Albury High School
I ate a discarded fish sandwich for breakfast. I found it in the trash outside Jack In The Box. I’m a crack whore. I live under the overpass on the other side of the tracks. He said he loved me, then disappeared when I told him I was pregnant. If only I’d finished high school none of this would have happened…
Upon hearing their daughter is dropping out, those are the nightmarish premonitions likely to flash through the minds of most parents and authority figures who believe in the road well travelled, and that a piece of paper will guarantee success. Life is not always that predictable or cliche, though, is it?
I was standing in the crowd at a Keith Urban concert in 1992 when I realized I was not going back to school when the semester started in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t stand the thought of being stuck in a classroom for another year. A cog in the wheel of a system I had little respect for. Not when I could do this instead. Like what Keith was doing. Music…
I was one year away from graduating when I turned up at Albury High, already feeling more free in jeans and a shirt, instead of the plain light blue dress that was our school uniform. That bloody thing could have been a nurses uniform, complete with the rubber soled black leather shoes and white socks we had to wear. Omg. Anyway, I had to get each of my teachers to sign me out before i was “allowed” to leave. I walked around the old red brick and concrete school one last time that morning, delivering the relevant forms to each of them with a mix of rebellious pluck and chronic relief.
My science teacher, Mr Ellis, asked what in the world I was going to do. I said, “I’m going to be a songwriter”. He replied, “No, you think your going to be a songwriter”. I shot back, “No, I am going to be a songwriter.” Being fairly full of himself he had the cheek to repeat this ping-pong dialogue a couple more times before giving up with a frustrated sigh and signing his name on my release.
Next I remember going to see my English teacher, Mrs Drew. She was a lovely, portly, dark haired lady with small spectacles she’d wear on the end of her nose as she pondered her charges from up the front of the room. I always suspected she was thinking far more than she could say. She seemed quietly dismayed but knew me better than to argue. She said “You were always a bit beyond all this anyway…” and signed her name with a faint smile that I knew wished me luck.
My decision to leave high school didn’t create much drama at home. Back at the ranch–that is our brick house on a hill, overlooking the racecourse on the semi rural edge of a suburb in our semi rural small town–I’d revealed my plan to mum and dad. Me “dropping out” wasn’t a source of potential shame or disappoint for them at all. It was more like I was coming out of the closet. See, I’d refused to sing or get involved in the music industry. That was an act of true rebellion, going against the grain in my family’s world. Until now. So in a way it was a load off to join the ranks and take my place alongside my eldest brother, Lee, who was in pre production on his first major label album and my sister, Tania, who was a touring veteran at 22 and following in his footsteps.
In all honesty, my mum and dad, perhaps naively or for whatever their own reasons are, never had much respect for “school”. The children of farmers and drovers, they’d each left school at 14 to make money and contribute to their family’s income sooner rather than later. My mom became a home-maker of mythical proportions and dad became a milkman, truck salesman, country singer, entrepreneur, Jet Truck driver and owner, Karaoke distributor and real estate developer. I think you’re probably getting the picture now, right?
So when I ‘fessed up to mum and dad about the new plan and my goals they barely raised an eyebrow. Mum said, ‘Ok, but just don’t sit around the house all day…” And just went on being mum. Then I did sit around the house all day. A lot. Or, more specifically, I was holed up in my room getting better on guitar, working on the craft of songwriting and rehearsing for cover gigs I’d started doing with my sister. And so my real education finally began. From the nuances of songwriting gleaned from little industry guidebooks brought back from Nashville like exotic bounty from the Gods, to how to pack a band trailer in less than an hour, how to book enough gigs to prosper, how to keep them on the dance-floor at the local RSL club, – and eventually how to brake the cycle of cover gigs and find your voice as an artist and creative in your own right… it was all there waiting to be decoded. That last part was the most life-changing and holds the key to unlocking new skills and businesses in each phase of life. But that’s a story for another post. My education continued when I moved to Sydney, got a publishing contract and a record deal, and played bigger venues with artists like Kate Ceberano and Chris Isaak. Then Graduate School, for me, took place in Nashville, where I became a staff songwriter.
Post graduation, the last decade has been a lesson in unilateral growth. I like to blame it on an Artist’s Way course I took at a bookstore in Venice, but I know it’s my soul’s journey and my own weird karma that I’m voracious and want more than one piece of the media pie. Because, whether it’s songs in TV, songs on albums like The Wolfe Brothers next one, making my own albums, doing live gigs, self publishing and story telling through things like my short stories , screenwriting, or even recording with Red Bull and Cirque Du Soleil athletes, it all boils down to one beautiful thing. Communication.
At the end of the day, and to bring it full circle (pardon the pun, lol), I’m still just a cog in the wheel of another system. But I’m ok with that. This is a system I’m proud to contribute to. The arts and entertainment industry is an eco-system of dreams. I’m obsessed with the mechanics of making dreams come true and the infrastructure of global entertainment capitals. So of course I’m gonna be fascinated by places like Los Angeles, my little City Of Angels, where art and commerce collide in a cosmic lap dance dance for dollars, and happiness.
Oh, look. Here we are at the bottom line…
Drop out of high school, change your degree, get tenure if that’s your thing. The learning never ends.