Seattle birthday gig: One Idol, one hero

Who are our heroes?

I was swallowed up by the crowd at the Showbox SoDo in Seattle on Friday night, joining in the fist pumping to “Rebel Yell,” when the question came to me.

To me heroes are those who we look to for inspiration. Maybe they’re a soldier or a political figure, or perhaps a sports star or a family member.

Me? My hero, aside from my parents, is a 26-year-old kid who works one job hawking shoes at a mall and another handing out flyers on the street.

Michael Henrichsen spent three years as the media intern for the Everett Silvertips, the hockey team I’ve covered for The Herald for nearly a decade. His duties were essentially to do my bidding during home games, performing such menial tasks as bringing me the lineups before the games started and getting players from the locker room for interviews afterward. He was sort of my minion.

But in that moment Friday night in the crowd, my thoughts weren’t of how Michael served me. They were of how he inspired me. He reminded me of what an individual can accomplish through sheer willpower and determination.

Friday night I missed a Silvertips home game. It was just the second home game I can remember missing in the 10 seasons I’ve covered the team, the other coming for my dad’s retirement party. Instead of watching teenagers bumping into one another on the ice, I was getting bumped around myself in the middle of the crowd at the Showbox SoDo, rocking out as ’80s icon Billy Idol performed on stage. And it was all because of Michael.

The concert may have been in celebration of Michael’s birthday, but it was the rest of us who received the gift.

Two years ago, when Michael was working for the Silvertips, he began his grand project, to get Billy Idol to come play his birthday. For two years, Michael came up with every creative idea possible to grab Billy’s attention, from seeking out celebrities who came through town to get an endorsement for his project, to organizing charity concerts labeled Billy Idol Aid.

And for the first five months of Michael’s efforts I had a front-row seat.

The 2010-11 season was a dismal one for the Silvertips. Nothing went right. Head coach Craig Hartsburg missed half the season because of heart surgery. A big trade didn’t work out. Everett, which tied for the best record in the WHL’s Western Conference the previous season, badly underachieved and played largely uninspired hockey.

I love my job — who wouldn’t love watching sports for a living? — but that team wasn’t much fun to cover. There was a general malaise that enveloped the team, almost a sense of apathy.

So when I went to games, I looked more forward to hearing the latest update to Michael’s project than I did to watching the games themselves.

It was so much fun following Michael’s progress. His original goal was to get Billy to play his 25th birthday in October 2011. That didn’t happen, but Billy did send a video clip wishing Michael a happy birthday. I was blown away that Michael was even acknowledged.

It would have been easy for Michael to declare victory then and close up shop. But he didn’t set out to get a 10-second video clip, he set out to get a concert. So he kept at it, and I kept rooting him on, posting the occasional Billy Idol update on my blog that surely confounded my Silvertips readers.

Why did this mean so much to me? Because Michael represented hope. Michael’s chances seemed impossible, but he never let that deter his efforts. Like “The Little Engine That Could,” he kept chugging up that mountain, no matter how steep the grade. It stirred up the type of excitement and emotion in me that tends to dissipate as we reach middle age, and is so difficult to recapture.

It made me want to strive to accomplish something grand myself. It made me want to be a better person.

I was there at Billy Idol Aid 4 in August, when the video where Billy Idol announced he was coming to play Michael’s birthday was first played. I was there Friday night when the concert took place, watching with a huge grin as Billy brought Michael out on stage and sang “Happy Birthday” to him. And I was there to hear Michael tell the crowd to “never take ‘no’ for an answer.”

But I wasn’t there just to say I was there. I was there because my friend had accomplished something special, inspiring so many along the way, including me. I wanted to be there to show my support for Michael, but more importantly to thank him.

My hero.

Michael Henrichsen’s Top 10 Billy Idol Songs

1. Eyes Without A Face

2. Cradle Of Love

3. Flesh For Fantasy

4. Rebel Yell

5. White Wedding

6. Shock To The System

7. L.A. Woman

8. Mony Mony

9. Dancing With Myself

10. Ready Steady Go

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