“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” Ramble

The off-topic title for this Sunday morning ramble came, inappropriately enough, from the Sunday morning broadcast of our local classical station. KDFC, 102.1 FM, has a quaint and commendable custom of providing air and interview time for up and coming youth performers. And this ramble is really mostly about growing up.

If you want an uplifting message (and you like classical music), there are few things so cheering as a 13 year old girl with braces performing, let’s say, Saint-Saens Havanaise , with the practiced and sensitive polish of a seasoned professional violinist. These kids are great. They talk like the kids next door, but they approach their studies with the all-embracing enthusiasm and diligence of NASA scientists preparing for a moon launch. These kids are heroes in the making.

This morning featured a very young lady from Poland auditioning in the United States. Her violin work blew me away. What struck me is that she left the US without even knowing if she’d been accepted for study at The Perlman Music Program (she had).

Perlman? Even to an unschooled amateur classical enthusiast like myself, violin + Perlman has to equal Itzhak Perlman, one of the most gifted performers of all time. Of course I didn’t know he’d started a music school too.

Perlman is a musical “hero” to a fraction of that small minority of Americans who love classical music. If classical music people had to form political action groups to survive in this country, like other minorities, would they be allowed to marry or serve in the military?

Perlman happens to be one of my few heroes. It is said that everyone has to have heroes. I never owned any Sandy Koufax baseball cards. I don’t revere any late or great US Presidents, though Lincoln would be my first choice.

The KDFC connection served as a reminder that everybody has heroes, even me. Mine happen mostly to be legends in music, aviation, aerospace and technology, and literature. My own summitlake.com Profile lists Frank Lloyd Wright, Rosa Parks, Randy Schiltz and aviator Bob Hoover. This list is hopelessly incomplete, I fear.

If you like baseball, to be reminded of your heroes, all you have to do is turn on the radio or TV. All I have to do is turn on my stereo, or board an airliner from anywhere to anywhere else, or peer through binoculars or telescope at any planet, star, nebula or galaxy visible in the northern hemisphere. These activities remind me of the mental leaps of individual discovery that made my entertainment, travel and stargazing possible.

Everybody’s heroes are a reflection of what they like and admire, I guess. I’m long past that wonderful, naively innocent age where we actually fancy that our heroes are “better” than yours. While it’s surely possible to set your sights too low in picking heroes, it is best to never lose sight, at any age, of the idea of having them.

The distinguishing characteristic of “hero” is excellence, not what trade or discipline we happen to aspire to. In the right context, fictional Paul Bunyan can hold his own against real-life Neil Armstrong in the hero business.

People who pooh-pooh other peoples’ heroes often don’t get the significance of their own heroes, if in fact it can be said they have any.

When I was a kid in the 1950’s, cowboys were fashionable heroes among my own age group, even though we didn’t have any particular cowboy names in mind. “TV cowboys” weren’t real. Nobody I knew, anyway, was saying they wanted to grow up and marry a gal named Dale, acquire a jeep named “Nellie Belle”, a horse named “Trigger”, and sit around on the old fence post singing schmaltzy slide guitar ballads.

As adults, we learned that the only way real cowboys could gain fame is to turn Outlaw. Most cowboys died ignominously poor, young and unsung.

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys“: this old Willie Nelson standby tells it all, both in truth and fiction. Classical music tells the story of human aspiration at the highest level of abstraction. Country-western music tells the same story at the level of hard-won practical experience.

Country-western also reminds us we don’t always get what we wish for, something Classical rarely explores. In closing answer to Willie, I give you the lyrics to Waylon Jenning’s song, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

So, kids: if you want to grow up to be a classical violin virtuoso, astronaut, astronomer, NYFD fireman, interstate trucker, programmer, physicist, dentist or pharmacist, go for it. If you want to be a cowboy, it’s still possible I guess, but NASA isn’t ready for you yet. It’s not which heroes you pick, it’s what you do with your mind and spirit on all those long lonely hours on the dusty trail.

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