My friend Isaac and I like to discuss things. In fact, it is probably our favorite thing to do whenever we hang out. Isaac is smart, so it often feels like he discusses better than I do, but that’s ok. We talk about all sorts of things (mostly music). Both of us chefs cookin up food for thought. Some days though I’m surprised by what I hear, nothing bad, Isaac just has a way of going in the complete opposite direction as you’re expecting. We were talking about, you guessed it, music; specifically about guitar players, and specifically about Tom Petty. I have a lot of admiration for Tom Petty and Isaac knew that, which is why I was so surprised when I heard “I think Jack White is better than Tom Petty.”
Isaac and I are notorious for ranking things, deciding on a definitive order of quality and skill. If I had a nickel for every top ten list we’ve made, I’d have quite a few nickels. We mostly rank bands, and songs, and movies. When it comes to ranking the guitar, my list always started with Tom Petty. I know a lot of people won’t agree with that, but that’s the point. Tom Petty is a music hero of mine; and that’s a big part of heroes, a lack of explanation. The reason someone is your hero is a subconscious connection you’ve made, a way you identify with them that no one else does.
Needless to say Isaac threw me for a loop with his statement. Tom Petty is THE guitarist, how can someone so nonchalantly pass over THE guitarist. Isaac’s faith in Jack White made me rethink a lot more than just my taste in guitar players.
My world was shook up that night in my kitchen, and no, not just because Isaac thinks Jack White is better than Tom Petty. Isaac didn’t realize it but he changed the way I think with his unexpected and (at the time) unwelcome statement. Isaac taught me that no pedestal I put my heroes on is too high for someone else to reach.
Why did I think Tom Petty was THE guitarist? Well, aside from me liking him, everyone (my brother) told me he was THE guitarist since the first time I heard him. He was accepted as the man, so I accepted him as the man. While there are definitely arguments for either artist to be considered THE guitarist, deciding who can play the guitar better is not the point I’m trying to make. I’m talking about the faith we put in our heroes. We turn them into the standard, a goal to strive towards though never attain. We don’t want to. But why not?
If we became as good as our heroes, they wouldn’t be our heroes. We almost don’t think of them as people, Tom Petty isn’t a normal guy, he’s Tom Freakin’ Petty! We don’t even realize it but we limit ourselves, we build for ourselves a ceiling. A maximum. We can be great, but only this great, not any greater than that. Certainly not as great as our heroes.
The worst part about this ceiling is not that it’s there, but that we put it there. We want it there. We like it. We don’t realize this thing that helps us keep our heroes heroic in our eyes is the very thing that keeps us from being heroes in someone else’s. Heroes aren’t heroes because of what they can do, but how they do it.
I don’t think Tom Petty is the greatest player to hold a guitar, but the way he plays speaks to me. He isn’t the fastest player, he doesn’t command the most fundamental knowledge, he hasn’t written the most songs, but he’s the best. He’s MY best. At least he was.
Maybe it was insecurity. But, I was afraid of Tom Petty not being the best, I was afraid of my hero being beaten. I saw him as infallible. Invulnerable. Undeniably, THE Tom Petty. His pedestal was high. Far too high for another to join him. That was a problem.
What’s the point of the pedestal if it is exclusive? The biggest role of a hero is inspiration. I now think Tom Petty would welcome company at the top. A crown is meant to be passed on. No head can bear the weight of gold long. But no head needs to.
I now think my hero doesn’t want to be my hero. I now think my hero wants me to be his. I haven’t actually talked to Tom about this, but I’m still pretty sure. I thought my best could never be better than THE best. That is a bad way to think. Who’s to say my best isn’t THE best; even if only one person thinks so.
I want to see the top of the Tom Petty-stal but I want to see it from the top of my own, looking down. I don’t mean this in any kind of self-righteous way; my pedestal isn’t me showing how much better I am as much as me simply showing the best I can do. No pedestal is higher than I can build my own. No pedestal is higher than you can build yours. So I plan to work hard, and achieve. Kick my feet up from the top and wave as you do too.