Heros: putting PEOPLE on pedestals

June 22, 2006

Liberty by Nitin Garg

(Liberty by Nitin Garg.)

I look back at my childhood as a young music lover and musician, and see that it was peppered with “heros,” “role models” (or so I thought), “cool people,” wayshowers, big brothers. These people ranged from local Green Bay heros like Jim and Lou Seiler who could do Byrd music as though they were the Byrds [and Jim could have been one of the great rock voices–but whatever happened to him?] to various rock stars. Over time, each person I had put up on a pedestal fell off. Why? Oh, because they did something human like drugs, or saying something stupid, or doing something stupid, or any number of things PEOPLE do.

We all go through this with PEOPLE, but it happened to me spiritually as well. (I have a category of posts called “The spirit highway” where I relate the various things I discovered on my spiritual drive.) In many of them, some damned PERSON gets in the way and screws it up.

I watched the new DVD on Gram Parsons last night and watched the fall of an old childhood hero. Such promise. Such beauty. Such profound sadness in his voice, and that coupled with heart wrenching chord progressions, Gram infects our musical minds and lives on in us.

Gram’s father, “Coon Dog” was a heavy drinker who ultimately committed suicide (he left a note: “I love you Gram”), and his mother, Avis, was also a heavy drinker who loved her son deeply. Even Avis’s second husband, Bob Parsons, died of too much drink. Being the heir of the Snively orange juice industry in Florida, Gram had money from a trust fund. Bob supported Gram from an early age. He bought a night club so that Gram could have a performing outlet. Gram was spoiled rotten. Until one day Bob and Gram had a falling out: big time. All his friends said that from that time on he spiralled downward into drink and drugs. Eventhough his career was taking off, and he even believed it so, Gram’s self destructive momentum finally killed him at age 26. Yeah. Right along with Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, et al.

Gram also struck up a hero relationship with Rolling Stone member Keith Richards. He abandoned his band and friends for this new friendship. They learned a great deal from each other, but sadly, around this time, heroin entered the scene. Mick and Keith urged Gram to go home and get to work with his band.

With the falling out with his stepfather and a go-away from Keith, Gram lost his heroes.

The moment when one realizes that all heroes are human is a difficult one. The truth can be too much to bear. Spiritual beliefs are like heroes in that we embue in them the answers to our ultimate questions; we put them on a pedestal. When one realises that a long held spiritual belief is likely untrue, the transition from a faith-based belief to empirically-based belief is a painful one. The existential pain of this transition to one of “no-heroes” is palpable.

  • Santa Claus doesn’t exist
  • My parents are just regular people
  • I understand the value of the phrase “question authority”
  • I question government
  • I question my religion
  • I question my society’s wisdom
  • My hero [fill in the blank] has fecal matter whose olfactoric quality is no different from the general populations’.
  • My hero is not a god or God. S/he is a human.

To survive this transition requires, it seems to me, courage, renewed self-belief, and a blind optimism tempered with a world-wise wariness. Gram’s spirit wanted to get to this place. Gram’s body made the decision to go to Joshua Tree national monument for a one last “cleansing” so that he could clean himself up and move on. It didn’t happen. The booze and whatever drugs he was on killed him in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn. (I stayed in that room some years back as a kind of pilgrimage.) One of the interviewees on the film said: “if Gram were alive today, he’d be dead. He seemed to really have a death wish.”

Astrologers tell us that their charts indicate the potential of people and situations. I hold more stock in the genetic horoscope, and Gram’s sun was in whiskey, and his moon in heroin, with two parents that had double shots of the blood of Dionysus.

WARNING: Be careful taking heroes down from pedestals. The withdrawal period can cause severe anxiety.


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