Kirk Hammett and Randy Rhoads

What two metal guitarists taught us about becoming students

As I mentioned in a previous post, Ryan Holiday’s Ego Is the Enemy was my favorite book of 2016. I was looking back over some of the pages I bookmarked and highlighted earlier this morning when this passage from the chapter “Become A Student” caught my eye:

Kirk Hammett and Randy Rhoads

“Think about what [Kirk] Hammett could have done – what we might have done in his position were we to suddenly find ourselves a rock star, or soon-to-be-rock star in our chosen field. The temptation is to think: I’ve made it. I’ve arrived. They tossed the other guy because he’s not as good as I am. They chose me because I have what it takes. Had he done that, we’d probably have never heard of him or the band. There are, after all, plenty of forgotten metal groups from the 1980s.”


Ryan Holiday
Ego is the Enemy
p. 40

I agree and disagree. The major point is spot on, but I believe we would have heard of Metallica just like we still heard of Dave Mustaine (whom Hammett replaced) and Megadeth (the band Mustaine started after being tossed). The very fact that we have heard of Dave Mustaine belies the point at the end of the sentence. But it’s more powerful than that, and I believe that wasn’t really the point Holiday was trying to make. Hammett’s continued quest for improvement was for Hammett and for Metallica. Not for increased fame or riches or accolades. But for the sheer joy of doing the work. For the love of the craft.

Randy Rhoads’s story is very similar. Perhaps even better, as he didn’t focus solely on the music he was playing with Ozzy Osbourne. He sought out instructors in every city the band visited, with most of his lessons on acoustic guitar. He would learn that specific instructor’s specialty with a heavy focus on classical guitar. Some of these lessons would be incorporated into the music he was playing (“Dee” and the guitar solos on “Mr. Crowley” for example), but that was not the primary drive. The primary drive was to improve his craft. To do the work. In fact, there is speculation that at the time of his tragic death (Rhoads perished in a plane accident in 1982 at the age of 25), the guitarist was considering leaving Ozzy – at the height of his fame – in order to pursue classical guitar full time.

Both Hammett and Rhoads fully embraced becoming students and the music of Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne was enriched by those efforts. As Holiday suggests in the chapter referenced above, when we silence our ego and fully adopt the mindset of the student and learn solely for the sake of improving our craft, the potential rewards for ourselves, and others, are exponential.

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