You should never meet your heroes; you’ll only be disappointed.
Or maybe, instead of any of the broadly generalising statements, I should just take the usual route and say, well, it depends. Of course, mainly it depends on who your heroes are, and also to some extend I’d imagine are they actively your heroes or is it just extended sympathy for a childhood hero.
Outside of my immediate circumstances there’s few people alive that really have had an impact on who I am. One of them is a bit clichéd –Nelson Mandela – and I didn’t meet him, but I did meet the man who told me that Nelson Mandela exists. And that there’s a country called South Africa and it’s got very oppressive system where majority of people are treated as subhuman.
He’s a man who taught me many values and to larger extend that you’d probably be able to imagine, the language of English. He’s responsible for my most memorable live music experiences (three times and always improving).
He guided the little boy from small suburban town in Finland to see the world as it is – big, complicated and not always nice.
It was to him that I wrote my first ever fan letter, which months later came back without having found its destination. I wonder what I wrote, and did I even speak English much. It was his art and message that I held on to while all of my peers where identifying with hard rock, heavy metal and other such genres; political rap was not the popular choice where I come from. Regardless, I held on to what I didn’t choose, but what I felt, and still feel, had chosen me. Later on in my early twenties I took my first tattoo; the famous logo of his band that he has designed.
When I worked for a commercial radio station playing hit music, after the hours walking home, I had recorded his online radio shows Beats, Rhymes and Life on MiniDisc and listened them to forget the format of my work place. I thought that one day…
I’ve grown up with him. I’ve been twice close enough to him to shake hands and get an autograph, even a set list in 2006 in Wolverhampton, but this week, as if from out of nowhere, my friend Shaqir rang me – he’s in the country and we will meet him. Carlton Ridenhour. Chuck D of Public Enemy.
As you can imagine, I was nervous. What to say? On one hand there’s no escaping that I am a fan, but I wouldn’t want to waste such an opportunity to be all fan-like, because what I am really interested in is to listen and learn and contribute; just to have a conversation. How do you combine the emotional and the intellectual with something that is a small social gathering?
It so happened that all my worries were actually misguided, because instead of the god-figure that I may have imagined in my head (an idea strongly supported by the presence of his voice) he is just a man. Someone who created an immediate comfortable mood amongst us and who was as interested in us and our knowledge than we were of his. And he’s got loads of knowledge.
All of this was an added bonus to an already great week that I’ve had, but on top of it all, we also shared our dinner with his wife who made such an impression on me as well. Dr Gaye Theresa Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Black Studies in the University of California, Santa Barbara, and it was her work commitments that have brought them to South Africa.
Most of the time I like to play it cool but then sometimes I can’t. A truly humbling experience. I have never been more impressed by the man who I have always been impressed by. I felt so much respect around me. As the man that I became from the child I was, I could only smile and feel so much that I cannot even express yet – just to know I am a lucky man in more ways that I can count.
The set list: previous time when met - only very shortly.