment, I turn on the computer and log into my Facebook account. I immediately search out Tabitha, to find out if she’s online. Bingo. There she is. I open up the message box and type the following words:

“Hey- do you know any cool bass players looking for a gig in the city?”
“As a matter of fact, I do! My good friend Wall, who I went to school with at Sussex, is a great bass player. And his band just broke up two months ago.”
“How long has he been in the city?”
“Three years, same as me. He’s been playing with this band that just broke up for the past two years.”
“Oh yeah? what was their name?”
“Cause:Effect”
“Cool name.”
“Yeah, they were really great; slinky funk grooves. Wall could add quite a bit to the Piercing sound.”
“That’s what I was hoping to hear. Do you have his phone number?”
“Yeah, hold on a sec…”

It had only taken me five minutes to find the replacement for Rudy. I was well chuffed. I immediately start searching for the online presence of Cause:Effect.

I phone Wall two nights later, and he picks up on the first ring. Tabitha had given him a heads up on my inquiry, and he is very much interested in joining theband; he had even done research on where we were at, referencing several non-Earcandy reviews that we had gotten over the past year.

“I’m all in, unless we play together and it just doesn’t work.”
“No, no, no. I feel totally comfortable with you. Tabitha speaks highly of you, and we trust her intuition, not simply as someone who likes the band.”
“Cool, can you guys come down on Sunday the 30th?”
“Sure. What time works for you?”
“What time works for you guys, I’m just getting into the thing.”
“Wahahahhaa. No worries. How about 2pm, we’ll book a space at the Foundry; 2-5pm?”
“Great. I’ll meet you guys there.”

Earcandy finally debuts the Decisive video on the following Tuesday. It had been a three week grind to get them to run it, and now I was free to spread PR about the video as far as I could reach. Tabitha became an essential ally that I had not counted on before this moment. Over the course of the next few days, her PR acumen opened up a whole new avenue for Piercing; one that I was barely aware of. She was simultaneously shopping the Earcandy link to her contacts, and suddenly fashion/style blogs were running the link. Music was only a small part of their overall focus, so there was more of an impact of being noticed with the lower content ratio. In light of the fact that we were going to be spending at least the next two months rebuilding the band with Wall, I thought the best way to maximize our PR reach was to capitalize on this new found avenue. I envisioned Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian in a classic Anne black and white photo shoot. But instead of a group shot, have each of them pose solo. I would then shop those photos to these various culture blogs that had at least run a review or linked the “Decisive” video. I had seen some fantastic photo shoots that both Whitney and Phoebe had participated in, but they had the rapt attention of an audience they had established, while we were still building one. But the exposure to the culture blogs gave me the opportunity to showcase each one of
them in that style. Anne is in complete agreement, and immediately schedules a shoot with Joss at 6pm on Saturday.

They shoot within massive Victorian columns; the front of one of the local mansions built on money from the seas in centuries past. Jocelyn is styled by Anne in layer after layer of lace, taffeta, and spangle. The resonance of the photos lies singularly within Jocelyn’s gaze toward the lens- a physical articulation of her insouciance. She nails the shoot, and both Anne and I are bowled over checking the contact sheets later that night.

I kept coming back to the dilemma that seems to exist within Jocelyn. When she arrives two days later to proof the final shots with Anne, I overhear the two of them making plans for a completely new spread, involving June, and Joss; as women re-enacting a Greek myth.

“I was quite impressed with how you approached the solo shoot. You were totally there.” Anne said to Jocelyn upon her arrival. “So, I’d like to schedule something with you and June, say, maybe in the next two weeks, wherever you have a break in your schedule?”
“Oh, I would so love to work with June. She was fascinating to watch making the Spirits video; creating that entire character in the moment. It was inspiring.”
“Is that ok with you, boss?” Anne asked me sarcastically.
“Oh, yeah….. as if you two need my approval.” I replied, just as sarcastic.
“You know how much I love the videos, and the photo shoots. Branching out into modelling is a good thing for the band.” opined Joss.
“I agree.”

Did she want to be a Rock and Roll Star? Or an object of adoration? I couldn’t figure it out. Perhaps she wanted both? If she wanted both, why wasn’t she able to fuse those two elements on stage; the person whom all eyes are upon? They seemed to me to be one and the same- you needed a specific, innate confidence to actualize either. But Jocelyn had the voice. She had the missing talent that most other people would never possess.

The next day is the beautiful summer we had been dreaming of as we endured the worst winter of my lifetime. June 30th, the day of our first band practice with Wall. It had been quite an exhausting twenty-seven days since we let Rudy go, and today would prove to be just as telling toward the definition of Piercing. The phone rings at 9.30, and I hurry down two flights of stairs to Centraal, already thinking the worst.

“TWIIIIIIningggggggg! Wake up my man, pick up the-“
“Hey man, what’s up” it was Adrian. He sounded exhausted. I took a deep breath and was silently hoping the two of them had hung out until the wee Brooklyn hours; wanting to push back our start time. I could pay for an hour we didn’t use, as long as we got in some work, and met Wall in person.
“Wall, me, and Tabitha were having some drinks last night at a bar near Wall’s place.”

Easy.
Rock and Roll.
No worries.

“And he just called me. He got hit by a car last night riding his bike home. We weren’t even drunk, it was like 11.30”
“Yikes. Is he okay? Is he really hurt?”
“He broke his left collarbone.”
“ …… that’s the strap side…… ” I sighed.
“Yep….”
“I suppose that means we won’t be practicing in Brooklyn today?”
“No, that’s why I wanted to get ahold of you, so you weren’t getting ready, and maybe there is some time to let the Foundry know, and maybe they won’t charge us for the time.”
“Maybe.” I knew I was going to have to cover that bill out of my own pocket.
“Okay, cool. I’ll get in touch with Joss and Todd. I’ll call Wall later this afternoon and check in to see where we are at with him. Do you think he still wants to be in the band?”
“Oh, yeah, very much so. He was cussing up a storm this morning when I talked to him; wishes he broke a leg.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow once everything is sorted.”
“Cooooool. Thanks dude.”

There is a saying among the artists I know who write for grant money, and they all profess the same thing- it doesn’t matter how many you apply for, as long as you get what you need. Pushing a band through the modern grinder of PR was exactly the same thing; I began to refer to it as the Inherent Internet Resign:

All efforts are a 1 in 10 success rate. If you have 400 fans on your Instagram, you’ll more than likely get no more than 40 likes on a post. If you have 40,000 followers, you can bank on 4000 each post out. So, when I opened the email Monday morning from BATTLECATS, a fashion oriented blog that had both reviewed the “Decisive” single and linked the video, I found they wanted to run the photo shoot of Jocelyn by Anne. And in a stroke of good fortune, because that’s the fortune of consistent hard work, they wanted to run an interview with the other members of the band, in and around seven photos they had selected of Joss.

The very next email was from the Dutch magazine that had gotten in touch with us earlier in the year. They had linked the “Decisive” video as well, and now wanted to do a full page interview with an accompanying photo for their September issue. I immediately replied to Ferry at Gezellig! And told him we would love to talk, and the best time to get all of us in the same room with the time change is about 2pm, our time. Any weekday. Jocelyn had lost her job at the Senior Housing complex due to budgetary constraints, and Todd was off for the summer from school. Both of them had gotten retail jobs in downtown in early June, so It would be easy for all of us to sneak out of work for a half hour in the middle of an afternoon. Adrian would do a separate phone interview once the three Mystic folk were on the record.

The BATTLECATS interview arrived in the email box Tuesday morning; my day off. I dutifully sent out Word documents that they could add their answers to, and pleaded for a speedy return of their replies. The questions were straightforward-

“Describe your music for our readers who may not be familiar with you.”
“You worked with Tabitha Williams for your new video, “Decisive.” What was the shoot like? Who came up with the ideas used in the video? What was your favorite part of the shoot and final video?”

To my utter surprise, all three of them had sent me their meticulous answers by the next morning. I collated the photos into a Dropbox file, and emailed the Word doc to BC’s, as we began to affectionately refer to them as. Two hours later, they would email me back with hearty congratulations and thank yous, and that the interview would run next week. I was taken aback, again, at the speed of the new world. What took months when I began playing music now took hours, if you were paying attention. I couldn’t stop thinking about Thames. If only we had the internet in 1992…..

Ferry’s assistant editor Marcella calls us promptly at 2pm EDT on my landline.

“Hi, how is Piercing feeling today?”
“We’re fantastic!” I reply with the proper muted enthusiasm.
“Ok, I’m going to ask questions to each of you. one at a time, but the questions will all be the same. Is that fine?”
“Sure, Marcella. Anything that works for you.”
“Ok, I’m going in alphabetical order, so Ellery, you speak to me first.”
“Ok, I’m here.”

Her questions are genuine, and I try to keep my responses clipped and to the point. I have a tendency to wax rhapsodic at the most inappropriate time, so I decided to adhere to the new reality- that the kids were the ones responsible for shaping our identity. The last question was interesting, something I couldn’t remember being asked before-

“If you could turn success of your band into something else, what would it be?”

There was only one answer to that question for me.

“Make more music.”

Todd said the exact same thing.

Jocelyn and Todd were eloquent during their time on the phone with Marcella. I could tell they were embracing this world of having conversations with people you had never met, at a time of day you hardly even speak to your closest friends. Over the course of the interview, I could see clearly that i was not the Dad figure making the Kids realize some long lost dream; the entire subtext of the Dad reality seemed to dissolve over the length of that one phone call. That, in and of itself, was indelible progress. I had lost myself in that train of thought, not really hearing every word that Jocelyn was saying to Marcella, but when I heard this answer, I knew what the question had been:

“I’d love to be in a David Lynch film. Anything… An extra, a delivery person, a clerk. But, yeah, that would be a real dream come true.”

We had a show in New London in eleven days, with no bass player to speak of. Jeremy was obviously out as an option, and I couldn’t think of anyone I had approached the previous month that could pull it off with so little time left. And then it dawned on me; there was a way out of this. Brent Davis had told me he would love to fill in with Piercing if the need arose. Well, now was the time.

“Hey man, Twining here.”
“Hey what’s going on? How are you and Anne?”
“We’re doing great. she has been shooting a bunch of new work; the Piercing shoots have really gotten her back on track artistically.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen all of her new work with you guys; as fantastic as she ever was. Tell her I said so, please?”
“I will. Hey, remember when I asked you to fill in for Piercing last month when you were in Carolina?”
“Hahahahaha! Of course I do. Why? Do you still not have a bassist?” I loved his possessive wording of “bassist” rather than “bass player.”
“Yeah, umm, no. We have a gig at Royal Park a week from Saturday. The 12th. Do you think you could do it?”

I knew Brent could do it; as in learn the songs in a few nights and practice once with us while totally nailing the live set. But would he be able to make it?

“Oh yeah! I’d love to do it. I can practice this Saturday, easily. Other than that, it would be hard to get to Mystic before the gig.”
“I totally understand. Let me get in touch with everyone and see if we can schedule a Saturday night, say…. 8pm?”
“I can do 8pm, no problem.”
“Ok, I’ll get back to you by tomorrow at the latest.”
“Cool, I can’t wait to play live with you on drums again!”
“We’re going to rock, kid!”

Jocelyn and Todd get back to me first; they can make practice with Brent on Saturday. Adrian is stuck in the city.

“I have like, no money, and I’m not working this week because the building we occupy is being sprayed for bugs, yaknow; exterminators and shit.”
“A whole week?”
“I think the owners just wanted a blow, yaknow? But I’m still wicked low on cash.”
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll pick you up in New Haven Saturday afternoon, and drive you back on Sunday afternoon. You don’t need to give me any gas money.”
“Ok, that’s cool. I can do that.”
“We really need to practice at least once with Brent.”
“I agree.”
“It’s kind of a big gig.”
“It is kinda a big gig. I want to play as much as you do.”
“Thanks, man.”
“Thanks to you!”

We have a spirited practice that Saturday night at Centraal. Brent is completely within the songs, and the few moments where he misses a spot, we correct in two or three passages of the segment. For the time being, we are still alive and moving forward. In a scant few weeks, Wall will be the new permanent bass player, and we will be set up to make our next strides in NYC, and begin stretching our boundaries, to include other cities for the first time- Boston, Hartford, Providence, Portland. And if we can solidify those routes, we can then expand into Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That was the tried and true method toward building an audience on the East coast. After brunch on Sunday morning, I drive to the Palace to pick up Adrian for his return trip to NYC; I was transporting him on the Town-to-New Haven leg of the trip.

Sunday was the 7th of July, but what I had not anticipated was that this particular weekend was the unofficial Independence Day Celebration within the GSECAZ. With the 4th of July falling on the Thursday before this weekend, I should have known the highway would be jammed with travelers; their power drive is to get home before sunset on Sunday night. As we descend the last mile of the Gold Star Bridge, I can see the traffic stalled across all three lanes a mile ahead. I exit on the local service road, to gauge whether or not this was a momentary backup, or something that could last for miles. As I approached the last exit on the frontage road, it seemed the highway was clogged for miles; as far as we could discern. I took a hard right onto the exit; knowing I had one last secret tool in the box to avoid a day long commute. I would tap into my father’s driving knowledge. When I was a teenager, I could navigate the entire GSECAZ effortlessly. The same tactic served me well while on the road all of these years. I knew every back road from Mystic to NYC. We didn’t need a highway to get Adrian to the train on time.

When I merged onto State Road 80, I asked Adrian what he thought the role of the musician was in today’s world.

“I think it’s the same as it has always been- provide an outlet for the people, for the audience.”
“I agree”
“Why do you ask?”
“Do you think we provide that thing for our audience?”
“Almost.”
“What are we missing?”
“I think we have everything. The songs; they matter the most. Without songs you ain’t got shit. We got songs. We just need to own that shit, you know what I mean?”
“I agree”

After a slight silence, I allowed myself to let Adrian know what I had been thinking since the Spirit video was linked all over the musical net.

“I don’t have years to pursue these goals. I’m kind of on a tight schedule.”
“I know. I think everyone knows. It’s why we’re waiting for Wall, right?”
“Yes.”

Monday
Record a demo of Detainee on 8 Track for Brent / Soundcloud
Schedule Anne photo shoot with Todd
PR BC’s interview
Check train times / NYC to NL for Brent and Adrian
Print flier FFR for New Haven show in two weeks (Heirlume) / weds trip

Jocelyn and I head to New Haven to hand out fliers for our show there in two weeks. We’ll be opening up for Heirlume on the night of our show, but tonight they are opening for a band with a huge cult following. Marc at Myopic Insights had booked us for the show largely because Piercing is starting to get a serious local buzz; but he also remarked that he remembered me making it to the WESU radio interview to promote the Scare Tactic show back in March. You have to be willing to play the game. The flier I made had to be sent into the Heirlume people for approval, before they would let Marc use it as the main show image. Fortunately, the very first submission was accepted by the band- a relief and a sense that we were calibrating the details as they arose. Tonight was the very first time, in all the years I had known Joss, that we went to the same show together- outside of the local gigs, that is. I was curious to see her take on what Heirlume singer/guitar player Lora Leigh had to endure across the long night of music. After every gig we played, Piercing went home to their beds- the road musicians were sleeping in vans, or maybe bunks in busses; perhaps some shitty motel room off the highway. I implored Joss to watch and pay attention to Lora at every chance.

“that’s what you are signing up for.”

We hand out about 50 fliers to folks as they begin to arrive, and I notice we need to stop , so we’d have enough to ply the leaving crowd with a second wave. The two of us head into the bar, and I get a beer. Joss has a glass of wine. After a tip of a fiver; because it’s always a good idea to overtip the bar staff, we head back toward the front of the room, but I stop us about halfway in.

“Let’s watch from here.” I say to Jocelyn.
“Ok. Why here?”
“Can you see Lora? Sitting over there on the folding chair?”
“Yes.”
“She has to wait out this interminable local opening act every single night, everywhere she goes.. And notice, she’s dealing with it; not hiding in the bus, or walking around the club. She’s participating. Every night.”

Following the headliners set, we camp out on the front steps of the cinder block industrial building that houses the FFR. It’s a gorgeous Connecticut summer night, with the fog rolling in, creating a field of streetlight cones across the parking lot; a line of cars are disappearing onto the woodsy backroads. As the members of Heirlume make their way out front, Marc grabs me by the arm to introduce Joss and I to Lora.

“Hey Lora, Tim, this is Jocelyn and Ellery from Piercing, they’re opening for you in two weeks at BRICKS.”
“Nice to meet you both” as Lora extends her right hand toward us. Jocelyn reaches out and shakes it.
“You were spectacular tonight, I loved watching you rock out like that. Totally refreshing!” Joss offers.
“Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.”
“Yeah, at times it was like we were living in an Eddie Van Halen reality- you would rip off this sick riff out of nowhere and slide right back into the groove, effortlessly. And you sing lead as well!!! Incredible!” I hopefully offer with a blend of modesty and awe struck fandom.
“Thanks, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
“Hey, who does your PR?” asks Tim, who played bass in their three piece. These were the folks who had to approve my design for MI on the flier for BRICKS.
“Umm, I do.” I replied, looking down at my shoes. Why did I look down? I suppose I was trying to be accommodating; humble.
“You do? You don’t have an independent PR company doing all that work?”
“No, I pretty much do it all. But, I have been doing this for a long time.”

I turned to see what Jocelyn’s reaction was. Her mouth was slightly open, as if she just remembered he had left the stove on while driving to work; and then took a deep, cool breath to calm the initial wave. But her eyes remained fixed on a point somewhere beyond the small group of us, on the horizon. Could she see the future coming to fruition?

I finally give in and buy myself a smart phone- the last luddite. The final hurdle was learning how to text Wall, during our recruitment effort. I had figured out how to text him on our primitive Tracphone- something that was an annual Holiday gift from Anne’s family- so they could keep track of us when we were travelling. Wall thought it was cute; my attempts to learn while he was acting as a guidance counselor on the finer tips within the societal norms of “texting”. I plied him with paragraphs of wishful text, and he let me know that I was abusing the forum.

“Hey, like, I have to pay for these things…”

I had no idea. I had made a joke sign at the Palace, years earlier, and placed it next to the most visible electrical outlet: “CELL PHONE CHARGE $1.00 P/MINUTE”
I had no idea how long a cell phone needed to charge.

We have a show later tonight, which is why we needed Brent to fill in, at Royal Park in New London; a small festival with six bands to raise money to offset events like the TAZZIES. The show had now become an annual tradition, and it was a marked move up locally for the band. However, we have yet to hear from Adrian since he called me and said he on the West Side Highway at 5pm, in gridlocked traffic. I almost began to tell him to get off at 34th and head east, across town, to the FDR, but I internally debate whether that would make them even more lost.

“Ok, man- do you think you can get here in the next 2 hours or so?”
“We’re going to try.”
“Ok, keep me posted.”

As I am turning the door handle to leave, the landline rings again. This time it’s Brent, who is leaving Manhattan at the same time as Adrian, only taking the train. We had talked over the past few days that he was getting on an express to New Haven, and then the commuter rail into New London. Brent was a pro, I had no worries about him being there. Adrian was driving with his father, and you could never tell what was going to happen out on the racetrack that is I-95 in the corridor.

“Hey man. Bad news. The schedule for the train was all fucked up. I’m on a local stopping at every bedroom community outside of the city.”
“Well, can’t you get off the train? Flag the next one, hope it’s the express?”
“Hahaha, very funny, country boy.” A sly reference to one of my favorite Miracle Legion songs.
“I might be able to switch out at Stamford, I’ll call and let you know.”
“Ok. We’ll be fine.”

I head to the venue and meet up with joss and Todd, huddling under the backstage awning avoiding the slight drizzle in the air. It’s an unseasonably cool summer night.

“Did you hear from Adrian and Brent?” asks Jocelyn, in a whisper. I can tell she’s actually thinking there is no way those guys are going to make it on time.
“Yes, I did. Brent is on the local out of Grand Central, by accident. Adrian and his Dad are stuck in traffic
on the West Side Highway.”

I tried to sound as if this were the normal state of operations. This show was too big for us to fuck up, and I didn’t want them to think I was worried. I was plenty worried, but showing any outward emotion of that wasn’t going to bring the two of them into town any quicker.
And if the three of us had to pull off this show by ourselves, there was certainly no need to create a negative environment before we made an unscripted, unrehearsed debut as a three piece. I shook my head at the thought, realizing again how we always seem to exist in some fragmented form. Jocelyn caught this deviation from my outward cool.

“What is it?”
“Ahh, nothing. It’s not like the old days anymore, eh?” I mutter
“Which old days?”
“Good point.”

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Fourteen

I awake on Thursday morning. Adrian has rejoined his old band, Rudy has been fired, Jeremy is in the band and has no idea it is strictly temporary, and I’m spending day after day trying to get Earcandy to premiere the “Decisive” video. They have now proposed three different run dates, but major releases keep bumping us back. Tabitha is shopping it to bigger cultural sites that cover film and fashion, as well as music; to no avail. The band inbox is disheartening. I log in to Facebook and see if there is any buzz about our Saturday show with Finito.

“Friday Night / Velvet Hall / Mystic / 8pm / $5 / Class Ring / Geneva Holiday / Finito”

Gut Punch.

I felt as if I had seen an Instagram photo of a girlfriend at the club, without me. Adrian had reassured me during our conversation that this was a one shot deal- either something came of the new recordings or they would mothball the Ring.

“We’re not going to try and recreate our local audience.” he had told me.

But this was genius level PR from the Geneva camp. With Finito coming up for the Saturday show, it was brilliant to have them arrive a day early and play the alternative to a Saturday club night: an all-ages show in Mystic. Coupling that with the close bond that Rudy shared with Phoebe, it was the smart move. Having Class Ring open as they played their first show in over a year, with their original lineup, was a booking coup.

Thames had built their audience playing all-ages shows at the Auditorium, in Stonington; which half of Mystic was within the border of. The Aud, as it was known in local parlance, was a privately run community center that was repurposed from an old 1920’s movie theatre. Several varieties of craftmaking and artisanship were taught in the former office spaces, but the main stage area was kept intact; a place for local theatre groups to present new work, visiting authors to give readings, and where Thames played their most important shows while developing a local audience. When the neighbors began to become weary of 200 people attending the all-ages rock shows; their 100 cars in the parking lot, the sound of the crowds as they came and went within twenty feet of a residential neighborhood, and  the volume of the shows, – it was hard to blame them. One night, while I was struggling to come up with a replacement venue to keep pushing the local scene forward, a couple of young guitar players found me at work, and pitched a new venue idea.

“What about the Velvet Mill?”

I shuddered, hoping I didn’t visibly appear to. I had only been to the Mill one time in my life; and it was harrowing. Following the dawn of the twentieth century, enterprising Americans built specific mills in the Mystic valley to capitalize on a new global market. These mills housed some of the most important velvet production in the world. Germans were the purveyors of the most intimate knowledge of the velvet trade, and hundreds of them came to Mystic to work in these new  mills. “Society Hall”, which was the original name of the Mill, was built by these German immigrants, to recreate some of the spirit of their homeland. By the 1970’s, it had become a private “club”, operating outside the bounds that legal drinking establishments had to adhere to. To gain access the Mill, you had to be a card carrying member of the club, or give a written recommendation for the guests you asked  to enter the establishment. My only experience at the Mill up to that point was on a cool August night in 1979- when my mother’s boyfriend brought my brother and I there, while he was charged to watch us while she worked an overtime shift.

Russell was an alcoholic, who had recently gone through the first real period of clarity in his life. Instead Of pounding beers all day at his job as a weld grinder at the local submarine  manufacturing plant; he was behaving more like the neighborhood fathers we had grown up with- they waited until after work to intake their initial libation. My mother’s relationship with Russell began to take on a kind of normalcy, and I couldn’t blame her for harboring a borderline maniac to help from having to sell the house. But something about the Mill made him lose control that night. I had always equated the strange behavior I witnessed in Mysticites to some kind of weird, psychic vortex that must reside deep in the valley. Whether the vortex is real or not, something got to Russell that night. At 10.30 pm, he piled us into my mom’s 1972 VW Bug, and headed up the valley side the mile to our house. Of course, my mom would be waiting for us; or rather, him, on the front steps.

“Where the fuck have you been?” she hissed at him

He stumbled forward a few steps and gave the whole charade away. I had seen my father fuck up like this many times in front of my Mother. She would never miss that sign.

“AAAAANNNNNNNND  you’ve been drinking! With my fucking kids, you’ve been drinking?!?!? I ask you to watch them for two fucking hours and you dragged them where? Franks? The Mill? Where the fuck did you take these kids? Isn’t it bad enough I have to hear them tell me all of the time they spend in the bar with their asshole father twice a month? Jesus Fucking Christ, you are a one-of-a-kind fucking prick!!!!”

Then, the right hand punch.  Bang. It caught my Mom flush on the left side of her face.

“AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

YOU MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!!” she screamed in response.

She stormed forward and slammed him with all the force she could muster into the back door of the house. I raced toward her, and tried to open the door, desperately grasping at the knob. As my mother had him pinned against the door, he noticed me reaching, and clenched his left hand into a fist and swung it toward me, as a direct punch was impossible. He landed that swing perfectly, as drunk as he was. I fell backward onto my ass against the refrigerator. I looked up and saw my brother was standing absolutely still, with both arms slack at his sides. I was as shocked by his non-reaction as I was to the entirety of the moment.  Russell, in a moment of weakness, stopped his struggle with my mom when he saw the blood seeping from the side of my head. She corralled him and opened the door, pushing him outside; the resulting fall down the concrete stairs left him momentarily immobilized. And then, his scream. I saw my mother quickly lock the door, but his fist burst through a lower pane of glass. He was grabbing at the door handle, desperately trying to unlock it and gain entry, but the blood was flowing from his wrist like hot, watery ketchup packets that you get with a hot dog at the Little League Snack Stand, or an amusement park.  He passed out from the loss of blood moments later, and the ambulance whisked him out of my life forever. That was the emotional level that the Mill brought up in me. That had been my first time there.

Over the years, I had played dozens of shows at the Mill; and other than glancing at a faded scar, the night with Russell never plagued me while I performed there. Perhaps I was locking the lid on that experience, in an effort to not be influenced by it. But going to this show brought back wave upon wave of bad mojo. As I walked across the parking lot between my house and the Mill, I simply put one foot in front of the other, knowing that this repetition would eventually bring me to the hall. Adrian had called me earlier that afternoon, asking to use Steven’s amp for the show that night. Our deal lasted all of five minutes. What was I supposed to do, deny him access while the same piece of equipment sat unused 500 yards away? I acquiesced.

“Yes, you can use the amp, just pick it up before you head over to the Mill.”

“Thanks man! Yr the best!”

Tabitha was in town for the weekend, so she joined Joss ,Todd and me as we trudged toward the club. As we walk, Tabitha brings up the progress with Earcandy.

“Anything look promising?”

“Well, they reassured me this week that we’re in the pipeline, but we did submit two weeks ago. I suppose the question is, how long until we shop it elsewhere?

“I say one more week.” replied Tabitha. “If they won’t run it next week let’s take it to Schwag, and see if they’ll premiere it.”

That caught Jocelyn’s ear. She stopped right then and there and turned to face Tabitha.

“Do you think you can get Schwag to run it? That would be a fantastic place to debut the video!”

Schwag had the corner on an “edgier” presentation of the alternative culture; and the edge-pushing

“Decisive” video fit perfectly into their milieu. I could see Jocelyn’s excitement about that possibility, but I thought there was a remote chance of them highlighting an unsigned band in that fashion. Earcandy built their reputation on finding unsigned, or unknown groups. I felt it best if we wait it out, but I knew Tabitha’s career was a factor in the project.

“I agree- one more week and then we will begin to actively shop it to other outlets.”

“Cool. Thanks. I still feel confident that Earcandy is going to run it.”

“Me too.”

We walk into the hall as Class Ring begin their first song. The crowd is nearing 200 people; it’s evident the band has been missed. A great night tonight could easily propel them into a concise   commitment, the likes of which they may have never imagined before. And yet, Piercing had passed this same point months earlier. It was hard to watch Adrian enjoying himself when our band was so close to capitalizing on the hard work we had all put in. and after the removal of Rudy, further fissures would be difficult to cauterize.  But as their set continued, the audience began to lose interest. As they finished their final number, they were playing to a room with fifty people.

Nostalgia is a fickle bedfellow.

Geneva Holiday earn a reprieve, as the audience reassembles; and they provide their staple of the local musical diet.  But by the time Geneva wrap up their set, it’s 11.30pm. Class Ring delayed the start of their set until 9.30, as the audience hadn’t swelled to their projection until then. That left Finito taking the stage for an all-ages show at twelve midnight. A scant ten people were in the hall to witness them.

After three songs, I decided to walk home, not even exchanging goodbyes with anyone involved with the night. Everything that had been built in this small riverside town over the previous two decades crashed and burned upon itself tonight. I almost felt singlehandedly responsible, but as the steps accumulated on my walk back to Centraal, those worries faded. Once, maybe twice in a generation a small town like Mystic has a returning star. Phoebe had accomplished things in her life that many of her generation of friends in town could not even dream of. And ten people stayed to see her perform.

Maybe the genius move that was centered around what Finito could do for Geneva and Class Ring should have been seen the other way around. Our show Saturday night would define its knife edge.

I arrive at the Wishing Well at 9pm, with a van full of gear. The kids are all arriving separately, so as to not be beholden to my schedule. After two trips through the steep alley to the club with amps and heavy gear, the rest of Piercing shows up to help. They grab the snare drum, and carry that and the guitars into the room; better to rest before their expectant expose of entertainment. We are the second band on the bill, so I stack our gear as close to the stage as possible- as Finito is using our equipment, this leaves a bit more standing room on the floor. After the load in, I head up to the bar and order a Sierra Nevada, which happened to be on tap. The Well was constantly rotating their 65 beer choices, so one didn’t have to travel to NYC for an equal experience. And that is what truly defined the Well- there may be only one world class club in the neighborhood, but we would hold up our neighborhood music joint to anyone else. It was as garrulous a claim as it was the totality of a specific truth. And after getting all of our equipment into the room, I find myself sitting alone on Steven’s old JC120 amp that Todd was using. I had been sitting on this amp before gigs for almost thirty years. But now I was alone. Jocelyn and Todd were at the bar holding court with Caron and Jeremy, while I tried to blend in with the dark wall that showcased local art- a residue of neon light resonated against the opposite brick wall.  It was now evident every success would define how alone I actually was in this endeavor.

Rudy is at the bar by 9.30pm. He would be at the front of the stage when we begin our set in an hour; a curious gaze settling over his face.  I couldn’t help but think of the dichotomy between Piercing and Thames; where everything seemed to be defined by the import of ‘life or death’. That prioritization did not exist within the parameters of Piercing. Phoebe was a long-time friend of Rudy’s, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to greet her at the earliest possible opportunity. By the time we take the stage, there is a near capacity crowd- certainly due to the curiosity of what Finito is all about- Piercing were the lucky recipients of the overflow crowd. And even with a handful of practices with Jeremy, the set is punctual, and it’s conscription evident. The sound is more bouncy, more pop than with Rudy, who provided a more visceral bottom end, but the songs were not hindered in any way by the distinction between Rudy and Jeremy.

Finito are completely mesmerizing. One of my favorite things about live music is seeing a great band almost instantaneously connect with an audience who probably hadn’t seen them before. Jeremy and I end up standing mere meters apart, about halfway through the set. We reach out between people in the crowd, and exchange beaks. During their next song, Finito guitarist Matthew lays down an incendiary solo over a lilting, noir rock. As he reaches down the fretboard and hits one final searing note, there is an audible gasp in the room, followed by immense applause as the band gently eases away from the moment; a slow decrescendo. As I turn around to gauge the reaction in the room as they finish the song, I notice Whitney is standing against the opposite wall. I make a mental note to head over to say hello as soon as the last song was complete. But that train of thought became interrupted when Jocelyn sidles up to me and announces that she is going to head home for the night.

“You should go over and say hey! to Whitney before you leave.” I opine to Joss

“Yeah, your right. I haven’t spoken to her in a few months.”

“No worries. Joss, Whitney wants to see us succeed.”

“Yeah….”

I was surprised at her resistance at embracing Whitney.  And as soon as that thought passed through my mind, I realized I should simply walk Jocelyn over to Whitney right then, before Joss entertained the idea of ghosting it.

“Hey, let’s go see her together.”

“Ok.”

We make our way through the thick crowd, and Whitney immediately brightens when she sees us approach. I was encouraged.

“Hey, you guys are getting so good! I am so psyched for you!”

“Thanks for coming out, it really means a lot to have you see us.”

“You’re welcome! I’m sorry I haven’t seen you guys in the city yet, my schedule has been so hectic, but I will!”

“Thanks, kid.” I reply with complete gratitude.

“Jocelyn, you are looking so hot, girl!”

“Awwww.. thank you Whit.”

I recede into the crowd, to give the two of them some time without me.  But as Jocelyn turns to leave, I lean in and tell Whitney

“Keep posting the Vines from Mystic, I love it!”

“Hahahaha! Every time I’m home- You know I will!”

The moment was disconcerting- why did Jocelyn need me to prompt her to “work the room”? Surely, she must have been aware that greeting Whitney was a total necessity;  but I still had to drag her over there to enact a conversation. And of course, she wanted to leave the club before the last band had finished their set. I could understand wanting to get out a bit early, but she lived the closest of any of us to the Well; I couldn’t tell if she was feeling run down, or if it was simply social anxiety. Whatever the issue, it was only going to move to a more intense reality than tonight’s episode. Joss and I were like two kids at the school playground, one of us pushing the other farther and farther up on the swingset. She kept insisting on more autonomy within our artistic definition, but was at the same time asking me to not push the swing so fast, so high. I could feel my hands falling by my sides.

Monday morning. I open up the email and right away I see that Tabitha is getting in touch about whether or not Earcandy is actually going to debut the video for “Decisive”. It has been over two weeks since I submitted it at Claire’s request, and several email exchanges between the two of us have yet to result in the magazine running the new video. It was vital for Tabitha to get this work published in the widest possible forum. She was still shopping her short film, with no success; but a highly regarded video could provide her extra ballast in the rough seas of getting a film distributed. The next email was from Jocelyn, asking me about the timeframe of informing Jeremy that he is not part of the long term plans for Piercing. I knew it. There was not even a sliver of belief that anyone other than me would have to make that particular call to Jeremy. I chalk it up to the benefit of age- if I was 25 and was tasked with terminating a musician who did us a massive favor, I would bitch and moan until they were sick of hearing it from me. I decided to remain silent about my own internal dialogue, and call Jeremy and tell him the truth. It wasn’t me who didn’t want him to join Piercing; it was Adrian backed by Joss. They were calling the shots now, I was just dialing the phone. No pressure.

I spend my Tuesday day off in the gardens at our house. Anne is in fine spirits; the Iris are in peak bloom, and we have totally caught up on weeding and mulching the beds before the height of their color. I’m dealing with internal disarray; knowing full well before the sun sets that I was going to have to make the call to Jeremy. At 5pm, I decide to dial his number. I am standing in the full sun of our front yard, which is bordered by beach roses; their fragrance wafting in the air amongst a hint of freshly cut grass.

“Hey man, it’s Twining.”

“I know. I have caller ID on my cell phone. You should get one.”

“Thanks for the tip, I was just trying to be polite. You kids are always fantasizing about what the 80’s were like- well, that was a part of it. There was no caller ID. You had to actually pick up the phone to find out who was calling. You should embrace it.”

“Yeah, whatever. How about that set Saturday night? Pretty tight, wouldn’t you agree?”

“It was tight, especially considering how quickly we had to piece it together.”

“I know, I know. Who else could you have called?” a hint of actual sarcasm within his tone.

“Well. I tried to get Brent, but he was in South Carolina visiting his Dad. He could have pulled it off.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t. I did.”

“I know, and I truly appreciate it, I imagine everyone does.”

“You imagine?”

“Hey- take it easy.” That was a go to phrase at the Palace when someone was beginning to cross the line.

“You take it easy! Hahahahaha!”

“Jeremy, I’m going to just get to the point. You are not part of the long term plans for Piercing. We are grateful you could fill in for us at such a desperate time, but we’re going to look for someone else as the permanent bassist.”

Silence.

“I can’t talk to you right now.”

And he hung up the phone.

I immediately send out a group message on Facebook to Joss, Todd and Adrian.

“jeremy is out. we need to find a replacement asap.”

Jocelyn was the first to respond.

“Let’s get together on Thursday and discuss this in person. We have practice that night usually, so let’s think hard about what we need to do over the next few days.”

“Yeah, I think that’s the smart approach” replied Todd.

“Ok, cool. I’ll see you guys at 8pm, Centraal. Yes?” was my contribution to the thread.

I spend a few hours cleaning up the mother-in-law apartment, as well as Centraal proper, before the two of them arrive. Todd gets there exactly at 8pm; we exchange beaks on arrival, and Jocelyn skips up the driveway in an effort to look as if she arrived at the same time as Todd. I saw it as an endearing moment; she truly seemed to want to see this through, regardless of the obstacles. As we enter the studio, Jocelyn camps out on the upright futon bed, which serves as a “guestbed” for some of Anne’s family members while they are in town. Or Rudy. Todd stands upright in front of Steven’s amp- the JC120 which enables Todd to tell his tale.

“And how was your day, Twining?” offered Jocelyn.

“Hahahahahaa! It has been fantastic! Do you know the past two nights, between midnight and 1AM, I’ve been getting vicious phone calls from Jeremy?”

“No, I didn’t. I haven’t talked to him. Todd, have you talked to him?”

“No, no, no…. I haven’t…”

“Well, I’ve had five different phone calls over the last two nights; I had to just let them go to voicemail. But he is eviscerating me on these messages. Here, have a listen…..”

“YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKING THIS THING UP! YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!”

“YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKING THIS THING UP! YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!”

“YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKING THIS THING UP! YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!”

It wasn’t that difficult to reconcile what we had actually achieved versus Jeremy’s wounded take on the same topic. But I intrinsically trusted him, as he was the most prescient of the Palace kids. That carried a specific weight with me-  what if he was right? What if I caved to the wrong vision? I had convincingly built the band into its present state; where they had artistic choices to make regarding their image, and their future. Was it a gift? Surely. There was no other way for me to frame my commitment to Piercing and this particular Mystic generation en masse. That realization also defined an endgame; the first time it had cropped up in regard to them. There would soon be a time when it would be too late to rebuild the possibilities. Of that we could be one hundred percent sure.

“Yikes, I’m sorry to hear that.” Offered Jocelyn.

“Yeah, man. That’s fucked up. But it doesn’t surprise me.” Added Todd.

“I’m just over making these phone calls to kick people out of the band. I have had enough.”

We began to discuss how we could possible find a suitable bass player. There wasn’t anyone in town who we collectively felt was the right fit, but I had my own idea about where we should look. But first, I wanted to let them speak, and untangle all of the thoughts they had about solving the situation.  After twenty minutes of

“how about …..?”

“I don’t think that’s a good fit…..”

“How about we think on a larger scale? We’re in New York all the time; it’s where we record and play the bulk of our shows. Adrian is there. What if we found someone in New York to play bass?”

“Hmmn. That’s a good idea.” Replied Jocelyn with purring interest

“I think that’s brilliant, if we can actually find somebody.” added Todd.

“But how are we going to find someone there? Do you think Adrian can find someone?”

“We could ask Michael at Stormy Harbor. He might know some people.” I offered, actually thinking on my feet because as much as I believed in our next bassist would be based in NYC, I had no idea how we could make that happen.

“I hadn’t even thought of that. We know plenty of people in the city.” Said Jocelyn.

“That’s true. I guess this is what happens when you keep working at it, eh Twining?” surmised Todd slyly.

“That’s right. We’ll find someone in New York, I guarantee it. Why don’t you guys head home and get an early night in. it’s been a hectic month, and if we find someone in New York to join the band- it will get even more hectic.”

“That’s totally cool with me.” Said Todd

“Another Piercing musician in NYC is only going to help us. I’m totally on board.” Added Jocelyn.

“Cool. I’ll start making phone calls and emails in the morning.”

“Beaks!” they reply in unison. I take that as a very good sign.

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