“Kick them off the stage!”
“Just get them out of here!”
Those were the directives that Tim Sadler, a college student who interns as a sound engineer at the Seventh Circle Music Collective, received over the phone from his boss.
Sadler didn’t have to be told twice. The band he was mixing appeared to be playing nothing more than random notes, mostly without rhythm. Then Sadler saw the group’s vocalist make lewd gestures toward women in the audience. “He was winking and air-humping and saying sexually vulgar stuff,” Sadler remembers. “And I wouldn’t even call what they were doing music.”
Following his boss’s orders, Sadler cut off the sound immediately. The band’s entire set had lasted no more than eight minutes; still, that was enough time for Sadler to realize that the Denver venue had been duped into booking an act that had been banned from playing there.
The venue’s manager, Aaron Saye, would have recognized the impostors as soon as they stepped into Seventh Circle. Saye had banned the three more than a year earlier, after they lied about being a “pop” band in order to get booked for a show. But on May 13, Saye was not present, and Sadler unwittingly allowed the three musicians to assume the stage.
Tim Sadler, a sound engineer, was pepper-sprayed on May 13 at the Seventh Circle Music Collective.
Looking back, Sadler says, there were plenty of red flags suggesting that something was amiss. For starters, the group that showed up did not match the description of the one scheduled to play: a supposedly female-fronted acoustic act named Columbine.
As it turned out, that name was also fictitious, despite the fact that someone with a female voice and claiming to be “Becky” had called Sadler earlier in the evening to say that Columbine was stuck in traffic and would be late. Now Sadler wonders if the woman’s voice had been faked, or if a female accomplice of the impostors had made the call.
In any case, after Sadler cut the sound, he was relieved to see the musicians pack up their equipment — a few small amplifiers, a keyboard and a hollow-body guitar — and exit the venue. At that point, he figured the disruption was over and that the rest of the night would go smoothly.
He was wrong.
During the next band’s set, Sadler learned that the troublemakers were still loitering outside the entrance. And as they’d left the building, they’d apparently arm-swiped all the merchandise off of another band’s merch table, spilling it onto the floor. This was a step too far for Sadler. “I went out to tell them, ‘Please fucking leave. You just damaged another band’s merchandise,’” he recalls.
After a short argument, one of them yanked Sadler’s cigarette out of his mouth and proceeded to pepper-spray him in the face, dispensing the painful liquid from a cheap, disposable spray bottle.
Temporarily blinded in one eye, Sadler managed to grasp the front door of Seventh Circle and wrench it open. “I’m being assaulted! I’m being pepper-sprayed!” he yelled.
That’s when the musicians he’d confronted ran.
Schell (from left), Piller and Wagner, in a photo provided by TJ Toddler.
Just who is TJ Toddler?
Since late last year, this group, which has gone by multiple names but is most commonly referred to as TJ Toddler, has been taunting other individuals in Denver’s music community. Until recently, the majority of its actions have occurred online and included instances — proven, alleged and suspected — of cyberbullying, harassment and impersonation, as well as threats and defamatory comments about other musicians (including accusations of rape and references to child molestation).
The experience has proven an eye-opener for those who, finding themselves in the upsetting position of being targeted, discover that criminal and civil statutes pertaining to harassment, stalking and identity theft have not caught up to the rapid advances of the Internet and social media. And the social-media companies themselves have refused to stop harassing behavior coming from various accounts associated with the TJ Toddler name.
The band itself, which formed in 2012, writes and produces music and has performed a handful of times, but remains obscure. Its profile on Soundcloud, where it has nine followers, categorizes the music as “industrial.”
According to a page recovered from the band’s (now private) blog site, there were as many as seven members involved with TJ Toddler at one point, but the group tells Westword that there are now three active members. Its blog has described them as follows:
R&R — lead vocalizations, lyrical content and themes, prepared four-string acoustic guitar, glass/metal objects
S. Schell Interface — gtrs, samples, loops, found sounds, melodica, tenor saxophone, cello, engineering anomalies
Lthrfc J-R — sequencer, programming, electric keyboard, percussion, autoharp, stereo receiver, daw machine
These labels are subtle variations on the musicians’ real names: R&R is actually Rockford (Raymond) Wagner, S. Schell Interface is Scott Schell, and Lthrfc J-R is Joe Piller, the member who allegedly pepper-prayed Sadler. All three are white guys in their early to mid-twenties.
In September 2014, Westword contributor Tom Murphy named TJ Toddler one of Denver’s most underrated bands. “This group of weirdos doesn’t play many shows. Their music is so far off mainstream it would be difficult to recommend to anyone that isn’t into the stranger end of This Heat, Captain Beefheart, Henry Cow, the Fugs and the Residents,” Murphy wrote. “Part performance art, part avant-garde, TJ Toddler is probably the most gloriously strange band in Denver.”
But a year later, TJ Toddler began acquiring a much more sinister reputation, after it got into a personal feud with a band in Denver named Echo Beds.
The beef began when both TJ Toddler and Echo Beds submitted their music to a promoter in hopes of being selected as an opening act for the band Psychic TV, which was scheduled to headline the Summit Music Hall on December 11, 2015. The promoter decided to go with Echo Beds, and in mid-October gave that group permission to start advertising the show on its social-media accounts. But within 24 hours of announcing the gig on the Echo Beds Facebook page, Keith Curts, one of the band’s two members, says he received a concerned e-mail from the promoter. Pasted into the body of the e-mail was a message that the promoter had received from TJ Toddler, signed by “Rockford Raymond.”
The message is addressed to “THEE TRAITOR”; an excerpt of it reads:
“We were truly ecstatic to finally live out the dream less sweet of our Psychic TV 3 performance but you have soured the experience and made us out to be foolish for reaching out to you.... As for Echo Beds? There is no excuse. They get every worthwhile show in Denver and they’re not even a real industrial band…. Echo Bed are the Electronics Boutique of the experimental scene.... A flaccid showcase of trite 4/4 rock songs and screaming like the little kids who don’t want to go to soccer camp. Every thing TJ toddler stands in true opposition of.”
When Curts read the forwarded message, it touched a nerve — even though he had never heard of TJ Toddler or “Rockford Raymond” before.
“As Echo Beds, we work really, really, really hard, and I was incensed at the fact that someone would say that we don’t deserve it. And maybe it was because I was having a bad day, but I foolishly reacted in a way that I shouldn’t have,” he recalls. “I mean, what I should have done was just e-mail him...but what I did was copy his whole e-mail and plaster it on our Facebook page, with “Rockford Raymond” [Wagner] linked to it, in a way that was calling him to the carpet about it.”
Echo Beds performing on tour in 2014.
The post immediately caused a sensation, with dozens of Echo Beds' friends and fans voicing support for the band, as well as outrage that another group of musicians would write nasty comments about Echo Beds to a promoter.
But while the support was initially gratifying, Curts now regrets his initial post. “I think this whole nightmare would not exist if I hadn’t done that,” he says.
On October 17, Curts started receiving e-mails from a person who claimed to be Rockford Wagner, berating him for “slandering” TJ Toddler in a public forum and for sharing what was intended to be a private communication between TJ Toddler and the promoter. The only recompense, according to the e-mails, would be if Echo Beds publicly apologized and took TJ Toddler along on its next tour.
“So he’s writing me with a laundry list of demands,” Curts remembers, “except he’s also systematically saying really terrible things about the promoter, my band, and really terrible things about me personally.”
The e-mail address used by the person claiming to be Rockford Wagner was email@example.com and had the e-mail signature “ken curtis.” Curts was livid that the Yahoo! address — so similar to his band’s real e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org — had been registered using his band’s name.
At 42, Curts viewed himself as too old to be reduced to such toddler antics. In a response to the Yahoo! address, he wrote:
“I’m only gonna say it once.
“Let. It. Go.
“I have no idea what we did (previous to posting your email) to make you think so poorly of us and spout such fucking hatred. I am way too old to be someone’s fucking rival. I’m not interested in it. I’m not interested in perpetuating it... We are not going to take you on tour with us...”
And yet it quickly became apparent that communication only made things worse; every exchange fanned the flames.
By early November, impersonated accounts using the Echo Beds name were popping up on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. The accounts seemed designed to confuse, using Echo Beds’ own images but incorporating TJ Toddler’s band info — in the case of the fake Facebook page, listing “Rockford,” “Scott” and “J.R.” as Echo Beds’ bandmembers.
Screenshot of the fake Echo Beds page with its photoshopped logo. Watermark added by Westword.
When music was uploaded on streaming sites like Soundcloud, the song titles belonged to Echo Beds, but the audio came from tracks recorded by TJ Toddler.
For Curts, it would have been distressing enough if the impostor accounts — a tactic known as “catfishing” — were limited to stolen photos and copyright infringement. But then Curts and his bandmate, Tom Nelson, started seeing gross and perverse content, both on the fake accounts and in private communications sent to them.
On the impersonated Echo Beds Facebook page, for instance, the profile picture featured the real Echo Beds logo — Photoshopped to include the caption “Hard for Children” underneath. The same pedophilic phrase was used as the page’s URL extension, making the web address facebook.com/hardforchildren.
In other e-mails and messages received from an account using Wagner’s name, Curts was threatened; one suggested that he search for the terms “Blackjack Pizza,” “Littleton” and “Columbine” — a clear reference to the pizza joint where Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had worked.
What was most upsetting to the Echo Beds musicians, though, was that some promoters and industry professionals who came across the fake Echo Beds accounts were confused. In one instance, promoter Airick Redwolf accidentally sent this message to the fake Echo Beds Yahoo! address: “I’m so fucking thankful I booked you all and not him/[TJ Toddler]! Can you imagine?!”
To Curts, the degree of sabotage and fuckery seemed remarkable; it was actually starting to have an effect on his band’s reputation. He noticed that when he searched “Echo Beds” on Google, some of the first results returned were links to the fake accounts, with their references to pedophilia.
As word of the attacks spread through Denver’s music community, allies came to the defense of Echo Beds. They included other bands that were playing at the December Psychic TV show, such as Acidbat, as well as friends of Echo Beds who commented on Facebook posts. As more voices entered the fray, however, victims proliferated.
Acidbat was harassed, as was Westword contributor Tom Murphy, the very writer who had called TJ Toddler an “underrated” band just a year before.
Murphy is a close friend of the members of Echo Beds, but he hadn’t been very vocal about the situation with TJ Toddler before he was attacked. “They indicated that the reason for their harassment of me was my having pre-emptively blocked Rockford Wagner on Facebook before he could extend his harassment to me,” Murphy says.
But blocking that account only shielded Murphy from being contacted personally; it didn’t stop others from seeing defamatory statements posted about Murphy. In one of the most egregious examples, a post showed up on a Rockford Raymond Wagner Facebook account that accused Murphy of rape.
Most of the false accusation was lifted from a real statement that had been posted to the Internet two days earlier, on February 25, by Larkin Grimm, a musician who accused Michael Gira, of the band Swans, of raping her. Parts of the excerpted posts that are the same have been bolded by Westword below.
In a largely plagiarized post on Facebook, writer Tom Murphy was accused of rape.
For months after that statement was posted, TJ Toddler would continue to suggest that Murphy was a rapist by Photoshopping his image above the words “you know what you are” — and even printing it on T-shirts offered for sale.
By now, it seemed like the official purpose of TJ Toddler was not to make music, but to make mayhem — and misery for other members of the Denver music community.
T-Shirts with Murphy's likeness were made and sold without his permission, here at the "Columbine" performance at Seventh Circle.
Courtesy of Tom Murphy
In an October 2015 post on the band’s now-inaccessible blog (which Westword recovered using Google Cache), TJ Toddler had spelled out its harassment manifesto:
“Going forward TJ are big fucking pricks and that is the prerogative. For the time being, we have embraced Echo Beds as one with ourselves in hope that their reputation precedes us/them. This is one of the most profound works of art I have been involved in and is not some kind of joke or revenge. This roleplay is motivated by sheer respect, admiration and jealousy of our brothers in beds. Can’t stop won’t stop.”
The post was signed: “Sincerely, The most hated band in Colorado.”
TJ Toddler performing in 2013.
This level of online harassment — or “roleplay,” as TJ Toddler calls it — is not unprecedented. Although it’s new to Denver’s music community, it reflects the situation in other areas of society, where online harassment has become commonplace.
Typically, the stories that garner the most attention involve schools; they includes cases of online impersonation and cyberbullying going back to the days of MySpace, a horrible and early example being thirteen-year-old Megan Meier, who committed suicide in 2006 after a friend’s mother, Lori Drew, bullied Meier by creating and using the account of a fictitious boy named “Josh Evans.”
Then there are the celebrities who are routinely targeted, as well as corporate sabotage in areas like the restaurant industry, where businesses have hit one another using fake accounts, salacious reviews and other disingenuous online behavior.
Online harassment has led to growing complaints from victims who realize there isn’t much they can do about it — including persuading social-media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove defamatory content or take down impersonated accounts.
Jonathan Wiseman, a high-profile editor at the New York Times, had to write an article about the pervasive anti-Semitic harassment he was receiving on Twitter before the company made any moves to take down the offending comments. Before that story was published in the Times on June 10, Wiseman had been told by Twitter’s customer support that nothing could be done for him.
But even after Twitter reversed course, Wiseman was so disillusioned that he quit the social-media network and abandoned his 35,000 followers. “I am awaiting some sign from Twitter that it cares whether its platform is becoming a cesspit of hate. Until then, sayonara,” he wrote.
Bradley Shear, a Maryland-based attorney who has dedicated his practice to the emerging field of social-media law, says that Wiseman’s experience is telling, especially because most people don’t have the editor’s notoriety or a publication like the Times behind them. “So even when people [like Wiseman] have resources and know-how and the ability to reach out to social-media companies, it can be a challenge to get the companies to listen to them,” Shear notes.
One reason for this is that social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter are not liable for the content produced by their users, according to section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. “And then these companies are also in the business of monetizing data that comes across their platforms, so there’s a financial incentive not to delete content,” Shear continues.
A musician who asked not to be identified says he was blocked from his own Facebook account after someone claiming to represent TJ Toddler told Facebook’s customer-support department that the page was a phony.
Victims who request such deletions often receive generic denials from the companies. That’s what happened when Echo Beds and its supporters began filing reports with Facebook and Twitter, asking that the fake Echo Beds accounts be deleted and often identifying TJ Toddler as the harassers.
When Curts and Nelson asked that the fakes apparently posted by TJ Toddler be removed, they received multiple responses from Facebook that simply said: “This profile hasn’t been removed because it doesn’t go against Facebook’s Community Standards about identity and privacy.” (Asked about those responses by Westword, Facebook spokeswoman Melanie Ensign would only refer to the company’s “community standards” and acknowledge that “claiming to be another person...violates Facebook’s terms.”)
Screenshot of Facebook response
Courtesy of Echo Beds
Screenshot of Facebook response
Courtesy of Echo Beds
This report referred to the fake "Echo Beds" account that was allegedly posting harassing content about the real Echo Beds
Courtesy of Echo Beds
Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law who specializes in online-rights issues, says she isn’t surprised by the experiences of the Denver bands that complained about TJ Toddler. “Right now the system is leaving it all up to victims to find out what’s happening, get a handle on it, and report it with enough documentation and the right language for any of these companies to take action,” she explains. “All of the burden is on the victims. We’ve not seen any commitment from these major companies so far about how to prevent this from happening to begin with.”
With TJ Toddler “engaging in fake profiles and making false reports about other bands, you can imagine this from the perspective of whoever [at Facebook] is trying to field these complaints; they’re getting a bunch of conflicting information,” Franks adds. “They don’t know who’s really telling the truth or what’s really going on, so they choose to do nothing.”
Attorney Bradley Shear, who works in social-media law, and Mary Anne Franks, a professor who specializes in online-rights issues, both say that getting social-media companies to pay attention to online abuse is currently a challenge for victims.
Photos courtesy of Bradley Shear and Mary Anne Franks
Reports of TJ Toddler harassment increased in the new year. Even family members of musicians were not off limits; one female relative of a Denver musician received a message that contained a creepy photo of Rockford Wagner in front of a shower, hair wet and staring deadpan into the camera.
“In terms of the number of people subjected to intimidation tactics in Facebook threads and such, it must be fifty to sixty people that I’ve heard of,” Curts says. And he was soon invited to join a private Facebook group titled “TJ Toddler Evidence,” where users have posted links, screen shots and written descriptions of the ways they’ve allegedly been targeted by TJ Toddler.
A May 26 screenshot of the fake Echo Beds Facebook page, which includes photos referring to the Columbine massacre and more posts that accuse Murphy of rape
Some of the members of the private Facebook group started doing their own sleuthing to find out more about the band, especially Wagner, its apparent ringleader. They discovered that Wagner and his brother are involved in the marijuana industry, which lent credence to messages that both Curts and Murphy received claiming that Wagner had money in case they tried to fight him. Curts also received a message warning that, should he file a lawsuit, the members of TJ Toddler would be shielded by fair-use statutes and laws protecting satire and parody.
Brad Shear is not so sure. “There’s a tremendous amount of potential legal liability that this band has created,” says the attorney, pointing to potential charges of identity theft, fraud, trademark issues, defamation, copyright infringement, torturous interference of business, and physical threats.
The problem, he explains, is that it’s difficult to pin down just who, exactly, is responsible for specific actions and messages: Anyone can create an online account, using whatever name they choose; a defendant can always blame others for any online behavior they’re being accused of. (That’s true in the case of TJ Toddler messages; while Wagner is linked directly to at least one message, the other members are not.)
“Trying to unmask them is going to be very cumbersome and costly, and you’d have to go to court, most likely,” Shear adds, noting that social-media companies try to protect their users’ identities and don’t like to hand over identifying information like IP addresses unless ordered to by a judge. “And the average person just doesn’t have the time or resources to hire an attorney to do that.”
That’s certainly been the case with some people in Denver who’ve considered taking legal action against TJ Toddler. One group that contacted an attorney received an e-mail stating that the lawyer would require a $10,000 retainer to build a case. Such a hefty payment just isn’t an option for many of TJ Toddler’s alleged victims, up-and-coming musicians who work side jobs in the service industry to support their craft.
Shear acknowledges that anyone who wants to file a civil suit for online harassment faces many hurdles.
“You’ve got to weigh the PR issues with the legal issues, along with monetary issues,” he says. “And sometimes it may not be worth it.... When you’re dealing with a bully, you’ve got to know when to walk away and when to stand up, and sometimes it’s best to walk away. Because just like in the first grade, a lot of time bullies are just looking for attention.”
The dangers of dealing with bullies is a common refrain. A few of those targeted in Denver have warned Westword that an article is just what TJ Toddler wants. And several alleged victims declined to be identified, worried that they would be harassed more if they talked to reporters.
But the pepper-spray incident at Seventh Circle persuaded people like Curts and Murphy to come forward, since they believe TJ Toddler crossed the line. Now they want to hold the members of the band accountable and find the best way to move forward.
TJ Toddler hasn’t exactly covered all of its tracks. Perhaps the most incriminating piece of evidence is a video posted to Facebook in which Wagner is on camera threatening the Seventh Circle Music Collective and its owner, Aaron Saye.
Propped in a chair and slurring his words, Wagner says, “You better watch out, Aaron. Seventh Circle may not be there much longer...TJ Toddler. Wagner One. Coming soon...”
He and another person off-camera start laughing as the video ends.
A screenshot of the video in which Rockford Wagner tells Aaron Saye and the Seventh Circle, "You better watch out."
Evidence such as that could come in handy not only in a civil case, but a criminal one. Last July, Colorado became the seventeenth state to adopt criminal statutes pertaining to cyberbullying and online harassment. While the law doesn’t specifically address impersonation online, as do penal codes in California and New York (which both see a lot of celebrity catfishing), Colorado’s cyberbullying law does classify intentional online harassing behavior as a class 3 misdemeanor, carrying a possible fine of $750 and/or up to six months in jail.
Former state senator Linda Newell, who just retired after eight years in the Senate, was one of the bill’s sponsors; she said it was inspired by the attempted suicide of Highlands Ranch teen Kiana Arellano in 2013, which left her paraplegic and unable to speak; the popular cheerleader had tried to take her own life after receiving cruel social-media and text messages from her peers. But police told her family that they couldn’t do anything about it, Newell explains: “The police said, ‘We don’t have anything in statute for cyberbullying. We don’t have anything that would give us cause to investigate it.’”
She found this particularly alarming because a 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado survey had found that 24.7 percent of middle-school students in the state and 15.1 percent of high-school students reported being electronically harassed during the previous twelve months. So Newell collaborated with legal experts, the ACLU and other Colorado lawmakers, including Representative Rhonda Fields, to find the right language for a law that would protect First Amendment rights while still holding bullies accountable.
Now that the law, named after Kiana Arellano, has gone into effect, district attorneys in Colorado have a tool they can use to prosecute individuals engaged in harassing behavior online, whether the perpetrators are minors or adults.
“If I were one of those people being harassed in the music community and was being subjected to catfishing,” Newell says, “I would definitely talk to the DA to see if it’s possible to get a criminal case going using this new law.”
Seventh Circle Music Collective.
Since Tim Sadler was pepper-sprayed on May 13, there have already been some consequences for members of TJ Toddler.
After a police report was filed at the scene, Saye requested a restraining order that would keep Rockford Wagner and Joe Piller from coming near Seventh Circle. Before a scheduled June 8 hearing before a judge in Denver County Court, lawyers for Wagner and Saye agreed to a one-year restraining order that prevents Wagner from contacting Saye or entering his venue until June 2017.
Joe Piller, who allegedly pepper-sprayed Sadler, was given a permanent restraining order. He has also been charged with assault; he pleaded not guilty and is set for trial on August 24.
Neither Wagner nor Piller would discuss TJ Toddler’s online activities. When Westword first spoke with both Wagner and Piller on the phone, offering to talk with them about every allegation in this story so that the band members had a chance to respond, they said they would consult with legal counsel. After that, Wagner declined on behalf of the band, saying that he would send a statement for the article and that the statement would only address the “performance” at Seventh Circle.
On July 7, Westword received the following e-mail from email@example.com headlined “press release”:
“TJ Toddler would like to offer Westword the exclusive on the title and release date of their upcoming LP. Please feel free to use the attached press shot and music demo.... Following the execution of the now-legendary ‘Columbine’ event at Blast-O-Mat, big bad wolf of pop music TJ Toddler is winding up for the release of their whirlwind sophomore full-length ‘Wagner 1: For I Loved the Moon’, coming on January 25th, 2017.”
In response, Westword asked: “Is this the statement?”
“This is it,” TJ Toddler replied via e-mail. “Looking forward to the article, see you on the road.”
A week later, on July 16, Westword finally reached Schell. While confirming that he is “S. Schell Interface,” Schell claimed that it’s been at least nine months since he’s been involved with TJ Toddler.
When Westword pointed out that there were three bandmembers at the May 13 Seventh Circle show, Schell said that he didn’t know who that third member might have been. (According to Sadler, this individual was dressed head to toe in a motorcycle suit and was wearing a helmet the whole time, so identification was tough.) “All I know is that Joe and Rock[ford] were part of [the band]; as far as I know, there’s not any other people really involved,” Schell continued.
Within thirty minutes of this conversation with Schell, Westword received the following e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org:
“Please refrain from contacting any of our membership other than through this email directly. Rockford Raymond Wagner is the frontman and public face of the band, and has already declined to speak with you. Scott Schell and Joseph Piller are not affiliated with TJ Toddler. Does Marilyn Manson give interviews as Brian Warner? You will address them in your article by their stage names or not at all. Any further outreach to them personally will be treated as harassment and dealt with accordingly.”
In recent weeks, TJ Toddler has deleted the vast majority of its online presence, including the TJ Toddler Facebook page and most of the fake Echo Beds pages (the fake Soundcloud page was still up in mid-July).
But the online shenanigans have not ended.
In late June, Tom Murphy discovered that he had been impersonated in the comments section of a Bandcamp page belonging to a local artist named Product Lust. Then on July 7, Murphy received an e-mail from a Yahoo! address that was created to impersonate Murphy’s personal Gmail account (like the fake Echo Beds account). In it, Murphy found a Photoshopped image of him holding up a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf; the communiqué claimed to be from the “Official ‘T.J. Murphy’ Fanclub.” (The e-mail was sent to Murphy only an hour before the “press release” to Westword from email@example.com, and included the same attached song.)
Screenshot of the email received by Tom Murphy in which a photoshopped image has him holding up Hitler's Mein Kampf. Watermarks added by Westword.
“I have to admit, I’m not surprised by being harassed again,” says Murphy. “Stalkers don’t stop because they get a slap on the wrist. Normal human beings don’t use Twitter handles like @hardforchildren or call their musical project a pedophile band just to prove they’re edgy.... This is an unprecedented experience from my perspective — and I’ve received hate mail, passive aggression and anonymous bizarre and arcane criticism.
“Mostly, though, it has shown me that, generally, people are against what TJ Toddler has done. There is a music community, and a lot of those people understand or have genuine sympathy for you. TJ Toddler could have been part of that community, but decided not to be.... That’s been the most disappointing aspect of all of this.”
Murphy isn’t alone in his disappointment, or his feeling that things are far from over. After paying a lawyer $500 to deliver a cease-and-desist letter to Wagner at the June 8 court hearing, the members of Echo Beds finally heard from Wagner’s attorney, Richard Bryans Jr., on June 29. The lawyer said that their letter contained speculative accusations but no actual substance.
“I still haven’t even met this guy, Wagner,” Curts says. “He’s kind of a mythical person, and that’s exactly what he wants. He wants to be legendary. And he’s trying to be provocative and get a rise out of people.”
TJ Toddler has certainly succeeded at that. In mid-June, a rumor swirled among Denver musicians that TJ Toddler had shown up at the Trailside Saloon, where one of its members had brandished a gun. The story is not true, but it demonstrates what an aura TJ Toddler has created.
“It makes people concerned about the thought process of a person who might crack,” Curts says. “Even now, as we go forward and make decisions as a band, we always have to keep [TJ Toddler] in the back of our heads.”
Even so, Curts has found a silver lining. “In a way, it almost fuels our sense of anger, and I’m even more into our music now,” he adds. “A lot of that frustration comes out in a live setting, and I feel like our performances are more volatile because of it.”
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And so he has some advice for TJ Toddler:
“If you want to get somewhere, you steep yourself in your craft. You don’t sit behind a computer and badmouth people because you’re not getting what you want. You connect with people and be cool with people, because that gets you a lot further in this world, and that is what’s genuine.”
Learn more on DIY culture in Denver, specifically Seventh Circle.