Under 18’s gigs were always loud and crazy – everyone was high on hormones and sugar. Before one particular underage gig, the tour manager brought me, my family and the band in through to the back of the local council hall which was filled with 500 charged up teens (mostly girls). I’d have been pumped and ready to go on stage, but a desperate call of nature had me hunting for the band room toilet. Teeth swimming, body wincing, I collapse into the toilet door with my pants already down, and land myself on the golden throne. Porcelaingasm. The world around me becomes clear and settled again until I hear a noise above my head. I look up to see a girl sitting on the top of the cubicle partition looking directly at me shouting to her friends, “It’s him!”. Confused, I scan my surroundings. The promoter had partitioned off one cubicle for the band in the GIRLS TOILETS! Girls don’t go to the bathroom by themselves either. Her announcement travelled like wild fire. I wanted to fucking die!
Comedian Louis CK says that a guy on his first date has “..no real personality. He’s just a mish mash of different kinds of dudes…..like a ransom note cut out of a lot of magazines”. That sums up every day for a teenager going through puberty. Couple that with commonly low self-esteem and I found myself in some awkward situations with girls. They scared the crap out of me! (No pun intended).
If I was a member of Motley Crue, such girl attention would have been fuel for the ego. But I was between the ages of ten and sixteen, touring under the protective eyes of my parents (luckily), surrounded by band members who understandably felt it was inappropriate to give girl advice.
Most gigs would end with an hour long CD and Cassette (yes cassette) signing. Fans pushed up against the merch bench, which also felt like a social divider. I wanted to be on the other side so bad. Interaction with girls never eventuated past flirtatious smirks and sparkles – they’d receive an autograph and walk away. For some time, I believed that I was seen more as a talking monkey rather than a love interest, but I kept it to myself. The isolation of single sex school life backed that up, and my confidence with girls was bubbling in the ditch. Bubbling with desire.
I played a small role in a Disney Film called Camp Nowhere, where I spent time hanging with a gorgeous brunette who clearly hit puberty five years before me, even though we were the same age – 12. Both of our families hit it off, which made for easy conversations, but I wanted more. The American kids were so much more confident. The previous year I had been in primary school holding hands, and here I was on a set competing with Andrew Keegan and Johnathan Jackson (Nashville) where everyone was hooking up in their trailers. How do I let her know that I “like like” her? Lack of advice and brain mushing hormones had me doing the dumbest shit. I would go to put my arm around her randomly in the middle of a conversation, only to become suddenly aware of just how creepy that is, then retreat and accidently graze her elbow. Repeat. Awkward hand grab fails and weird stares when all along I should have just played her a song on my guitar.
The cast and crew huddled around for the first listen to the movie’s feature song. It was my version of Summertime Blues which featured Andrew Strong from The Commitments. I hate being around people while they’re listening to my songs – I might as well be butt naked. The song finished, they all cheered, she wrapped her arms around me, picked me up (she was much taller than I was), and planted a big long kiss right on my virgin lips. I turned into the Tin Man. That was my way in, and I was out of oil. I’d blown it. Moment gone! A couple more years of casual long distance friendship followed while she was in Australia filming Flipper. I’m sure I’m not the first person to have their brain turned to mush by Jessica Alba.
Thanks to the modern day facilities of Australia Post, I was able to keep in touch with a beautiful radiant girl in Perth. We built up an awesome connection which lead to sitting in my hotel room after a gig watching Rage. We talked for hours dancing around the obvious until she frustratingly took the reigns, “Would it be alright if you kissed me?” Adrenalin boxed me in and I couldn’t very well draw on my experience with Jessica Alba to get me through this one. It was just too much, so I took the only way out, and kissed her on the cheek. She warmly reclarified but I bailed. I couldn’t follow through. In my head, I wasn’t good enough to live up to the expectation I thought she had.
I’m sure it takes time for a parent to realise that their kid doesn’t want to play with toys anymore. I felt a little more encouragement from them, but so much went unspoken. The boost was just enough for me to take a plunge. So I did. Boy was their timing off!
At 14 years old, the tour bus pulls up to a gig in Port Hedland. The posters say “Nathan Cavaleri” and the support act listed “T-Birds”. I look closer. It’s a strip act!! Yeeeeewww! We’re all settled in the band room which has a glass front that overlooks the pub with curtains for privacy. A little window down the hall was spectacularly placed on the partition wall between our band room and the T-Birds. I’d pretend to go off and warm up on my guitar with “side eyes” engaged (testosterone does wonders for peripheral vision). My pulse stops when I see the girls begin to change. It cranks back up when one busts me through the window. She waves, smirks and draws the curtains. Damn! I thought these girls want people to see them naked?!
So, of course I’m charged up all night. We smash the gig in half. I counted four brawls throughout. The crowd loved it. I get off stage with a good dose of performer’s invincibility when the girls comment on how great the show was. I’m greeted with hugs and invited to the bar for a dance, but retreat to the band room for a time out. I was still at an age where I couldn’t go wondering randomly without giving the folks a heads up. So I stood watching them, circled with drinks and tank tops, again on the other side of a social partition. They beckon me over with a finger. Mum and dad’s encouraging advice springs to mind and I decide to overrule my nerves, and step up! As I’m taking my first steps out of the band room, I hear two voices screaming from inside my head. “Duuude, don’t fucking do this. Turn around. Turn around. Turn around.” And the other is going, “Yeeeeah boiii. Step up. Be smooth! Be smooth!”
Everything that exited my mouth felt like sexual innuendo. I couldn’t stop thinking about her on stage. But eventually, things start to flow and I’m feeling pretty damn good about myself. She puts her arms around me and we begin to dance. I’m about to sign up for the T-Birds dating master class, when I hear a voice shout, “Nathan!!!! Get back in the band room now!!”. My mother charges towards us from the other side of the dance floor. “For god sake, don’t you know how old he is?? He’s fourteen years old!” she continues as the poor chick clarifies her intentions. For some reason I wasn’t embarrassed. Maybe because I knew that my mother was carrying the embarrassment for me. I turned to my T-Bird, smirked and shrugged my shoulders. Mum and I went to blows for a while. I’m thinking, “The one time I decide to take the plunge!” she’s thinking, “The one time he decides to take the plunge!” I guess we were on the flip side of the same coin.
Amongst all that attention, the best connection I had was with a cute little Byron Bay blonde I met on a family holiday in Fiji. The first thing she says is, “So everyone says that you’re a big deal but I don’t know who you are. Do you want to come play?” Hell yeah!! One thousand kilometre’s kept it a friendship, but she was the first girl who made me question my beliefs. “Maybe I have it all wrong”. Turns out I did.