We all remember who our first hero was, don’t we? No matter what future revelations life brings, as children we soak in all that is around us and then emulate what we see. Sometimes our heroes are figments of our imagination - we envision Batman coming to protect us from the class bully at recess or a horrible home life, or that our family car transforms into Optimus Prime as it makes its way across the country on a road trip. At other times, our heroes are the ones who take care of us - our mothers that tend to us when we are sick, or our fathers that come to our rescue when our car breaks down on the side of the highway en route to a sophomore ski trip.
As we go through adolescence we fix our gaze upon the culture of celebrity and our heroes are the idealized versions of the rock stars, actors, and professional athletes that we begin to look up to. For me, many of my “heroes” were guitar slingers that changed the landscape of popular music. I collected their posters in guitar magazines, tried to figure out their songs, and wanted to play sunburst Les Pauls or black BC Rich Warlocks just like they did. It took three decades of life experience to make me realize one very important thing: our rock’n’roll heroes are often not worthy of the worship we bestow upon them, and that time would be better spent becoming your own hero.
Before you decide to unplug me from my high gain stack and boo me off stage, hear me out. I think you’ll find that the praise I will throw your way - and the way of some of your guitar heroes - will help you regain your confidence in me as a rock’n’roll worshipper.
First off let me begin by saying that I still have guitar heroes. A quick trip into my home studio will definitely prove that, as I have photographs of some of my favourite guitarists hanging on the wall, some of which I am proud to call my friends. I think it’s important to be inspired by the people that create music for a living and that push you to become a better musician. What I want you to take away from this is that guitar heroes are for that purpose: to inspire us. No one will ever sound like Jimmy Page. Or EVH. Or Hendrix. Or YOU. Inspiration is there to guide you so that you become comfortable in your own musicianship.
As a teenager I tried my hardest to try and sound like Slash, Page, or anyone else who played better than I did (at that point pretty much anyone!). I would sit in my room and get frustrated because even though I had the notes right, and the same or similar guitar, the pedals, the amps, even the cool t-shirt, I could never sound like they did. And you know when I truly became a musician? When I realized that I was made to sound like me, for better or for worse, and that competing with everyone else around me was not what was going to advance my musicianship.
Another realization I came to take comfort in is that the way my heroes behaved off stage was often not the way we’d expect heroes to behave. Just like we know people that are liars, cowards, and cheaters in our personal lives, we must realize that some of the people we look up to are exactly that when you remove the superstar persona. Others are just like the reliable, trustworthy, loyal friends who come to our rescue when we run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. People are people. In fact, some of the best people I know are musicians and other industry movers and shakers that I have met and worked with over the years. Unfortunately, some of the worst human beings that walk the earth are industry people too. And yes, some of them are your guitar heroes. Just like others are your accountants, lawyers, teachers, or the barista who gets your coffee order completely wrong on a hurried Monday morning.
Why do I take the time out of a chaotic schedule to give you this information that you most likely already know and acknowledge to yourself? Am I getting old and jaded? Did someone do or say something that led to this editorial outburst? Is it because I’m bitter that someone who I once looked up to turned out to be a real classless human being? No. In fact, quite the opposite. I was actually "dumped" as a friend by one of my guitar heroes, but almost a year later, I received the single greatest personal vindication and was treated with a tremendous amount of respect by an up and coming rock star after being completely mistreated by my - now former - guitar hero. And it reminded me that sometimes heroes are the ones that have mastered the art of putting their ego aside and not allowing it to kill their talent, because more often than not, it's ego that destroys careers, not a lack of ability. (Ed's. note: This is precisely why one of my favourite new companies with an awesome philosophy is Beverly Kills - that's the company that made the killer women's muscle T's in the photo above that I could not help purchasing.) Having been moved by this friendly gesture put forth by a truly inspiring individual rekindled my belief that if you do good, good eventually finds its way back to you, but that’s not why you should do good. You do good because you are. Your habits become your character. (There's that phrase again!)
Sometimes our heroes are heroes, but they were heroes long before they became “famous”. They were heroes when they used their turn signal before making a right into the guitar repair shop. They were heroes when they smiled at my young child at a guitar clinic and inspired her. They were heroes when they refused to pretend they liked someone when it would advance their career or make them look like a part of the clique known as Hollywood. They were heroes because they carried themselves with grace and poise even when it was difficult to do so.
That’s why my advice to young people who say to me “Do you think (fill in the name of a guitar hero here) would agree to sign my poster?” or “Wow, it must be so cool to have worked with rock stars” is the following: Be your own hero. In doing so, you realize that self-confidence is often the difference between rock stardom and just the next great guitar player down the street.
Believe that you have the uncanny ability to inspire another human being, then be grateful to that human being if they ever thank you. In short, become the guitar hero you wish your guitar hero would want to meet and be inspired by. You can achieve that a lot sooner by sitting down to practice your instrument than by wishing you sounded “just like” someone else, or by wishing you could stand in said individual’s presence. You are awesome, you just have to stop looking “up” to find someone to value, and start looking into a mirror. Any guitar hero worthy of the title would expect nothing less from you, because they are often inspired by your being inspired by them. I know mine certainly feels that way. ;-)