They say that growing up means watching your heroes turn human in front of you, and I have to say that in my experience that has largely been true. There may be no more defining moment in the transition from childhood innocence to adult comprehension than when you realize your parents, just like Hulk Hogan and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, are just people. They are important people to you, but they are still skin and bone, just like everyone else. You’re just like them, too, and you always will be.
But what about the people who are not your heroes? What does growing up say about the way you view people you may have overlooked or forgotten about altogether? Does their continued existence teach you something about the bigger picture? I think the jury is still out, or at the very least waiting for a quotable comment from someone with authority that is even half as catchy as that line about heroes turning human, but I’m here to say that sometime growing up means learning to appreciate the struggle of those you doubted.
The odds were stacked against the band known as I Set My Friends on Fire from the very beginning. A product of the Myspace era, otherwise known as first wave social media, the Florida based screamo outfit rose to viral popularity with a cover of Soulja Boy’s equally viral breakout hit, “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” The song, which you can stream below, gave the scene kids of the internet a hip-hop cover they could call their own:
“Crank That” quickly became a viral hit upon its initial release, and the strength of support the band received with their newfound fame was enough to catch the attention of Epitaph Records at a time when that label had next to nothing to do with the screamo movement or the quote/unquote ‘emo movement’ that sparked its most recent incarnation. The band signed and within a year released their first of two records for the label, You Can’t Spell Slaughter without Laughter. Critics panned the record, myself included, with many alluding to or outright hypothesizing that the band’s only reason for popularity was a fluke of the internet age not unlike that which birthed the incredibly mediocre and entirely overhyped movie Snakes on a Plane a few years prior.
These early detractors were not enough to stop I Set My Friends on Fire, and just three years later they released their second album for Epitaph, Astral Rejection. The band’s notoriety had taken several blows in the time between releases, so the album received far less critical response than its predecessor. Some claimed the record was a step in the right direction, while other said it was more of the same and that the group would soon go the way of the buffalo. Fans still didn’t seem to care however, because every night all over the planet there were a group of kids ready to watch I Set My Friends on Fire perform.
It is now 2016 and five full years have passed since I Set My Friends On Fire released an album. The group has remained active throughout this time, releasing no less than a half dozen digital singles, and they still show no signs of slowing anytime soon. In fact, just last week the band became the latest addition to the Tragic Hero Records roster, and with that announcement came the release of a new song taken from the group’s upcoming third full-length record. Check it out:
As someone who initially hated on this band for no real reason other than the fact they made something I didn’t care for, I will be the first to say that I now inspired almost daily by the continued existence of I Set My Friends On Fire. Putting aside the fact I still do not care for the majority of their material, there is no way anyone can deny the fact that this group has tapped into something the resides in the souls of countless music fans around the world. They may not play the biggest rooms or even have a place to stay while on the road, but this band can, has, and will go anywhere in the world and still find people who want to hear what they have to say. More importantly, the members of I Set My Friends On Fire have found a way to harness that support in a way that allows them to continue their careers with relatively no creative barriers whatsoever. As long as they stay true to themselves their will be an audience to support it, and even if that audience never rivals that of Bruce Springsteen or The Rolling Stones it is more than strong enough to support the band (which, really, is all that matters).
This week, take a step back from hero worship and trying to become your idols so that you may reflect on the people you doubted who found a way to succeed. They don’t have to be megastars to be someone you can learn from, they just need to showcase a drive, focus, or resiliency that you never expected them to possess. Study their ways and apply them to your own life because whether you choose to believe it or not there is probably someone on this planet right now who views you as someone who will never make it. Prove them wrong.