Friday, October 3, 2008

Heroism in Music: "There Goes My Hero..."

"There goes my hero 
Watch him as he goes 
There goes my hero 
He’s ordinary"
"My Hero" by the Foo Fighters. Another song extolling "ordinary people" as heroes. I don't find the song lyrically or philosophically extraordinary, so I find that fitting. However, there is an opportunity here to ask something....what is "ordinary?" What is "Extraordinary?" They are not intrinsic qualities, they are contextual. What is ordinary in one sense can be extraordinary in another. As Ayn Rand once claimed, "the common man in America is most uncommon." 

 Still, there is something to be said, to play devil's advocate, for ordinary heroes. Ordinary people as opposed to "superheroes," i.e., radiated mutated "strange-visitor-from-another-planet" type of heroes. Yes, heroism is not the province of powers, but courage. So, yes, in that sense, since none of us are "Jesus" or "Superman," we're all "ordinary. 

 But there is something else at work here, maybe lost on Dave Grohl. He may not have meant this, but consider the attitude of fictional character J. Jonah Jameson, eternal thorn in Spiderman's side. Explaining his hatred of Spiderman, he refers back to WWII, the "Greatest Generation." Back then, he says, Americans were the ones who got things done. But when these superheroes came along, they made us look like rubes. "What happens to us?" he says. So the fear is not of superpowers, but of being robbed of chance of being a hero himself, because he's "ordinary." 

 Consider that when you read Dave Grohl's explanation of the song:
 Heroes are a funny thing. When I was young I had KISS posters and I listened to Rush and thought the Beatles were magicians. But the real heroes in my life were people that I was close to. Pete Stahl who was the singer of Scream (Grohl's pre-Nirvana band) was one. I was 17 years old when we hit the road and that guy showed me the ropes, so to me he was a hero. And family members mom's a saint. She raised two kids with no money and we managed to be a happy family, so she seems like a hero to me." Did Kurt Cobain figure in your thinking at all? "After Kurt died, the whole idea of hero worship or idolatry warped into something I thought was strange. You take a human being and you turn them into a deity. It's really bizarre. I remember I was driving around Ireland when I was trying to get away from that whole fiasco after Kurt died. I was in the middle of nowhere and it was beautiful. But then I was driving down a country road and I saw a hitch hiker with a Kurt Cobain t-shirt on so my perception of a hero kind of changed. If you listen to the lyrics to the song it's all about an ordinary hero. Just a regular person.
 And yet, I give Grohl the benefit of the doubt, based on this one line from the song:
"Don’t the best of them bleed it out 
While the rest of them peter out ?"
Well, wouldn't those people who "bleed it out" be more than "ordinary?"

 While I appreciate the fact that Dave Grohl does NOT denigrate the idea of heroism in his lyrics, I'd simply ask: "why look on these people as "ordinary?".  Ordinary compared to rock, sports and movies stars. But why compare? Well, we are TOLD by the media, etc. that these people are extraordinary, that they are our new "gods." (No coincidence that there is a top-rated show called "American IDOL...") Fair enough. But still, when we think for ourselves, there is no reason that we cannot find people in our own lives to be extraordinary. 

Or are we to be afraid of the extraordinary? "What will become of us?"

 At any rate, guys, keep fighting that foo...