Arts DEVO shares a heroic story

Who’s your hero?

Years ago, I started a band with a drummer who was much younger than I was. I found his number on a flier on the bulletin board inside the old Sundance Records in downtown Chico. I called this stranger, and we immediately started meeting up at the practice shed to invent a band. In between the noise, as we made small talk in an effort to get to know one another, he asked me a question that I’ve never forgotten: “Who are some of your heroes?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never really thought about it.”

His reaction to my answer was a look of befuddlement. This 19-year-old kid, 10 years my junior, looked at me with what I interpreted as pity, like he was thinking, “How sad to go through life not having a hero.”

Regardless of what he was actually thinking, what mattered was that for some reason I really did feel bad for not having a hero. I think he told me his was Jack Kerouac, and I gave that a lot of thought as well. I liked Kerouac. I still do. I’ve read On the Road and Ann Charters’ biography of the man, plus a bunch of his and other Beat poetry. That was all important and influential in my life, but I’ve never held any of the Beats up as heroes.

The seed was planted, and I spent the next several years retracing my life trying to find at least one person who resonated. Other than the Beats, and a bunch of moody modern poets, I never really read much, so literary heroes were out. I’ve always loved basketball, but I was one of those weirdoes who liked the Lakers and the Celtics in the ’80s, so I think I diluted both Magic and Bird from being overly influential. Music seemed obvious. But unless you’re at least a little bit punk (and I have never been even a little bit punk), the characters whose music moved me—Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, etc.—weren’t people one looked up to.

As I ticked each obvious contributor to my formative years off the list of possible heroes, I started sifting through what I thought were less likely areas of influence, namely television and the movies. And, as it turned out, it was in these media, in one specific corner of these media with one specific kind of character, where I came to realize an as-yet-unrealized journey had already begun.

Chevy Chase in Caddyshack and in Fletch. Alan Alda in M.A.S.H. Even Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore. And, most especially, the definitive “comedian-hero,” Bill Murray in Stripes.

It’s not just the fact that these funny ugly guys would always get the pretty girls that made me take notice, but it’s the way they seemed to walk through the world. They’re irresistible despite being screw-offs. No one could be more charming. No one is more funny. No one gets in their way … and they do get the pretty girl.

So, after a couple years of cold feet and false starts, on the first day of spring 2010, I finally made my choice official. Now, and for the rest of my life, here on my pale flesh (still a little red around the edges) is my hero: