Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Premature Memoir of a Wedding Singer (Chap. 1)


About two years ago I started writing a memoir. It came about from an inspired moment of wanting to jot down some of the funnier moments from my music career, but it quickly became something of a journalling process. The whole idea of me, at age 29, being an artist of very low profile compared to where I wanted to be, writing a memoir and expecting anyone to give a shit was rather ludicrous, and I knew it.

So I named the book "The Premature Memoir of a Wedding Singer".

I haven't even finished it. To be honest, once the idea for my first fiction novel came into focus in my mind, and I began planning and researching that novel, this book was pushed aside and I haven't touched it in over a year. But I did keep it!

And so, I've decided to now publish what I've written so far, chapter by chapter, into this blog, for you to read and enjoy freely. Perhaps sharing these chapters will spur me on to write more when I run out, and continue the story to its logical end. If you read my last post, about my career being officially rebooted as a musician/producer/writer (not just a musician), you would probably get a clear sense as you read this first chapter of my musical memoir of where the story must end. 

So, if there's interest and inspiration, I will continue the story. And who knows, perhaps one day I will edit these blog entries into a book... we shall see.

For now, here is Chapter 1 of The Premature Memoir of a Wedding Singer

Chapter 1

Destiny & the Reckoning of Seamus

It’s a warm night. Humid too. 

The air is thick and the only sound I hear at this moment is the gentle crashing of waves on the beach just outside. An occasional cough or giggle cuts through the silence in the room. My sweaty hands are hovering in the air, shaking slightly from exhaustion, fingers spread wide. 

There are two hundred people standing just in front of me, staring at me, grinning. Trying to suppress their laughter and excitement. They are all frozen in time, some in very awkward postures. Arms up in the air, some with legs akimbo, some barely holding themselves up. 

I can smell the alcohol on them. 

The silence is broken again, this time by a glass breaking behind the bar. The bar girl looks a little embarrassed to have interrupted this moment. The momentary distraction causes unrest in the crowd. 

A couple of people laugh and start murmuring or groaning. My face turns stern and like a schoolmaster I press my right index finger to my lips and lean towards my microphone. 

“Ssshhhh” I say, and a few members of the audience mimic me towards their disruptive classmates. 

I intend to keep this drunken group poised in stillness as long as I can, without them turning on me. 

They are at my command. 

I am in charge. 

These people adore me. For now. 

As I begin to sense the moment is nearing it’s death, out of silence my voice cuts through like a razor through hot butter and as the anacrusis of my phrase concludes my hands crash down upon the piano in perfect synchronicity with the three other musicians who stand beside me, each wearing a hearty smirk on his face. 

At this moment the frozen horde of drunken automatons erupt into a wild thrash of rhythmless fury, spilling more drinks into the already pungent carpet and upon themselves. 

Before long a woman in a lacey white dress is elevated to the shoulders of two men who barely balance beneath and barely keep their crumpled suits on their bodies. 

The entire rabble is ecstatic and grateful that I have chosen to relieve the awkward prolonged time freeze that I, the God of music in this time and place, created. 

They trusted in Me. 

They had Faith, and Faith is what my mouth bestowed unto them. 

“Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith, I gotta have faaaith. Because I gotta have faith, a-faith, a-faith, I gotta have faith. Faith. FAITH!” 

And on the first beat of the eighth bar, the music stops. The instant of silence is consumed with the hearty roar of two hundred overjoyed drunkards, one bride and one groom, and my job is done.

I always knew I’d be a Rock Star. 

This is not quite what I had in mind.

When this all started my plan was to be a global rock star, a worldwide tour de force, by the time I turned thirty. Like so many fatalistic artsy types I had made a pact with myself at some juvenile crossroads that if I hadn’t made it by thirty I would pack it in. To do what instead, exactly? Still haven’t worked out a plan B. But here I am on the eve of my 30th birthday and looking back on my career, it is an ironic parody of my childhood dream. 

And it’s been awesome. 

Therein has laid the learning and the adventure.

The decision for a creative life was made pretty early in my life, albeit via a number of meandering changes of direction. 

Early on I wanted to be an “inventor”. I had no invention ideas, but I did love Back To The Future and Doctor Emmett Brown was one of my idols. After that came “formula one racer”. I had no real interest in cars or going fast, still don’t, but at that time the Grand Prix was hosted in Adelaide and it was quite exciting. That would be the life for me. Around age four I realised I didn’t need to pluck a career path out of thin air. I should do what I love doing.

My parents were always very encouraging and supportive of my endeavours. I was a passionate illustrator from age two and fairly advanced for my age, at least in terms of being able to reproduce forms of Disney characters and animals in a fairly convincing and colour-correct way. I loved it and drew a lot. Creativity was my thing as soon as I could wield a tool of creation. My mum was very encouraging of that. I remember her helping me to draw a lot, showing me techniques, drawing with me. One of my earliest memories was attending junior art classes. I have no recollection of what was taught or who taught it, but I remember dark brick interior walls, tables covered in paper and pencils and my mum sitting by my side while I drew.

My Dad was a police officer in our home state of South Australia around that time and he wasn’t around much in the day time. If he was home in the day it’s because he was on a night shift roster and was asleep. On weekends and days off he was often stoned or half cut. He was self-medicating a lot to cope with the daily nightmare of being a beat cop in Adelaide. It’s not a very generous way to raise the curtain on my dad in this book, but he’s a writer too and he’ll tell his own story if he writes his memoirs one day. I’ll write it as I remember it. 

I was aware that he was under the influence a lot. Kids are smart, and I was aware of when he was high or not, even before I knew what it really meant. Truth told, at that time in his life and career, when he was high he was mellow and fun. Cuddly, playful and creative. When he was straight, he was quick to anger, he was paranoid and stressed. So much of that was apparent in all of his cop mates. Self-medication was part and parcel of being “on the job”. It was the cop life. 

When dad had a week of annual leave he would almost always borrow my uncles VHS shoulder-camera - bastardly behemoth of a contraption - get stoned or drunk and start making experimental movies. 

When I was old enough to participate I was keen to get on-camera and dad was happy to have a little actor ready to do his will. I mostly got bit-parts to begin with: guitarist in his Doors comeback video (my sister was the go-go dancer, dad was Jim Morrison of course); a demented skeletal clown in one of his arthouse pieces; a junior edition of himself, co-starring with my grandfather in a triple-generation art piece called “Seasons”. 

When I had mastered my acting craft by age 5, we moved beyond the David Lynch-esque arthouse into much more mainstream work such as our action sci-fi hit Psychodroid, in which I was cast as the protagonist farmer/Jedi in a battle to the death with a giant klingon android who had come to take my sister for experiments.

My sister Bronwyn was the damsel in distress - a role she never played too convincingly since she has always been a stubbornly self-sufficient woman, since birth. Mum was camera operator. I’m not sure if she liked that gig or not, I do remember the early 90’s “portable home video camcorder” was about as big as her. She had some hip issues later in life. Possibly attributable to that day of shooting.

Dad was evidently a frustrated storyteller pretending to be a cop. He did fine in his job. Survived it. 

Eventually he moved out of beat work and into prosecution - courtroom work - and got to act out his youthful desire for justice in that forum. That eventually changed into private investigation when he’d had enough of working for the state. 

The life of hunting criminals wore off completely after a decade and he quit entirely and went into - you guessed it - making pizzas. 

He later confessed it was one of the best jobs ever because he was able to be completely mentally absent and secretly work on his real passion - writing. 

Before long, by the time I was a teenager, he’d finished his second full novel and had signed with Random House for publication. Naturally he wrote what he knew - crime. 

It was a great time for our family. Dad was unemployed and we were broke, but we were incredibly happy to be all together and support Dad in doing what he was truly meant to do: Create. By this time as well my Mum had fully embraced her own life-long passion for the visual arts and she was an avid amateur painter across multiple media. I found myself in a fully creative household and it was awesome.

*SIDE NOTE. I’m only on page 2 of being a writer, and a gaggle of mid-50s ladies just decided they needed a photo with “that handsome man” (me) in this cafe, because I “look like an artist”. NOW I understand why writers are always in cafes with MacBooks and macchiatos. We’re apparently so attractive!

Dad’s learning curve came at a price though, in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (called Shell Shock in the old days, a label usually reserved for war veterans, but Dad like many cops was a veteran of the unending war in every city, everywhere). Dad had seen plenty of violence, and participated in some to defend himself, defend victims of domestic abuse, defend his colleagues. He’d been a physical being since his teen years of being bullied and beaten at school, so he knew how to fight. Karate, judo, kendo. Later body building and much much later Iaido - a passion he and I shared as men together. As a young cop, he could defend himself, and he did enough times to get broken up inside about it all. Dad told me later that two of the biggest traumas for him were when the violence came close to home. 

One of the times that dad had the miserable job of escorting a mother to identify her drowned eight year old daughter in the morgue, the emotional detachment he’d been trained for was tested when the corpse looked, for a moment to him, exactly like my sister. That moment of thinking it was his own child destroyed him, momentarily. The other incident was one I bore witness to as a 7 year old. 

We were all at home one weeknight at our rural property in the Northern Hills of the Adelaide area. We heard a helicopter fly over pretty low. 

Then again. 

Then again with bright searchlights scanning over our paddocks.

Dad was straight on the phone to whatever control tower or home base or hotline cops use to get information. He said some phonetic identification number (“Hotel Lima One Two Five” or some such) then dropped a bit of cop jargon and suddenly had some answers. 

Before we knew what was happening Dad had two loaded rifles out of his gun locker, bundled my Mum, my sister and I into the master bedroom, and latched the door behind him. 

It was all rather thrilling, and terrifying, but at this point mostly exciting! Dad was like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, or Bruce Willis in Die Hard. But with shoes on. 

He told us what he knew: two prison escapees had been crossing the state on the run. They were suspected armed after robbing some place and the chopper was trying to track them down. Due to an abandoned stolen car near our place, they assumed they were nearby. These were violent criminals and they had already burgled one house on their journey. 

Now we knew. 

Dad ran mum through the procedure. We were to stay locked in the master bedroom, all together. We were to stay back from the window, stay low, preferably in the bed. If there was a knock on the door unaccompanied by Dad’s voice, mum was to shoot the door at chest height. 

Then Dad left. 

That’s when the excitement turned into terror. 

That’s the first time I clearly remember being terrified that Dad was going to die. Truth be told he’d faced and avoided much more immediate doom many times before, but I’d never known about it.

Dad enlisted our crusty but tough farmer neighbour to patrol the paddocks with him and the chopper kept making rounds up and down the long country road we lived on. We huddled under the blankets in Mum and Dad’s bed with mum cuddling us close. Despite our efforts, my sister and I fell asleep before long. 

In the morning we found Dad at the breakfast table like any other day. He hadn’t slept a wink though. The whole thing had wrapped up quietly. The potential home invaders had been spotted and probably caught a few kilometres away. 

Drama over. 

Dad later patrolled the property again in daylight to check for evidence of their presence, and found some items they’d dropped in an area on our property they’d been hiding in. He might have even walked right past them the night before. 

These traumas and many other offences to his delicate artistic heart were accumulating. The proverbial camel’s back was broken when, at age eight or so, I wrote Dad a heartfelt letter. It read something like: 

Dear Daddy, please quit your job and get a new job so you can be home more. I miss you. I want to have you at home. Love, James. 

Dad came home after work as a police prosecutor one night, found that letter, and the next day tendered his resignation. Such has always been the extent of my Dad’s love - in action - for me.

So dad medicated himself in various ways for many years after he left the police force, and I got to see him in all manner of states. Unlike most kids with an substance dependent parent, the sad truth was that dad was more of an emotional train wreck when he was sober. He was pretty moderate in his drug use and he was usually just in the pursuit of balance and normality in his day. He tried a lot of different prescription and self-prescribed solutions at different times in pursuit of that perfect balance. 

I never saw him written off. Just jolly, a little numb or slightly mellowed. As far as I know when he was writing he never used. He wanted to be sharp when writing. He just used the drugs to wind down, or to get through a night’s sleep without horrific nightmares. 

It always made me sad though, especially that he never admitted it was a crutch. 

He purported for the longest time that he was in complete control of his addiction. I never believed him, he kept telling me he could give up anytime he wanted and he did go clean a number of times, usually coinciding with some new passion like scuba-diving or Iaido. But it never stuck for long. 

It wasn’t until many years later, well into my adulthood and after my own marriage and parenthood journey had begun, that my dad finally stopped using altogether. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that it came after the demise of my parents’ long and largely unhappy marriage. Dad found a new life for himself, one that fitted him perfectly - a new life, with a new wife, in a far East Asian land. And lo, he found the equilibrium he had been seeking through so many other means.

That brought a lot of my childhood into sharp focus - a lot of illusions I had about my parents, their marriage, my upbringing, were shattered - but that’s a story for a later chapter.

Dad wasn’t super keen on writing crime fiction, but the success of his first book put him in that box, especially given his career biography, and he wrote a few more of them while he pushed to get some science fiction and eventually historical fiction/fantasy out there. 

It was fun to watch him thrive as a writer and start his new “day job” as a touring public speaker at schools and writer’s festivals. He’s always had the gift of the gab - he can spin a marvellous story spontaneously and he has a way of drawing an audience everywhere he goes. It was the perfect skill set for his new career. 

His mother, my Nanna Marjorie, had the same gift. 

People often tell me I have a way with words too, perhaps that reinforcement throughout my life has given me the arrogance to bother writing songs, stage plays, screenplays, short stories, the beginnings of novels, and now writing a memoir! 

Dad’s storytelling gift, and his new career as a spinner of fiction set me up to doubt almost every story he ever told me. The language always so colourful, the situations always so dramatic and perfectly timed, the comebacks so whimsical or fierce and the rhythm so filmic. 

I took my Dad for a liar throughout most of my teen years and couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I heard him tell a story for the umpteenth time to someone. If I’d witnessed the events myself I could see exactly how he was embellishing the truth. But it wasn’t until years later that I realised Dad never lied. He told a great story, granted. His dramatic flair was a sight to behold. But just because he was able to make the truth hyper-real or more exciting by the way he told it, didn’t make him a liar. Just a fine storyteller. That’s his gift.

The curse of my Dad’s dramatic flair was the confusion it caused me. As long as I can remember Dad would tell me that I was destined for greatness. 

Those were his words: “You are destined to be a king among men” and other such Tolkien-esque grand words of affirmation. 

Most kids probably grew up hearing “great effort son” or “you can be whatever you want to be in life” - if they had Western liberal parents who came up in the sixties and seventies. But I got words like “king” and “destiny”. 

No pressure, right? 

I know my Dad meant well. And hell, he may have only said those words to me once or twice in my life, but the impression was made early and while it made me feel loved and approved of, it also made me feel like I really had a responsibility to live up to this destiny Dad spoke of.

Where to channel such a “great destiny”? 

Why, ROCK STARDOM of course! 

Enter The Reckoning of Seamus.

My older cousin Seamus was a special figure in my youth. He was the odd-ball rockstar musician cousin who was ten years my senior and was taking the world (at least the world of Adelaide, South Australia) by storm with his band Reckoning. 

I would hear tales of his Roger-Daltry-like stage antics and listen to his tortured angsty 1990s indie rock albums. 

I simply worshipped him. 

And he worshipped my Dad. 

Dad was a similarly oddball character in the scheme of my family, at least my mum’s side of the family. A large Irish-Catholic family growing up in Elizabeth - the home of Holden car manufacture and birthplace of the iconic Aussie rock band Cold Chisel. And that’s about all Elizabeth can claim as far as I know. Unless you include my Dad or Seamus or my “great destiny” in the annals of Elizabethan history. 

Dad and Seamus were two peas in a pod really, both being a little mad and most certainly creative, with a streak for performance. I worshipped both of them, and that Seamus worshipped my Dad gave me a sense of importance. Like I was a prince or something. 

When I was eight or nine Reckoning were having an album launch show in Adelaide. It was a big night apparently. Fortunately the venue in question had a balcony area above the mosh pit that wasn’t in use that evening, so Seamus wrangled tickets for my parents, my sister and I, along with his mum and step-dad and brothers. 

We got to watch the show from a safe aerial perch, far above the sweating teeming horde of fake-ID-wielding, crocheted-tank-top-wearing, velveteen-ankle-length-skirt-clad, Doc-Martin-boot-stomping, squealing, Seamus-loving, teenage girls of Adelaide as they writhed and moaned under some kind of Seamus-operated mass hypnosis. 

This show had it all. The loud guitars, the loud drums, the impassioned wailing of my elder cousin as his hundreds-strong crowd of fanatics hung on his every warbled note. 

The finale featured a modest yet shockingly sudden pyrotechnic display that launched from the rafters not far from where we were seated, timed perfectly to coincide with Seamus smashing his acoustic guitar over his amp and throwing himself into the crowd who groped violently for him, like lepers for Jesus. 

I asked Seamus some weeks later why he smashed his guitar. I had naively assumed it was totally spontaneous rock-star passion that inspired the punkish vandalism. He confessed he had just bought a new one and thought it would be a good way to see the old one off. I didn’t quite understand the theatrics at the time, but they sure made an impact. Seeing him up there in a world of his own, moaning and wailing with such passion and moving his body however the fuck he wanted. 

The music, the volume, the explosions and light show. It was ecstatic, even for nine year old me. But none of that on-stage debauchery compared to seeing the power he had over that crowd. He owned them, at least for a couple of hours. To me, that was the power of a king

That was for me. 

Destiny dictated so, apparently.

So, the next day I wrote a letter to Seamus. I was quite into writing letters. It read along the lines of: 

Dear Seamus. I loved your show. I have decided I want to be a music man like you. Love, James.

And that was it. My destiny had a name and it was Rock Stardom!

This is the point where most kids pick up an electric guitar, put a poster of Jimmy Page or Bon Jovi on the wall and start chugging away at E minor and D chords in their basement. 

For some reason, I picked up a trumpet and started taking mainstream classical lessons! 

Perhaps I missed the point of rock stardom. 

I didn’t even really know what kind of music I liked at that point. My favourite band was The Doors, but my favourite solo artist was Johnny Logan - the guy who won Eurovision for Ireland in 1987 with the epic power-ballad “Hold Me Now” (if you haven’t heard that song, check it out on Youtube right now. It’s incredible - and it couldn’t possibly be any further from Reckoning or The Doors.) Such was my love for this song that I sung it every day, and spun that vinyl 45 until the needle broke. And then I moved to the cassette dub we had of it. 

It wasn’t long before I recorded my own cover of it which I very proudly showed off to my parents and grandparents, all of whom were very encouraging and delighted. 

I still have that recording in fact. If I ever publish this book I’ll find a way to share that audio with you, dear reader, too. (BLOG READERS: Here's the file in question! Enjoy...)

I also loved the theme song for the British claymation show Tugs, particularly for the alto sax lines. I was quite partial to Simply Red too, thanks to a fondness spurred from very early memories of Mum dancing with me on her hip to It’s Only Love when I was a wee sprout.

Dad took up being a function DJ on weekends after he finished being a cop, or as they were called back in those days, a “Disc Jockey”. He had an extensive collection of cassette mix tapes and vinyl 45s that I had free access to through the week. 

I had my own little tape recorder, a National Panasonic portable one with a handle and built in speaker. I would grab cassettes from Dad’s crates while he slept and listen for hours to Motown compilations, The Doors, The Beatles, The Blow Monkeys, Style Council, David Bowie, The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix… the list goes on. 

I just loved music. 

Didn’t matter what genre, as long as it was throwback. I didn’t realise at the time that most of my favourite music was either from the sixties or seventies, or if it was from the eighties or nineties, it was a retrospective artist like Style Council or Simply Red who were drawing from the American soul music handbook. I didn’t have a need for such labels as a kid. I wanted music all the time. I wanted to listen, understand it, play it.

So I took trumpet lessons in earnest. I had a very gentle and encouraging teacher called Mr. Mateo. He was my first music mentor and I will never forget his face, or the pride it gave me when he told my parents I was one of his most promising students. That really put wind in my sails. Clearly I was seeking adoration from early on.

I stuck with the trumpet for a good eight years, taking lessons for most of that time. A couple of uninspiring and grumpy tutors down the line really killed it for me. Thankfully by then I had already taken up guitar, keyboard and singing. 

But not yet.

I remember my first performance on trumpet. I was part of a large ensemble at an end-of year Christmas themed concert at my primary school in One Tree Hill, South Australia. It was only primary school there in fact. What, you think a town with one tree would have two primary schools? Get real. We played the usual climate irrelevant American and European songs about snow and reindeer and toasty warm fireplaces, whilst sweating in 40 degree (Celsius) South Australian heat. 

Ours is a confused nation, I’ll tell you that much. 

But I digress.

I remember how terrible I was on the trumpet. I was glad to be in a group and while I wanted to be really really good, I also wanted to stay unnoticed, at least until I was good enough to be adored. I did my best to sink back into the group and play softly. It comforted me to watch the other performances that night and get a sense that ours didn’t suck the most. Being better than someone gave me a sense of worth.

Around the age of nine my family and I left South Australia for good. 

My Dad had an opportunity to take up a steady day job running a health food store for the growing franchise he’d been involved with for a year or so (yes, my dad has a very colourful Curriculum Vitae). It was opening a new store in Tweed Heads, on the New South Wales and Queensland coastal border, and given the morbid history Dad had experienced in South Australia, he decided to consider it. 

We took a two week holiday to the “rainbow region” as it’s often called - the area from Byron Bay to the southern tip of Gold Coast, once inhabited solely by hippy communists and Woodstock survivors, now a trench warfare battlefield between the children of said hippies (the Hipsters, or as I like to call them “Hiplets”) and the coal seam gas mining conglomerates. 

Politics aside, the Tweed Valley and surrounding regions are some of the most beautiful parts of Australia and I recommend anyone travelling here to visit. As I write this I reside in this lush rainforested area again for the fourth time in my life, and I plan to always call it home. 

My parents couldn’t afford to fly us all up (yes, back then domestic flights were much more expensive than the fuel cost of a two thousand kilometre drive) so we bundled into our beaten up Mitsubishi Sigma and drove across the arid middle of our huge sunburnt country. 

I don’t remember too much about that trip, except being forced to swallow ginger tablets to prevent car sickness. The first attempt made me gag (I struggled with severe Pharmaphagophobia until I was about twenty-five. I may have just invented that word. But the Latin should hold up in court.) so I devised a method, albeit disgusting, of concealing a tablet in my cheek until my Mum was convinced I had swallowed it, then sneaking off to spit it out. I kept my car sickness secret too, so as not to arouse suspicion. I do remember stopping at the incredible Siding Spring Observatory at Coonabarabran in Central NSW and looking at the stars in the giant motorised telescope in the deep dark of country Australia, where the stars shine brightest away from the haze of city lights. Seeing that twinkling array of pinholes in black sheet of sky brought me a real sense of insignificance, and with it, briefly, a sense of peace. Next morning, it was back to my internal obsession with fulfilling my great destiny of fame and fortune.

The holiday to the rainbow region was wonderful. I had never seen so much green in my life. South Australia is a naturally dry state. Grasses only go green in the winter when it’s cool and moist. The rest of the year it’s a shrivelled and brown landscape. Mostly eucalypts and dry brush. There’s a real sense of being on the edge of a desert there. 

The Tweed Valley is something else. Lush throughout the year, a plethora of unique flora and fauna, and a rapidly changing landscape as you ascend and descend the mountains and hills that surround the valley. From thick dark rainforest to flat open fields of sugarcane farmland and the drier hilltops with breathtaking drops into crystal creeks and camphor laurel and lantana-covered slopes. 

I instantly fell in love with the natural environment of the area and that love has never waned. We found Tweed Heads-Coolangatta to be a quaint seaside town full of blonde surfer types and tourists, and it was a welcome change from the atmosphere back home. 

Every day we swam in the Jack Evans Boat Harbour and explored the beautiful beaches, forests and townships of the region. On our way to the Valley’s central pinnacle, the towering and grand Wollumbin (or as Captain Cook perfunctorily dubbed it, Mount Warning) we stopped in the sleepy sugar farming town of Murwillumbah, whose population was about six thousand back then. Hasn’t grown all that much in the last twenty years to be honest, though it is a lot hipper now. 

It was only a short drive to Dad’s prospective place of work, but it had a quiet charm akin to our then home of One Tree Hill. Best of all, it had a public primary school and public high school with renowned music departments and a local performing arts festival. Mum and Dad did their research. So supportive of my singular vision for a life as a musician were they that they largely hinged our geographic habitation around supporting that dream of mine. If my parents believed in me that much, why the hell wouldn’t I believe in me that much too!

Our two week holiday naturally blew out into a three week jaunt. We all loved the place so much. By the time we started to drive home, we’d pretty much made the decision to permanently move there in the new year. My sister resisted the notion. Poor girl had just started High School and made a new circle of friends. She’d always been quite resistant to change, but the decision was made for her, against her wishes. It was best for us all to start anew.

Two thousands more kilometres drive later, we were home and starting to pack up the South Australian house and put it on the market for sale. A few months later, back in the car - this time two cars, with a trailer and two dogs! The cats and goats I grew up with were adopted by other families and we were off to our newly secured rental home in Murwillumbah, Northern New South Wales.

By this time my individuality had been well established in the social hierarchy of primary school. I’d just started Grade 5 in S.A. and I was pretty scrawny for my age group. Probably the skinniest and smallest boy in my class. I played trumpet, proudly carried it with me everywhere. I also grew my hair long and had the lower part of my scalp in an undercut style. It was quite outlandish and made me look like some kind of pre-teen lesbian Taylor Hanson (long before Taylor Hanson was even a thing). 

I also excelled in school academically and got along famously with my teachers. I loved a good chat with an adult. It stimulated me more than my peers did. All of this added up to being the perfect target of bullying and I had copped my fair share of school yard violence and intimidation in One Tree Hill. 

Humiliatingly, my most loathsome aggressor was a young girl called Kelly. She was a big lass. I’d known her since kindergarten and we used to get along well when we were little. But whatever it was in her home life, something had made her an angry nine year old, and my individuality or know-it-all verbal aptitude was more than she could handle. 

So she’d beat me up a bit. 

And then threaten to beat me up some more. 

It wasn’t very fun. I had to call in my Dad to help out a bit and he and the school faculty put it all to a stop, but the whole thing was pretty socially debilitating for me. I became a recluse at school. 

Not one shred of me was going to miss S.A. 

My life there had been full of fear and doubt, and as long as my little family of my parents, grandparents (my Dad’s parents had lived in a granny flat next to us my whole childhood) and my dogs were coming with me to Murwillumbah, it was only full of hope for a bright future. 

First Murwillumbah, then the world! 

My annoying sister was coming too, but that was okay. We tolerated each other now that she was a teenager. Once we had loved each other and I had a sense that we would again.

When I started at my new school, the cleverly named Murwillumbah Primary School, I was guarded and geared up for ostracism and ridicule, what with my pre-hipster-age man-bun and my beatnik trumpet-carrying ways, and the ridiculous school uniform shorts I was forced to wear that were so tiny they barely contained my nuts. 

First day at my first new school was going to be shit, I just knew it. 

But lo and behold, my teacher was warm and welcoming and so were my classmates. The teacher’s name was Mrs. Bliss. I knew with a name like that we’d have a grand old time together. Because of the stubbornly colonial state-managed education system Australia had back then, the grade levels from state to state didn’t align. By moving from South Australia to New South Wales, not only did we enter the confusing 30 minute time-zone difference, and the dastardly annual confusion of Daylight Saving Time - in which an entire hour is stolen from existence, only to be given back a few months later when we’ve just finally adjusted - but I also had to go from Grade 5 back to Grade 4. 

While this frustrated me, I was comforted to be informed that N.S.W. primary school only goes to Grade 6, where S.A. goes to Grade 7. So the same number of years remained until I reached High School. It wasn’t long before my wonderfully logical mind deducted that, despite the same time remaining until the commencement of High School, due to the reversion to Grade 4, would I not be still doing a total of 13 years of school instead of 12? 

And wasn’t this a hinderance to me ultimately, since I already knew what I wanted to do with my life after school anyway? 

The teachers and principal of the school didn’t quite wrap their heads around my logic and I was told to stay put in Grade 4. So I did! 

Frustratingly, when my academic “results” came in at the end of that year, the faculty decided that I was “too advanced” to go into Year 5 next (duh!) so they recommended I skip a year and go straight to Year 6. Which would mean starting over with my social group. 

No, thank you. 

It was an easy choice for me, though my parents made me sleep on it. I wanted to stay with the friends I had made, so I condemned myself to a thirteen year school career. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I would later win this time back, thanks to my dogged pursuit of my “great destiny”.

The biggest advantage of this administrative cock-up was that I went from being the scrawniest kid in my South Australian peer group, to being the tallest kid in my new group! And the oldest in my year! I was even taller than kids in the grade above me! 

I could only deduct that the infamous chlorination of the town water supply in South Australia must have been mutating my schoolmates into miniature giants, while I had been raised on rainwater harvested from our own roof and was immune to this physical aberration. In reality, I was tall for my age, toxic-waste-derived-mutants aside! I was one of the bigger kids in my new, hippy-rainwater-fed, school community. To top it off, my new school had a huge population of music students, with its very own full-sized concert band that I was asked to join and in which was soon promoted to 2nd trumpet! 

And my hair? It was exotic! Delightfully outlandish and individual! 

I was asked just once on the first day “Why is your hair long?” in a most gentle and inquisitive way. I confidently replied:

“This?” grabbing my man-pony-tail and flicking it to the side to the awe and wonder of all the girls in my class, “oh, it’s just a thing I’m trying. I like it.” And they were sold. My hair was cool. 

I was cool! I was popular too. 

I was friends with everyone in my class and I got along famously with my classroom teacher Mrs. Bliss and my music teacher and concert band leader Mrs. Armour. Even my slightly English-sounding South Australian accent was exotic and interesting to my peers. They said “deyance” instead of dance. I said “dahnce” like some kind of British aristocrat. Being different was awesome! I finally realised that at age ten. 

I knew life in this new place was going to be awesome.

I knew that this was the real beginning of my destiny. 

First popularity at school… next, world stardom!

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