If you have to look past the dinner table for your heroes, then something’s wrong.
Dr. Joe King, The History of Baseball, Texas Tech University, Spring 1988
These words have been firmly entrenched in my mind since Dr King first spoke them during a round table discussion on the role professional athletes play in our society. A very profound thought that rings as true today as it did 30 years ago.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think heroes are limited to those who perform amazing feats of strength or courage. Or being defined as one who put the needs of others before their own, even if it is at great risk to themselves. True, those are heroic acts, but heroes are often times so much more, and complex.
In my worldview, heroes show you what life could be like and compel you to be bigger than yourself. They offer inspiration and influence that brings out the very best in us.
A couple of my heroes died this year.
The first was Anthony Bourdain. I’m not a foodie, hate cooking shows, disagree with his politics and cannot condone his drug abuse, but for whatever reason I found him to be endlessly fascinating. I suppose much of the appeal was his attitude. He behaved like a a rock star with this who-gives-a-shit way of living, acting, talking, etc.
Always provocative, always interesting, he showed us the world through his own lens (beautifully filmed) in Parts Unknown. I do not care much for television, but I have watched every moment of this series, often multiple times, and relish the stories, the people and the sites. The show opened my eyes on some subjects, my heart on others. What amazing power and what a gift given to the world.
Over the summer I broke down and read one of his books – Kitchen Confidential. About midway through, there is an entire chapter where he goes into painstaking detail about a day in the life of a chef that is thoughtful, frank, key-opening, and full of take-aways, that even a crusty old designer such as myself finds useful.
I enjoy reading his stuff because you could hear his voice, just like on the narration during Part Unknown, as your eyes silently glided across the page. I can only hope my prose is as expressive.
I thought about writing this remembrance in June after he died, but I held off, and as time went past it no longer felt relevant.
That changed this week when Stan Lee died.
As big an influence as Mr Bourdain had on me, it dwarfs in comparison to the impact Mr Lee had. Stories he told, characters he created filled my head with so many ideas that I could probably credit Stan Lee with pushing me into the design business. There was no way I could ever make it in comics – that is one hard way to make a living, and I do not have nearly the talent to be able to do it.
I have most of Marvel memorized from elementary school til midway through high school. Formative years that were heavily influenced by Stan Lee. He helped get me through it and imagine a better, brighter future. Again, what a gift to be given.
There is a lot written about Stan Lee already, and I won’t tread the same ground here, other than to say if you were to look at authors who had the biggest impact on the 20th and early 21st centuries, you would be hard pressed to find anyone whose words and ideas changed the world.
It’s harder for me to write about Lee than Bourdain. As I cobble together the words, my mind drifts back to long, lazy summer afternoons where I’d spend a day lost in the world of the Fantastic Four, or waiting on the front porch at the mailbox on a Tuesday afternoon – because that was the day my Marvel subscriptions would arrive. Or trips to flea markets and comic book shops looking for buried treasures.
I have lists of other heroes: Jack Kirby, David Ogilvy, Paul Rand, Henry Rollins (who, much like Anthony Bourdain, I cannot stand his music or politics, but love him), Charles Eames, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, George Nelson and many others. I could write at length about any of them, but it’s that two of my heroes died this year. Their book is closed, they will not be creating anymore, that I can reflect on their impact.
You know someone had an impact on your life when you come to the realization that you would not be the person you are today had it not been for that other person. That is pretty heroic, isn’t it?