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Bill, of course, is the aforementioned Million, Mercer's longtime, long-ago songwriting partner, the man who, in fact, formulated the band's Aldous Huxleyinspired name (for the record, Mercer's never even read Brave New Worldnor Moody's Garden State, for that matter). "I had been in touch with Bill," Mercer says. "And he said, 'I'd love to do it.' You know, it was kind of like what he had said back before he left for Florida: 'I'd love to do it, but the timing's not right now.'"
Oh, by the way, Bill Million is also a bona fide icon in the admittedly narrow category of great postpunk disappearing acts.
As the story goes, Million triggered the Feelies' (evidently still) final breakup in 1991 by moving to Florida. Granted, a gazillion grandparents relocate their garish lawn ornaments and golf clubs to the Sunshine State each and every year, but the thing is, Million headed south without telling any of his soon-to-be-former bandmates. Or leaving so much as a forwarding address.
But pay attention, amateur rock historian. "We actually broke up before he moved to Florida," Mercer clarifies. "We were at that pivotal point, you know, being on a major label [A&M], where we kind of had a lot of pressure on us to go to that next step, the next level. It just seemed like a lot pressure. It just didn't seem to be as much fun."
Which explains the parting of ways. But what about Million's move? "I think within maybe a couple months after our last show [at Maxwell's, in fact], Stanley called me and said he had spoken to Bill, and Bill had expressed a desire to play again," Mercer says. "So Dave and I went to where he worked and we, you know, talked to him about it, and he said, 'Yeah, I do, but the time's not quite right.' We said, 'Well, you know, when the time is right, just let us know.' And then I called maybe a month after that, I called where he worked, and the guy who answered said, 'No, you didn't hear? Bill moved to Florida.' So it was pretty abrupt.
"He had two kids at that point," Mercer explains. "And one of the things on his mind, if they ever get sick, you know, was to have health insurance."
But even before Million's Disney World disappearing act, there was a fissure, at least in terms of songwriting, between Mercer and his longtime partner.
"On Crazy Rhythms, we really wrote a lot more together," he says. "Also, I felt like the arrangements of the songs played such an important part of the songs that we always arranged together, but on The Good Earth there were some songs that I really have to admit I wrote myself."
Though all 10 tracks on that album are credited to Mercer-Million, the group's final two discs consist of a more or less 50/50 split on songwriting credits: one half to Mercer-Million, and one halfthe bigger half, as they sayto Mercer alone. Which, along with the proof that is Wheels in Motion, goes to show that Mercer can and could pen a Feelies record solo.
Rumor suggests that, having just escaped a family health scarea realization of the very reason (health insurance, through a steady job offered down there) that guided him south initiallysomewhere in central Florida, Bill Million is once again playing guitar. Mercer's a family man himself nowadays, a wife and two children. And since the Feelies have always tilted toward Haledon homebodies, a full-scale reunion tour would, at the very least, be problematic. But though the Feelies may lack Pixies-esque appeal outside of their home state, Mercer realizes that the potential audience for a record release of reuniteds dwarfs the crowd he'll draw solo at Maxwell's. So, with five current former bandmates in tow and a batch of new but still somehow familiar songs, why not stick a beloved label on the thing and sell some discs?
"I really can't explain it other than the fact that it wouldn't seem right," Mercer says of his geographically departed partner. "If either one of us isn't involved, it wouldn't be the Feelies."
Glenn Mercer plays Maxwell's in Hoboken June 23, maxwellsnj.com.