We all have had childhood heroes, haven’t we? I’m pretty sure my first was the child Mozart, because I started piano lessons when I was five. Stephen Foster also qualified, because we were both born on the 4th of July. Next came Helen Keller and Louis Braille—don’t ask me why, because I couldn’t tell you.
At 8 I regressed. Batman was a hit television series and I had a plastic Batman costume I loved. Out with Helen Keller, in with the masked crusader.
When I discovered magic as a hobby, Harry Houdini came into the picture, along with a whole troop of Victorian and later-stage magicians: Ching Ling Soo, Cardini, Dai Vernon, Howard Thurston, Harry Kellar, Madame Hermann… it was a long and euphonious litany.
And after that? I grew out of hero worship. Left it behind. Grew up. Now, I think that’s a damn shame.
Those pre-adolescent and teenage infatuations led me to my happiest reading hours, lying at night with a flashlight under the blanket, playing sonatas on command for the crowned heads of Europe, working out a tactile alphabet on scraps of leather in my father’s tool shop, escaping from a London jail cell, or arguing for the teaching of evolution under a hot Tennessee sun. My literary imagination, then, was at its height, in a way. Reading, writing and fantasy were one.
But years of being ground through the gears of a public education, processed through literary survey courses, pinched and poked and prodded by uncreative creative writing instructors (fortunately, I found some good ones, too) deflated some of my natural buoyancy. Not entirely, I’m glad to say. Something always survives or I wouldn’t be here storming along with all the rest of you punks.
If you have had a similar experience (and I suspect you have, we all tend to be very much alike), you might find, as I have, that a renewal of hero worship might give you a lift. So find a hero!
Caveat: it is not enough to rediscover one’s childhood heroes, at least it hasn’t been for me. It’s fun to go back, but, as has been said, elsewhere, you can’t go home again. Batman at 55 just doesn’t have the same juice as Batman at 8. The same is true even for the likes of Mozart and Aleister Crowley.
Look around and find a new hero. My latest is John Muir. I happen to live near Martinez, where he spent the last 30 years of his life, growing fruit orchards and writing his books (he didn’t publish his first book until he was in his 50s). Following my curiosity, I visited his home (it’s a national park site), walked some trails, moused around the internet, downloaded some pictures and started reading some biographies. To my surprise, I’ve found my hero-worshiping muscles have been dormant but not dead. Yes, of course, I’m more sophisticated now, and likely to discover feet of clay more rapidly than heretofore. But what the hell! It feels good to let myself go with a literary infatuation.
I don’t know where it’ll take me, but my instincts tell me it’s good. I recommend it. In some ways, it’ll make you feel like a kid again.
And that’s punkalicious.
– Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian