Twelve years ago, on the night of December 22, 2002, I couldn’t sleep. It was a couple of days before Christmas and I was spending the night at my mom’s house browsing through the cable channels looking for distraction. Then I found on MTV a Clash video, a shocking occurrence. Another one followed it. Life was great. Then came the screen still: “Joe Strummer, 1952—2002.”
For the rest of my life, I’ll remember the stomach drop I felt then, because that was the first time I learned what it was like when you suddenly lost a hero, a hero who was still fighting the fight you wanted to fight. To me, Strummer was more than a punk legend, he was someone who believed in the power of people to change the world. Thirty years after the punk “revolution,” he was still putting that message out into the world, and, in a world where no one told me I had any power or potential, it was the most important thing I could hear. When that voice was silenced abruptly, it devastated me.
I believe in heroes. It’s not fashionable to do so, but I do. It has brought me trouble over the years. The problem is that some people really want to be capital-H Heroes and are skilled at presenting themselves as such, and it’s easy to fall for their good guy routines. Especially when they believe the myth themselves (and they always do—they have to, because they have nothing else they haven’t already sold in service to it). But no true hero just wants to be a Hero. The real ones just want to do the right thing. The real ones will want you to know them as a whole, flawed person and resist you making them into an ideal. Follow their lead. That’s what heroes are for.
If you make your heroes people who care about honesty, integrity and growth, you will never have to kill them. If you make your heroes the ones who freely admit their mistakes in the course of their search for truth, they will never disappoint you, because you both understand heroes are not about what they represent or accomplish but how they live every moment of every day.
For me, Joe already said it:
“I’d like to say that people people can change anything they want to; and that means everything in the world. Show me any country and there’ll be people in it. And it’s the people that make the country. People have got to stop pretending they’re not on the world. People are running about following their little tracks. I am one of them. But we’ve all gotta stop just stop following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything; this is something that I’m beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other; it’s because they’ve been dehumanized. It’s time to take that humanity back into the centre of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed… it ain’t going anywhere! The richest man in the world is the most unhappy one. They should have that on a big billboard across Times Square. Think on that. Without people you’re nothing. That’s my spiel.”
Don’t make your heroes the people who need you to believe in them as an ideal. Make your heroes the people who believe in you as human beings who can do anything. Because those people will live forever.