My Grandfather was always one for giving advice, one of his favourite lines being, "Sometimes when you least expect it, everything comes together."
And, you know, this is good advice, though perhaps not quite as practically useful as his direction never to eat beans the night before a wedding. We all learnt the truth in that particular line after Uncle Barry's disastrous display at Aunt Anne's wedding, but this story does not regard that stomach turning occasion.
Rather, it revolves around a high school rock and roll band and how, like Grandad said, they got it together when they least expected it.
Now with most bands, the name of the group itself gives a large clue as to the musical genre and even the composition of the musicians. For example, one would not expect Metallica to play anything except metal, the Spice Girls to involve young men or the John Butler Trio to consist of five members. And that is why Rowdy Roddy and the Riverside Rejects were so aptly named.
The boys who formed this rag-tag group of wanna-be's were, in every sense, rejects. They were unpopular, tainted by the ravages of teenage acne and, in the case of the drummer, overweight by around twenty kilograms. Some unkind commentators described the foursome not so much as wanna-be's but as never-gonna-be's, though as you will shortly see, this was not to be strictly true.
Roderick Rogerson was the lead singer. Of course, he was the Rowdy Roddy of the band's moniker and essentially, like many rock bands, it's leader. I guess looking back there was only one problem with Roderick: he couldn't sing. When you add to this the fact that Roderick, at only five-feet-tall, was rather timid and not at all rowdy, you can start to get a feel for where the boys' problems began.
On lead guitar was Nigel Lewis. Nigel's chief interest before joining the band was tennis. To be fair, he was actually quite good at the sport. Nigel possessed a fantastic forehand, a brilliant backhand and a ferocious serve, his carbon-fibre racquet only a blur to spectators in the stands. If only his fingering and knowledge of beat, rhythm and timing had equaled his sporting ability, Nigel might have made a reasonable guitarist.
Alf Matthews handled the bass guitar. It is significant that I have used the word handled, for to use the word played, or even "performed by" would be to invite ambiguity. All the members of The Rejects agreed that, of the four, Alf looked the coolest. With his bass lung low on it's strap to somewhere around his knees, Alf was perhaps the closest of the group to appearing like a rock star, save the fact he was unable to play his chosen instrument.
Daryl Milne, on the other hand, was the group's drummer and an accomplished musician. He played clearly and with gusto, so well in fact that Daryl was already the recipient of a scholarship to study music the next year at the Hardy Academy across town. Daryl was far and away the most competent performer of the four, only having one flaw: Daryl's chosen instrument, and the one on which he excelled, was the piccolo. And I think you will agree that there are not too many instruments further removed from the modern drum kit than that most tiny of woodwinds.
So, all in all, Rowdy Roddy and the Riverside Rejects consisted of a lead singer who could not hold a tune, a lead guitarist who preferred serve-and-volley to solo virtuosity, a bass player who looked great as long as you didn't ask him to play the bass, and a musically-gifted drummer suffering from the grim reality that it was not the drums he was musically- gifted in.
So, as I said, The Rejects were aptly named.
Perhaps it need not be noted, but The Rejects were never overly troubled with requests to play. This, however, did not mean they practiced with any less vigour than bands in greater demand. In many ways the boys rehearsed with greater enthusiasm than their more successful contemporaries.
Just with less success.
Roderick and Daryl wrote most of the songs. In the past Nigel had contributed, but his ideas seemed to go only as far as "How about a song about Wimbledon?" before he sustained bouts of writers block. Alf was only slightly more helpful, though to the other three it was clear that in all of Alf's compositions he spent long periods not playing and simply standing around looking cool with his bass.
And so it was left to Daryl and Rod to write their original music. Roderick provided the lyrics and Daryl, in truth the only one of the four who could read music, jotted out some notes. Alf and Nigel were always impressed by this writing process, despite the fact that they had no idea how Daryl's notes would sound and Roderick was not good at rhyming consecutive lines.
But this is not the tale of a writing process, or even how some people struggle to find a word to rhyme with tennis: it is the story of the last school assembly of Term 2 and how, as my Grandfather would say, it all came together for the boys when they least expected it.
Now at St Luke's College, the last assembly of each school term was something to be looked forward to. For the students it was a time to celebrate the coming two weeks without teachers. For the teachers, it was finally the realisation that there would be two weeks without students. For Mr. Mitchell, the aging single woodwork teacher, it was a welcome reminder that he could throw down a few tequila slammers on Sunday night without worrying about work the next morning, hopefully giving him the confidence to hit on the pretty blonde down at the local tavern.
And for the musically inclined students it was the only school gathering each term where, if they were good enough, they could perform for the entire eight-hundred-member student body.
Rowdy Roddy and the Riverside Rejects were not good enough. Not even close.
The combined liabilities of all the members made sure the quartet had never yet, in three years at St Luke's College, performed at an end of term assembly. And it certainly seemed unlikely that, saving some miracle, they ever would.
I will pause here for a moment to go off on a slight tangent: I want to say a few words about miracles. Miracles have been around a long time, ever since Adam approached Eve in the garden and actually 'picked up' despite lacking a credit card, a dinner reservation and even a pair of pants. Since that time, they have remained popular and for very good reason.
From premature babies who manage to pull through to the last minute premonition that stops a traveler getting on a doomed flight, miracles occur every day. And, also every day, people's lives are changed by those same miracles, sometimes without the people involved knowing why and sometimes even how.
And as I have stated it was a miracle The Rejects required to be chosen as headline and only act at the last assembly of Term 2.
And as it happened, a miracle they got. Or, more correctly, a series of miracles.
You see, there were three bands in the school vying for the chance to play at the assembly. There was the rather quaintly named Zimmerman, a folk rock trio and the rather confused entity known as Push.
Push suffered, I believe, from being just a little too good. The five members were influenced by five different artists leading the band to exhibit a style that could only be described as rock/grunge/jazz/pop/blues. But, being rather talented, they all blended beautifully and, of the three bands, were the favourites to get the gig.
Enter miracle number one.
The lead singer of Push was a year 10 student named Alex Harrison. Now Alex loved the music of the great metal rock bands, particularly the sounds of Guns n Roses. Alex fancied himself as a lead singer in the spirit of Axl Rose and was often to been seen running, swaying and generally "getting down with his bad self" while he was on stage. His favourite trick, though, was the stage dive.
There is really only one necessary condition for the successful completion of a stage dive. Sure, I grant you that style, suspension in mid air and even the way a diver screams can make a difference to the overall effect of the dive itself. But the fact remains there is only one necessary component for successfully completing the dive:
Someone, or preferably someones, able to catch you.
Sadly for Alex, when he attempted to execute his favourite maneuver during a preceding lunchtime concert, he failed to realise that the front row of his audience consisted almost entirely of primary school students barely able to carry their picnic lunches, let alone the weight of a descending teenage vocalist.
The result then of Alex's disastrous dive was a shattered wrist, a twisted back and a severely bruised sternum (not to mention a severely bruised pride and more than a couple of severely bruised primary school students). Push, now lacking a capable and even conscious lead singer, were out of the race, placing Zimmerman in the position of clear favourite to play at the assembly.
Enter miracle number two.
To many people, folk/rock sounds quite unexciting. It was especially so to Troy Ireland, which was altogether unfortunate as Troy was the drummer for Zimmerman.
Troy had struggled long and hard to turn the minds of his two colleagues away from the ideals of the folk/rock protest song towards the slightly more upbeat country music scene. At rehearsal after rehearsal he had exchanged old cassettes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Woody Guthrie for Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw and Kasey Chambers. He longed for the opportunity to play some real country music, but his two partners always out-voted him. As it had been from the beginning, they would patiently explain, Zimmerman was a democracy and the majority decision always ruled.
Which is why it came as a shock to Owen and Trent when, without waiting for a vote, Troy quit the band only days before the final try outs for the assembly. The band folded on the spot, Owen and Trent finding they preferred not to play than go on without a drummer.
Thus, in two rather quick and to the point miracles, Rowdy Roddy and the Riverside Rejects were left as the only band to try out for the assembly.
Now, of course I could stop here and let you make up your own mind about what happened at the assembly. You could take into account the lack of talent, the inability to read sheet music and even the slightly juvenile and very 1950's moniker of the group. Couple to this the fact that it was an accident they were even accepted for the assembly performance and you might logically conclude that the performance was a disaster.
And it was.
Or more correctly, it would have been if it was not for one more thing: a third miracle.
The timing of the band's performance was perhaps the most important aspect of the eventual outcome of the day. Usually the band would open the assembly, partly I am sure so that the students actually arrived on time. But, upon learning that The Rejects were to be the star attraction, Principal Williams made the decision to let them close the proceedings instead.
His reasoning for this, naturally, was so that the boys had only a limited amount of time in which to perform before school let out for the holidays. His decision, though clear in all its endeavours to the boys, was well received by the band that held no illusions as to the lack of talent they embodied. Alf was particularly happy as it meant he could stand around for most of the assembly looking cool before being forced to show the school community that, in fact, he could hardly play his bass.
Finally, there are three more points of importance that I need to let you know so you truly understand what happened at that assembly.
Firstly, Roderick was a big fan of James Brown, the so-called Godfather of Soul. To anyone familiar with Brown's style, it is easily recalled that he likes to dance, spin and move around on the stage more than just a little bit. Rod liked to imitate his style and, if he had only been a little more coordinated and even a little bit more rhythmic, he would have looked good doing so.
Secondly Nigel, as well as playing tennis, was also interested in sports nutrition. And it was this interest, along with a perverse desire to resemble Andre Agassi that led Nigel to always keep a bottle of Gatorade on stage with him.
Thirdly and finally, it is worth noting that none of the boys had ever paid much attention in science class.
But still back to the story and the third miracle.
The assembly hall was full on that autumn afternoon. It was clear that despite not being particularly gifted, the boys could pull a crowd and pack them in. It mattered little to Rod, Nigel, Alf or Daryl that the students were attracted to their music for the same reason motorists are drawn to grisly road accidents -- they were playing their largest ever show and were genuinely excited.
As is usual at school assemblies, the majority of the time is taken by the Principal and assorted senior teachers explaining what has gone right, wrong and indifferently. And, as is usual at these events, the majority of what is said is ignored or quickly forgotten if it is even listened to at all by the student body present. But, finally with seven minutes to go before the bell that would release the students onto the wider community for a fortnight was to sound, Principal Williams called for silence, waited for it and then announced:
"Would you please welcome Rowdy Roddy and the Riverside Rejects!"
To muted applause, and even a little non-muted chuckling, the boys started up.
In discussions leading up to the performance it was suggested that a Daryl drum solo should open the show. This was quickly agreed to, not only because Daryl was the most gifted musician but also because Daryl was not there at the time, having made an emergency trip to the canteen for a second serving of potato chips. Rod would follow up with some dancing and a few words before Nigel joined in, launching the boys into "Paris in my Heart," a touching love song penned by Daryl the week before. It was also agreed that Alf should stand still and look good for as long as possible before he joined in.
Alf did not take too much convincing to agree to this particular idea.
And so, Daryl started up on the drums.
A kind observer would have described Daryl's attempt at a solo as average, but this was quickly forgotten as Rod started the James Brown impersonation to end all James Brown impersonations. Rod had figured, quite logically he believed, that this could be the band's only ever live performance and he was not going to waste the opportunity to impress.
As Daryl's sticks massacred their way from snare to bass to cymbal, Rod lurched over the front of the stage imitating that old black Grandaddy of Soul. And it was then, just as Nigel was about to join in, that miracle number three arrived.
Rod had decided that the perfect introduction to "Paris in my Heart" would be him leaping in the air and landing in what is commonly called the splits. What hadn't been decided was the exact placement of Nigel's Gatorade bottle which by way of laziness (or perhaps some higher power's intervention) sat open just where Rod was about to land.
And did he land! Rod knocked the open plastic bottle with a massive impact and sent it flying, spilling its contents all over the stage, the instruments, the other musicians --
-- and the amplifiers.
Now if any of the guys had listened in science class they would have realised the effect liquid has when mixed with its potent partner electricity. They might even had made sure that the Gatorade was nowhere near the stage, or at least that it had been properly capped to prevent spillage. But then again, perhaps it was this lack of attention in science classes that helped to contribute to what happened next.
A surge of electricity ran through the group. Rod, feeling the power run through his body, jerked and vaulted all over the stage, his voice reduced to loud shrieks backed by near silent whispers of pain. Nigel, the current surging within him, felt himself lose control of his arms and fingers, which violently pulled up and down on the strings of his guitar. Alf, standing cool as ever, jolted as the energy swept into his body and repeatedly whacked the strings of his bass.
Daryl, not realising what was happening in front of him, just tried to keep up.
And the result, as you have probably guessed, was the best music the band had ever played.
It lasted for all of fifty seconds before the front man and both guitarists collapsed. Daryl, only now noticing the smoking amplifier, stopped with them. The entire auditorium was silent except for a crackle escaping what was left of Alf's amplifier and a hissing sound coming from the spot where Rod had fallen on his face.
Yes, for a moment there was nothing but silence.
And then the cheering started.
The whole crowd went ballistic! They had been witnesses to a show that, while less than two-minutes long, could only be described as electricity defined. They hooted and whistled and clapped their hands high above their heads. They stamped their feet on the hard wood floor and shouted out for more from the blackened quartet. It was truly the greatest moment in the history of the musical finales to the St Luke's College school terms.
Nobody seemed to notice the bell as it rang to release them all to go home. I guess what made them stop, become silent and attempt to comprehend fully the scene on the stage was the ambulance arriving.
The crowd quieted, perhaps only now realising something might be wrong. There was a nervous silence as the paramedics surveyed the scene in front of them: three frazzled musicians lying in a pool of Gatorade while an overweight piccolo player looks on and a crowd of eight-hundred students standing in silent contemplation of the whole thing.
The paramedic, confused and even a little wary, raised his eyes from the fallen trio to meet Daryl's and asked:
"What happened here?"
Daryl surveyed the hall. His gaze shifted from the faces of the assembled student group, past a visibly shaken Principal and finally came to rest on his three fallen comrades, silently smoking now on the auditorium floor.
He smiled knowingly at the uniformed ambulance officer, nodded slowly and replied:
"Rock and roll, man. Rock and roll."
© 2002 D. Jacob Kissane, all rights reserved
appears here by permission