WARNING: Unabashed fanboying ahead.
It’s an old maxim delivered to the young and starry-eyed with regularity: never meet your heroes.
The implication is, of course, that the idols you cherish for their sporting prowess, acting talent or musical genius may not necessarily be the nicest people. In fact, they could be rampant arseholes. The Internet is replete with stories of fans who’ve met with their heroes only to have their perceptions shattered with cold indifference or blatant rudeness; or, on the other hand, fans who get starstruck and embarrass themselves.
I am so glad I never listened to this old axiom, because I met my heroes a couple of weeks ago, and it was one of the best moments of my life.
These particular heroes of mine aren’t my literary idols, by the way. They are an Aussie alternative rock band – my favourite band – and they are called Killing Heidi.
I should probably back up.
I grew up in a country town and as a kid I felt quite isolated and alone. I don’t mean geographically isolated – although my hometown Geraldton is four hundred k’s from the state capital, and close to nothing else except the Indian Ocean. I don’t mean literally alone, either, because I grew up in a family of eight and with truckloads of Italian cousins, so people weren’t exactly hard to come by.
No, I grew up feeling isolated and alone in the sense that I had a creative, artistic, sensitive, ponderous, powerful element to my personality, and I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it or where it belonged. I knew I wanted to become a writer from this young age, but I had no concept of how to get there: from country boy to published writer seemed an impossible step. From where I started, actually crafting a career as a fair dinkum author seemed about as likely as making it as a rockstar.
Enter Killing Heidi.
This angsty teenage rock band from country Victoria formed the soundtrack to my teenage years. I can’t remember the first time I heard their debut hit Weir (1999) – a massive teen anthem – but I can recall the first time I heard their number 1 track Mascara. It was early in the year 2000 – February or March – and I was eleven years old. We were in Perth to pick my sister up from the airport, and while we waited around the hotel room in Belmont, this super cool music video was on TV with this awesome, melodic song thumping over the top, all giant riffs and bouncy synths.
I was entranced. Mascara became my favourite song. It was all about being different, not conforming, being yourself … self-empowerment and individuality. I identified. Even though I didn’t have the words for it at that age, I knew I was a bit of a weirdo. It was nice to know someone on the radio knew what that was like. There was a wordless understanding.
I had an obsession for a few months – I did a school project on Killing Heidi and their first album, despite not yet owning it. Then my twelfth birthday came around, and my brother gave me a CD for my present.
“It’s that song from that band you like,” he grunted.
I opened it with excitement, to find an unfamiliar CD single. It was Beauty Queen by Perth rock band Lash. Ohh, I thought, my heart plummetting. Lash. Mascara. I can see how my brother got confused. I was crushed, but just said thanks and went on with playing Pokemon: Yellow. (Incidentally, Lash totally wailed.)
I guess, being that age, I moved on to the next obsession, never got Reflector, and trundled along for a few years – until I hit a snag.
I was about sixteen when I got mired in a massive pit of depression. I knew what normal awkward teenagehood felt like, and this shit was worse. Impenetrable black. I eventually didn’t want to be on this planet anymore.
Around that time, Killing Heidi released their self-titled third album (2004). Recalling how much I’d loved their music as a younger kid, I begged for their new album for Christmas, and got it (the right CD this time). That album introduced me, properly, to the world of rock music. Moreover, the lyrics spoke of pain, anger, hurt, reflection, fear, freedom and self-determination … and it struck a chord.
I quickly got myself copies of Reflector and Present, their second album, and Killing Heidi became my favourite band. The music and lyrics on their three albums got me through the worst and darkest years of my life, and have stayed with me ever since – inspiring me, pumping me up, spurring me on.
In 2006, the band broke up, and though I caught them live a few times over the years (2006, as an acoustic duo, and 2009, as The Verses), I was hanging out to see the real-deal plugged-in Killing Heidi I grew up with.
Seeing the band at the Astor Theatre in Perth on June 2nd as part of their national reunion tour was a total trip. I went along with my partner and one of my best mates. Neither of them had seen me quite so hyperactive before: I felt transported back to my youth, so excited for the meet-and-greet session before the show.
About thirty or forty fans lined up for the meet and greet. The first pair went through the rippling black curtain to meet the band. I figured it would be like when you meet actors at Supanova or ComicCon: you say g’day, maybe a couple of sentences, they take your photo and whisk you away.
This wasn’t like that.
The first pair were with the band for a good five minutes. So were the second pair.
“This band are so nice,” the security guard told us as we waited to go in next. “You work with a lot of different bands over the years, but these guys are nice to everyone – the crew, all the staff, the fans – everyone.”
He wasn’t wrong. The members of Killing Heidi were the nicest people I’ve ever met at a meet and greet – and I’ve been to quite a few. I met Perth-born drummer Adam Pedretti, guitarist Jesse Hooper, and his sister, lead singer Ella Hooper. We chatted. We hugged. We got to talk about the band, their music, how much it meant to me growing up. I suggested they release a Greatest Hits already (which they totally should). We talked some more, about their other projects. We got a few photos. They signed my copy of Reflector. It was ace.
I left the room on a cloud.
Then we saw the band live, and they were everything I’d hoped for. This was a full electric show, and Killing Heidi rocked out hard, and I was front row. Reflector songs got heavy play – unexpectedly, even deep cuts like Real People and Astral Boy which I was so glad to hear live – and Ella nailed all the notes. They also played all the singles from the other two albums, and even a Verses song and an Ella Hooper solo number (Monkey Mind, which was rockier and incredible live).
But for me, the most poignant moment was when they played their 1996 song, Kettle.
Ella and Jesse Hooper were 13 and 16 respectively when their first song Kettle won radio station Triple J’s Unearthed competition in 1996. They were an acoustic duo from Violet Town in Victoria – a place much smaller than Geraldton, if not quite as remote. A few years later, their debut album Reflector (2000) became a massive sensation across Australia. Reflector became the fastest-selling album in Australian history, going four times platinum, and making them massive rock stars.
Their success story is so well-known, and their triumph over the pop charts seemed so instantaneous, that it never seemed like there had been any hard yards for the band in reaching their zenith.
But that night at the Astor gig, Ella reflected on their humble beginnings. How they were two no-name teenagers from a little country town with a single song. How Ella thought it was big-headed of her brother Jesse to submit the song to Triple J, because how would they ever make it, really?
“I don’t wanna get all ‘footprints in the sand’ on you guys,” Ella told the crowd at the Astor. “But if you have a big dream, go for it. You might just make it.”
I’m paraphrasing, because I was transfixed at that moment and forget her exact words, which were probably more poetic. But her words felt, to me, like motivation. And confluence.
If two ambitious kids from Violet Town can make in the end (through all the twists and bends …), maybe I can, too.
I am so glad I met my heroes, because they gave me the same joy and strength in real life that their music and lyrics have given me for years. And the inspiration to keep going.
I’m going to make it.