How I Escaped From Prison
If things couldn’t get any worse, just a year after my life was positively transformed by the discovery of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album, I was taken out of the school that tried to turn kids into zombies and sent to a very religious boarding high school, about an hour and a half drive from home.
For the first year I would only come home about once a month for a weekend despite my desperate pleas for liberation. We had a house master who, when he ran the gong at 6am every morning, had us lined up military style in two minutes or less. Sometimes in nothing more than our duvet covers wrapped around us. The ones who took longer than two minutes had to run laps around the frost-bitten sports field barefoot until he told them to stop. Temperatures often plummeted to -5°C(23°F) in these parts.
It wasn’t long until most of my CD collection was confiscated because of its ‘blasphemous nature’ and ‘devil worshipping lyrics’. One CD that really hit a nerve when it was taken away was Metallica’s Reload album. Metallica was everything for me back in 1998, it was my brain’s musical evolution from Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ and remember, it was natural medication for my ADD. I was a complete mess without it and eventually got into fist fights with other kids and became that zombie all over again but now fuelled with teen angst and aggression.
Now that the music was taken from me, the sport of cricket became my escape and release. The positive side-effects of the Ritalin I was still taking was that I had developed lightening quick reflexes and my agile 14 year old body could dive all over the cricket field in seconds. My coach once said to me a few years later “You’re the best fielder I’ve ever seen in schoolboy cricket”. So damn at least this shit works for some things.
However, even with the release of sport, it just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t take it anymore and neither could my friend. So one summer evening we decided to break free from this prison camp. We packed the essentials and snuck out of our dormitories delicately tip toeing through the night. We needed some mode of transportation so we stole a couple bicycles, headed for the most vulnerable side of the fence, climbed through and started peddling. Our plan was to cycle to Durban to start a new life from scratch without fussing parents, a school or any sense of responsibility. We couldn’t be more serious. We waved at the toll gate operator as we glided onto the highway onramp to begin our perilous 150 km journey on the roads shoulder. The speeding cars and trucks lit up the shoulder of the N3 highway just enough for us to see any obstacles that may have got caught in our bicycle wheels. When we eventually reached Nottingham road (22 kilometres later) we decided to pull over to set up ‘camp’ for the evening. Camp was a modest sleeping bag on the grass just a few metres from the manic highway, staring up at the clear starlit sky above. It was in this moment of contemplation that we realised the gravity of what we had done and the shit-storm that was about to rain down on us on such a beautiful evening.
Fast forward eight years later to March, 2006. I had finally arrived at my seat after a long wait to enter the stadium gates for the “MyCokeFest” music festival in Durban, South Africa. It was the first time I was going to see the band that was forbidden from me for such a long time in high school. Metallica were set to headline the festival with Seether, The Rasmus, Simple Plan and a bunch of South African bands joining the bill.
After the first few local bands had played I spotted a friend in the crowd. It was Michael Goddard from Perez. Mike had just performed with one of the opening acts in front of about 20 000 people. I think he was filling in for the drummer of Fevertree. He had barely greeted me before handing me his backstage pass. He said “Jean, you gotta check out all Metallica’s gear backstage” I was like “Are you fucking kidding me?” So he handed over the laminated lanyard and so I shoved my way to the front gate where the security guard granted me backstage access. I was in! I couldn’t believe my luck. I was inches away from Kirk Hammet’s guitars and the rest of the bands gear. I walked up the ramp and entered the stage where Simple Plan were performing. I looked up and suddenly saw 30 000 screaming fans staring back at me. At least, that was the sensation. The thing about that is, it doesn’t matter where you stand on the stage, it always feels like the crowd is looking at you. It was a powerful feeling and an empowering experience all at the same time.
I then saw a fiery red headed Shaun Morgan hanging around the sound area on the side of the stage. I had remembered how much I was listening to Seether’s latest album ‘Karma and Effect’ so I muttered to myself “Fuck it, I’m going to go talk to him” I told him how much I was enjoying the album and we ended up chatting for about seven minutes. He was one of the most laid back, nicest people I’ve ever met. I think he sensed my nervousness and did his best to make me feel comfortable.
(My friend Wes with Shaun Morgan (Seether) at My Coke Fest, Durban in 2006)
After our encounter, I continued to bask in the glory of rock n roll just a little bit longer. I wished the drummer from ‘The Rasmus’ good luck, I even fantasised about sprinting full tilt and launching myself into the crowd to which I decided rather not to indulge. It was still a good few hours until Metallica were to grace the stage so I decided rather not to overstay my welcome and headed back into the crowd to find Mike. At this point, I remember thinking back to my school days and mumbled to myself in a sarcastic snigger “I guess what the Lord taketh away, the Lord giveth too”
Both Seether and Metallica went on to rock the fuck out of every human soul in that stadium. That day inspired me to strive to do just that. I thought to myself “One day I’ll meet Shaun again but this time it’ll be backstage at a festival we’d both be playing at. That moment has yet to come to fruition but it did propel me to write and record my debut EP just 2 years later.
(James Hetfield (Metallica) Rocking My Coke Fest, Durban in 2006)
After being suspended from school and a very long four years later, I went on to graduate high school and attempted life as an independent adult. It wasn’t easy to say the least and it still has many challenges but I guess the real achievement is always knowing exactly what I’ve wanted to do with my life ever since I picked up a guitar back in 1997, even when everyone else around me doubted that.
To me the music was, and has always been, the food that nourishes the ever-evolving foetus growing inside me and the foetus is that burning desire I have for music. What the school was doing was trying to starve the foetus by removing its fuel source, the music. The only thing they didn’t realise was that this baby growing inside me was never going to die. What eventually started happening was that the foetus learned how to use the starvation as its own alternative, more powerful fuel source. The starvation became the fuel that fed the fire that burns so bright today.
I will keep striving to create more kinetic yet imperfect raw human-made music for others to feed and thrive off until the day I die and I’m hoping, at the very least, that will be enough.
You can pick up a copy of my debut EP by clicking here.
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