As a bard, a storyteller, particularly a banjo player, I had an uplifting personal experience tonight when I saw Kubo and the Two Strings.
I recommend that every single one of you go see that movie.
You probably have at least one friend that already saw it and was surprisingly enthusiastic about it.
And if you don’t… well, I’m that friend.
Go see it. It broke my heart and changed my life. And healed my heart.
Go see it.

Now I’ve got to get serious about my Philosophy of the Five Strings…

How To Be A Superhero

I spent the weekend of May the 4th in full observation of Star Wars Day, the holiday of nerd culture.
On Friday, I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier;
on Saturday I visited my friend’s comic store, Carmine Street Comics, in celebration of Free Comic Book Day;
and on Sunday I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Naturally, it got me thinking about superheroes.
But here’s the fun bit: on Sunday I also visited a local brewery, Carton, in Atlantic Highlands NJ. Now, I’m a fan of beer, which is maybe putting it lightly. I’ve been known to brew my own from time to time. Being on the road with Gangstagrass, I’ve been in a most opportune situation in which to sample local beers from all over the country and around the world. In fact, right before I visited the brewery, I stopped in a bookstore and went straight to the Wines and Spirits section. (Come on, guys – no mention of beer in the title?) I was quickly alerted to the existence of movements like the Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, and organizations for adjudication of professional and home brews, such as the Beer Judge Certification Program, or BJCP.
So here’s me, getting excited about becoming a refined palate of potables, and watching a bunch of superhero movies. (Okay, only 2, but 2 in one weekend – in theaters – feels like a bunch.)
And it all comes together in my head this morning. How is being a really good beer taster – or a really good anything else – like being a superhero? It might have something to do with being superlatively good at something, or being hyper-aware or sensitive, or just caring a lot and having the drive to excel at it.
And I realized that, not only do I want to become a beer judge, I have this same desire in many things that I do day-to-day. I want to become an excellent chef. I want to become an excellent musician. I want to become an excellent listener and counselor. Gardener, carpenter, the list of things I could potentially become great at is as endless as the things you do in a day.

So, stemming from this train of thought, here’s my step-by-step guide to:

How To Become A Superhero

1) Be a Good Person
This is really the most important thing! You’d think Step 1) Get Superpowers! But in fact this is the last step, and totally optional. (Batman, among many, many others.)
You must be a good person, otherwise you will certainly not be a hero. If you stray from this first step, and follow all the others, you can become a Supervillain, or just a Villain. If, however, you are a Good Person, well, that’s really something that everyone should aspire to.
Suggested for: Everyone! Everyone should do this.

2) Be a Strong Person
Your strength comes from within yourself, not from Equipment, which includes weapons. You have to have strength of character and strength of body if you want to be a Superhero.
If you are a Good Person and a Strong Person, you are a Hero! You don’t have Superpowers, but you don’t need them! Many of us should try to become stronger than we already are, because although there is strength in numbers, it helps if the numbers are Strong People and not Weak People. However, it is the duty of the Strong to protect the Weak, so obviously there will always be Weak People. That’s not a problem so long as there are Strong People. And those people are Good People.
If you are Strong, but not Good, you may be a Villain! Not a Supervillain, again, no Superpowers, but you are Strong and Evil, and that’s really bad. I hope some Strong Good Person stands up to you.
If you are Strong, but are not sure whether you are Good or Evil, you may be a Soldier, or just a Goon, and you should really prioritize being Good over being Strong. Remember, it’s Step 1!
Suggested for: Many People, so that we have lots of Heroes!

Here I should mention that being a Smart Person is of course important, but it’s sort of a corollary to both Step 1 and Step 2. You need to be Smart IN ORDER TO be both Good and Strong. If you are Strong but not Smart, you will not know how to be Good, and you may end up killing the wrong people, like Hercules. If you are Good but not Smart, you will not know how to apply your strength, and you will lose many battles due to poor strategy.

3) Have The Right Equipment/Uniform
This is pretty specialized actually. You probably shouldn’t have, among other things, a big gun, a cool Japanese sword, a magic extending staff, a grappling hook, smoke grenades, or any kind of plane or suped-up motorcycle. If you do have any of these, and you really know how to use them, and you are Strong, and most importantly Good, you are doing quite well, and in fact you may find that you are a Superhero! Congratulations, you did it!
But wait, you say! I’m a Navy SEAL!
Well, yeah, you’re basically Batman. So that does count, IF you are a Good Person!
A better comparison than Batman would be Captain America. The guy is a soldier, he serves the Armed Forces of specifically this country, although he knows how to execute missions in ways that are broadly Good for lots of people. He gets a gut feeling if the mission looks shady, but follows his orders right up until his comrades start shooting at him.
He’s a pretty good example of a Soldier who is a Superhero, except that he’s not real and can’t really be real because of his Superpowers.
Suggested for: Elite Soldiers, highly trained civilians, pretty much nobody else

4) Get Superpowers Somehow
Now I am including this in the list not because I think you can find a radioactive spider, get bitten by it, survive that, AND somehow benefit from the whole experience. None of that seems likely.
I am including it because there are lots of ways that humans, today and in the near future, can augment their Strength or other abilities.
Mostly this is through Science but you might as well pray since it can’t hurt you. Don’t go standing in thunderstorms holding lightning rods though.
Spiderman’s nemesis, the Green Goblin, is a Supervillain because of a serum he uses to save his life. Interestingly, it’s the same as, or very similar to, the stuff that gave Peter Parker his Superpowers. So the Superpowers really don’t make the Superhero, do they? Captain America also has an enemy, the Red Skull, who is created using the same Super-Soldier Serum used to create Captain America! Your Results May Vary, indeed!
Sometimes, a piece of Equipment can be used to give someone Superpowers. Anyone who goes by Green Lantern is really just using a super-powerful piece of gear. Batman is virtually unrecognizable without his costume and weapon things. You can be a Superhero if you are really good at using something.
Sometimes, a Hero becomes Super in the right context. Superman is Superman because of context. If he were on his home world, he would just be Man! So if you ever end up in a place where you have an ability no one else has, you are a Superhero! But make sure to use it for Good.
And lastly, sometimes people do augment themselves with serums like Spiderman or Captain America. Or the Green Goblin, or the Red Skull, or the Lizard… see what I’m getting at? Captain America willfully underwent a risky procedure in order to become more powerful. So did Wolverine, although he already had more going for him at the time – he was already a superhuman healer. But Spiderman got bitten by accident. Daredevil was hit in the face by accident. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had mutagen dumped on them by accident.
The point is, don’t go searching for Superpowers. They may fortuitously come to you, but if you play with the fires of Science, you will get burned more often than tempered.
And hey, if you’ve already checked off 1 through 3, you’re already a Superhero on the level of several of the most well-known and liked!
If you’ve checked off just 1 and 2, consider it a job well done. You’re ready to take on special Equipment if the need ever arises.
And even if you do nothing else, just remember Step 1) Be a Good Person.