The first time I met one of my heroes, I was around eight years old. My parents took me to the Cavalcade of Customs in Cincinnati. Muscle cars, pin-ups, shiny chrome and MOPAR, whatever the hell that is. I wasn’t a big car fanatic. I couldn’t tell the difference between a Ford and a Chevy at that age, but I did have an intuitive understanding of one thing: syndicated television. I watched Batman every afternoon on our local station. It came on right before dinner. Two episodes, back to back, which was great, because I didn’t have to wait to find out what happened to the Dynamic Duo. Those cliffhanger endings were torture for a kid.
Lo and behold, sitting at a table in full regalia, hidden among all of that gleaming American Steel, was Burt Ward. Robin. Batman’s faithful sidekick. Unbelievable! How did he get from Gotham City to Cincinnati?
“What’s your name?” he asked me, felt tip marker in hand, ready to sign another glossy 8 X 10 for another obnoxious kid.
I said nothing.
I clammed up.
The kid who was always told that one day, his big mouth was going to get him into trouble, couldn’t utter a word.
Ward looked up at my dad, smiling. “What’s his name?” My dad told him, and Burt Ward signed the picture, a black and white shot of him dressed as Robin, in fighting stance. I don’t think I even told him thanks before my dad scooted me away. I think he was embarrassed that I wouldn’t speak. Truth be told, I was terrified. Part of me was afraid he was going to arrest me. We’ll just let that sit there and worry about why an eight year old boy thought he would have done anything to be taken to jail for, that infamous Christian guilt, later. It’s not important right now.
What is important is this.
It’s okay that I didn’t say anything. It didn’t make that moment any less magical. Besides, how do you talk to a hero?
You meet someone you admire. They’ve done something you enjoyed. They write, or they sing, or they’re in a movie you love. Somehow, they’ve played an important part in your life without even realizing it. How do you tell them that? How do you put that kind of thing into words? It seems like it would be better to hug that person. Can’t really get away with that, though. Not in this society. Make a move towards somebody with a bit of fame and somebody will be on your ass quicker’n dammit.
I have never pretended to be a journalist any more than I’ve claimed to be a knowledgeable critic. I find myself in situations, though, either through podcasting or writing for Popshifter, where I’m put in touch with one of my heroes. They’ve been told by someone that I’m a professional. I’m still amused by that term.
There’s always that moment, before I talk to someone famous, where I’m eight again. It takes every ounce of energy and self-control I have not to babble mindlessly like a madman. I try not to cry. I drink a lot of coffee. It helps. I write out more questions than I think I’ll need. You never how far you can go before you cross someone’s line of comfort. It’s interesting how far some people will let you get in. I wonder if they realize it. I wonder if being a hero is hard, and sometimes you just want someone to listen to you talk, to be known outside the persona, to be real, if only for a moment and even with a stranger.
Jesus. There’s a realization.
Interviews are one night stands.
I got to talk to Larry Blamire. He’s a writer, a painter and a film director. He’s made the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Look him up. I wish I could write like he does. Forget Tarantino. Blamire is the king of dialogue. There’s no one like him. The way he uses the English language, a reckless finesse that reminds me of an old SNL skit, where a rabbi performs a bris while riding in the back of a luxury car. Delicate and ridiculous.
I had a conversation with Claudio Simonetti. He’s an Italian composer and musician, a founding member of the band, Goblin. I talked to him. He was in Italy, I was in my bedroom and we talked over Skype. It’s the future now, kids. What a time to be alive. We spoke for about half an hour, and he talked about things I didn’t think he would. It was a good discussion, and it felt like talking to someone I had known forever. He doesn’t know I collect his music. I didn’t tell him that when I write, he’s one of the three musicians I listen to. I couldn’t tell him what an inspiration he is to me, or how many times listening to the Suspiria soundtrack, or the music from Dawn of the Dead, has given me enough of an adrenaline push to make it through the rest of another goddamned day.
Hi. My name is X.
I’m eight years old.
Most of us come across the opportunity to say hello to people we admire. I’ve high-fived Tony Todd. I’ve had my picture taken with the great wrestling promoter Jim Cornette. I shot the shit with him for half an hour. This is not bragging. My friend, Gary Hill, goes to conventions all the time, fan cons where genre performers sit at tables and sign pictures and smile until it hurts. Gary. That motherfucker knows EVERYBODY. He’s got the pictures and the phone messages to prove it.
Cornette, though. He was great. Down to earth, profane… human.
All our heroes are human. Yours and mine. Even our heroes have heroes. How’s that for a concept? Did you ever wonder who the people you look up to look up to?
Yeah, Morrissey was right.
“I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does.”
That’s me. That’s you. That’s our heroes.
When you meet your hero, try not to babble. Maybe don’t freeze up, either, like an eight year old boy in front of a costumed man with a kick-ass utility belt. If you get the opportunity, just smile. Shake their hand, if it’s an “in person” sort of affair. Most of all, tell them, “thank you.”
There’s a lot of meaning in those two words.
And a real hero will understand.