Now that I have your attention…You may have deciphered from my posts of antiquity that I am a historian. I have written multiple history books (four out of seven are good) and dozens of articles on the subject. I will be the first to admit that in the past I suffered from hero worship or adulation. Two men in particular, Thomas Jefferson and Stonewall Jackson, held my affection.
Over the years I came to the realization that in order to present the past accurately you have to take your idols down off the pedestal. You must look at them as human and flawed individuals. Only then can you relate to them. This realization helped me to do better work.
At a speaking engagement I was once asked who my hero was. The audience was surprised when I answered no one. I further explained that I could not truly consider anyone a hero that I never met in person. After all, the information we have on the past is often inflated or speculated. I admire Thomas Jefferson but I don’t know him. The same goes for Thomas Jackson. How could I say for sure that they were heroes to me? Both men did amazing things. Both men were slave owners.
I also consider myself a historian of the drums and I was thinking about this dilemma in regards to famous drummers. They are historic individuals too. They are admired and in some cases worshiped but they are, or were, flawed human beings. This is true regardless of their talents. Gene Krupa got busted for drugs. Buddy Rich berated his band. John Bonham was an alcoholic. Jim Gordan was a murderer. Deen Castronovo beat his wife. These are all highly popular drummers that are revered today.
My question is can we separate the drummer from the person? Can we admire their playing style but not admire them? I have said in the past that you can be a fan of one’s work, but not of them.
Case in point (and my attention grabbing title to this rant) is Keith Moon. Revered as one of the greatest drummers of all time, he was an incredibly unlikeable person. Keith ignored his wife and child. He was a raging drunk. He destroyed his family and senselessly destroyed property. Did I used to look at him as an idol? Yes. Do I admire him as a drummer? Yes, he was amazing. Would I have wanted to hang out with him? No way.
Another example is the forefather of heavy metal drumming Dave Holland. His playing became the mold and elevated Judas Priest’s music. Where is he now? Disclaiming the accusation that he sexually assaulted a student. Can I still listen to “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”? Absolutely. Do I consider him the lowest form of life? Yes.
My point is to keep in mind that just because someone is a great drummer it doesn’t mean they are a great person. Remember that famous drummers are just people like you and me. You can admire their contributions to music, but not to society. Like a pedestal, take them down off the drum riser. All people make bad choices and I’m not saying there are perfect people. What I am saying is that when we label someone a hero, there is a very good chance they will not live up to our expectation. They may disappoint us. The only way to know is to identify the real person behind their persona. And if they don’t meet our criteria, we can still admire their music.