Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The meaning of legend

Indulge me for a moment as I lay out an analogy for you. As an active, professionally-trained musician I've learned over the years that success in music is not proportional to your musicianship. I worked for a year or so as a tour manager for a major-label punk-rock band. I was a much more skilled musician than any of the guys in that band, but they were the ones with the record deal, not me. As the tour rolled on , it became apparent why this was. Every night, they stepped out onto the stage and put on a great show, with fun banter, lots of jumping around, all the right rock 'n' roll moves, carefully-timed f-bombs and an air of unpredictability that keeps the crowd excited.

When I came off the road I realized I'd learned a lot, and it changed how I approached my music. The realization that the craft of music was a two-way street that involved more than just the band was a big step.

Colin McRae understood these fundamental principles. He came to understand that once you get to a certain level in motorsport you're not just in it for yourself anymore, and that even if you're not the one with the most innate talent you can still be a legend. This understanding lead him to work with Codemasters on the terrific Colin McRae Rally series of video games, that brought his name to an audience previously unfamiliar with rallying. It also manifested itself in his driving style, which was always exciting to watch, even as other drivers were using a newer, tidier approach that worked better with the modern generation of WRC cars and was clearly faster. His no-holds-barred attitude meant that rally fans always knew he was trying hard, one of the reasons he had a greater tendency to crash. This was a large part of the appeal of Colin. People love someone who never gives up, who always tries hard against apparently insurmountable odds and who would rather fail spectacularly than give up.

But most importantly, Colin's intuitive feel for dealing with people is what will live on in the hearts of everyone who ever knew him or followed his career through the media. His communication style, like his rallying, was open and honest. Colin would rather tell the truth, even if it was an unpleasant truth, than cover things up. I remember watching an interview with him after a rally in New Zealand, where a pace note issue had caused a crash: he was asked what had happened and he replied wryly "maybe you should ask the Welsh wizard", indicating his displeasure with co-driver Nicky Grist. That kind of openness is rare in professional sport, and with Colin it worked both ways. He was clearly a big fan of Travis Pastrana when he came over to compete against the freestyle motocrosser in the X-Games rally last year, and he showed it. He refused to act the "big shot" when he was up against the top American rallyists, and anyone who competed against him in either of the X-Games he took part in had nothing but good things to say about him, how he was always gracious and accomodating.

I know I just said "most importantly" at the start of the previous paragraph, but there is actually something else even more important: the fact that Colin was a husband, father and son. As tough as it is for the rallying community and for the world of sport in general to accept Colin's death, our pain is nothing compared to that of his wife Alison, his daughter Hollie and his parents Jimmy and Margaret, all of whom are facing the double tragedy of also losing Colin's son Johnny.

If there is a heaven, let's hope it's one big superspecial stage. If it is, Colin is either winning or crashing...

1 comment:

Clive said...

A great tribute to a great man.