5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 5: James Hetfield

James Hetfield, singer, lyricist and rhythm guitarist of Metallica, has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember. From the youthful angst in the band’s debut album Kill Em All, along with the social, political and religious commentary of Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, to the ever-changing and evolving lyrics of the newer albums devoted to personal pain, anguish, isolation and addiction, Hetfield’s larger-than-life personality and in-your-face guitar playing has impacted the way I approach certain aspects of my life: guitar playing, the importance of music in life, and staying true to one’s self.

Raised in a Christian Science household and tempered by enormous success and epic failures, Hetfield’s vision and voice shines a light in the bleak musical landscape of the modern music scene. With this in mind, here are my five questions for James Hetfield.

1.) One of your most painful yet insightful lyrics is from “The God That Failed” in which you attribute the death of your mom to her belief that she would be miraculously healed instead of seeking treatment from doctors: “The healing hand held back by the deepened nail… follow the God that failed.”

What would your life look like today if the healing hand was not held back by the deepened nail and your mom was miraculously healed?

2.) Your lyrics started out as angst-ridden commentaries on society, politics, and religious corruption, but evolved over the years to be more about personal pain, addiction, isolation, fame, loss and death.

How has the struggle of dealing with pain, addiction, fame and celebrity, combined with the influence of a wife and children, changed the way you look at the world? Do you still see a need for music to provide a commentary on social, political and religious problems of the day?

3.) You have sold more records than most bands and accomplished more than most people can ever dream of. You have fortune, fame, and a life that in many ways is the ideal standard for America’s definition of success. You could easily quit, retire and live off the royalties of your past accomplishments.

What is the driving force for you to continue writing new songs and kicking the collective ass of your audience with an explosive live set year after year?

4.) If Cliff Burton (Metallica’s bass player from Kill Em All to Master Of Puppets) had lived instead of tragically dying in the prime of his life, would Metallica be as successful today? What do you think Cliff would have to say about the Metallica journey of the past 25 years since his death?

5.) Your legacy through Metallica is firmly established and you’re a living legend.

What legacy do you hope to leave through the relationship with your family, specifically your children?

With that, I finish my series, “5 Questions For 5 Heroes.” There are a lot of questions that I could ask my heroes, but I had to start somewhere. It has really given me pause to think about why these five people — Terry Gilliam, Cornel West, Jon Krakauer, Galen Rowell and James Hetfield — are my heroes.

I hope that you think about who your heroes are what you would want to ask them. In identifying our heroes, I believe that it removes them as idols in our minds and gives us a glimpse at their humanity.

While you can think big about the people that you deem as heroic, I encourage you to think about the day-to-day heroes that would actually give you the time of day in order to sit down with them and ask them your questions. All it takes is courage to go a little deeper than the surface and routine that invades our daily lives.

Thanks for reading and please share who your heroes are as well as what you would ask them.

5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 4: Galen Rowell

Every day, I stare at the amazing photography of the late Galen Rowell. Years ago, in an introductory photography course, I was introduced to the grace of Rowell’s words and the enormous beauty of his photographs. His work would lead me to shooting with Fuji Velvia 50 (the slide film of choice for professional landscape photographers), reading Mountain Light and Galen Rowell’s Vision, as well as buying a poster of “Clearing Storm Over El Capitan, Yosemite.” Dramatic and life-changing work for a young and impressionable photographer.

Rowell’s writing emphasized the connection between developing a personal style and vision with the need to communicate your work’s intent in words. In everything he did, Rowell was not short of drive, passion or motivation, and he would end up dying in pursuit of his vision.

The best advice that I gleaned from Rowell’s books was the need for photographers to learn how to previsualize shots in order to create extraordinary photographs by imagining what could be if they changed lenses, perspectives or simply waited for the magic hour. The primary example of “what if” is his story about the making of his photograph of a rainbow emerging from Potala Palace in Tibet. He saw the palace, saw a rainbow, previsualized an amazing photograph and then took off running. He nailed it.

Visit MountainLight.com to see his life’s work, and then read Mountain Light, which is about the art and craft of exceptional landscape photography.

And now, my questions for photographer, adventurer and writer, Galen Rowell. May he rest in peace and live on in the legacy of his life’s work.

1.) Your work is extremely active and physically demanding because of your desire to shoot in mountainous regions and extreme temperatures.

What drives you to want to document the far reaches of the world? How does your internal drive and passion set you apart from other photographers that are shooting the same regions and landscapes?

2.) Previsualizing shots then creating them with patience, technique and timing is completely opposite of the digital photography mentality that says to get the best foundational exposure of a photograph and then create the extraordinary (the polish) on the computer.

In your experience, how has the refining of your ability to previsualize shots changed with age and experience? Does digital manipulation create a less authentic and dishonest photo than previsualization? Or are both techniques subjective views of what the photographer “sees” and presents in a final photograph?

3.) Has the pursuit of scientific knowledge changed the way you take a photograph? If you did not have a strong intellectual understanding of the natural world, would you be as strong of a landscape photographer? Does a strong scientific mind make a better landscape photographer or does it get in the way of the pursuit of art?

4.) You started out wanting to take technically perfect photographs and pairing your finished work with articles written from your point of view.

How does the writing process impact the way you photograph a landscape? Does your photography change the way you approach your writing? What symbiotic relationship exists between the two?

5.) Of all the photographs you have taken, which is the one that you are most proud of? Do you still remember the moment when you took the picture? Did you know that you had it or was there a sense that you might have missed the moment? What does it feel like to look back at a photograph and for a moment reconnect with that specific time and place?

Galen Rowell was a unique and amazing photographer. I still voraciously read his work and enjoy staring at the beauty and majesty of the places he photographed. May you look into his life’s work and discover something new. Allow your soul to be awakened by the drive and passion of Rowell’s life, lived to its fullest to the very end.

5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 3: Jon Krakauer

Writer, climber and outdoor-enthusiast Jon Krakauer has written some of the most important literary works of the past two decades. From Into The Wild, an investigation of the life and death of Christopher McCandless in the Alaskan wild, to Into Thin Air, a living document of the tragic 1996 Mt. Everest season which claimed 15 lives, Krakauer’s books are a mix of journalistic integrity, self-reflection and social commentary. His writing style has received both high praise and criticism from a broad range of people, including outdoor-enthusiasts, climbers, and even the leadership of the Mormon Church, primarily because of Under the Banner of Heaven, an intriguing look at the historical differences between the modern Mormon Church and the fundamentalist group devoted to the practice of polygamy.

At age 57, Krakauer continues to tirelessly write and defend his work. He his outspoken, a vocal critic of other literary works and authors, and above all else demands accuracy, honesty and integrity.

For a glimpse into the psyche of Jon Krakauer, I recommend that you pick up one of his books or watch the Sundance Channel’s episode of Iconoclasts where he and Sean Penn, director of the film adaptation of Into The Wild, interview each other about life, fame and their respective crafts. They even travel to the very place in Alaska where Christopher McCandless died, where they camped and poured a ceremonial white russian, McCandless’ favorite drink, into the ground.

Now that you have a brief biography of Jon Krakauer, here are my five questions for him.

1.) The majority of your books, as well as the journeys throughout your active life, have brought you face to face with death. The death of idealism in McCandless, the accidental death of Pat Tillman in war, and the perishing of your fellow climbers on Mt. Everest.

How have you been able to emotionally handle and process the fact that you have literally looked into the eyes of death? Are you haunted by the ghosts of the people you have written about?

2.) From Into The Wild and Into Thin Air, to Under the Banner of Heaven, you have received an enormous amount of criticism for your writing-style and the way that you have portrayed real people.

How has this criticism fueled your desire to be above reproach in your research and writing, as well as maintaining the need for journalistic integrity and honesty?

3.) Now that you have distance from the disaster in 1996 on Mt. Everest, has the tragedy of the deaths of friends and climbing companions eclipsed the accomplishment of actually summiting Everest? Do you playback the moment when you stood breathlessly at the top of the world?

4.) You mentioned in Iconoclasts that you dislike the writing process and yet, you continue to write books.

Why? What is so alluring about the journey of writing a new book in spite of the disdain for the process?

5.) What legacy do you hope to leave the world with your books after you have died?

As you ponder these questions, may they lead you to discover the writings of Jon Krakauer. Enjoy!

5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 2: Dr. Cornel West

My first exposure to philosopher, author, speaker and civil rights activist, Dr. Cornel West, was on The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, in which West talked in detail about hope. Hope not only for America, but a hope that is accessible and available to all of humanity regardless of race, gender, religion or sexuality. Listening to the words he used, how he used them in specific contexts, and the pictures he verbally painted left me in a state of intoxication. I was hooked. I wanted more.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered and bought his memoir, “Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud,” during a time in my life when I needed guidance and sage wisdom from those that have lived and experienced life. His words had power and meaning, gripping my soul from beginning to end. West writes:

“The Blues are how humans, blessed to be conversant with the deepest parts of their soul, tell their story. It’s a comedy, it’s a tragedy, it’s a farce, it’s a sitcom; it’s an epic, it’s a sonnet, it’s the straight-ahead twelve-bar blues.”

From Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton, the blues have always moved me and I love how West defines them as the soul’s medium for telling its story. Poetry and truth.

But West’s ability to verbally paint pictures in your mind shouldn’t be diminished as he expands into areas of intellectual and philosophical thought. For example, West writes in “Brother West” on the subject of democracy, love and justice: “My conclusion became my calling: That justice is what love looks like in public, just as deep democracy is what justice looks like in practice.”

To get a further glimpse at the depth and complexity of character residing within Dr. West, I encourage you to dig into the many books that he has written. Two important works that talk about the state of America, from its people to the democracy they live by, are “Race Matters” and “Democracy Matters.” They are not light-reading choices by any stretch of the imagination, but an opportunity to be enlightened with thoughts and ideas about topics that we don’t think enough about on a daily basis.

Finally, for those that don’t really like to read, listen to Dr. West’s audio commentary, along with fellow philosopher Ken Wilber, on each film in The Matrix Trilogy. They discuss the philosophy, existentialism and religious symbolism throughout the movies, as well as provide interesting insights on the meaning that the Wachowski Brothers have infused in each celluloid frame of their creation.

With that somewhat brief introduction to Dr. Cornel West out of the way, here are the five questions that I would love to ask him.

1.) In your memoir, “Brother West,” you describe yourself as “a bluesman in the life of the mind, and a jazzman in the world of ideas.” You also describe in detail a very nomadic lifestyle in which you travel the world in order to connect with family and colleagues, tirelessly preaching the gospel of hope.

Is there ever a moment when you wish you lived a more stable, less frenetic lifestyle? How has the acceptance and embracement of a chaotic life impacted the words that you have for others?

2.) Your words are intellectually deep and complex, prompting me to read your writings with dictionary in hand, not that that’s a bad thing. In contrast, your speech seems to be less scholarly and more emotional, often speaking in terms of hope and love, brother and sisterhood, understanding and the seeking to be understood.

What power does our individual and collective language hold in the transformation of our society at large and the smaller communities that make we belong to?

3.) How does your calling as a traveling bluesman preaching hope, love, understanding and reconciliation affect and change your view of whether your life is seen as a success or a failure?

4.) Your work throughout your life as a civil rights activist has been prompted and fed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Black Panther Party, and the words of other activists such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

How has your view of civil rights changed over the years? Is race as much of an issue today as it was in the sixties? How has an overabundance of knowledge and information led to a diminishing of dialogue and debate regarding critical social issues, such as race relations in not only urban, but suburban communities?

5.) What impact can one person have on the world? In an age of corporate power, where faceless entities control wealth and information, do we the people still have the leverage and will to affect cultural, financial, social and revolutionary change?

These are my five questions for Dr. Cornel West. I hope that they will lead you, as they have for me, down the trail of deeper commitment and understanding of the world that we share with one another.

Later this week, I continue my “5 Questions For 5 Heroes” series with author and climber, Jon Krakauer; photographer and writer, Galen Rowell; and finishing with five questions for Metallica singer and rhythm guitarist, James Hetfield.

5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 1: Terry Gilliam

One of the things I like most about Twitter is that I get great ideas for series of blog posts. Thank you to Cheryl Bledsoe for talking about her latest heroes Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. the other evening because it inspired me to think about my heroes and the questions I would want to ask them. So, with that, here is part one of my new series: “5 Questions For 5 Heroes: Terry Gilliam.”

Terry Gilliam is an imaginative and risky filmmaker, groundbreaking animator and all-around mad man, best known for his collaborative effort with Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin and John Cleese, simply called Monty Python. He would go on to direct my favorite films of childhood and adulthood: Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and a few others that you may or may not heard of.

To learn more about the insane and tempting lure that is Terry Gilliam, it would be best to not only watch the films listed above, along with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but also to view the documentary Lost in La Mancha, highlighting the failed attempt at making a film epic about Don Quixote. You will see the passion, joy and pure love for filmmaking that grips his very soul. You will experience the “Terry Gilliam Giggle” which as he said in a film retrospective on his career, “My epitaph will read, ‘Here lies Terry Gilliam, he giggled in awe.'” And you might just become the next Terry Gilliam fan.

Or not.

With that, here are my 5 questions for Terry Gilliam.

1.) If you compare your career to that of other filmmakers from your era, your body of work is a lot smaller in terms of numbers, but larger in vision, imagination and risk-taking. Do you ever have moments when you wish you would have sold out your vision in order to make more commercially-viable, accessible films?

2.) Of the films that you have made, which is your favorite in terms of risk-tasking and vision? Which film do you wish you never made? How does this view of your favorite and least favorite films redefine risk and imagination?

3.) Your entire career has been a battle, an enormous struggle against the machine that is Hollywood. Why do you keep making films when each one is a war against time, money, vision, completion and acceptance?

4.) If you could collaborate with any modern filmmaker, or even an up and coming filmmaker, who would it be and why?

5.) What has greater emphasis in filmmaking and storytelling: using technology for the sake of being modern or defining and using specific tools of the trade based on the needs of the story itself?

I could think of a lot more questions, but these are the ones that I would want to know answers to the most. What questions would you ask Terry Gilliam?

Coming up next week:  “5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 2: Cornel West.”