It was nearing the end of a Monday lunchtime at my high school when I spotted my IT teacher frantically running down the hallway, breathless and with glistening streams of sweat dripping down his red face. As soon as he had singled me out in the crowd he began to usher me into a disused and stuffy storage cupboard underneath the stairwell leading to the year 12 classrooms. I allowed myself to be led in, despite being totally freaked out by what was happening and slightly concerned that I was going to end up another victim of inappropriate behaviour from an authority figure. I needn’t have worried- Mr M was the one truly petrified,
‘Ryan,’ he half yelled. ‘Please assure me that you haven’t been telling people I got pissed on Saturday night! I got called in to Ms Hawker’s office and she was furious! Who have you been telling?’
Ms Hawker was the fierce and matronly Year 12 co-ordinator. Everyone was scared of her, including her teaching staff. I knew that if Mike had been called in to her office then it would have been a hellish experience. I also knew that Mr M had in fact got totally hammered on Saturday night, and that had I spent my Monday morning telling everyone about it. I decided to do the only honourable thing and lie.
‘Mr M, I swear to you I haven’t said anything to anyone. I promise.’ My pleading apparently didn’t sound as feeble as I thought I did, because Mr M believed me straight away.
‘Well if you haven’t said anything, how can Ms Hawker have found out? She thinks I got so drunk that I was asking people for acid’
The bit about acid was a literary embellishment on my part. I simply shrugged my shoulders and hoped that I appeared convincing in my ‘puzzled and perplexed’ demeanour. ‘Beats me,’ I said. ‘Maybe she knew someone who was at the pub?’
‘I guess I will just have to wait til she calms down and hope that it blows over.’
The school bell then rung, signalling the end of lunchtime and a return to the fascinating world of algebra.
I didn’t mention Mr M’s intoxication for the rest of the week.
The reason that I happened to know Mr M was shitfaced on the previous Saturday night was because I was there with him. In fact, Mr M and I were in a Jazz band together. Nowadays this situation would result in Mr M’s instant dismissal, however in the late 90’s things were apparently a little more chilled out. At least in Mike’s mind. It didn’t particularly matter to him that I was underage. He would regularly get me as much booze as I wanted at our gigs. It also didn’t phase Mr M or his wife (the principal of another High School) to let me stay over at their place after gigs to ensure my own parents didn’t find out I was drunk with alcohol supplied by my teacher. Hell, this was the late 90’s. It was a country town. Ricky Martin was famous. Life was easy and relaxed.
Yet Mr M and I hadn’t always enjoyed such a sunny and drunk rapport. For the preceding year prior to him joining our jazz band he had hated my guts. The source of this hate could be traced back to one class in which Mr M was teaching us to make simple cartoons on primitive Mac computers. Our task was to use a program to draw a series of individual drawings, which could then be linked, together via macros to make a basic cartoon. It was a fun class, and one ripe for mischief making.
For this particular task we were to team up in pairs. I chose my friend Trent, who was a quiet, intellectually inclined troublemaker. We decided that we would use the opportunity for creative expression to make a bold visual statement. Turning up our noses in contempt for the insipid sunrises and rain clouds that other students were making, we decided to honour Trent’s New Zealand heritage by drawing a series of pictures depicting a farmer fucking a sheep. It was truly a masterpiece of modern art. The farmer, with his straw hat and lopsided grin, was having the time of his life by the time we were done with him. Each pelvic thrust into the, ah, ‘back passage’ of the sheep was bringing him more and more pleasure until the whole artwork climaxed in a… well you can guess. We could barely control the fits of laughter.
Mr M did not find it anywhere near as amusing, mind you. For our efforts, which were tantamount to genius in our own minds, we received an after school detention (the most severe penalty). Mr M would be supervising us personally. It ended up lasting from 3:30-5pm, and during this time we were told to shut-up, face the front of the room and remain motionless. Mr M’s role throughout the proceedings was to prance up and down the aisle way in as menacing a way as possible.
The detention came and went, but Mr M’s resentment followed Trent and I around for months after. No matter how hard we tried in class we always received a D minus, with a scornful and rebuking remark summarising the report. This was back in the days when a teacher’s mark was taken seriously, and not challenged by easily threatened parents. Luckily for me my parents didn’t really foresee the mammoth role that information technology would soon play in the worlds future and overlooked my consistently terrible grades. The relationship between Mr M and myself might have remained in permanent breakdown were it not for a chance encounter at the towns one and only music shop one sunny afternoon.
R & J’s music had just enough instruments to make you think ‘damn it must be good to live close to a Billy Hydes in Melbourne.’ With its 1 drum kit, 2 bass guitars and 3 electric guitars it was an apt reminder that this town was more concerned with speed boat racing and Ute musters than it was with musical expression. Still,
R &J’s was enough to give us wannabe rock musicians a place to go on the weekends and it happened to be here that I ran into Mr M. He was tucked away in the back corner, partially hidden by one of the stores 2 amplifiers. Strapped to his waist was a Fender bass Guitar, upon which he was gently tapping out one of the most insipid bossa nova melodies I have ever heard.
Seeing my 50 year-old IT teacher play a rock bass in the back of the local music store elicited some conflicting feelings in me. On one hand, I wanted to punch him in the face and tell him to stop insulting music. The greater part of me, however, wanted to pat him on the back and start talking music. In that moment I began to respect that Mr M did in fact have an identity outside the mediocre walls of high school, and the fact that he obviously had a passion for music (the closed eyes and grunting conveyed as much) made him kind of cool in my eyes. Despite his efforts at concealment, I decided to approach him.
‘Mr M’ I yelled, rather excitedly. ‘I didn’t know you played the bass.’
Mr M’s eyes shot up, an instant look of horror spreading over his face. ‘Uh, well, um yes. Yes I do. Ok that’s enough of that I should be getting home.’
Mr M removed the bass and was clearly trying to remove himself from what he perceived as a mortifyingly embarrassing situation. I decided to position myself so that I was blocking his exit.
‘Are you a Jazz fan Mr M?’ I asked.
‘Ah, well yes. I like a lot of Jazz.’ He was eyeing me quizzically, as if it was a trick question. I was intrigued and decided to pursue my questioning. ‘Do you have any favourite bass players?’
‘Um, yeah. I really like Jaco Pastorius,’ he replied. It was almost as if he had been waiting his whole life for someone to ask him this very question. It so happened that Jaco was my favourite bass player at that time and so we bonded instantly.
I sensed that I was beginning to win Mr M. over. For the next 30 minutes he spoke non-stop of his love for music and bass playing. As Mr M continued rambling a crazy idea was forming in my head.
Instead if concentrating on my studies, my year 12 was a year spent immersed in music and drumming. With the encouragement of a wonderful teacher, I had begun to think of drumming as a potential career instead of a hobby subservient to more lucrative pursuits.
So, instead of completing my home economics assignments I would spend hours on end practicing in my room on a Billy Hydes rubber practice pad. This rigorous training started to pay off quickly and I began to attract the attention of local musicians who wanted to form bands.
One of these musical groups was a wannabe Jazz quartet who needed a drummer. They had seen me play with the school band at a town festival and liked my style. After the performance a guy named Andrew cornered me backstage wanting to talk. He was wearing a beret, which I thought incredibly lame and he said he was a saxophonist in the style of ‘Bird.’ Despite these wankerisms I decided to hear what he had to say and by the end of our chat I was resident drummer in the only Jazz band in our town.
Soon after me joining the bass player quit. I decided to not take it personally, despite feeling some jolts of insecurity. This particular bassist used a 6 string bass, which I loathed and found embarrassing. Sonically and visually I knew we were going to be better off. The stars were obviously aligned for our ensemble, however. As I watched Mr M play in the music shop that day I decided that the universe was sending me a clear sign; I asked Mr M to join our group. He readily accepted, and acted as if he had finally been granted another shot at obtaining a life. My next task was to inform the band of my decision to ask Mr M to join our band. I freely admit that I didn’t quite know what to say when the rest of the band asked me if he ‘was any bloody good,’ but being stuck for options they simply rolled with it.
And so here I was- 17 years old in a band with a bunch of old men, one of whom was my I.T. teacher. We began practicing in earnest, where it soon became apparent that the insipid bossa nova pattern I heard Mr M play in the music shop was in fact the only thing he could play. It didn’t matter what tune we tried, the bossa nova pattern was always there. The only thing Mr M changed from song to song was the rhythmic feel. It was at first amusing and then downright frustrating, especially as Mr M had a tendency to snort and moan as he played- almost as if the bass was giving him an orgasm. But again, we liked the guy and had no other options anyway. We started gigging at local pubs and functions and had a wonderful time. People in the country appreciate live music a lot more than in the city, and in these days it was always and open bar.
The weirdest part was during school classes. Mr M and I both went to great lengths to convey a sense of not really knowing each other that well, despite having been shitfaced together in a car the night before. The overkill was probably highly suspicious, and I blew our cover anyway by telling my friends of our exploits. The reality was that Mr M and I actually grew into quite close friends. We would drive long distances together, get pissed together, comment on hot chicks on the street and all the things male friends do. The only difference was that he was my teacher. Through playing with Mr M, I learned that the best part of being in a band is not picking up chicks, living the ‘rock star life’ or getting famous. The best part is simply that you have one hell of a fun time with good friends.
The last time I saw Mr M was at my year 12 graduation ceremony. As he shook my hand he looked me straight in the eyes and told me that I should never give up on my dream of being a professional drummer. For such an average bass player, Mr M was a wonderful human being.