Tour in Europe, they said. Provide us with health benefits, they said. Make it big and win a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy, they said. I’d been working for this kooky original rock band for almost two years, and all they’d accomplished was recording an amateur demo EP that was despised by all who heard it; and burning every bridge with all the connections they had. They had problems with aggressive behavior, with telling managers and sound engineers how their stages were to be run when 2Gether was in the house. If their demands were met with resistance, they would throw a man-trum.
The venue we were at, one weekend in August of 2011, was the last venue that would still speak to us – and that was only because they knew me from when I’d played there with three other bands. Loading our equipment in was a ridiculous mess. Everyone had multiple instruments, and some of us even had multiple vocal microphones. And this band insisted on bringing their own sound system – two Bose towers: one for a [full band] monitor and the other for the audience. The club owner was upset, and rightfully so: that speaker system wasn’t large enough to deal with the three dozen channels we used, and it also wasn’t powerful enough to fill his venue. The sound engineer had voiced this concern, and almost found himself in a fistfight with Spencer, our rhythm guitarist/producer.
To make us look even dumber, our drummer was only allowed to play on an electronic kit, and our guitar players didn’t use amplifiers. Those instruments, when played with the correct equipment, don’t go through the soundboard to be heard – only to be mixed. I was playing a gorgeous blue solid body electric fiddle – and typically those are played through an amp too – otherwise you’d never be able to hear yourself. The entire band relied on the one feeble tower to hear all the instruments and vocals, to stay in tune and in time with each other. There was always a power struggle to get your channel turned up enough to be heard, and Spencer and Bart, our lead guitarist/band leader, won every time. If the rest of us complained that we couldn’t hear, we were just self-centered whiners who clearly didn’t know what to listen for.
We ran out of time to sound check, and kicked off. Our opening number was long and redundant – a piece 2Gether was sure would be our breakthrough smash hit, but actually sounded like the soundtrack to a kids’ videogame. The audience decided to step outside for a smoke.
This was always the way of it. The more we played out, which was not often, the more people showed us the cold shoulder. Crowds simply did not like this band, and the band was in complete denial. If the audience turned and walked out the door, our leaders would conference with us at the next rehearsal, about all the new musical insight’s they’d gained as a result of That. Fantastic. Show.
“They’re terrible,” the sound engineer told me, after I’d sought him out to apologize for the behavior of our producer. “The only thing they have going for them is you.”
I was done. I didn’t need 2Gether to gig anymore – I was currently working with two other bands. And while this band paid me the least amount of money, they also took up the most of my time! Rehearsing THREE TIMES A WEEK when we maybe played three times a year? Huge financial loss, and a huge black stain on my professional reputation.
Bart called me the next day, asking why I bothered to be a part of the band if I was going to have such a bad attitude.
“I don’t want to be a part of the band,” I calmly stated. “I disagree with how its operated, and don’t want that behavior associated with my name.”
“OK then,” was his sad reply.
“Can I still keep my electric violin and continue to pay Spencer back, per our agreement? I’ve really come to rely on it, it saves my acoustic instrument from extra wear and tear.”
He said, “Sure,” after a beat of consideration. “We don’t have any use for it.”
That fiddle was the only good thing to come out of that band. Spencer and Bart had insisted I needed one, because playing an acoustic “blocked me from being able to hear the rest of the band” and “prevented me from blending.” But I didn’t have the money, and it was an extravagance they desired for their project, so Spencer gave me a $2k cash loan “with no interest for the first 50 years,” to purchase the electric of my choice. His exact words. A verbal agreement.
Now I was known for my electric blue fiddle with the silver bow – it was a part of my brand. And I’d had a lot of custom work done on the inner electrical workings, so that it truly was made to suit me.
I sighed to myself when I hung up with Bart. I hadn’t paid Spencer back for a penny. Yet with all the money they’d promised me and failed to deliver, a part of me believed they owed me at LEAST the amount the instrument had cost. But the larger part of me wanted to be rid of them for good. I needed to make a budget to start paying Spencer back…maybe 10% of each paycheck until it was done?
September of 2011 – the United States was honoring the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I was having dinner with a client of mine, Helen, and her fiancée Faye. I loved those quirky lesbians, who not only paid me well for my work, but also had adopted me like a niece. We were laughing over our plates, when my phone rang, saying it was Spencer. I let it go to voicemail.
“Hello Jessika, I hope you’re well. I was just letting you know that we’ll be needing your blue violin back. I’m selling it because I need the money. So if you’d please bring it to Bart on Thursday when you go in to teach lessons at his studio, that’d be great. Thank you.”
I was irate. I specifically had requested to keep it and pay him back. I had invested a few hundred of my own dollars on repairs and maintenance. You don’t get to bully me out of spite because I quit your awful band. I called him back, and left a voicemail.
“Hi Spencer, got your message. I got permission from Bart when I quit the band, to keep the violin and pay you back, per our original agreement – and that’s what I’m going to do. Payments will begin when I get my next paycheck. Thank you.”
I explained to my dinner companions what was happening.
“Get a lawyer,” said Faye.
“Pay him back with loose change!” offered Helen.
The next day, Spencer called again, and lost his temper in a voicemail.
“Jessika, the violin belongs to ME. I paid for it, its MINE. I’m giving you the chance to do the RIGHT THING, but what I understand from your message is that you aren’t delivering it on Thursday. Do the RIGHT THING!” *click*
I decided to heed Faye’s advice. I can be a terrible pushover, and I’d never outsmart this craziness alone. I trembled as I dialed the only lawyer I knew – Bryan.
Bryan and I had met at one of my other band’s gig at an Irish pub, back in July. We had both been single; we’d hit it off, and had played at it like we were going to start dating. To use his words, he was absolutely infatuated with me – and the feeling was 200% mutual. But he decided to get back with his girlfriend who’d left him – their situation was “complicated” – and my heart was crushed. Yet we kept bumping into each other on the bandstand – more of his design than mine – and things kept imploding between us, fraught with tension and frustration.
Bryan answered my call, and listened to my story with rapt attention, and borderline disbelief.
“OK,” he said when I finished. “I don’t think you really have a problem yet, but don’t speak to him, and if he corners you, give me a call. I’ll take this case ‘bro bono’, but I doubt there’s much I can do to help.”
He felt I was merely looking for another way to get his attention, I could tell.
"Actually wait," he interjected before hanging up. "I've figured out how you can return the favor: get me a gig playing bass in the pit band of a musical."
October of 2011 – I had worked all summer with no vacation, and had just begun rehearsals for a musical – my first in seven years! So I was exhausted. I decided to take a long weekend road trip to visit some family, and take some space from it all.
Saturday night, and I was pregaming with my brother before going bar hopping, when Spencer called me again. I’d been ignoring him for the past month, and the voicemail assaults had died down. But that night:
“Hello Jessika, I hope this finds you well. I have given you the chance to do the right thing, but you haven’t returned my violin. I just got off the phone with the Wake County Sheriff Department, putting together a warrant for your arrest for felony larceny of the violin, but it hasn’t been finalized yet because I told them I wanted to give you one more chance. You can either give me the violin, or give me $1,200 by next Saturday if you choose to keep it. I need the money. Thank you.”
Before I could say huh? my phone rang again, and this time it was Bart. His voicemail said:
“Jessika, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but I don’t think you understand what’s going on. You see, when you work for a company and they issue you a company car – when you quit the company, you don’t get to keep the company car. I’m not sure you’re aware that you’re in a very dangerous situation – there could be some very serious consequences. Think about it. I hope you do the right thing. Bye.” Poor Bart. Poor, brainwashed, heartbroken Bart. He truly did love me, as much as he was capable, with his insecurities and self-imposed blinders to things that intimidated him. He and I had dated for two dreadful months, towards the beginning of that year. He’d fallen for me more than a year prior, and when I got frustrated with other men treating me like shit, I decided to try a man who had eyes for none other than me. I was not into him in the slightest…but that story is for another blog.
The gravity of my current situation was pushing me to a panic. I’m a good girl, I’d never gotten in trouble with the law, I always paid my taxes, paid my bills. I was adulting to the best of my ability, but suddenly, here goes a persnickety, bitter middle-aged man spouting to anyone who’d listen that I was a criminal who deserved to be in jail.
I called Bryan – who had clearly been drinking for hours.
“Yeah, record the voicemails and email them to me,” he ordered.
“But what should I do in the meantime?”
“Enjoy your vacation.”
“But how do I know law enforcement isn’t waiting for me to come home? How do I know they won’t think I was running from the law by leaving town?”
“If the law comes for you, call me immediately. But I doubt they will. Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the whole thing. ‘Bro bono’.” I could hear his infamous womanizing smile over the phone from three states away.
I followed his advice, then proceeded to drink until I was no longer stressed. I tried valiantly to not let it ruin my vacation.
Bryan listened to the voicemails the next day, and said he needed to call Spencer first thing Monday.
“So it’s that urgent?”
“Did you not hear what he said? He’s trying to arrest you on a charge of felony larceny!”
I knew what a felony was, but in my innocence I didn’t know ‘larceny’ meant theft, and stealing $2k or more worth of goods makes it become a felony.
Bryan called while I was driving back home Monday morning. And what excellent timing: I was slipping into a state of uncontrollable anxiety. Until you know what it’s like to wonder if the law is out to get you; to wonder if you should run and hide, or be punished knowing you are innocent; to wonder if you are in fact the crazy one, and any neutral party would automatically side with him because he’s sane – you cannot begin to truly empathize with that level of anxiety.
“I just got off the phone with Spencer,” Bryan panted. “That guy is crazy! I didn’t quite believe you when you first told me…and I kinda lost my temper.”
I’d have given anything to overhear that conversation. No doubt Spencer fully expected to bully me into compliance. No doubt that he was completely caught off guard when I got an attorney to call on my behalf. I was just a broke, ignorant, innocent musician in his eyes, how could I have possibly come up with the resources to fight back?
“I told him to quit harassing you, and threatened to sue him for slander before I hung up on him,” he laughed. “But I have an idea: what if you go back to the shop and buy a new violin for him, and give that one to Spencer? That way you’ll keep your custom instrument, he gets one to sell, you’ll be done with him, and you’ll be in debt only to the store.”
I had to digest that idea for a bit.
The folks at the Electric Violin Shop know me on a first name basis, and love me. After all, they were there when I bought that fiddle, and helped me repair it and modify it when the electronics inside melted. They listened to my incident in stunned silence, and looked up the records of my receipts on their computer.
“Well, I’ve never heard of a band breakup quite this dramatic…” he began. “But here’s the receipt from when it was purchased – and it was purchased in your name. We’d gladly go to court and testify on your behalf, if it comes to that.”
They luckily had one other violin of the same make and model – and the cost had gone down by several hundred dollars. They agreed to set me up with a payment plan and I was home free! I purchased a minimal case, and other accoutrement needed for the violin to be played, and delivered it to Bart. Apparently my offer was accepted. Maybe Spencer never knew the difference. But I never heard from him, or saw him again.
Shortly thereafter, the rest of 2Gether dissolved.