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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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Eleven

Jocelyn continued her train of thought:

“I know we have a show tonight…..”

“What the hell happened? Was this last night when you guys went to hang at Marcus’?”

“Yeah, Rudy came with us, and everything was fine for the first hour or so. Jeremy showed up at about 11.30, and then you could sense a noticeable shift in Rudy’s comportment.”

Hmmmn. Comportment. I liked that word. I was silently impressed.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know if Rudy still has some residual angst about Jeremy moving to Brooklyn and throwing Geneva into rebuild mode, but he was such an asshole after Jeremy arrived. He started berating Todd and Jeremy about their taste in music, which is of no real news in the context of things. But still, the night before we play at the TAZZIES? You think he could hold it together, but oh no, not Rudy. It was simply awful. And then when I started to defend their right to like whatever music they liked, and that Rainbow was no great shakes as a band, he starts going down the misogynist avenue he loves to pretend isn’t real. But it is fucking very real, and I cannot be in a band with him anymore! I will not be treated like that!”

It was of no surprise to me. I had reached out to Rudy in every way I knew how, to get him to move beyond his anger and paranoia. I kept imploring him to look at the big picture, and that this very band could provide him with the creative outlet he was so desperately seeking. Or was I misreading it? Maybe he was satisfied within the cult of Geneva Holiday; their uniformed visage morphing from one iteration to another- not so much a costume but a cloak. There were no cloaks in the world of Piercing.

“Ok, ok, ok….. Don’t worry about it. We will simply show up and play tonight as if nothing is wrong. Don’t betray your feelings tonight, and relay that to Todd. I’ll talk to Adrian about it privately. I agree with you, because he delineated me as a faceless facilitator during the whole thing that went down on the trip to Cabinets last Thursday.”

“Yeah, what was that all about? We barely have a draw in Brooklyn and he suggests we headline a show with bands from town who have never even played in the city? Delusional”

“I know. And that is where we can define the reason why he needs to go. I don’t want to publically expose him as a misogynist asshole; that is for other people to decide. But we can remove him because his commitment isn’t there.”

“And you are willing to handle that?”

“Of course. Let’s just get through the weekend. We’re still going to have to practice with the five of us on Sunday before Adrian heads back to the city. We all agreed to it.”

I leave work at five on Saturday to give myself enough time to load the van and prepare my outfit for the night. I loved getting dressed up for the Awards Show, and I had found my outfit for the night months earlier. I had come across a waist cropped black wool jacket, adorned with square silver buttons, which ran the length of the front and were graciously placed in rows of three on the lower sleeve cuff. It was unseasonably cold on this night, hovering around 48 degrees in a weird, late winter echo. I decided to add a layer of thermal underwear to my outfit, sensing that the cold temperatures and the frigid wind off the river would be more than enough reason to sacrifice fashion for comfort. As I took one last look in the mirror before exiting our walk-in closet, I felt as if I would be able to pull off the multi-layered look. I turned the doorknob, and entered the kitchen, where Anne sat silently going over the mail. It was six o’clock.

“Are you going to get dressed?” I asked, quietly.

“What did you say?” was her reply.

My hearing was definitely going, to some degree. The most noticeable effect was that people couldn’t hear me talk, because I spoke so quietly due to the fact that my ears were so shot every sound was loud and present to me. I had to wear ear protection just to vacuum the floors. A clanging ping of colliding glasses in a restaurant would make me flinch. So, perhaps, she had not heard me.

“Are you going to the show tonight?”

“No, I’m not going to go. It’s business for you, right? You have to go, but I certainly don’t.”

“Wait, we always go to this show, and this year I’m actually playing the show, and my band is actually nominated. The night I actually play the TAZZIES is the night you are not going to go?”

“I didn’t get an outfit together…  You have to go already because you’re playing. its just a timing issue, and really….. I’ll help you in the ways I can, like shooting photos, but I don’t want to have to be put in the role of den mother, you know what I mean? It’s hard enough taking care of you, much less the kids.”

I was shocked. I had always agreed that they were my responsibility, not hers. Each time they were scheduled to be at the house for a practice, or a gig, or a video shoot, I cleaned every room of the house. I tried to make our daily life as invisible to the band as possible. The idea of getting into a huge argument about this didn’t sit well; I had a long night ahead of me and didn’t need the extra layer of tension.

“Ok, then. I gotta go.”

“Ok, I’ll see you later tonight.”

She stood up from the stool in the cold kitchen and gave me a kiss on the lips.

I parked the van two blocks from the outdoor theatre at Royal Park, where the TAZZIES were annually held. By the time I make it to the entrance, you can sense the weather was already wreaking havoc upon the event. The promoters were total pros, so I had no fear of a cancellation, but they were constructing an awning at this very last minute, to shelter the red carpet from what seemed to be inherent rain on top of the frigid temperature. Joss, Todd, and Adrian all met me at the front gate, when I pointed out the awning being hastily assembled.

“That’s not a good sign. Let me go find Caron and see what the deal is.”

After wedging myself in to ask Caron this question, who was answering questions to what seemed like half the attendees and musicians, I find out they are running an hour late. The event is set to go according to the schedule, once they open up the red carpet at 8pm. I head back out to the sidewalk to inform everyone just as Tabitha arrives to meet us. We had regaled her with tales of how much fun the event was, and she was curious and excited by the idea of a night out in town on this scale. She was decked out in a cool, spangly dress, and I reached out and gave her a beak.

“How’s it going? Pretty cold, huh? What are their plans?” Tabitha asked me, obviously looking to frame the evening where some time getting warm could be factored in.

“8pm is go time.”

“Hey, can we chill in the van for the time being?” asked Jocelyn; shivering.

“Yeah. It’s down on South Pier.”

As we walk away from the Park, Rudy is backed up into a deep shop window at a store next to the Park. He’s wearing the trademark Geneva uniform. A voice swelled up inside me a blurted out something I had not intended to actually say.

“You’re here early……”

“Uh- huhhhn………..”

I turn away in contempt. I had to listen to all of the whining and cajoling about even getting to the stage by 9.30 and here he was in the deep cold at 6.45? It was as if he knew he had stepped over the line, and was now taunting me to do something about it. That time would come. And before this night was through, there would be even more damning evidence to allow us to walk away from Rudy without fear of reprisal.

An hour later we depart the van and its confines, and brace against the chilling wind coming off of the river. When we make it to the gates of the Park, the night is under way, and we get ourselves into the formed line. There is a cadre of eight photographers, in some senses “playing” the role of the paparazzi, but the photos of yourself do matter to some degree on this night. Not so much in a way to further your career, that would be a faux pas at the TAZZIES. Rather, you wanted to contribute to the magic. As we made our way toward the front of the line, and the parallel sets of four photographers gracing the carpet, I noticed that I was standing between Jocelyn and Tabitha. There was no way, after our tet a tet earlier tonight, that I could let Anne see pictures of me flanked by Joss and Tabitha the night she stayed home. Right as we were being given the cue to walk the carpet, I reached back and grabbed Todd by the sleeve:

“Hey! Come up and be in the pics with Joss and Tabitha!”

Todd eased his way past the few people ahead of him, and he held each of them in an elbow lock he exaggerated by raising his hands for the last few steps. Cute, perfect; I thought to myself. And then something very nice happened, something I needed to stop and recognize as it was happening. A few rows behind me were James and Charlize Affeldt, the husband and wife duo I had spent five years in Bold Schwa with. They had left New London and relocated to western Massachusetts after the band had collapsed six years earlier, but with so many friends in the GSECAZ musical community, they made it a point to come down for the TAZZIES. I excused myself as I cut the line in reverse, so I could talk to them. And yet, even more so, I wanted Anne to see TAZZIE photos of me walking in with the Affeldt’s, and not anyone from Piercing. I suppose it was a conscious ploy to convince Anne I was serious about the music, and not the social possibilities of success. I was grounded as a musician; and desperately trying to allow none of this to be a detriment in my life with her.

“Hey man! Can I talk to you for a second?”

It was Tim Jones, who was stage managing the night. He was a fantastic drummer who played in several different groups at the same time. I turned to meet him as he handed me a copy of the itinerary.

“Hey Tim, how’s it going? Smoothly, I hope.”

“Well, the time is an issue, so were trying to get everybody on the same page regarding load in and set times. Do you guys have all the gear you need?”

“Yeah, I only brought one guitar amp because they said there would be backline guitar and bass.”

“Yes, we have one guitar amp, so you should be all set. Now, you guys go on at 10.15. I need all of your stuff set in the backstage area by 9.30. can you do that?”

“Of course, no worries from us man. We’ll be totally ready.”

“Cool, thanks. If you need me I’ll be in the backstage area or that front bar over there.”

He finished with a laugh, and then peeled away on a single heel turn. I knew what the staff was going through; hopefully it wouldn’t be a long night.I took another glance at the schedule and noticed that the award for “Best New Artist” was the second envelope of the night. The show was due to begin in about five minutes, so I began searching the Park for the other Piercing members. I finish three complete laps without setting eyes on a single one of them. Starting to feel a bit worried, I made my way out onto the street and began walking the few blocks around the Park; perhaps they were keeping warm in one of the bars, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of anyone. I head back to the park, a brisk wind settling between the classic brick architecture of the side streets of downtown New London.  I remind myself to feel good about preparing for the cold and having the extra layer of thermal underwear. Hoping to see them on the street parallel to the backstage of the Park, it suddenly dawns on me that if I had a cell phone, I  would simply text them and they would materialize out of thin air. And then I became possessed with an opposite, angry thought:

“I’m supposed to text these damn kids to let them know their career is going on?!?!?!?!?!”

“Fuck that” I thought to myself, as I rounded the corner to the entrance of the park, blasted with another strong dose of brutal wind. “Now I’m never going to get a cell phone.”

I wind my way through the encouragingly large crowd to stake out a spot among the beautiful, thin limbed trees that are the demarcation between the lawn caressing the stage, and the pebble gravel walkway further back. Once I was comfortable, I took a sip of beer, and the show began. The first act was a hip hop collaboration between several of the area DJ’s and four MC’s. it was a brilliant performance, sculpted just for this night, and truly established the depth of the possible. There was a full frequency, a pure spectrum of music being celebrated tonight, and it was exciting to be an integral part of it. The first award followed their performance- “Best Hip Hop Album”. One of the guest MCs from the opening act took home the TAZZIE, and the crowd roared in appreciation, especially after his dazzling freestyle moments earlier. I took that as a very good sign- in the cold and near sunset, the crowd still wanted to create the TAZZIE magic.

We were up for the second award, “Best New Band”. This was the one award I truly wanted to garner, mostly because you can only win it once, but moreso for Adrian. When Piercing attended the TAZ Awards a year earlier, the band had written about five songs and had yet to play its first show. But Class Ring were nominated in 2013 for “Best New Artist”, four months after they had replaced Adrian, and I couldn’t possibly forget the look on Adrian’s face as I stood next to him when the award was revealed. His face was scrunched up in a cyclonic fold, as if a sudden tension in his skull had wound his facial features into a pinwheel. He turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, the depth of his blue irises increasing with his frustration. Adrian reached out for his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth’s hand, and walked out. The image of his contorted face was the well I went to over the long winter doing PR for the singles. Winning a TAZZIE was not a “goal”, that’s not what they were about to begin with. But to see Adrian have the opposite reaction once Piercing took home the prize- I used that as fuel to keep pushing forward when there were no reciprocal emails coming in. when there were no gig offers. When the latest email blast to bloggers produced not a single review. We were making so much progress, that it was easy to play this game in my mind, to motivate me to keep moving forward. The shark that never sleeps. It’s was the joy on Adrian’s face when he finally had payback. Class Ring had basically won on the merit  of songs he had written. But I had still not heard or seen from anyone in the band.

“And the winner is ……. “PIERCING!!!!!”

Applause. Tangible excitement. But I was petrified, because I actually wasn’t one hundred percent sure they had said Piercing. I leaned over to the person standing next to me; I had no idea who he was, and said:

“Did they say Piercing?”

“Yeah, man! That’s you! Go go go!”

I could feel the nightmare beginning. I would be onstage, alone. In of itself, that was of no worry to I had begun my “career” in show business playing Moses in the Ten Commandments, at a Christian summer camp I attended for a week each summer during my junior high school years.  The program I signed up for during the summer before 9th grade was a theatre/musical  conference. Basically, hippie Christians from around Connecticut that had worked in musical theatre volunteered to spend a week in northwestpart of the state crafting a musical for the attendees to perform within that limited time frame.

At the final group rehearsal for the overture, I had let myself get a little too into the music. The entire conference was seated in a great hall, and the live band was cranking out the song. The band was made up of professional musicians, who were committed Christians, hoping to spread the good word through their art. I absolutely loved the environment, and committed myself wholly. On this day, perhaps a bit too much.

“With all your Heart, with all your SOUL

You can love the Lord

with all your HEART“

It was a catchy tune, something you might hear on side two of a cool country-rock LP from 1975. And I was dancing while seated, singing out loud, gesticulating with both hands, lost in the music. The director suddenly stopped everything, and said aloud, waving his hand palm down toward me:

“Ellery, you seem to be really into this song.”

“Yeah….”  I didn’t want attract this kind of attention, and had unwittingly done so.

“Why don’t you come up here and lead the whole group?”

“Do you mean, like, conduct the group?”

“No, no, no. just come up here and stand up and sing; like you just were.”

Hmmn. I wasn’t so sure about that. Why me? I thought, I was just, you know ‘giving energy’; that’s what the counselors were constantly asking for. I could feel two hundred eyes upon me. And I remember thinking to myself, right before I stood up to walk to the front of the hall:

“ok, ok. That’s what you want? I’m going to give it to you.”

My biggest obsession during the whole week was to be able to get a few minutes and play the house drum kit, which was gleaming in 1970’s red flake sparkle. It had hydraulic drum heads, a recent definition of the “serious drummer”, and the oil between the two plasticine layers produced subtle rainbows of color. I figured, if I went up there and did Sammy Davis Jr on their ass, I might parlay that into a few minutes playing that beautiful drum kit. I would eventually be right about that. But I had to pull it off first. I stood up, and walked slowly, to the front of the room. I remember looking completely left and right, across the entire assembled group. And then the drummer clicked off the beat.

“with all your HEART

with all your SOUL

you can find,

you can love the lord!

WITH ALL YOUR HEART!!!!!”

And I started doing Vegas leg kicks-first to the left, then to the right. I began racing down the length of the assembly, shaking hands, high fiving people; imploring them to SING! I had the most limited idea of what Vegas even was, other than Elvis died after being there. That was all I could discern from the front page of the New York Daily News, driving to see my paternal Grandmother in New Bedford, Massachusetts on August 16th, 1977. My father had always bought The News and The Post each morning; I didn’t know at the time that it was due to his gambling addiction. But Elvis’ death was on the front page of both papers that sat casually between my mother and my father on the front seat. I kept peeking over the headrests, trying to understand its importance. Who was Elvis? And why was Las Vegas so bad?  I was empirically drawing from a well of Jerry Lewis Telethons, and lonely Labor Days spent on the couch while the adults sedated themselves on the workers holiday.

“We’d like you to play Moses, are you up for it?”

I promised myself not to do the Vegas leg kick while I walked to the stage to accept the TAZZIE; alone. I even had a speech prepared just in case I might have to speak on this night. But as I took yet another step toward the stairs, and no other Piercing members were with me, I felt the old shudder of unfulfilled expectation. There was not a single person in attendance that wanted to see me give an “acceptance speech” for “Best New Artist” when I had been playing shows in New London since before the members of Piercing were born. The crowd, and the organizers wanted to see Jocelyn, and Todd, and Rudy, and Adrian bask in the delight of this fleeting moment. You could almost feel the deflation in the crowd when they realized I was the sole representative.

“I tell the kids at the Palace all the time- ‘there is no world out there waiting to validate you. You have to build your own world. Thanks you for letting us contribute to this world that you have built.”

I turned to my left, to make my way down the stairs, when I catch a glimpse of Jocelyn hurrying down the red carpet, toward the stairs. It’s the recurring nightmare- walking off the TAZZIE stage as she walks on to it. I reach out, give her a beak, and keep walking down the main aisle. If I had any balls, I would have walked all the way to South Pier, put the key in the vans ignition, and drove the fuck home. But I didn’t. We had to play tonight, and I didn’t walk out on a gig, no matter how incongruous the circumstance. I doubted whether anyone would even talk to me afterwards, so I simply took up residence in the same spot among the trees. Other than seeing Joss as I exited the stage, there was still no visible evidence of the Piercing members. The next award was an online vote by the music community for “Best Rock Band”. As much as Rudy poo-poohed the TAZZIES, Geneva was up for the award in this category. Suddenly, the next announcement caught my full attention.

“And the winner for Best Rock Band is ……………… Geneva Holiday!!!!!!!”

They had finally won a TAZZIE. I hadn’t seen Rudy for hours, and I was rather curious what their response to winning would be. Would they take a hardline punk stance? Or would they play the game?

“This is the happiest moment of my fucking life!!!” roared Rudy into the microphone, setting off an interesting feedback the sound engineers culled immediately.

When their name was called as this year’s recipient, I caught a glimpse of Rudy, sprinting toward the stage, his uniform black tie cascading back and forth across his chest. Peter Meeks was right on his tail, as Geneva was his brainchild. They were ecstatic about winning, which is exactly what the night derives its energy from; a willing consecration towards fun. And Geneva delivered, making self-deprecating remarks about how they had never won before and “Now we’re being recognized!” it was genius instant theatre, and I was supremely proud that they were Mystic kids. I was clutching our “Best New Artist” TAZZIE when Joss tapped me on the shoulder; one tap, quietly.

“We won!!!’

“Yeah. We did…” was my sullen reply

I didn’t even ask where they were, I didn’t want to know. Part of me just wanted the night to end in a cataclysmic rainstorm, but I knew that wasn’t a fair thought on any level. Anne wasn’t here. The kids seemed to have their own agenda that did not include me. I watched as Rudy and Peter raced down the stairs back into the crowd to make way for the next award. Somehow, Rudy had edged up against me in the row of trees where I was trying to remain invisible.

“Can you believe it??!?!?! I fucking won something! We won something! This is the first time in my life I have actually won anything!!!!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, actually, the first thing you ever won in your life was “Best New Artist” for Piercing about five minutes ago. I chose not to say anything, other than a perfunctory “Congrats.” So he knew I was actually paying attention.

“I can’t be in a band with Rudy anymore”

And neither could I.

It didn’t even matter what Adrian or Todd thought. We had to take advantage of the out clause that defined our internal agenda regarding Rudy. He had brought this on himself.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Five

Little did I know that Whitney’s contact at Earcandy was the associate editor of the entire operation. When she told me of the opportunity, I imagined that she had friends who wrote sporadically for the site, which I’m sure she did. But Paul White wielded a singular authority within the context of the indie music world. He was the epitome of the modern mogul; a reflection of the best of the previous era, when one insightful person could shape a culture. This wasn’t John Hammond coming across Bob Dylan, but in the modern world where the internet articulated the possible audience, his voice was extremely influential. I exchanged charged emails with Paul for a few weeks, as he began to grasp the tenor of the Piercing story, which only months before we had collectively agreed was bereft of any context.

Eight weeks later, we had to explain ourselves, and for the most part, it was left up to me to express this message. I had signed up for this role when I agreed to work with Jocelyn, but I hadn’t anticipated this accelerated schedule. How could have anyone? We had played our third show in late December, with one of the local bands that had set the template for us to emulate. Blow-Up had been a Brooklyn band, treading the same streets Adrian was now, and coming to the conclusion they could achieve the same goal from their childhood home of New London, relocated at the height of the musical resurgence in town. Bold Schwa were getting regional and national attention at that point, in the mid Aughts-, and the Up’s escaped the madness of NYC without sacrificing their access to it. They were beginning to subscribe to a Post Generation concept, which defined the Station House aesthetic- that in that moment, we just happened to be in a singular place- there was no way to play a gig in NYC and go to work the next day if you lived in Iowa. We had an advantage.

And people in local bands were starting to capitalize on this. Piercing would become part of that cyclical endeavor in ways that would define a singular expression of what was possible, within the framework. Not only did I own the van we used to transport the music, Anne and I also owned another van, the two of us participating in travelling roads to define our art- myself with the various bands, she with her fine art photography which she showed at traditional New England Art Shows held throughout each summer.

One van for music, one van for photography. But now that Anne was running the family business, and was sacrificing her artistic schedule for practical purposes. Piercing inherited the blue photo van; with its high scoop top, allowing for the interior TV/VCR combo to be above the heads of the passengers. This served her well on the road doing art shows, as she could change into “show clothes” after getting the booth ready, while being able to stand up. For Piercing, it allowed Rudy and Todd to stretch their legs on the three hour ride to NYC for a show. Another hindrance removed.

Paul had decided to name Piercing as one of the Earcandy “Bands to Catch”, which featured a new group every six weeks, as something their audience should look into. With the volume of music being released, these websites carried enormous clout, and to have our very first single be featured created two new fronts. The first was something I told the band after a typical winter practice at Centraal- the furnace blasting for Jocelyn and a fan blowing air on Rudy so he didn’t overheat- we had two microclimates battling it out within the room as we attended to the musical details of the band.

“The Earcandy review will change everything. There can be no more last minute cancellations, no weddings, parties, or funerals that take precedence over a show. The only funeral we can cancel a show for is your immediate family.”

My hyperbole was supposed to actually bring the point closer to a clear realization; as the intent was not so much to draw a line in the sand about what we should tolerate, but more to add new definition to opportunities we had passed on. In September, we were offered a Brooklyn loft show that we couldn’t play because Jocelyn and Adrian had a wedding and a memorial to attend to. And there was Jocelyn’s last minute studio cancellation. The second part was the lynch pin- there was absolutely no point in continuing the band, with the press we were sitting on, to not make this the focal point of everyone’s personal daily lives. It had to become Piercing- and then anything else. The kids needed to be able to acquiesce to this new reality, otherwise it was going to be difficult for me to continue. I had been with Anne for twenty two years, and here I was asking her to support me getting back on the road, again. I was positive it would be the last chance I would have.

The second part had an interior element that I wanted to talk about with the band. “Certain levels of success are quite exciting, and as each of you experience these moments, you need to let them leave their mark, sort of what Joni said in “Blue”- ‘songs are like tattoos.’ Let the progress seep in deeply, and if we can all do that together, we’ll be in much better shape. Letting each little victory exist as a manner of course will lead to expectations that may not be met. And the people you will be most suspicious of taking away that feeling of progress, will be each other. As we move toward each goal, the people you will be most afraid of taking it away will be the members of this band. Don’t give in to it.”

I was met with a silence I had yet to hear at Centraal, which was almost always filled with sound, or at least noise. Hopefully they understood the message. Expectations need to be reserved solely for the work itself;  the next song, the next visual representation, the next flier, the next idea. Chasing success is a damning exercise; and I didn’t want any of us to witness the eventual dissolve into a social cold war which is so common when a band isn’t capable of articulating their potential.

We had scheduled a show with Boyfriend at the Warehouse in Mystic. After witnessing so many great shows there while I was in the studio with Borealis, I had a secret desire to play a gig in the old lumber yard building, not a DJ set- at least once. Everyone in town knew that the continued existence of the Warehouse was precarious at best- I had never been around an all-ages performance space that treated the performers like some 1960’s cattle call. Artists were never paid on time, and rarely the correct amount. Admission prices fluctuated as the need for revenue changed. You might pay $7 to see three local acts one month, and then $10 a few weeks later for two of the same acts. Everyone knew the business end of the operation was a shitshow, but the venue was spectacular. An open floor that was full with 70 people, and a U shaped balcony wrapping the whole room a story up, bringing in another 30 people, all the while creating an illusion from below that the room was infinite. I went all out with the local PR, stapling fliers to telephone poles in a way I hadn’t done in twenty years. The local paper had featured the show, and there was a palpable sense of excitement in town that Boyfriend and Piercing would deliver a classic night at the Warehouse. Earcandy had decided to run their review of our debut single with a short interview on the following Monday.

As we practiced for the show on the Thursday before, word started to leak out that we were in for a brutal blizzard, a February to remind us of 1978 in these parts.  The show would be cancelled on the Friday before the Saturday storm, and there was a bit of disappointment and unease, hearing about it. Inside, a small part of me realized that Piercing would never play a show at the Warehouse. It was a thought I needed to corral and then let be, the romantic notion of being a living part of the next Mystic Music Collective was not part of the master plan.

The power went out at 7pm that Saturday night. The winds were already sculpting the snowdrifts, and there was no logical way to imagine the show could have gone on; everyone trapped inside the Warehouse with no power. Instead, we were all safely ensconced inside our respective dwellings; hoping to safely ride the storm out. But a power outage in the winter is quite the opposite from the power being down during the warm months of the hurricane season. The temperature at our house dipped to a frigid 54 degrees overnight, and then plummeted as residual heat dissipated into the post-storm winter silence. Anne and I made it through the day with some inspired outdoor fire pit maneuvering, but as the sun set, and we entered a house with no power and no heat, we were settling into pure survival mode. How long could we sit dormant in a 44 degree room covered in blankets, with candle wax dripping? And yet, there was another element to the situation that made this a moment of pure essence-. the Eargum review was due to be posted Monday. Hopefully, we would have electricity back by then, so I could see the review as it was entering the digital realm. The blizzard was certainly a sign. “How patient are you willing to be?”

The power was restored at midnight between Sunday and Monday. I decided to binge on Live Aid performances from  1985, hoping to exhaust myself into a sleep that would last until the review was posted. It’s still somewhat mindblowing to think that Lionel Richie escorted Dylan, Keith, and Ron Wood off-stage after their horrible performance.  I also had a renewed appreciation for the electrical grid.

The review could not have been better. The new national spotlight that was shining on us for this brief moment in the culture created a seismic shift in the way the business of being in this band would exist. I found it easy enough to book Piercing locally, through the email channels that were not afforded to Thames. But there was no way to be prepared for our new reality. Every single day for two weeks the inbox was flooded with requests- from clubs looking to book us, to publications wanting to write about us, to filmmakers who wanted to use some of our music in their film. The cacophony was as intense as any modicum of success I had found as an artist.  And yet, it was almost effortless to keep in contact with the various interests. I had already been committed to a daily routine of promoting the band, but now I was spending anywhere from two to eight hours each day, every day, to keep up with the sudden interest. The nature of indie music had become so fierce, so dense, that unless you were swimming, you were busy dying. We had to become the shark that never sleeps.

Later that night, I received a phone call from Jocelyn. “I’m worried about Todd. He’s living with a bunch of dealers, and he’s siphoning off their supply. And they are letting him” she told me.

This was one of my lines in the sand, something I told them I would walk away from the band over. But the Earcandy review had run on this day. How was I going to leave this potential behind? I had dealt with the issue multiple times over my career, and even had my share of blow outs with band members accusing me of dragging down momentum with my own decisions. But this was different. Jocelyn had an acute sense of time and place- and she knew that waiting until a good review from Earcandy to reveal this would keep me from upholding my position. She was quite conscious, from the years of recording together, how much this opportunity with Piecing meant to me. And she played it perfectly. I was rather impressed on recollection. I was secretly hoping that her acumen could work to our advantage.

“I’m going to leave it up to you to handle Todd. I won’t make an issue of it if you get him to be under control, and for him to consider the much bigger picture. It’s up to you to keep him on the straight and narrow. Do you feel okay about taking on that responsibility?”

I think she knew any other answer may have determined an outcome in no one’s favor, except for what she did say to me:

“I can do it.”

The comments section at Earcandy was one of the areas where the modern cultural battles raged. I remember Jeremy showing me the comments section on one of the big blogs when All in the Family had released their debut LP. Some of the remarks were scathing, and it took me by surprise because their debut was one of the records I had most fully enjoyed in years, and that had very little to do with knowing Whitney or Phoebe.

“That’s the sign of success, now. When people are anonymously trashing your hard effort- it’s the new compliment.” Jeremy enlightened me, with the spittle that was so often caught between his lower lip and top row of his teeth fully evident.

I certainly believed him, as he had spent a year and a half in Brooklyn hanging with Whitney, Phoebe,and their extended circle of friends. So I decided to closely watch the comments on the Piercing article.

There wasn’t much activity there, which underscored how difficult this effort would be, regardless of our inherent advantages. But one comment of the few gave me quite a bit of validation, as the criticism had been addressed before the Earcandy was even published.

“I’ll give them a listen, but I won’t be surprised if I never hear about them anywhere else ever again. Y’all have a tendency to declare a new artist a “Band to Catch” who actually isn’t even at a level of the slightest buzz yet”.

We had the long form video for “Massive/Spirit” already in the can. We were prepared to capitalize on the initial interest in the band. And the commenter would become an ally of Piercing over the next year.

Our first show after the review was in town, at the local all ages hall that had been hosting shows since Thames booked a four band bill there in December of 1991. That night was the next iteration of the Mystic New Music Fest, which ran for five years showcasing the area bands at a variety of venues. This night was also something of a festival, as the rhythm section brothers of Class Ring wanted to build a small memorial in their yard for their recently deceased dog, who would actually walk the short distance into downtown from their house, navigating the crosswalks, and chill in various stores for hours on end.

Locals and visitors alike were so taken by the fact that this dog had become so sociable, it seemed like the right thing to do. I helped organize the night, and soon came to regret that decision. If I had expected any help from the bands playing the show to actually set up the PA, lights, and run the door, I was being nostalgic for 1991. Times change, and the group mind that we had all so willingly subscribed to in our twenties was not present in this next generation. By the time I had singlehandedly unloaded the contents of our van into the hall and onstage, Jocelyn, Jeremy, and Todd pulled up, and offered their assistance.

“yeah, we’re all good….. everything is already inside….”

I was talked into one of the locals being the “MC” for the evening. As I was always looking for ways to get people to participate, I wholeheartedly agreed. I asked “Where is the script? Or is he just going to wing it up there?” My trepidation was the undercurrent of resentment toward Piercing from a segment of the local musicans after the Earcandy review came out. You could sense within certain segments of our world that there was a righteous indignation that this kind of praise was being heaped on us. Many a Mystic musician felt they deserved such attention, and that it was being wasted on Piercing. In our rush to gather songs for the Piercing live set, Adrian had decided to revisit a Class Ring song that he had written- and we took his guitar part and wrote a completely new song around the riff, making sure to stay as far away from the original as possible. Adrian approached the Class Ring members about his imagined reworking of the song, and they replied that it was of no concern to them.

And yet, after the Earcandy review, the Class Ring bass player wrote on our Facebook page: “hey Piercing- Class Ring wants their bass line back.” Rudy was livid hearing about the post, as he wasn’t active on Facebook. But I don’t think Rudy was prepared for the MC to use that same line, as he introduced us- the first band of the night.

“Hey Piercing, Class Ring wants their bass line back!”

His act was supposed to be similar to a comedy roast, which at the time were making a moderate comeback. I thought it was incredibly immature, and revealed a specific jealousy; which we were not perpetuating at all. I took one look at Rudy after the comment, and thought I was going to have to restrain him.

“Fuck it,” Rudy said, “let’s fucking open with it!”

We had decided beforehand to not even play “Age of Resent”, and bring any possible animosity into the equation. But now we were being called out on it.

We were set to open with “Massive”, but I thought, ‘Yeah, let’s battle it out here, it may come in handy over the next six months to assert that we were here to stay, and were not afraid of criticism.’

The five of us walked onstage, slowly, deliberately. There were a good hundred people at 7.30 on a cold March night to see us in a smoke filled hundred year old hall. Once we plugged in, and looked to each other for the start, Adrian waved his hand.

“Fuck it, let’s not give in to this bullshit, let’s just play our set.”

As Morrissey so succinctly stated – We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.

We had a full band practice the next day, as we had all agreed to practice every weekend that Adrian was in town, regardless of prior commitments.  There was an expected lethargy, following a long night, but I could sense a change in each of their individual emotional connections to the band. There was now tangible proof that we had all made the correct decision in forming Piercing. This was the crucial moment I had been squinting to recognize ever since our first practice. And opening the band email the following morning served to cement that inspiration- a PR company in NYC wanted to talk about possibly working with Piercing to support the next single. As difficult as it was to push the first single to labels without any press, the press was actually opening doors I had not even remotely considered at this stage. Keith Taylor had been working in the indie world for years, beginning as so many do on his college’s radio station, where he would spend the last years of the century. After a few non-starts on a date and time we could mutually talk, a phone call was set up for the evening of Wednesday the 13th, at 7pm.

I was pacing along the long rug in front of my dj set up in the studio, drinking a warm beer, waiting for the phone to ring. I had a sudden pang of nervousness- “maybe I shouldn’t be having a beer right now?”

But if this was going to be rock and roll, and not some cool kids club, I think one beer before I talked to Keith wouldn’t disengage his interest in Piercing. And it didn’t. But my approach to the meeting would begin to haunt me months later. I felt we were literally on the verge of getting to the next level- why else would he even be calling? Why should I leave anything to chance? I decided to explain as much of the complete picture as possible, discussing my time and experience in each band I played with before Piercing, and this seemed to pique his interest- that this was obviously no ordinary group of kids trying to find their way. He asked me what our goals were, and I stated that we “wanted to sign with Year Zero” the boutique label that continued to thrive in these difficult times. YZ0 had released seminal records for decades, and had even survived a dearth of interest in their bands during the musical depression of the Aughts, but rebounded recently in a manner few labels can attest to. But that was the GOAL, not what was necessarily the next step.

“What we really need is to sign with “sound Vision” (which was one of the many small independent labels I had unsuccessfully shopped the “Massive/Spirit” single to during the previous autumn). “Yes, they are the hot label for a band making music like you guys do. Tell you what, keep me posted about your NYC gigs, and we’ll keep in touch.” We would exchange emails occasionally over the next seven months, but I would never meet Keith in person.

The show offers were the most interesting element of the new shift. Clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn were now asking us to play, the inverse of constant emails begging for a chance to perform, or heaven forbid, a return to hand delivering the PR. We ended up booking seven shows over the next eight weeks, a considerable haul when we had played a grand total of five shows since our inception eleven months earlier. The second night of that stretch was in Bushwick, at one of the local coffee house / performance spaces that were gaining so much traction all over Brooklyn at the time. I didn’t have time to genuflect about our role within gentrification, as I needed to focus everything on maintaining our public perception. Jeremy had set up the show with a local opener, Piercing, and Boyfriend. Fortunately for us, while there were some snow piles on the street corners, it was unseasonably warm; which helped bring out a decent crowd. At one point, I had to head back to the van to get a replacement guitar for Jeremy, who broke some strings tuning prior to the Boyfriend set. Sticking with my age old routine, I insisted that we pack our gear into the van after our gig at the earliest possible chance. On my way through the quiet, sloping streets of Bushwick, I couldn’t help but think, “What if these people see me as the enemy?” Not that I was fearful- far from it. And yet this notion that their neighborhood- beautifully manicured miniature city lawns, with decorative flair built up over decades, were being altered by my presence. As if they were being forced to accept me. Living in a tourist town, I was constantly welcoming people- but that night I felt like an intruder.

We took our scheduled practice night off, to rest and be ready for the next show in NYC, this time our Manhattan debut, on the LES where I had lived through so many weekends with Greenmanville.

Bold Schwa also gathered much of their steam playing the LES, especially tonight’s venue, Cabinets. In the early 2000’s, photo blogs of the newly vibrant NYC indie music scene fueled its resurgence. There were difficulties finding a way in those early  internet days to host massive photo files, but a handful of ambitious artists who understood the implications of the new media began to be scene shapers of their own accord. When Bold Schwa first was featured in one of those photo blogs, it became much easier to book shows in NYC. Without those tastemakers, things would have evolved in a much different manner for their entire career. Tonight would also mark another first for the band- Tabitha Williams was a young videographer/photographer working on a short film who wanted to use a portion of “Massive” on the soundtrack, and she came to meet us at Cabinets.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Three

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

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

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

“Hello…?” Rudy drawled into the cell.

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

“She’s not coming tonight…..”

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

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

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

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

“What’s up with Jocelyn?” said Jimmy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Somewhat Lynchian?” was my reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kittles Farm?” we all responded in unison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cacophony of Anniversary

In the summer of 2013, my dad convinced me that I needed an iPhone for everyday life. Previously, the mobile phone that Rich and I brought with us, if we went out of town, in one of our two 1999 Ford Econoline vans, in case we needed to call AAA, was a Trac-Fone. And you couldn’t really text with a Trac-Fone. My dad, a retired USN helicopter pilot,  was an early adopter of technology. When I finished school and moved back to Mystic in the summer of 1990, he had a corded Motorola phone in his car, that was in the middle console, nestled between the drink holders. He loved to call ahead to his destination that he was “on his way”, and when he was fifteen minutes out.

The first text message between my dad and I was on 25 July 2013 at 12:07 pm:

LG:       “Michelle: Running a little late: be there by 12:45 to 1. Please acknowledge. Thanks, Dad.”

MG:     “Got it…that’s fine.”

It was a Thursday, and I had been at work since 9 am at the Mystic Army Navy in Downtown Mystic. I had been co-owner with my dad of our two stores- one in Downtown Mystic, the other in the Olde Mistick Village, since September 2010, when his business partner (also his best friend from the old neighborhood), had retired after 17 years. They reached an agreement, and then my dad made me the co-owner. There was an understanding between the both of us that I would be taking over the two stores, when he was ready to retire. That  day seemed far off at the time.  I felt more than ready for the future change of ownership.

I had been raised in the family business, A Stitch in Time Boutique in Downtown Mystic, opened when I was five years old. Although we lived in Noank, my sister Maria and I would take the afternoon school bus that routed to Downtown Mystic, and we would get off at Pearl Street, and walk across the street to the store, where our mother worked the final shift that ended at  6 pm. Maria and I loved being at the store, and “helping” the customers, and would thrill to the attention that ensued: “Oh, I want the little lady to show me the silver rings in the case…” Our summers were spent at the store, working as a family. By the time I was fourteen, I was on a  schedule, and have been ever since.  As I was back in Mystic that summer of 1990 , I resumed working at Stitch in Time for my mom. Rich and I started our relationship then, and I found myself swept up in the excitement of an intense art scene in Mystic, that he was integral in, and I became enamored with photography.  In 1995, I was fortunate to gain the employ of the professional photographer, Rollie McKenna of Stonington, until she retired in 1998. At that point, I joined the newest family business, Mystic Army Navy that my dad had started in 1993, to fill the void, post- divorce, where my mom “got the store” (Stitch in Time), and my dad “got the house” (in Noank), and “got the boat”.

I had invested in the family business. I was involved in every aspect of helping to run the retail business with my dad and his business partner on a daily basis, but mostly I was chief negotiator between the two Navy veterans, each stationed at their preferred store, my dad was at the downtown store(DT), and his partner at the Olde Mistick Village store(OMV). By the summer of 2013,  the business was getting ready to celebrate its twentieth year in business, and we all felt a sense of relief, especially after surviving the tumultuous Hurricane Sandy catastrophe in October 2012, when the DT store flooded up from the floorboards as a tidal surge from Long Island Sound forged into the Mystic River. The DT store had to be emptied, and all of the merchandise relocated  to the OMV store.  The store had to be bleached and dehumidified, and then rebuilt,  and it had been the most difficult professional experience thus far. However, our staff performed on a high level; it was all hands on deck in true Navy fashion, and we were successfully back on track.

Little did I know that three months after getting the iPhone, my father would pass away on 27 October 2013. The five day sequence leading up to his death, is burned into my memory, and I realized that this year, 2019,  marks the six year anniversary, and as such, the days and dates are lined up in the exact order as they happened. I went into my iPhone for the first time to look at all of the text messages between us, which are all still there, buried at the bottom of my phone.

Prelude on Monday 21 October 2013: 12:46 pm

LG:       “Michelle: Don’t forget I have an endoscopy tomorrow at the WHVA (West Haven VA) hospital. Not sure about Wed/Thurs/Fri at MANS (Mystic Army Navy Store): depends what they find? I’ll keep you posted. Love, Dad.”

MG:     “The store will be fine..Don’t worry there, and try to keep the worry component down..Keep me posted tomorrow.”

Tuesday 22 October 2013:

My scheduled day off, and I had a photoshoot planned at 2 pm, with a brand new model: a veritable “Greek God” that Rich had enthused about to me, Titus Abad, who happened to be a most ardent fan of Slander, Rich’s latest band. Titus and I were going to shoot at the Greek Revival Mansion in Old Mystic, the “House of 1833”, run as a Bed and Breakfast  by Evan Nickles, a longtime Mystic entrepreneur. Titus was 20, and had participated in some photo shoots at school, but had moved back to Mystic, and I was confident that we would hit it off. It was a great shoot.  I didn’t text with my dad that day, but we talked on the phone. It had been a month of mostly minor physical discomfort: he thought he had an ulcer and wanted to get it checked out at the VA.  He was in fair spirits, but I could tell that he was worried. He had just turned 70 on September 19th, and out of nowhere really, he seemed to taking the birthday milestone hard. He was the most vivacious person I have ever known, so to not be up on the mountain, that was so unlike him.

Wednesday 23 October 2013 at 3:52 pm

MG:     “Any news on the biopsy and cat scan?”

LG:       “They found one small polyp in my stomach & sent it out for biopsy.  Results due in today with cat scan results.  Went to see my GI (Gastro-Intestinal) guy here in New London this morning, and I’m going to let him take over the GI stuff. West Haven just too far away.. will keep you posted. Love, Dad.”

My dad loved the West Haven VA Hospital: he had a procedure there in December of 2011, unrelated to his current state, and he always raved about the legendary treatment he had received there. But Pat’s schedule with her new job, which required some serious travel, would have an impact for his future medical appointments, which is why he was considering the local doctor.

We talked on the phone a lot as I was running the two stores , while he was convalescing at his house between doctor’s appointments this week. He was still involved in daily store business, and we would discuss store banking, and other pressing matters. That night he and his girlfriend Pat went out to a scheduled dinner in Providence, and attended a theater fundraiser. They got dressed up in fancy clothes, and from the photographs I later saw, he looked fantastic on the outside, with a big smile on his face.

We’re both Red Sox fans, and that year, our team was playing in the World Series. Later that night, we texted at 9:41 pm

LG:       “Cards making too many errors!!!
“Triple Play! Wow!”

MG:     “We like this lead, but Sox have to realize that no lead is safe..”

LG:       “Agree!”
“PAPI!!!!!!”

MG:     “Love it!!”

LG:       “Spectacular!!!”

MG:     “Awesome!”

This back and forth between us was during Game One at Fenway Park, and the Sox won 8-1.

We were excited.

Thursday 24 October 2013 at 1:05pm

I was at work at the downtown store, and I texted my dad:

MG:     “How are you feeling—it’s beautiful out there-hopefully you can catch some warm rays!”

LG:       “Having lunch: back later.”

MG:     “At home?”

LG:       “Yes!”

Later:

MG:     “How are you feeling? Any pain today?”

LG:       Actually took a full Vicodin last night and slept straight through!!! First full night’s sleep in about three weeks.. Having a meal with us, or just appetizers? Thanks, Love, Dad.”

I was working until 4 pm, then had a mammogram appointment at Pequot, and Rich had a gig at the El-n-Gee later that night with Slander, and I planned to attend with my friend and model Jane, and would be meeting up with Titus there as well. But I wanted to see my dad for dinner and a visit for a couple of hours beforehand. We had veggie burgers and a bunch of appetizers, but he was not his usual self. He was down, and I know he was worried about the medical results.

Later that night, while I was at the Gee, he texted me updates on Game Two of the World Series at 8:53 pm

LG:       “Top of the 3rd¨Sox finally got a MOB, but then fly out. Waca throwing much heat, but so isn’t Lackey!”

He kept me posted throughout the game, which resulted in a loss for the Red Sox (Cards 4 Sox 2), though Rich and I made it home to watch the end of the game, with the Sox down.

MG:     “We’re home now, and hoping for the best!!”

LG:       “Cliff-hanger!”

Friday 25 October 2013

I went to work at OMV for my regular shift of 10-6 pm. My dad normally worked with me out there every Friday, ever since his partner had retired, and we always had a full plate with receiving merchandise, and wanting to get everything in place for the always important weekend. My dad, who enjoyed a good meal immensely, always treated every Friday with a takeout lunch from Mango’s. The Garlic Cheese Bread: “Mozzarella & Romano cheeses, fresh garlic & olive oil on our hearth baked flat bread.” and The Blacksmith Salad: “Crisp lettuce, grated Romano and Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, tomato and red onion. Served with our house balsamic vinaigrette dressing.” It was easier to manage a few bites of bread and salad around customers, and making sales.

But we hadn’t ordered lunch from Mango’s since the last time we ended up working together out there, October 11th, a Friday, two weeks earlier.

So I texted him at 12:19 pm

MG:     “How are you feeling today?”

LG:       “Ok. Slept good again last night. The VA needs more blood work today, so Pat and I are driving to West Haven today & procedure is next Tuesday (cat scan with needle biopsy), Keep you posted. Love, Dad.”

And then he got back to me at 5:40 pm

LG:       “Hell’s bells!!! Just got back from West Haven & they called & said my potassium level was dangerously high (6.5), and it should be under 5. He told me to go to an ER ASAP to get it lowered immediately! Life’s a test, Michelle & Maria, & what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger!! Love to everyone! Dad & Grandpa.”

MG:     “Good Luck!! What do potassium levels indicate? Where are you going to ER?”

He was at Pequot, and I was planning on going over there to visit him right after work. When I got there, his potassium levels were already stabilizing and he seemed in fine spirits and little pain. But because Pequot closes at 10 pm nightly, and is the outpatient arm of Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, they decided to transfer him there for the night so they could monitor him. Before I left to go home, Pat went to their house so she could pack an overnight bag for her and my dad, as she planned on staying the night with him in the room. I wished him a good night and went home. The next day I had to open the downtown store at 9 am, and planned to visit him at L & M after work at 5.

26 October 2013 at 8:07 am

MG:     “Good morning!”

LG:       “Good morning! Fairly decent  night’s sleep! Waiting for ultrasound. Can eat after that!!!”

MG:     “Great! Did you text Maria last night or this morning? Let me know how the day goes..”

This was the last text message between us, as he was busy with tests and doctors in and out of his room. He called me later at work, and told me how he had talked to Maria, and his business partner, and some other friends and family, just letting them know he was getting some tests, pretty normal stuff still.

Game Three of the World Series was at 8 pm that night, and our house was Sox HQ for a few close friends, so they were planning on coming over to watch the game. I headed over to New London to go visit my dad at L & M, and would keep Rich posted. Visiting hours were over at 9 pm, but at 8:30 the doctors came in to take him down the hall for a MRI, as they were still trying to discover what was going on with him,  so I said goodnight to him, and told him that I would come over with Rich on Sunday since it was on our day off. I left L & M, and had taken Exit 88 to get back home, as the van was acting up, and I didn’t want to press it on the highway longer than I had to. I was about to pass by the Dairy Queen in Poquonnock Bridge when a call from Pat came in to my iPhone, so I quickly pulled in to the DQ, and took her call. She was hysterical:  the doctors just told her that he would not live through the night! The MRI had finally revealed the source of all of this: pancreatic cancer, and his organs were now in final shutdown. Stunned I told her that I was on my way back to the hospital. I sat there, and called Rich in disbelief, and told him that I would be in touch.

We sat in his room and I held his hand and talked about the store, and happy times, sailing on the Mystic River into Fishers Island Sound, and so many others. I told him that I had anticipated taking the store over when he was ready to retire, and not that he would be throwing the reins to me! He laughed.. Pat dialed the number of every family member and he talked to them, so bravely and lovingly. Then she dialed the number of all of his Navy buddies and I could hear them breaking down in shock and he comforted them. I talked to Maria in Syracuse and they were having an early Autumn snow storm, and since it was her oldest daughter’s 12th birthday the following day, she had 8 girls at her house in a sleepover party for Emma. My dad recorded a birthday message for Emma that night in his hospital bed, and I don’t know if she has ever heard it. But I urged Maria not to drive down, as I felt it was too dangerous to risk. She was having a hard time with it, and she really wanted to come down. By midnight they were upping the morphine, and he was trying to rest and sleep. Pat was in his room and the rest of us were out in the waiting room. I left at 6 am, and everyone there was trying to doze. I went home and sat there.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Pat texted me at 9 am that he had passed. With Rich by my side,  I called Maria, my mom, and Gordon at the store so he could tell the rest of the staff.

The very last text message entry from his contact in my phone was from Pat using his phone because she couldn’t find her phone and we were making funeral arrangements:

PB on LG’s phone:      “Heading back home to find phone.”

MG:     “I am at Dinoto in the parking lot drinking coffee. I will wait in my car so I can help you carry the photos in when you get here..”

______

Thank you to Rich for the title, given to me five years ago on the first anniversary of my dad’s passing, and all I could do was to schedule another photo shoot with Titus on 22 October, a tradition we managed to uphold until recently, thank you to Titus!

Thank you to Red Sox HQ: Peter Jazz, Humpy and Malthus!

Thank you to Dan Curland, who almost died the same night as my dad, having choked on chicken at dinner,  and saved by his daughter Lena running to our house down the street and getting Rich and Peter to go help him. Dan was brought to L & M the same night that my dad was there, and turning the corner, I bumped into Peter Jazz!

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Honoring My Ancestors: For Heather Heyer

Me, on the set of the Dukes of Hazzard, 1977

“In an era of great division, a point that is often missed in the Confederate monuments debate is that most factions rightly agree that history should not be erased. The question is in how it should be remembered.” — Dr. Susannah J. Ural, “Let Us Speak of What We have Done”

Ancestry.com is a Pandora’s Box. I always knew that there were wealthy slaveholders on my mother’s side, who owned large plantations in Georgia before the Civil War. But I had been told by my father that they were the exception, not the rule; and that his ancestors had been of a different class, working poor who couldn’t have owned slaves even if they’d wanted to. But the hours I’ve spent on research have disproven any imagined innocence of my paternal line. Census record after census record show that many of my predecessors on both sides owned slaves. Some may have owned just a few, but others hundreds. Sometimes the first names of these slaves are listed in census documents, but more often not, as they were considered property. There are no records of them beyond that, where they were from or where they were buried. Their descendants can’t build family trees.

All of my ancestral lines came to America early. They turn up in the first censuses taken in colonies in what are now Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. A few were Pilgrims, several were Quakers (something I never knew) and a number were Huguenots (far more than I realized) who came here to escape religious persecution. Some came as indentured servants or prisoners of war, some as wealthy planters or traders. I’ve found four ancestors accused of being witches in colonial Massachusetts, and one hung for heresy. Many fought in the Revolutionary War, and many would fight in the Civil War, for the South. I qualify as both a “Daughter of the Revolution” and a “Daughter of the Confederacy” many times over. In other words, I’m the product of settler colonialism, both Northern and Southern.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that one branch of my family tree was triracial (Native, Anglo, African). My great, great, great grandmother was Annie Jean Jacobs of North Carolina. The North Carolina Jacobs have been multi-racial for generations, and can be traced back to one slave, Gabriel Jacobs, who was freed around 1690. My father told me that my grandmother had some Native American ancestry, although he kept changing the name of the tribe: Tuscarora, or Waccamaw, or Lumbee. He didn’t say anything about her African American ancestry because it had been a family secret, I think, for years. Studying the census, I can see that my Jacobs ancestors made a choice around 1850 to present as white; they had previously identified as free people of color. Other Jacobs identified as Native Americans, and I have found records that classify the same person as “Mulatto”, “White”, and “Indian”. The more that I look, the more stories I uncover about the “tri-racial isolates” (as anthropologists call them) of North Carolina. Their histories are case studies about the complex realities of racial identity in early America. I can see on paper the effects of changing laws (for example the one-drop rule) on the Jacobs over generations.

I wish I could share these discoveries with my father, but he isn’t speaking to me, because I don’t like Trump or the Confederate flag.

***

When people ask me where I am from, I tell them Atlanta, Georgia. If they ask me if I consider myself Southern, I say yes. I suppose if I tracked all my days from the ages of 0 to 18, most of them would have been lived above the Mason Dixon. But I spent the first 6 years of my life in Georgia, and my ancestors have lived in the South since before the Revolutionary War. Moving as a child to the most Yankee of places—Mystic, Connecticut—didn’t change that.

For those who aren’t locals, Mystic is beautiful historic village on the coast of Connecticut, close to the Rhode Island border. The Mystic Seaport is there, and the Charles Morgan, the only wooden whaling ship left in the world. Mystic is a place where the lines between past and present constantly blur, and it is easy to time travel there (especially as a teenager on acid).

After my stepfather got a job at the Mystic Seaport, he moved us into a house on Pequot Avenue, a street that cuts across the hills above town, running parallel to the river, down to the sea. Clift Street climbs up from the river to meet Pequot Avenue at its top. At the intersection of Clift and Pequot, there is an odd little roundabout, just a circle of grass, that forces drivers around it for no discernible reason. The roundabout isn’t a speed bump or an abandoned garden; instead it served for many years as the base for a statue of John Mason, a local colonial hero.

Mason’s statue was erected to commemorate a raid that he led on the Pequot tribe in 1637, afterwards known as the Mystic Massacre: “Major John Mason… said, We must burn them, and … brought out a firebrand, and putting it into the matts with which they were covered, set the wigwams on fire. Within minutes, Mistick Fort was engulfed … In one hour, more than 400 Pequot men, women and children were killed.”

The Pequot War is a pivotal moment in colonial history; the tribe was vanquished so the English could continue to take over Connecticut. Mason’s statue was placed near the approximate location of the Pequots’ fort, and its purpose was forthright: it was to mark, in space and time, the successful displacement of natives by settlers. The local people (including some Mason descendants) who devoted themselves to the cause of raising a memorial on Pequot Avenue—a considerable investment of time, energy, and money—did not question his heroism. Their intention was that the statue would evoke awe and gratitude in its viewers. After all, without Mason, there wouldn’t be white people in Mystic, or Connecticut for that matter.

As a kid, I didn’t understand that my house was built where hundreds of Native people burned to death. But the woods behind our house scared me, and I never explored it. I waited for the school bus at Mason, sometimes leaning against him, or climbing over him, or chasing my friends around him. I read the inscription on his base again and again—“Erected AD 1889 By the State of Connecticut to commemorate the heroic achievement of Major John Mason and his comrades, who near this spot in 1637, overthrew the Pequot Indians, and preserved the settlements from destruction”—but I didn’t wonder about the story being told, let alone the stories being left out. He was huge, bronze, and he had a sword. Looked like a hero to me!

But as I grew older, my feelings about Mason and his statue changed. I was not alone. Mason and his troops, despite their best efforts, didn’t kill off all the Pequots, and descendants of the massacre survivors still live in the area. After getting federal recognition in 1983, they built a huge casino on their reservation, Foxwoods, which became a spectacular success. Regaining economic and political power in Connecticut after centuries of marginalization, the tribe again became a force to reckon with, and they directed some of that force at taking Mason down. For them, the statue was an insult, the equivalent of a murderer doing a victory dance on top of his victims, and its removal was imperative. After years of efforts by activists, Mason was relocated, peacefully, away from the site of the massacre, leaving only grass behind. There was some local fuss but certainly nothing like the deadly riots over the Robert E. Lee memorial in Charlottesville. My stepfather, an old Yankee through and through, was fascinated by the archeologists digging around his yard. He did not protest Mason’s removal, unlike some of our neighbors, but he was once a history teacher, and better prepared than most to think through the complexities of public memorialization.

***

When the topic of Confederate memorials started appearing in headlines a few years ago, my first reaction was their removal was a bad idea. I imagined all the statues in little towns across the South, and then Charlottesville-style violence erupting at each one because of outsiders coming into peaceful communities. Leave those statues alone, I thought, don’t make trouble!

But then a friend from Mystic reminded me of Mason coming down. The statue’s removal and relocation were reparative acts. Instead of just accepting history as told by “the winners”, Pequot activists demanded acknowledgement of other perspectives. For them, Mason is nothing to celebrate; he destroyed their culture. By challenging the established narrative of his heroism, they made room for other views, for example that colonization is a cruel and destructive process, based on theft and murder. Their perspective is valid, and could apply to many other memorials on American soil as well.

My initial resistance to the removal of Confederate memorials was due to my consideration of only one side of the story. There are several men in my family tree who fought for the South. My mother’s elderly relatives in Eatonton, Georgia, still referred to “The War” and told stories passed down about Sherman’s March (his troops stole all the food but spared the Steinway piano). My father told me more times than I can count that the display of Confederate memorials and flags is intended to “honor our ancestors”. What he never mentioned, and still doesn’t seem to consider, is the perspective of the descendants of slaves. The Civil War and its aftermath are still quite present for them too, but there aren’t any flags or statues for their ancestors, although they suffered much more than ours did before, during, and after “The War”.

Many of my ancestors once owned slaves, and fought a war so that they could keep on with that owning. There is no way to separate that truth from the existence of Confederate memorials. Public sculptures aren’t just gravestones, created to honor individual family members. They are monuments in common space that everyone sees while going about their daily business. In my opinion, we should certainly remember and memorialize our dead, but we can’t ask (or force) others to honor them, as Confederate statues in public space demand. There are many bodies in Southern ground unmarked by even the smallest of stones: the bodies of people stolen from their families, then abused, and then buried in strange soil. We should remember and honor their lives too, rather than continuing to erase their histories.

***

Two years ago, in July 2017, I attended a festival organized by my father, Ben “Cooter” Jones, at his Dukes of Hazzard museum and store in Luray, Virginia. Although I was glad to be with my family, I was uneasy about everything else. My father had created the festival as a response to the ongoing controversy over Confederate symbols. It had been two years at that point since the Charleston shooting, and during that time, my father had doubled-down on his defense of Confederate flags and memorials, even serving as spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Because of his role as Cooter Davenport on The Dukes of Hazzard, my father still has a certain celebrity. His events can draw thousands of fans. As a public figure, his opinions carry weight and have consequences outside our family. While wandering the midway, I tried to laugh with the crowds at the monster truck races and wrestling matches, but what I really felt was dread. I kept repeating “freedom of speech, freedom of speech” to myself, as if that would fix what was going on around and inside me. My father’s anger at “Political Correctness” was spilling out more often, both onstage and off, and he was directing some of it at me, the lefty, queer New Yorker. The audience gave him validation for his beliefs, something I could no longer do.

In August 2017, just a month after my father’s festival, a group of white supremacists held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a town an hour south of Luray. They came to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee memorial. They flew Nazi and Confederate flags, burned torches, and chanted racist and fascist slogans like: “Jews Will Not Replace Us.” During the rally, James Fields, a neo-Nazi, rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring almost 20 other people. He was sentenced to life in prison for this act, after pleading guilty to 29 hate crime charges.

My father is holding another festival this summer, two years almost to the day of the Charlottesville riot. I wonder if he chose the dates that he did because he is aware that some of his fans were likely at the rally in 2017, flying Confederate flags purchased from his stores. Perhaps he is trying to offer them an alternative venue for their complaints, to make things safer for them and for those they disagree with. I hope so.

I’m sad about my estrangement from my father, because I love him, no matter what differences we have. This is not our first falling out, and perhaps we will be able to reconcile again. But it is more likely that our Civil War will continue. My father is furious because he feels that his freedom of speech is under assault, although in reality he remains completely free to fly the Confederate flag and to state his beliefs. And I’m furious too, about his demands that I respect and agree with ALL of his opinions, while not being allowed to have any of my own. It is an oppressive dynamic, a dictatorship rather than a relationship, and a double standard that is no longer acceptable to me.

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The Legend of Chicken Charlie’s Rock

Allow me to explain the legend of Chicken Charlie’s Rock. As you may have gathered, my daughter Marley has nothing to do with the tale, paths with Charlie having crossed nearly two lifetimes ago from her vantage point.

Marley in front of Chicken Charlie’s Rock, ’09

She simply accompanied me on a trip down memory lane. (Her sister Jules, aka Green Machine, was back at grandma’s house, glued to the weather forecast praying for snow).

Jules aka Green Machine frolicking in the snow, ’09

Naturally, the trip included a handful of slow laps around the same parking lot where my grandfather first let me drive. I was twelve, thirteen tops. Having just turned thirteen, Marley got her turn at the wheel, the same as I did–no gas, permitted only to ease a foot off the brake pedal, achieving no more speed than cruising on idle would allow. Still, I imagine it to have been as exhilarating for her as it was for me, sitting beside my grandfather in my mother’s newly acquired used car.

Chicken Charlie’s Rock started out simply as The Rock, a massive granite protrusion that I have since come to recognize as endemic to the New England landscape. Our rock sat in the woods just behind the Village Green Apartments where my sister and I moved with our mother the year our parents split up. In time, Kim found her set of friends and got on with her thing. And I found my set of friends, Gary C. principal among them. We spent the vast majority of our spare time exploring the woods, at first on foot, then by bicycle. Eventually, we acquired motorized transportation allowing us to explore the far reaches of the woods by dirt bike, a string of secluded waterfalls leading the way to an abandoned rock quarry. The details of our gas-powered antics will have to wait for a future installment of my tales of a kid from Connecticut, making his way in the world.

The Rock played a central role as home base for our activities during breaks from school. We waged one-pump BB-gun wars on and around the rock (thankfully, no one shot their eye out). We built forts. Debriefed atop the rock upon successful completion of our daily excursions, conjured future plans sitting in full survey of the entire universe as far as any of us was concerned. We formed and strengthened bonds on that rock, tested allegiances. Through thick and thin, we grew up together.

Last and most certainly not least, I had my first kiss on the rock. We can debate whether woman or man is capable of achieving perfection. Whether any of us would know how to conduct ourselves if perfection were to show up one day and plop down in front of us. Still, I am eternally grateful to have borne witness to the tender beginnings of what I imagined at the time to be as near to perfection as might ever exist–Andrea P.

Andrea was outgoing, energetic, athletic. She would hang with us most every day, doing anything we could do and then some, though we never lost sight of the prospect that Andrea was separate from us. She was GLORIOUS–outgoing, energetic and all that jazz, and glorious to boot.

I can still picture her–even brown skin with deep set eyes like she was imagining things bigger than the rest of us were capable of comprehending and a mouth that made you wonder why lips were ever used for anything other than kissing. It would be years before I’d get another glimpse at perfection, that shift in perspective that occurs when you meet someone so far removed in thinking, in examining the world from anyone you’ve encountered, who inspires you to be more than you might have known achievable without the benefit of her outlook.

Even Andrea can’t claim responsibility for the naming of Chicken Charlie’s Rock. Charlie was a kid who moved to Village Green a couple of years into the rest of us having settled in the neighborhood. He earned the Chicken part on account of his run–stiff and upright, a cardboard cutout of a kid pushing like a sheet of plywood against a determined wind. A thick mop of rust colored hair stood on end, flopping in rhythm with the breeze to form the crowned comb atop a rooster’s head. This coupled with an innate chicken-shit demeanor and Charlie couldn’t hope to escape the nickname.

One summer, we found ourselves in possession of a length of sturdy rope. We tugged on it, swung on it, bound and tied various things with it, Chicken Charlie included if memory serves. Gary and I eventually got the notion to drop the length of rope down the face of the rock and scale the damn thing. This was well before rock climbing was popularized as sport, housed in purpose-built gyms. Instead, we climbed to achieve the pinnacle of adventure for boys growing up in Village Green.

For reasons I can’t remember, Chicken Charlie accompanied us on our maiden voyage, our trusty rope securely in place. But, being Chicken Charlie, he couldn’t be convinced to venture a climb. After several successful roundtrips apiece, Gary and I headed down the face for lunch. When we stepped outside again, we were met by a high-pitched screeching. We took off in the direction the woods where we found Charlie dangling from the length of rope having steeled his nerves to attempt the climb in private, free from jeers over his upright, stiff, plywood way of doing things.

Whether midway up or midway down the face, only Charlie can say for certain. But there he was, clinging for dear life, screaming at the top of his lungs for somebody to save him. We sprang into action. I took my place as spotter at the base of the rock should Charlie lose his grip and fall the rest of the way to the ground while Gary sprinted around to the summit then scaled down the face and escorted Charlie to safety–all in a day’s work for a couple of boy adventurers. And that’s how The Rock came to be known as Chicken Charlie’s Rock.

Everything changed after school resumed that fall. Andrea advanced to junior high leaving us to toil another year steeped in our elementary school, king of the hill, BB-gun warrior nonsense. She and her family moved out of state within the ensuing year. Gary’s parents found more spacious digs to accommodate their brood a couple of streets over, within the same neighborhood. But that quashed nearly all activity around the rock as the center of our daily adventures. Chicken Charlie eventually disappeared too. I can’t tell you with any certainty what any of us did the next summer. Some things together, many other things apart from one another. Junior high and high school eventually exposing us to our respective, separate new worlds. But that summer forged bonds that have persisted to this day.

 

 

I have limited interest to unearth what became of Chicken Charlie. But look who I found via Facebook–Andrea P. decades removed from those days on The Rock but little worse for the wear. And still Glorious. (Images used with permission.)

Andrea P. - teen years

Andrea P. – teen years

 

Andrea P. twenties
Andrea P. – twenties
Andrea P. - recent
Andrea P. – recent photo

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