(Warning: The following content includes mention and/or descriptions of sexual, emotional and physical violence, abuse, suicide, depression and homophobia. There are also film spoilers. If you in any way plan to see said films, please skip those sections. Also, there are very few mentions of MJ in this piece. If you would like to see a connection, watch this or this. Thank you for your time.)
“Universality, I think emerges from truthful identity, of what is.“
– Lorraine Hansberry
Breaking your teeth on the hard life coming
Show your scars
Cutting your feet on the hard earth running
Show your scars
Breaking your life, broken, beat and scarred
But we die hard
-Metallica, Broken, Beat & Scarred
Y’all… The universe is an interesting space.
I sit here on a hot August day, many a thought about what has shaped me to be the person I am today. I sit here (as I can not yet physically stand on my own… but we will get to that in a bit) in awe of those ancestors whose shoulders I stand upon in my life’s journey and life’s work… These ancestors such as George and Jonathan Jackson, William Christmas, Jeffery “Khatari” Gualden and James McClain (and the many others who sparked the Black August movement), Gwen Patton, Claudia Jones, Lucy Parsons and so many of our beloved freedom fighters are who inspire me on this, and every other calendar day.
And somehow in the midst of this, Metallica has entered my consciousness.
Yes, you read that correctly. Metallica.
Most people who know me today may not know our history together. We are not personal friends; in fact I don’t know them at all. But in our disparate worlds we have connected throughout this life. Me, a lifelong anticapitalist and Pan-African organizer; the four members of Metallica, decidedly publicly apolitical, to varying degrees.
When talking about relationships, as the saying goes… it’s complicated. Rife with a million contradictions, it’s a relationship perhaps no one will understand. None of us may ever physically (or virtually) meet in person (and they may never read this). But none of that matters. We don’t have to meet- in fact, they may never want to even meet me after reading this (that is, if they do read it).
But that is okay. These are not words I’m just saying.
But none of that matters. What does matter is that every day presents itself a lesson. From the course of over a 30-year journey, today’s lesson is still coming from an unexpected place.
We met on a random day in New York; the date long escapes me. My burgeoning political analysis was inspired by the Iran Contra hearings my mother blasted on the 12 inch screen in the kitchen. The Sandinistas were the gateway to my being enveloped in a blanket of Marx and Proudhon, of Crass and the Dead Kennedys.
And somehow, Metallica knocked on my door, for they were neighbors to DRI, Agnostic Front, and (the greatest hardcore band of all time) Bad Brains. My neighborhood was fairly diverse though, because everyone from Flipper to De La Soul to Patti LaBelle to Black Sabbath lived there. I could not choose a favorite neighbor, even though me being an angry kid I did spend a little more time with some folks than others.
Metallica were pretty nice neighbors though. They always brought snacks over when they were around, and I would share them with my friends. We were all full from the previous night’s dish, and they kept bringing more. I was so full from Metallica’s plates it (apparently) seeped over into my own writing. I had been writing since the age of 8, but at that specific time I had a growth spurt, apparently inspired by my neighbors. I showed a friend of mine a piece of writing, and they straight up said, “this reminds me of Kill ‘Em All.”
I wish I could remember the piece I wrote.
Metallica eventually moved away from the neighborhood, because it was time for them to share meals with the world. I should have suspected that, as they were not neighbors for long in the first place, being international chefs and everything. However, they mentioned they would return, and would feed all of the neighbors.
They kept their promise, and December 3, 1991 was the day.
It was in Buffalo, NY. It was cold. I had just turned 15, and I traveled with about 15 others to see them. While I enjoyed all of their albums up to that point, Master Of Puppets was my favorite at the time (and along with …And Justice For All, it still is). I think anything performed would have been fine, but ‘Battery’ was my jam back then, so my 15-year old self would have been mad if they didn’t do that one. I didn’t particularly (until more recently) remember the order of the set list; what I DO remember though, is that ‘Battery’ came on after one of the encores. And when I tell you I went off, I mean every word of that. I remembered specifically, ‘Battery’ and ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ by Queen being played. Being the shy kid I was, I connected with Kirk Hammett (in the way you can connect with anyone you didn’t personally know). At the same time, I was on the side of the arena where Jason Newsted was, and I was captivated by his energy. Well, as captivated as a shy and angry 15-year old girl could be. He was the hype man we didn’t know we needed. Well, at least if you’ve never seen them live before.
It was the first leg of the Wherever We May Roam tour. Seeing Metallica on video is one thing; watching them double and triple time their already lightning speed anthems live is another. It was like the Ramones, except metal. We returned from the concert back to the initial destination, and we all gathered around, perhaps talking about the experience of the evening, and listening to Ride The Lightning in full. The opening chords to ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ appear, and we all wait for the onslaught of thrashy perfection that was expected to come. The title track comes on. I recall everyone discussing the amazingness of this album. By the time ‘Trapped Under Ice’ makes an appearance, the room is filled with weed smoke. In a room full of people, I was the only one who refused. No one in that room had judged me for it, in the ways I had later been judged for being both vegan and so-called ‘straight edge.’ At that point (age 15) I was already vegetarian.
In a world where alcoholism and substance addiction was not uncommon in my family (and community- I mean, I grew up in the crack era) I made a concerted effort to stay away from drugs. And there I was, a huge fan of a band who prided themselves on their alcohol use…. So much that it became a significant aspect of their stage persona. The contradictions in how they could drunkenly cover such serious subject matter as PTSD and earth’s devastation always fascinated me.
And while I did irregularly drink wine over the course of a couple or so years, the shadow of my mother’s alcoholism would always hang over me. Even though I didn’t even drink that much as it was, I didn’t want to experience dependency or addiction. The age of 23 was the last time I drank a glass of wine, and 22 years later I could say I haven’t touch so much as a Tylenol.
That is until…
Here I sit, as I write this, grateful that I did not experience an addiction to the narcotics/controlled substances I had to take as a result of being hit by a semi.
It was around 7:55 am. February 12, 2021. I was riding a bicycle to my job, as I tended to do. There had been a series of snowstorms over the past couple of months, and the bridge which I normally ride on was buried in several feet of snow, making it difficult to ride or even walk on. I didn’t want to be trapped under snow (or ice)… As the roads were clear I made the decision to ride (as careful as possible) on the road, as this was my only choice. I was initially clipped by a semi truck; and the next thing I knew I was laying on the ground, a woman holding my head, and several others standing over me. I have no idea what happened in between me getting hit and me being on the ground. As a result of this accident both legs were massively damaged. The tibia and fibula in both legs snapped, the muscles and skin damaged. Both legs needed to be skin grafted. The left leg was able to be saved, and permanent pins and rods had to be inserted. The right leg was not, and as a result a below the knee amputation occurred.
Here is where Metallica returns. Shortly before the accident I would be at my job, listening to ‘One’ on repeat. A retelling of the preeminent anti-war novel (and film) Johnny Got His Gun, ‘One’ captures the claustrophobic and lonely environment of its primary character Joe Bonham, as written by Communist author and screenwriter (and one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’) Dalton Trumbo.
I do not remember the moment I saw the video. At the time of the video’s initial airing in 1989 there was no MTV in the house. That said, I vaguely remember people talking about it, because (a. it was Metallica’s first video, after years of stating they were not planning to do one, and (b. It was said to be unforgettable. When I finally did see it (perhaps on a Friday Night Videos or a similar show), it was frightening. It looked like scenes from a horror movie.
February. March. April.
I lay in the hospital bed, unable to move my legs. The universe has prepared me for this moment. Surely it has. I spent the year prior practicing non-attachment. I remained optimistic throughout the whole journey, as I lay there in the most vulnerable position anyone can be in. People clean you and change you when you have to go to the bathroom. Complete strangers see you naked. After a while you end up building relationships with these strangers. As I lay in bed ‘One’ appeared as a constant soundtrack in my brain. I made peace with my ‘new’ legs. But have I made peace with this new life?
Joe Bonham is very real. If only for a time, I felt and I knew him.
August 12, 2021 is the 6th month ‘anniversary’ of the day my life forever changed. August 12, 1991 is the day Metallica’s life changed, 30 years ago.
The eponymously titled ‘Black Album.’
The universe works in interesting ways.
Welcome back, neighbor.
My relationship to Metallica has been an interesting journey. From the shy kid who took the anger out on herself, to the woman five years to fifty who can look in the mirror and finally say ‘i love you’ (and mean it); the songs hit differently these days.
The members of Metallica (past and present) live such dissimilar lives to myself. Why has Metallica ever held a place in my life as an anticapitalist, African young person, and why do they continue to?
While these descriptors may appear to have irrelevancy to some (because, you know, ‘metal belongs to everyone, it has no color or sex’), it really isn’t irrelevant. As a person who is neither European nor a guy; ever since I started listening to punk, hardcore and metal, as much as I could I worked to seek out bands who were decisively antiracist/antifascist, anticapitalist/anti-consumerist and anti-patriarchal… because being a person who is not European nor a guy I understood the reality that music does reflect larger society. This led me to bands like Crass (and anything on Crass records), DRI, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, The Dicks, Suicidal Tendencies, Minor Threat, Fugazi, The Buzzcocks and so many more… all the way down to antifacist, antiracist and antipatriarchy grindcore band Napalm Death, and the sample-laden, speed metal influenced antifascist group from Germany, Atari Teenage Riot..
Representation (and better yet, action) was comforting to me. People keep saying that race doesn’t matter, but for many of us it meant everything to see ourselves represented in the music we loved and listened to. It’s like being in school and seeing that none of the teachers look like you. In terms of Metallica… being a young kid finding my way in this world and finding out their first (lead) guitarist was of African descent (Lloyd Grant) and their third (lead) guitarist was Filipino (via his mother), you can bet my heart was filled with joy. Lloyd Grant appeared only on one recorded song (the original version of ‘Hit The Lights’ from the first Metal Massacre compilation in 1982- where they were incorrectly credited as ‘Mettallica’). Grant was the first person to answer Lars Ulrich’s ad in the Recycler requesting a guitarist and singer, and prior to James Hetfield joining them they would just jam. It was actually Hugh Tanner who introduced Hetfield and Ulrich to each other. Tanner and Hetfield (along with Ron McGovney) were bandmates in Leather Charm. The first lineup to have an officially released song (while not yet officially Metallica) was James Hetfield on vocals, bass and rhythm guitar, Lloyd Grant on guitar, and Lars Ulrich on drums. On the second pressing of Metal Massacre the same song was released; this time, Lloyd Grant was gone and it was Dave Mustaine on lead guitar, and Ron McGovney (bass) entered the picture, creating the first official lineup of Metallica. After McGovney left and Mustaine was fired, Kirk Hammett (lead guitar) and Cliff Burton (bass) entered, forming what was to be the first lineup to record an album under the Metallica moniker.
While people continue to claim, for example, that racism doesn’t belong in metal (or rock music in general), the reality is counter to that idealism. Eric Clapton (who more recently released an anti-pandemic lockdown tune with Van Morrison) in 1976 supported right-wing candidate Enoch Powell, and went on a tirade about how England was a “white country,” and that all immigrants (and anyone else not white) should get out. This of course, includes Jamaicans- the same Jamaicans he had no problem covering with ‘I Shot The Sheriff.’ Clapton still supported Powell as late as 2007, and in 2018 blamed the tirade on “the Arabic Invasion.” Despite Clapton’s outburst (which prompted the formation of Rock Against Racism), he continues to play (and gets paid for playing) music inspired by the very people he desired to not see in England. And this part of history is largely ignored.
There was the time in 2016 Phil Anselmo had a racist and white supremacist tirade (salute included- as he wore a DISCHARGE shirt, by the way) at a tribute show to his former Pantera bandmate ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott. He was slow to apologize, and there was heavy critique from some of his colleagues, including Machine Head’s Robb Flynn (who was seen smiling in a picture next to nazi saluting Jeff Hanneman of Slayer); Sebastian Bach (of Skid Row, who actually headlined on a tour with Pantera, and who also wore a massively homophobic shirt and got called out for it) and Anthrax’ Scott Ian (who was in the band Stormtroopers Of Death- a band whose lyrics are incredibly pro-fascist, satirical or not. In 2015 SOD vocalist Billy Milano reportedly said some disturbing comments on his Facebook page about Ian (who is Jewish), and Jon Zazula (aka Jonny Z) of Megaforce records- the label that officially introduced Metallica to the world.)
This was not new for Anselmo though, since he also spouted white supremacist rhetoric on the concert stage on various occasions, as far back as the 1990s, attacking rap music and clearly stating that Pantera was “white” music. He lamented the death and disappearance of ‘white culture,’ and asked the question most racists and white supremacists ask: if others can have pride, why is it that white people cannot? He tells the members of the audience to “be white and proud.” Not one band member walked out during those times, as far as I know. In an interview with MTV (regarding fans espousing white supremacist rhetoric) he states, “I have friends of every color and every creed,” while wearing a shirt with a triskele (or triskelion) on it. The triskele is a symbol used by the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), a white supremacist neo-nazi group based in Azania (South Africa). So no, white supremacy is not just an ‘American’ thing, as people love to constantly tell me. White supremacy and racism are rampant in any place rooted in settler colonialism- not only the U.S., but Canada, Brazil, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and various other places across the map. And of course, there is more footage of Anselmo over the years outside of the infamous 2016 event, giving the salute and saying “white power.” While there were strong voices of criticism, the metal world in general unfortunately hasn’t been as loud.
I actually saw Pantera a couple of times in concert, prior to knowing this about Anselmo. Fortunately I don’t recall him having these sorts of outbursts in the early 90s.
Everything is dialectical… there is positive and negative in everything. As it is good that folks like Flynn, Bach and Ian stepped up in regards to Anselmo (when not a lot of public figures would), their contradictions need to be addressed as well.
One of the most overt cases of racism and white supremacy in metal is Chris Holmes, ex-guitarist of the aptly named (especially for Holmes) W.A.S.P. In an interview with Riff-mag.com he says: “The black culture has really… The black culture has taken hip hop to white… The white culture and all the kids act like that; they wear their pants down.” He gets even more specific in an interview with a Russian publication in 2011: “Yeah, it sucks! It’s so called n_____ music. I’ll say that word, I don’t care if n______ are in the room or not to get my opinion, that’s the way it is. Rap is just starting to hit Europe, and it kind of makes me sick, because I don’t like it when kids act like n______. Is the word “n______” bad to say here? When you say it in the States, everybody is pissed off.” Guns ‘N Roses guitarist Slash (whose mother is of African descent) recalled in his book how Duff McKagan (also from Guns‘N Roses) overheard Holmes say “n______ shouldn’t play guitar.” W.A.S.P. is the same band who covered ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ (made famous by Ray Charles), and ‘Trail Of Tears’, of which singer/guitarist Blackie Lawless writes:
“Lyrically though it was inspired by one of the greatest atrocities the U.S government ever made to happen. After the great American Indian Nations were enslaved and exiled onto reservations and interment camps (basically prison camps) the majority of the Cherokee Nation were made to march on foot, under guard by the United States army, from the South East of the United States to Oklahoma. With little food and drinkable water and no medical attention, over 4,000 died resulting from the march that took ten months. That march would be named ‘Trail Of Tears’. The translation in native Cherokee language is “The Trail of Tears they cried”. Another 5,000 would die in the prison camps awaiting removal to Oklahoma but never made the “trail”.
And lest we forget, there’s Varg Vikernes, one of the main faces in Norwegian black metal, and member of the nazi black metal movement (NSBM). Like Chris Holmes he moved to France; prior to this he was connected to a series of church burnings in Norway; he was convicted for the 1993 murder of former Mayhem bandmate Øystein Aarseth (also known as Euronymous). There was actually a book published in 1998 covering the Norwegian black metal scene (and the violence connected to it) called Lords Of Chaos (co-written by Michael J. Moynihan, a problematic dude himself); in 2018 there was a film adapted from the book with the same title. While the book focuses on the scene itself the film examines the band Mayhem, from the vantage point of the murdered guitarist. Jonas Åkerlund, the director of Lords Of Chaos, was a drummer in the Swedish band Bathory for a short time, and has a much longer career of directing films and music videos for artists such as Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Roxette, Lenny Kravitz, Ozzy Osbourne, the Rolling Stones, and Beyoncé. He also has a history of directing Metallica videos (‘Turn The Page’ and ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ respectively), and directed ‘ManUNkind’ (from Hardwired… To Self Destruct), which included a brief depiction of ‘Mayhem’ live, prior to Lords Of Chaos’ official release. Members of Mayhem did not particularly agree with the film; Vikernes (who currently goes by Louis Cachet) in particular said “The whole film is just made up” and was “character murder” which he viewed as “a common weapon used by people who don’t like Europeans.” He was also opposed to Emory Cohen’s portrayal of him, and called Cohen “a fat Jewish actor”. “I’m Scandinavian, by the way… So, the fat Jewish actor said things in that film that I never said in real life; he did things that I never did. He did things for reasons that I never had; knew people that I, in reality, have never even heard about.”
(And don’t get it twisted- I know members of Metallica are not innocent of dabbling in some problematic behavior in the past that would DEFINITELY get them cancelled today. A lot of bands dabbled in some disrespectful or inconsiderate things, in order to be ‘edgy’. No one should be excused or absolved for disparaging other groups of people to be ‘edgy.’ I will forever be critical of that. People know better when it comes to things like this; they just don’t do better. The difference is, as far as I know most of these bands did not do these things consistently, nor as extreme as a Phil Anselmo or Eric Clapton.)
Am I speaking about cancelling people due to their actions? If one thinks that’s what I am saying, please read everything I’ve written again. What I am saying is that, again, the idealism or illusion that metal is accepting of all is not the reality. And it needs to be dealt with accordingly. From the cavalier attitude regarding people collecting nazi paraphernalia (having seen said paraphernalia up close (and not in a museum), it puts a pit in my stomach) to rationalizing and simplifying consistently racist/misogynist/fascist language and behavior down to ‘jokiness’, or ‘being drunk’ or ‘on drugs’ needs to be dealt with accordingly. People lament that ‘free speech’ is a thing which is becoming a rarity, as the people who complain the most want to be able to not suffer consequences for their actions. The thing is, the tenets of free speech (if one is a constitutionalist) have to do with critique of the government… and as we can see, doing even that can get you surveilled, and/or imprisoned. ‘Punching down’ and attacking politically and socially marginalized groups of people, or making any kind of nazi-related joke or gesture does not technically fall under ‘protected speech’ (without consequences). There’s a certain privilege one would have, in order to joke about such things, without an ounce of satire, or to think that people won’t hold you accountable.
The bands who have done these things in the past (and have evidence of it, as the internet never forgets) need to address their actions and take accountability. It is not wise to place it on the side and act like it never happened. While non-Europeans were literally a minority in the punk and metal scenes when I was coming up (at least it was that way in the U.S.), there are an increasing amount of younger people who are listening to metal and punk. You can see this with all of the ‘Hip Hop fan reacts to (fill in the blank punk/metal band)’ all over Youtube. These young people who were not around when the bands they are listening to were getting established may face disappointment and anger if they found out this band they just got into is racist and right wing. There is always going to be that kid who discovers the Misfits or the Smiths, and find out that both Michale Graves and Morrissey are massively right wing (and racist).
I could go all day on the Asian/Indigenous/Chican@/Latin@ punks, metalheads and rock fans that formed bands, art and communities in South America, California and New York among other places around the world- Death Angel, Carlos Cañedo, Rop Vasquez, Shonen Knife, Alice Bag, Ron Reyes, ? And The Mysterians, Redbone, Hiro Yamamoto, Robo, Alejandro Escovedo, Los Saicos, Los Crudos, James Iha, Kim Thayill, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (of the Love And Rockets comic series), Billy Murcia, Joey Santiago, Miki Berenyi, The Zeros, Zach de la Rocha (who was in hardcore band Inside Out before Rage Against The Machine)… and of course, Sepultura, the various members of Suicidal Tendencies over the years (including Dave Lombardo and Robert Trujillo), Tom Araya, and so many more. Despite all of this, the histories tend to be buried.
Another major example is of the racism hurled toward Arnel Pineda, the current vocalist of Journey, who is Filipino. Though this particular commenter says they were joking, what they said does encapsulate the sentiments of what others were openly saying upon news of Pineda’s arrival: “I’ll admit it, i’m an old racist bastard that don’t like change and don’t like my rock band singers to be anything but ugly long haired white guys, but this guy is amazing and commanded and earned my respect.” In fact, the comment encapsulates the sentiments I have seen too many times of rock music in general.
Lastly, I have seen disparaging comments hurled toward Dave Lombardo (who was once a member of Slayer, and is one of the greatest drummers of all time). One of Lombardo’s current projects, Dead Cross, covered the classic Black Flag song, ‘Rise Above’. People were open in their disapproval of the band’s support of Black Lives Matter, and opposition to a racist police system.
People claim that racism in metal or rock is simply an ‘American’ problem, as those who claim this haven’t see it at the shows they’ve attended, while major rock stars like Eric Clapton continue to receive accolades. Expressing this idea ignores the legacy of British imperialism and colonialism, and Western imperialism as a whole. (There were also the anti-Mexican comments made by Joe Elliot of Sheffield, UK band Def Leppard in Tucson, Arizona in 1983, where as a result a boycott occurred from El Paso, Texas radio stations. Elliot defends himself by saying he was simply trying to rile up the audience. Again, people feel as if they have to ‘punch down’ to do this). Idealism certainly takes precedence over the actual voices of non-European people of all genders, who have expressed discontentment, isolation (and experienced outright violence) in the scenes they had hoped would be accepting of them, as punk and metal were seen as being a space where outcasts can be themselves. Amidst all of this, the forces which gave birth to this music are all but ignored. While Charlie Christian and Eddie Durham were among the first to popularize lead electric guitar in a (jazz) band; it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe who birthed the sound which became known as Rock N’ Roll. You had ‘proto punk’ band Death, who were set to release an album on Columbia Records in 1975, until Clive Davis dropped them, as they would not fulfill his request for a name change. (This is not to be confused with the metal band Death, which formed in the early ’80s and was led by Chuck Schuldiner, who passed in 2001); ‘Rocket 88’ by Ike Turner and His Kings Of Rhythm (though it was credited to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats) is credited as being the first rock n’ roll song. You had LaBelle and Mother’s Finest, who added a funk element to rock. Arthur Crudup, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James and so many more who laid the foundation for rock music are but a footnote.
Even Black Sabbath, considered to be the first heavy metal band, gave clear nods to the blues on their first album. Skip James, Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly and Son House have inspired many a blues rock and garage band and yet, they tend to get the least credit.
Think about how many times you have heard (whether overtly or covertly) that punk, metal and rock in general is a ‘white’ thing. Whether it’s the derision at hip hop elements being included in rock (even though BDP was sampling AC/DC, Public Enemy was sampling Slayer and Run DMC were the ‘Kings Of Rock’), or the thought of people singing ‘too soulful’… or even just flat out that ‘___________ shouldn’t be listening to rock…’ If you haven’t heard any of those things, ask your friend who is into punk and metal what they’ve been told.
As an African teenage girl who was in the punk and hardcore scene, I held my own. I saw hundreds of shows and held it down in the pit; I played guitar and ‘sang’ in a few bands (and eventually played the drums and keys). Despite being in a sea of people who were seemingly on the same wavelength in the name of music, there was always that worry of someone giving stares or spitting epithets at you, or knocking you down on purpose. There was that concern nagging at you that someone in a band you loved would state some foolishness. There was that hope that you wouldn’t be the only one. Sometimes things happened, sometimes they didn’t.
Racism was one factor, sexism/misogyny was another. There are many a video showing bands stopping their set when they’ve seen a young girl or woman being groped in the audience. There were organizational and tactical means developed over time to address the issue of sexism and violence, such as Rock Against Sexism, Home Alive and Riot Grrrl; that said, even in predominately Euro/white feminist circles, there was a casual ignorance of the intersections of oppression.
Laina Dawes, author of What Are You Doing Here? A Black Women’s Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal, spoke of a time when she went to cover a Metallica concert in 2009 at the Air Canada Center. “I had guys making gorilla noises at me when I walked by. I had a couple of people call me the n-word.” Metallica is the same band that has two non-Europeans in it (especially by 2009), and things like this still occur at their concerts. She also spoke about how she’s been approached and was asked, “Don’t you people have your own music?” I will always appreciate groups with major platforms who speak out about these issues. Nirvana was very open in stating, ‘If you in any way are racist, sexist or homophobic do not attend our shows or buy our records.’ Can bands control who attends their concerts and buys their music? Of course not. That said, knowing a band will not be silent in the face of injustice by someone who is a supporter of their music says a lot to that band’s character.
It also says that the listening experience and the concerts would additionally not be a ‘safe space’ for those who don’t feel that same safety in the outer society.
Dawes states: “People would look at you funny or give you a dirty look, but no one would really say anything to you: ‘What are you doing here, you don’t belong.’” Reflecting on the later years of metal, she adds, “There was more of a reaction. People seemed angry to see you there… When the West Coast hip hop scene became prevalent around the mid-90s, it started to get notoriety as being as nihilistic as some of the metal bands, and there started to be a clear division in terms of race and music listening,.. Black people listened to hip hop to be angry, white people listened to heavy metal. When the two genres converged with nu metal in the early 00s and you saw more white kids using traditional hip hop beats to accentuate heavy metal, that was a real problem for a lot of traditional metal guys: ‘We don’t like this merging.’”
‘___________ shouldn’t be listening to rock…’
Speaking about Phil Anselmo, she says, “Not only does Phil represent ignorance, but he’s been able to build a prosperous career even though people know that he holds views that alienate people from the scene. He can say whatever he wants to say and believe what he wants to believe, but I think the larger problem is our willingness to ignore issues that ostracize people from the scene. And it’s not even a matter of alienation. My concern is physical violence. We’re seeing that it is happening to a lot of women in the scene, and it’s happening to people of color who are getting beaten up. For people to blindly ignore sentiments that Phil has that lead to not just physical violence within the metal scene but the murder of people in the real world is unconscionable.”
It is impossible to keep politics out of metal, because everything is political. Clearly not all people mean it in this way; however, the opposition to political subjects (or discussing the various ‘isms’ which impact society) is expressed by comments like this: “Why black people always sensitive? Don’t bring your sensitivity in hip-hop to heavy metal.” This same commenter (who is Southeast Asian- again, racism and white supremacy do not only reside in ‘America’) also said, “Heavy metal is white music and now black people try to make heavy metal looks like black music. Racism is part of creativity in heavy metal.” Another person commented that there should be more “talk about music instead of social issues.” I suspect that all of the people who feel this way absolutely despise songs such as ‘War Pigs,’ which to me is the greatest Sabbath song of all time, and ‘Run To The Hills’, a classic Iron Maiden anthem, or (fifth member of the Big 4) Testament’s ‘Native Blood’… Or Sepultura’s anticolonialist anthems on Chaos A.D. Maybe they hate Primus’ ‘American Life’ and ‘Too Many Puppies’ as well. I ultimately gravitated more towards punk because of its unabashedly political content. That said, it’s impossible to deny the existence of political content in rock/metal.
Again, Laina Dawes: “When people say they don’t want to talk about politics in metal, what they really mean is they don’t want to talk about racism, sexism or any of the other -isms in the outside world.”
So I ask again: why has Metallica- a band respected for its explorations in anger and masculine aggression- ever held a place in my life as an anticapitalist, vegan, ‘straight edge’, antipatriarchal African young person (you know, the quintessential ‘SJW’, according to some), and why do they continue to? To answer this question for myself I actually decided to revisit their entire catalog (albums/original songs only), from Kill ‘Em All to Hardwired… To Self Destruct. I actually thought long and hard about this answer (and all the words that precede and follow), and honestly, all I could think about is death. Metallica is about death.
The death I am thinking about though, is not based on the physicalness of things; it’s not the violence performed every day on us by the state; it’s not the fear and doubt encouraged by those who claim to be our caretakers. The physicalness of death is a major factor in their music, but no. This is not what I mean. It is a death which must occur in order for us to truly be at peace with ourselves, and each other. We have to be able to let go.
And despite all of these differences named between us, I must respect Metallica for being that unexpected teacher, and for being consistent on that, even if they had to struggle around doing it. Accepting the Grammy Award in 1992 for ‘Best Metal Performance’ for their aforementioned eponymous album, Lars Ulrich (drummer, co-founder and unspoken spokesman) said, “I wanna thank all of the thousands or millions of Metallica fans out there who’ve been following us for 10, 11 years now, and who made all this possible; and proving to everybody out there in the industry… that if you stick to your guts and just do what you wanna do, that all this will happen sooner or later, and people will wake up.” It should be noted that three of the four bands nominated for ‘Best metal performance’ that year are in the ‘Big 4’ of Thrash metal: Megadeth, Anthrax and Metallica. Motörhead (a major influence on Metallica) and Soundgarden were also nominated.
“Stick to your guts…”
Guts. The very thing we are told to trust, in order to ensure our safety. Guts. The one thing we DO trust sometimes, and as a result it alienates us. The one thing we run away from.
So I write this not only as a document of unexpected lessons, but as a reminder that we must not resist what the universe brings to us.
While the album has some solid jams on it, my favorite song off of Master Of Puppets is ‘Disposable Heroes’. However it was ‘Blackened’ that made me stand up and pay attention. It wasn’t just the memorable Jason Newsted riff (and the always great intro before the thrash blast); it was also the subject matter. It was the first song in thrash/metal I recall hearing, having to do with the need to pay attention to what is happening to the earth, which of course was still important to me as a young person. It was the metal equivalent of What’s Going On, the Marvin Gaye masterpiece, which is my favorite album of all time.
This violence done to Mother Earth was made clearer over the years by members of Indigenous communities, such as John Trudell, and the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which occured in Bolivia in 2010:
“We confront the terminal crisis of a civilizing model that is patriarchal and based on the submission and destruction of human beings and nature that accelerated since the industrial revolution.
The capitalist system has imposed on us a logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limits, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.
Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.
Capitalism requires a powerful military industry for its processes of accumulation and imposition of control over territories and natural resources, suppressing the resistance of the peoples. It is an imperialist system of colonization of the planet.
Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.”
People may argue with me, but I actually would consider …And Justice For All to be the What’s Going On of thrash/metal. Again, while I enjoyed Metallica, it wasn’t until …And Justice For All where I realized back then that I loved them.
That was then, this is now. In re-exploring the catalog I realized that I could recite the lyrics, but I wasn’t really listening. While they sporadically touched on subjects such as death row (‘Ride The Lightning’); the contradictions of religious dogma (‘The God That Failed’, ‘Leper Messiah’, ), straight up biblical narrative (and allusions to it) (‘Fight Fire With Fire’, ‘Creeping Death’, ‘The Four Horsemen’, ‘Jump In The Fire’ (… if you’re stretching it), ‘ManUNkind’); musical adaptations of books (‘One’, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’); and have consistently covered subjects such as the inhumanity of war (and the conversation between nature and nurture- whether political, emotional or spiritual) throughout the years, ..And Justice For All was their sole traditionally ‘political’ album.
In my early days of ‘listening’ to Metallica, the 14 and 15-year old cynic who cut and burned herself, put her head in an oven and walked towards oncoming traffic with hopes that someone would hit her resonated with songs like ‘Fade To Black’ and lyrics such as “We all shall die…” 30 years later, I experienced a situation outside of my control where that almost did happen. Had ‘The Day That Never Comes’ or ‘Cyanide’ been released when I was a teenager who didn’t care if I saw another day, I would have identified with those songs, just as much as I see the value in them today. It’s just that the lyrics hit differently now… in many ways.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do I
(2 Timothy 3:1-5)
WE ALL SHALL DIE.
‘Fight Fire With Fire’ is up there with Sun Ra’s ‘Nuclear War’, Charles Mingus’ ‘Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me’ and Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson’s ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’, among the pantheon of the great works regarding nuclear war and nuclear power. In these last days man’s inhumanity to the world (human or otherwise) will be the root of our destruction. ARMAGEDDON’S HERE.
WE ALL SHALL DIE.
I suppose I’ve never really had an actual fear of physically leaving this earth. Despite it being rooted in depression and ideation, death was always something I connected with. As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to view it more as another chapter of life’s journey, and less as a physical condition. With this understanding I began actively practicing non-attachment: the situations and people who enter our lives are there to give us lessons. We are meant to pass on what we’ve learned, and never keep those lessons to ourselves. Some people come and stay much longer than we’d expect, and some leave within moments. In trying to hold on to these people and moments we hold onto them so tight we forget their purpose as teachers. As we focus on the positive (so as to bypass any pain) we ignore or forget that even those moments perceived as negative can be used to teach us.
That moment was put to the test on February 12, 2021. I remember nothing in between the accident and waking up what I think was the next day in the ICU, external fixators attached to both my legs, and staples in my head. The pain was unbearable over the next month. The high level of narcotics to deal with the pain made it impossible to poop. All those drugs didn’t even feel like they helped. It took five people to move me in order to change me, because not only could I not move on my own, but also because the pain in moving was again, unbearable. I wish this pain on no one.
March 1, 2021.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, at least once a year a voice would speak to me about the potentiality of receiving an amputation. I passed the voice off as me just imagining a worst case scenario. The voice became stronger the week of the accident. The road in which I had to ride daily to get to my job has no shoulder, no paths in which bicycles could travel safely. There are so many so-called ‘blind spots’ it makes me wonder how there haven’t been more accidents. The voice didn’t say ‘amputation’ but it did tell me to be extra careful, for something was bound to happen.
And the day I hoped would never come, did. The voice was right. March 1, 2021 was the day a part of me died, and another part was born.
I have yet to grieve the part of my leg which is missing. I remember that one day my foot and calf were there, and the next day they weren’t. I was able to make peace with everything prior to the amputation, because of my practice of non-attachment. Oddly enough, the thing I am still processing way more than the missing leg and foot is the loss of a number of tattoos. Due to the skin grafts (and needing to get skin from donor sites), the pieces that filled my legs and feet are mostly gone. Out of the 46 pieces of art that have told stories over time across my body, about a quarter of them are gone.
One of those pieces was a group of balloons that said, ‘no fear’, inspired by a(nother) bicycle accident i got into, where my neck was cut by a row of balloons, held together by kite string.
All this I cannot bear to witness any longer
Cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home
– Cliff Burton
How can I be lost
In remembrance I relive
And how can I blame you
When it’s me I can’t forgive?
-Metallica, The Unforgiven III
To live is to die. To die is to live.
Picture it: The infamous Seattle date of the Justice tour. James Hetfield introduces Jason Newsted, and asks the audience to “make him welcome.” Hetfield gives Newsted dap (aka a ‘fist bump’). Newsted is left alone on stage, initially sitting, then standing to finish an electrifying 5-minute bass solo. He returns to sit, and begins the notes to ‘To Live Is To Die.’ Hetfield walks out, playing the main bridge riff. He sits to the right of Newsted. Kirk Hammett arrives on stage with the harmonic conclusion, and sits to the left of Newsted. In between James Hetfield and Jason Newsted is a space, in which a spotlight shines.
Newsted plays a final note; he gets up as Hammett and Hetfield complete their portion. Lars Ulrich returns, and they quickly erupt into ‘Master Of Puppets’. Despite the lightning speed pace, the move into that song was anticlimactic. There was no time to ruminate on the existential meditation that is ‘To Live Is To Die.’ It was as if they refused to allow themselves to grieve… to process loss.
Clifford Lee Burton was a teacher. Sure, he was the adroit bass player in a beloved thrash band. They had a totally different tone from one another, but with songs such as ‘Sanitarium’ I get a James Jamerson vibe from him (which I am totally okay with, because Jamerson is my favorite bass player of all time). Indeed, he was the bellbottomed older brother and teacher in the traditional sense (in terms of his discipline, seriousness and dedication to the craft, and knowledge of scales and structure); his physical transition at a moment when the band was in the initial stages of achieving the levels of fame they would eventually possess (by way of a tragic bus accident) also cemented his role as a teacher. His fellow comrades were not aware of it at the time though, and they continued to hold on to what was, and what could have been. To celebrate life we tend to stuff it in a box and wrap it up in a bow as a relic, instead of opening it and seeing the present for what it is. As a result they clung further to addictions, and pushed people away. Even though it doesn’t have to be, as the old adage goes, hurt people hurt people.
For the most part, we do not control when we leave this earth. What we CAN control (when we have the capacity to) are the decisions we make while we are here. If anything I’m saying makes any sense, then it would be plausible that Jason Newsted is a teacher as well.
Newsted was the ‘powerhouse of energy’ who contributed to the band achieving their goal of worldwide recognition. He was selected to be in Metallica (as a result leaving thrash band Flotsam and Jetsam) after being last in a long line of auditions, and with the blessing of Cliff Burton’s parents. He had the difficult job of dealing with people who had not yet healed from their friend’s passing, as well as the critical eye of the many who saw Burton as irreplaceable. This ‘newkid’ was ultimately the representation of all who connected with Metallica as a band. He was indeed, the fan who got to live his dream; the one who growled his way into the hearts of millions. But really, that’s one (out of many) of the things so loved about him. That connection wasn’t something you could transcribe effectively. It wasn’t written, but it certainly was done. He was the charge.
And Kirk Hammett was/is the grounding wire. He is the eternally shy, humble kid with the youthful wonder (and the jokes which tend to fall flat- which I love), who speaks with most authority as James Hetfield’s right hand lead man. He co-founded one of the bands that laid the foundation for Bay Area (California) thrash metal, Exodus, in 1979. However, April 1, 1983 was the date of the phone call that changed his life forever, as he was asked to audition for another band that contributed to laying the same foundation- Metallica. August 12, 1991 was the day the world heard the album in which the first track held a riff of Hammett’s as the base, ‘Enter Sandman,’ once again changing his life immeasurably. It established them as the most successful metal band of all time.
He was the necessary balance between two primary egos, during their most trying periods. As a shy kid myself (who was also a (not as good) guitar player (and drummer)), his quiet strength was why I gravitated towards him. Indeed, he had that immature ‘man boy’ side (as they all did); however, his openness in discussing his vulnerability endeared me to him. It was very rare to see an adult male (especially one of that stature, outside of Michael Jackson) acknowledge the fact that he cries. A lot. From my vantage point Kirk Hammett (outside of some of that immaturity) rejected a lot of the toxic masculinity that permeated metal, and popular music in general (whether conscious or unconscious),and I am here for it. I have a massive soft spot for the oft-challenged/contested ‘eyeliner and nailpolish’ period, as it was a counter to not only the perceived ‘image’ of Metallica as a whole; it was also during this period (in 1996) where he had a pretty amazing guest spot on the song ‘Headbanger’ by the band Pansy Division (one of the many hundreds of bands I have seen live in my lifetime- “He turned on his cd player/Did I prefer Metallica or Slayer?”)). I remember the moment I heard he guested on a Pansy Division song; it made me appreciate and respect him so much more. So much of what Kirk Hammett did was a challenge to the gatekeepers who demanded that the band maintain this facade of hypermasculinity.
While Cliff Burton was approachable (according to the many who’ve met him), he was still seen as larger-than-life because of his prowess on the bass, and continues to be mythologized. Newsted’s presence in Metallica was crucial because he was the extroverted encapsulation of the collective voice of Metallica fans, and Hammett was the introverted quiet fire. They were necessary for the band’s sustainability.
But Jason Newsted left. He left because he was a bird who could not be caged. He left because he was let down by his heroes. He had to leave in order for the band to understand the magnitude of their cultural power and influence. The gift of his presence took them to unexpected heights, and the gift of him leaving enabled them to recognize their own humanity, as well as the humanity of anyone else who was to come into the ‘family.’
Enter Roberto Agustín Miguel Santiago Samuel Trujillo Veracruz (Kazoo). The one thing which has made Metallica so impactful is their range. Though it may not be totally evident (since they are first and foremost, a metal band), the listening experience is shaped by the music which inspired them. The change in time signatures have a bit of a jazz sensibility (surely inspired by Lars’ love of jazz, as well as his connection to people such as saxophonist Dexter Gordon, who lived in Denmark for a time, and was Ulrich’s godfather). The bass playing from all eras share jazz, as well as classical sensibilities (Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke were/are loved by Trujillo and Burton respectively), and Jason Newsted grew up on bands such as Earth Wind & Fire (my favorite band of all time), so I would be surprised if he wasn’t just as inspired by Verdine White as he was by Geezer Butler. He performed on as diverse a session and tour of artists ranging from Ozzy Osbourne (whom Trujillo also toured with) to Tina Turner. The influence of traditional country on Hetfield and blues on Hammett is quite evident in the albums released during the ‘90s.
The universe definitely spoke, because Robert Trujillo literally embodies the youthfulness of Kirk, and the firepower of Jason combined. While that hunger is evident Trujillo brings with him the diversity, range and experience through his tenure with Suicidal Tendencies (where I originally knew him from), Infectious Grooves and Ozzy Osbourne, without the world weariness and cynicism that has surrounded the band he was to join. When I initially heard and saw that Trujillo was chosen to be the bassist in Metallica, I was surprised. “Robert Trujillo, the dude from Suicidal??!! Is Metallica gonna have funk elements now??!! That is gonna be dope!” While the initial surprise wore off, I realized that him joining Metallica was actually not a diversion from the band’s history, if you pay attention to their catalog.
Trujillo has been a member of Metallica for a longer period of time than past bassists, combined. This could be due to the lessons learned (especially in such a public way) in practicing humility- the student becomes the teacher. It could be that Trujillo practices non-attachment. It could be none of those things, or it could be both. We cannot deny his contribution to the band’s success and sustainability. He came to the band at an extremely low point, and the first album he played on (Death Magnetic; bass on St. Anger was played by producer Bob Rock) resembled the most cohesive work they’ve had in a long time. Whether subconscious or not, the lyrics to ‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’ symbolize this journey: “Rise, fall, down, rise again/What don’t kill you make you more strong”.
“…(P)eople have to understand that in Metallica, we sort of need to continue to shake it up for ourselves and to try different things and to try different experiences; that’s part of what we need to survive creatively.”
You took away tomorrow, still I stand
– Metallica, Hate Train
I do not know if I am a minority on this, but I will come out and say it.
In revisiting their catalog, I realize I actually love… like… well… have great appreciation for every Metallica album. Maybe even more than they do. Despite everything I’ve written at this point (as well as the proceeding text) I don’t identify as a fan.
‘Well why would you write a novel about them then? Because that’s what this is turning out to be. Why would you waste all of this energy on something or someone you’re not a fan of? Don’t you think that’s pointless? A waste of time? I mean, they’re not even gonna see it.’
If they do see it, that is fine. But that is not the point. They don’t have to see it. This is about my own journey, and contradictions which come with the experience that is, Metallica. As I’ve said (but are you listening?), what is it about this experience that contributes to shaping the narrative of my life?
‘You said some things that are pretty heavy in here… Why do you wanna bring people down? People just wanna enjoy the music. Aren’t you thinking a little too deeply about a bunch of dudes in a rock band? Like, what really is the point?’
That may be the case. And that is okay. Everyone’s journey is different. I will continue to say some ‘heavy’ things, and some things people will have a visceral reaction to. It’s important to ask why they would have that kind of reaction. How I process this experience is most likely different from many who listen to the band. And that is okay. This doesn’t make my perspective or experience invalid, just because you disagree, or have a different one. In terms of me NOT being a fan… I’m not really a fan of anyone, at this stage in my life. I just happen to be an appreciator of music, and Metallica happens to be on that list. Also, I can’t call myself a fan because in comparison to the many others in the ‘Metallica Family’ I don’t really know that much about them. I only know a fraction of a quarter of information about them. Yes, I’ve bought the music, I’ve seen them live… and a majority of the stuff I’m talking about here (give or take a few things) I already knew, and have seen/heard before.
Now back to what I was saying…
I see value in their catalog- even Lulu, their universally panned project with Lou Reed. While I am not focusing on their non-collaborative work (or live or covers albums) here, I want to give a nod to Lulu. I’ve never particularly been a fan of the Velvet Underground or much of Reed’s solo work (works like Hudson River Meditations are dope though), and while I feel Reed’s deadpan interpretations of Frank Wedekind’s writings seem to be a better fit with someone like the great Sonny Sharrock (or someone who was inspired by him, since Sharrock had met the ancestors by the time of Lulu’s release); I absolutely respect Metallica for putting themselves out there and doing this. Outside of the lyrics, the riffs could be seen as metal ‘tone poems’…and frankly, the riffs go pretty hard.
And come on. “I AM THE TABLE.” Repeat after me. You know you want to.
Speaking on the album in 2013, Kirk Hammett says, “I think that Lulu is some of the best stuff we’ve done. I mean, the song ‘Junior Dad’ moves me to tears, and working with Lou Reed was such a cool, unique, and special thing for us. Maybe it’s not for everyone. Maybe it’s a challenge for our fans, but for us- Lars, James, Rob, and myself — we loved doing it and it was such a great experience. We look back at it very positively.”
Hammett also says in an interview for Mojo magazine: “I had just lost my father literally three or four weeks previously. I had to run out of the control room, and I found myself standing in the kitchen, sobbing away. And something else extraordinary happened right after that. James came into the kitchen in the same condition- he was sobbing too. It was insane. He managed to take out both guitar players in Metallica in one fell swoop, with his amazingly poetic lyrics. And he came into the kitchen and he was laughing. He looked at James and I, and said: ‘That’s a good one, huh?’”
To be honest, despite everything I said above (and still mean), ‘Junior Dad’ is one of Lou Reed and Metallica’s most moving songs, combining both of their collections. It is seriously one of the best ways for Lou Reed to go out. It is literally the most un-Metallica Metallica song… ever. Yet, if you haven’t gotten lost at what I’ve been saying so far… at the same time, it is the most Metallica thing they’ve ever done.
It is a meditation… it’s a contemplation of life. In all of the chaos, there’s beauty. There’s a lesson in loss… In death. Again, we hear a lot of what’s happening, but we actually don’t listen. If we really stop and LISTEN to Lulu, Metallica and Reed working together makes a lot of sense. The mechanizations of life are built around the societies we were born into, the families who raised us, and the communities we build relationships with…. And the decisions we make as a result of that. Both of their catalogs are rooted in existential exploration, and taking massive artistic risks to seek answers, at risk of alienating their fan bases.
Dare I compare Metal Machine Music to St. Anger?
Y’all… I think they NEEDED to do this. For their survival.
Metallica had to die (by their own hands), in order to be born. In a sense, because of this, even though I am focusing on their non-collaborative albums here (so no S&M and no Garage Days/Garage Inc.), and am praising works such as Master Of Puppets, …And Justice For All and Death Magnetic; Lulu is perhaps their most important work.
Perhaps it’s due to my taste in music, but I don’t understand why Metallica receive hate for anything that doesn’t sound like Kill ‘Em All. Yes, I know that their first four albums tend to be generally celebrated, rightly so; but let’s keep it real- they were called ‘sellouts’ as early as ‘Fade To Black’. They were called ‘sellouts’ when Ride The Lightning got huge enough for them to sign a deal with Elektra Records (the label which housed Keith Sweat, Queen, Missy Elliot, MC5, Björk, The Cars, Anita Baker, Patrice Rushen, The Stooges, Dokken, Mötley Crüe, Love, Television, Busta Rhymes, Anthrax, Tracy Chapman, The Doors, Dream Theater, Teddy Pendergrass, and many more. Metallica actually waged a lawsuit against the label in 1994, in order to get out of their original 1984 contract, due to unfair compensation. The meetings had resulted in the lawsuit being dropped due to the band not only retaining their master recordings, but also being paid accordingly. Metallica’s public battles with the industry and the internet rivaled only Prince Rogers Nelson).
They were called ‘sellouts’ because they had classical-inspired pieces to open their onslaught of thrash (Something tells me though, that if they were to keep the original ‘Jump In The Fire’ and ‘Mechanix’ lyrics, they would not be where they are today. Let’s keep it real).
I could imagine them, at the age of 18 or 20 singing a song with these type of lyrics:
Don’t be a Gibb, son (just go play one)/We’re gonna rock you with our Flying V’s/Our band is number one/We’re gonna melt your face off, Can’t you see
…But somehow I don’t think that would hold the same significance if that was written at age 42. Too many things in life happen to just stay at that level of subject matter.
They were called ‘sellouts’ because they made a music video. They were called ‘sellouts’ because James Hetfield sang and not growled. They were called ‘sellouts’ because they had an album produced by the guy who produced Mötley Crüe. They were called ‘sellouts’ because they made albums that were NOT THEIR FIRST FOUR ALBUMS, even though no one Metallica album sounds alike at all. This is why I can appreciate songs like ‘Dragon’ (which is the closest to Sharrock we will probably ever hear Metallica go) and Lulu as a whole, even if Lou Reed is not my cup of tea. The brilliant chaos of Trout Mask Replica was not people’s cup of tea either; and sadly enough, with all of the torture Don Van Vliet put all the musicians through in those sessions, it is the one that goes down as the greatest work of Captain Beefheart.
As a matter of fact, I would say that ‘Junior Dad’ is the ‘Veteran’s Day Poppy’ of Lulu. They are both meditations on the cost of war- the latter one relating to Vietnam, the former, on the self.
There are things we can certainly take issue with regarding Metallica’s catalog (the lack of prominent bass on ..Justice, or the ‘trash can drums’ and lack of guitar solos on St. Anger for starters). That said, many of the attacks on the catalog are unwarranted. On the question of ‘selling out’ Cliff Burton (in one of the band’s final interviews) said: “We do what we wanna do. If they consider that selling out then, whatever.” James Hetfield adds,“A lot of people think you’ve sold out just because you’re on a major label, and are very popular.” Burton continues,“Or maybe ‘cause you don’t play a thousand miles an hour the whole time.”
You have to get out of your own way. When this happens, you will flourish.
People continue to state that Cliff Burton would resent the direction his brothers have gone in. That is not for any of us (especially if we did not personally know him) to say, given he is not physically here. If anything is to be understood from his comments on ‘selling out’ though; if anything is to be taken from his contribution to the ‘softer’ side of the albums, then it should not be a surprise that the band was heading the way of what the world would hear on August 12, 1991.
The only major changes with the ‘Black Album’ are the production, and the slowed BPM. Lars Ulrich also decided to utilize more inspiration from Phil Rudd (of AC/DC) to fuel his style… and it was a wise idea. He was totally in the pocket. While hardcore fans looked at Bob Rock’s production as a slight to their image and sound, it was that very production which pushed that beloved aggression forward. This was not only one of Metallica’s best-produced works, but it’s one of the best produced of all time. That oft-lamented ‘missing bass’ of their previous album was out front. The themes of religious hypocrisy and internal demons haven’t changed at all.
‘But what about “Nothing Else Matters?’
What about it? I envision many of the songs to be laced in double and triple meaning: the traditional nightmares described in ‘Enter Sandman’ could also refer to the ‘beast’ of addiction and the nightmare of overcoming it; ‘Sad But True’ (one of the hardest songs on the album) reads like an accompaniment to ‘Master Of Puppets’; ‘Holier Than Thou’ could be a sibling to ‘Leper Messiah’. Songs like ‘Wherever I May Roam’ is the world weary sibling of ‘Whiplash’. ‘Through The Never,’ I see as being either inspired or developed structurally from the …Justice sessions. Though it’s well-known that James Hetfield is a hunter (and this is straight up mentioned in the lyrics), I read a song like ‘Of Wolf And Man’ as also being a continuation of the ‘man’s inhumanity and technology ruin things’ theme, not uncommon on any Metallica album.
People focus on the ballads, but I want to take a look at one song- in fact, it’s the song that goes the hardest. ‘The God That Fails’ is one of the few songs which don’t appear to have a double meaning, and it is one of the saddest songs in their catalog. Jason Newstead’s bass groove cuts like a knife, and Hetfield’s biting anger cannot be concealed. To watch someone in pain wither away, where there’s nothing you can do about it because of their refusal to receive medical intervention due to their faith (“I hear faith in your cries”) is angering. If that person is a primary caregiver you may feel betrayed by their refusal to watch you grow. In that moment one may also feel betrayed by that which the loved one has faith in.
I am going to take liberties with another song’s interpretation: ‘Don’t Tread On Me.’ In order for me to listen to it, I have to take it as satire, especially with its nod to ‘America’, the Sondheim/Bernstein tune from West Side Story.
There’s various levels to it. Firstly, the place that is now called the U.S. (widely known as ‘America’) is rooted in settler colonialism. The ‘patriots’ and the ‘loyalists’ fought it out (it was Brexit before Brexit), but what was between them had very real consequences for what was to come. The very basis of the ‘declaration of independence’ was to uphold landholder power, and to assure the masses don’t have power. In a 1787 speech to the Constitutional Convention Alexander Hamilton says,“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and the well-born; the other the mass of the people … turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the Government … Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.” James Madison (president no. 4) is quoted as saying: “Democracy is the most vile form of government.” Also: “The right of suffrage is a fundamental Article in Republican Constitutions. The regulation of it is, at the same time, a task of peculiar delicacy. Allow the right (to vote) exclusively to property (owners), and the rights of persons may be oppressed… . Extend it equally to all, and the rights of property [owners] …may be overruled by a majority without property….” Its very economic foundation is based on enslavement and genocide. Capitalism is the driving force of this nation. There are plenty of people who pay taxes who can say they are not represented, whether it’s through economic, educational or political inequities. Taxes are allocated towards imperialist wars (assisted by private military contractors), when those who pay taxes have not consented.
So yes, I am choosing not to take it as anything but satire. Like everything, I observe it dialectically. From Hetfield’s standpoint, the song was a reaction to the political themes of their last album- and of course the political themes are one of the things which make me love the album. Given they’ve had humanistic perspectives of someone on death row, as well as various ruminations on the inhumane machinations of militarism; ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ seems too much like a ‘You Ess Ayyyyy!’ endorsement, as opposed to the “not standing politically on any side” position the band tends to publicly take. Hetfield has stated before that musically he was not into the song; in terms of the lyrical content, perhaps that is a different story.
It’s difficult to not take a position on something like that, when you have a representation of the Gadsden Flag on your album cover. I did purchase the album when it came out, but I will not deny when I cringed when I saw the cover. Even being a teenager, I understood the significance of that snake. Even if there is no public position on it, you can guarantee that others have taken up that mantle. This is the exact reason I did actively seek out bands who were open in their antifascism/antiracism/etc. While it is true Metallica as a collective have not come out as openly left or right wing- and I am sure there are variations in political ideology in the band (Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett’s feelings on U.S. president no. 45 and the ideology which protects him being an example- “REJECT the term Alt-Right, just another sneaky euphemism for white supremacy, call it what it is!”); not only have right wing people embraced songs like ‘Don’t Tread On Me’, but the Gadsden Flag is heavily endorsed and flown by white supremacist and white nationalist groups all the time. It could be seen prominently at the U.S. capitol on January 6, 2021. It holds the same significance as the confederate flag- and even though the confederate flag technically doesn’t even represent the U.S., people still support it as such.
Another symbol commonly associated with James Hetfield is the iron cross. Like his hero Lemmy Kilmister (bassist of Motörhead who transitioned in December of 2015) the iron (or Maltese) cross is seen everywhere- namely, on several of his guitars, rings, and a tattoo. Prior to the nazi appropriation of the symbol it was a military decoration in early Prussia/Germany (it looks similar to what the Roman Catholic Teutonic Knights wore). But just like they did with the swastika (which was originally used in Eastern spiritual practice as well as with Indigenous peoples, such as the Navaho and Hopi) the nazis used it for other purposes. The German government in most cases still supports use of the iron cross for a military medal, without the nazi context or association attached to it (of course). Iron crosses have, in more modern times, been re-appropriated by most who wear them to represent ‘fashion’ or ‘rebellion’ (or ‘inspiration by Lemmy’?). The iron cross symbology is more common in the skateboarding and motorcycle cultures these days. I used to skate back in the day (yeah, I did that too) and when I first saw it, getting into skating and new to it, I was a bit taken aback.
Search For Animal Chin was the joint back then. Don’t front. It was for you too.
I have had friends, and knew folks who were openly anti-racist and had swastika tattoos (symbolizing its original significance), and would get harrassed because of it. There have been anti-racist folks who wore skate gear that had ‘iron crosses’ on them (due to Independent being one of the largest and most well-known skating truck companies. For those not aware, a skateboard truck is the piece that connects the wheels to the board, or deck. Independent became popular because their trucks were stronger than others at the time of the company’s founding). In the 70s Jim Phillips, the designer of the Independent logo, originally did make it look more like a traditional iron cross but was told to change it due to its past nazi assocotiation. He designed a new logo, tweaking the cross a little. He saw a picture of Pope John Paul II (whose robe bore a symbol similar to a traditional iron cross (aka the cross pattée)), and figured the new design had to be okay. Thus, the logo was born. Interestingly, after 43 years of the same logo, the company decided to change it. I wasn’t sure if this was true (since the news for this change was announced around April 1 (aka ‘April Fools’ Day’). I looked at their website, and it appears to be true. Even though there are a couple of remnants of the original logo, the new ‘diamond’ logo has rolled out. And of course for the metal (and jiu jitsu) community, this change is not very well recieved. While there have been shades of support (“Guys, it’s a logo. Get over it. Not only that, but no one needs religious or war symbolism in skating anyway. I’m old but am happy to move on. Grow up”); the comments opposing the change go from reasoned:
“The new look actually looks smarter and cleaner, all things considered. Just too small surface area on pivot support to inscribe a logo there. (whatever the logo is makes it look too busy) Independent name already on the baseplate. That is all you need. It’s a skateboard truck, not a billboard. Buy some Indy stickers if you like the logo so much.”
to outright toxic:
“Unbelievable. The world is full of sissy boys and girls. Always somebody crying and complaining about something that doesn’t bother anybody. Sickens me.”
“lmao such a liberal thing to do. politics should never be in skateboarding and look what happens, cant be surprised. these fuckers are actual soft ass pussies who dont know what the fuck theyre even talking about half the time. thanks indy, cant believe you surrended to the gay fucktards. very disappointed.”
The same people who decry the ‘conformity’ of Marxism are the same people who decry change. And they stand beside misogyny, racism, white supremacy and homophobia to do it.
The same people who complain about ‘snowflakes’ are being… snowflakes. The same people who hate ‘antifa’ and think it’s an organization. I guess they have to take that up with the Bolsheviks and anyone else in history who actively organized against fascist forces. I don’t think there’s a problem with disagreeing on what tactics someone uses, but to openly be out here saying you hate any groups militantly fighting fascism? Capitalism is violent. The state is violent. So-called ‘patriot’ groups are violent. I guess that those who are opposed to antifascist actions are in favor of fascism.
People love being entertained by violence daily: The UFC, the WWE/WWF, action and horror movies, music with violent imagery. But when it comes to fighting the actual violence of the state, of capitalism, of fascism, of patriarchy, somehow that is evil.
Well… If that’s the case- AM I EVIL?? YES I AM!!!
For this, I will defer to El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X):
“If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”
“In order for you and me to devise some kind of method or strategy to offset some of the events or repitition of the events that have taken place here in Los Angeles recently; we have to go to the root. We have to go to the cause. Dealing with the condition itself is not enough. And it is because of our effort toward getting straight to the root that people oftimes think we’re dealing in hate.”
I am not in any way a fan of the iron cross (in any of its forms) due to its history in relation to the crusades. And of course, that nazi thing. Fascist or not, it still has a history that’s not exactly positive. And even if I thought it was cool it’s not something I would do (i’m not German nor am I a Catholic, and I have no cultural connection to those things). I am not in any way implying or insinuating Hetfield is a nazi. If he was, I’d be massively playing myself by writing this piece. My guess is that he would not be in a band with openly anti-white supremacist members. My guess is that he would not be in a band with a Filipino or Indigenous/Mexicano dude. Nor would he have played with Lloyd Grant. And he damn sure wouldn’t lend his voice to that track with Swizz Beatz and Ja Rule (I totally forgot about the existence of that song. I haven’t heard it in years… and I’d like to forget it again. I think it would be dope if they explored more hip hop, but nah… that moment was not it. See… there really are a couple of Metallica songs I don’t like. I may love all their albums, but i’m not delusional). I am bringing this up because people do still associate the symbol with the boneheads, even if most people who wear it now do not wear it for that purpose. There are people who may not be familiar with him, and see the symbol, and (rightly) critically ask questions. And let’s keep it real, there’s probably those few right wing Metallica fans who still willingly (and proudly) associate the iron cross with that.
I may disagree with Hetfield on a lot of things (probably most things), but I don’t think he’s that stupid. He better not be, anyway. In regards to all of that, I will defer to the Dead Kennedys: “You still think swastikas look cool/The real nazis run your schools/They’re coaches, businessmen and cops.”
“When you ape the cops, it ain’t anarchy.” You cannot be simultaneously anti-establishment and support the police state.
IF THERE IS ANYTHING I SUPPORT THE PERMANENT DEATH OF, IT IS FASCISM, AND ALL THAT UPHOLDS IT.
In 2008 on the German 3SAT network , when asked about Metallica’s music (‘Enter Sandman’ specifically) being used as a means of torture in Guantanamo Bay, it seemed as if he initially interpreted the question as if it were a simple case of the same music being played repeatedly for hours. “It’s just a thing. Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica. It’s strong. It’s music that’s powerful. It represents something that they don’t like. Maybe freedom, aggression… Freedom of speech. Part of me is kinda bummed about it, that people worry about us being attached to some political statement because of that. We’ve got nothing to do with this, and we’re trying to be as apolitical as possible.”
I remember the reaction people had when this news first surfaced, as there were bands at the time who petitioned for their music to not be used as a means of torture. Under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, music as torture was banned. Clearly, this was nonbinding, as this act was still occurring. The Roots, Trent Reznor, Tom Morello and others who discovered their music was being used protested said use, as well as participated in one of the mass campaigns to close Guantanamo itself. Because of this, it makes no sense to me that he would have no awareness of this campaign. Though Anarchist folk/punk band Chumbawamba did say (in a 2010 interview with Spiral Earth) that Metallica “are at least a proper band unlike what Simon Cowell’s been responsible for foisting onto the world in recent years,” they obviously (and rightly) had major criticisms with Hetfield’s comments on Guantanamo, and even wrote a song about it.
Remaining apolitical is still a political act.
Hetfield continues. “…Politics in music, at least for us, don’t mix. It separates people. We wanna bring people together.” I think that is a nice gesture, but that is literally impossible, even with Metallica’s music and history, to remain apolitical. It is incredibly naive to think that putting the Gadsden snake on your album cover, and releasing a song called ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ is not going to have any political associations. To say that individual members of the band have opposing views (therefore having a public position “would not speak for all of us”) is understandable. With that I will ask, is ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ that rare unified voice then? I mean, during the ‘Icon’ special held for Metallica on MTV, some military personnel walked out on stage. The crowd yelled in unison, ‘USA! USA!’ That made me cringe. It is incredibly naive to think that the global relationship to the U.S. is a wholly positive one. It’s naive to think that Metallica fans in the hood have the same relationship to the U.S. than Metallica fans that may have been at the capitol on January 6.
His response to the whole thing seemed to be more of one based on ‘American exceptionalism’ in a way- ‘Metallica stands for freedom, and everyone should be able to have that.’ In an interview with the Guardian, he says, “If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure.” He laughs it off (similar to how he’s done it in other interviews on this) by saying, “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?”
So while Hetfield is emphatic in his claim of staying away from politics, it is naive at best, egotistical and abhorrent at worst, to not understand the impact of torture (whether through music or not) on humans. You can write a song about the torture of being in the process of dying on the electric chair; you can capture the inescapable prison of someone who lost all limbs (and most senses) due to (again) the inhumanity of war… and yet you cannot see the humanity of Iraqi people? A people who were invaded based on a lie? If ‘Murica claims to ‘spread democracy around the world,’ wouldn’t that be supporting a fair trial with a jury of peers, as opposed to audio or physical torture?
When that happened, Metallica did lose major points with many, including myself. Still, it got buried in the annals of history, and the Napster debacle still takes precedence, despite it being worse (in my opinion) than the Napster debacle.
They were one of the first Western bands, along with AC/DC, to play a concert in Moscow (right before the end of the Soviet Union- and lest we forget, the U.S. and Russia were battling over Afghanistan. The U.S. intervened anywhere that had Soviet support, involvement or presence, no matter how small or large. One of the roles in U.S. imperialist policy is to prevent the rise of Socialist and Communist parties around the world, which of course Afghanistan had, prior to the invasion. Despite all the recent news of an exit, the united snakes’ military is still there, as well as all of the private contractors). Speaking of Russia: The ‘zombie apocalypse’-themed visual rendering of ‘All Nightmare Long’ (from Death Magnetic) is certainly not apolitical: “An atomic US threatens the world with unchecked capitalist imperialism! They feed on the exploited and the spoils of war!” Ambiguous? Possibly. Satirical? Also possible. Apolitical? Absolutely not. The U.S. has the most imprisoned population in the world, and folks on lockdown are one of the most marginalized groups in this country. Their decision to film the title track from St. Anger in San Quentin Prison (where both Jeffrey “Khatari” Gualden and George Jackson were assassinated), as well as the statement at the end of the video, “For all the souls impacted by San Quentin, your spirit will forever be a part of Metallica,” is ultimately not an apolitical decision.
It seems like they’ve calmed down on this in later years, but to write songs about subjects such as the inhumanity of war and other political themes, flippantly passing them off as ‘just songs’ and being condescending toward anyone who sincerely identifies with said songs is extremely problematic and alienating. It contradicts the idea that Metallica’s musical objective is to not divide people. If they are saying that people can interpret a song in whichever way they see fit, then a song like ‘One’ resonating with people as anti-war (as opposed to just a song about a dude who got blown up by a land mine (it was an artillery shell in the book)) would make sense. And people should not be judged for that.
Hetfield says, “You’re always going to lose some fans if you say something that you might believe politically. I wanna go past that and get human.” I definitely understand where he is coming from (in its fuller context, even if I don’t agree). Being idealistic about your hope for ‘unity through Metallica’ is certainly a great idea; it’s actually one I support, and have even experienced. But again, like anything else in metal, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality. It’s important to understand that you will lose fans as well if you don’t stand for something. You are always going to lose people.
2008 was the year of Death Magnetic’s release- the same year as the responses to using music as torture. There was a video made to the song ‘The Day That Never Comes,’ directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Perhaps their idea of ‘apolitical’ is different than mine, because they stay making these songs and videos that have political themes running through them. I for certain am okay with that, but I’m not sure that they are. There is no way you can read a script or treatment where the plot is about a U.S. soldier being injured, and then another soldier contemplates whether or not he should shoot a man who he initially deems a suicide bomber and say, ‘nah, that’s not political.’ Can the final objective be about examining forgiveness? Of course. But given the geopolitical environment, the video is setting the viewer up in regards to an ideological position. In an interview with MTV Hetfield states, “It’s the forgiveness part — that is key,” he continued. “Metallica has never plugged into any current event visually, but this one is kind of a hotbed. People have very high opinions about this war, and we’re trying to cut through all of that. The politics and the religion tend to separate people, and what we’re trying to do is bring it together with the common thread of resentment and forgiveness.” Kirk Hammett states, “Ultimately, the concept of the video deals with humanity and the relationships between human beings and how your basic sense of humanity can override any sort of politicized situation,” Hammett added. “It’s about being compassionate and humanistic in that sort of situation. So you could call it a microcosm of what’s happening in the world today.” Hammett also mentions in an interview with Playboy magazine, how nazi boneheads get tattoos with Metallica song titles “with big swastikas underneath.”
And I want to be clear: there is a MAJOR difference between skinheads and boneheads. While both groups developed from working class backgrounds the original skins gathered around a love of ska, with some ‘Northern soul’ mixed in (for the Mods). The ‘traditional skinhead’ scene was a combination of mostly African and European folks. The ‘trad skin’ scene from the UK traveled over into the US, and organizations like Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) were formed. I was a punk and hardcore kid who hung out with SHARPS all the time. There’s also the Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH).
Some of those folks gravitated towards the far-right National Front, and thus, the boneheads proliferated.
Can you control what art people put on their bodies? No. But in general, if an artist is politically ambiguous, and does not want to take a stand on a particular issue due to the fear of alienating people, that is the element you are going to get. And in the end you will alienate people who are the recipients of white supremacist violence, who may have been your fans. As an artist you have to make a decision about which side you’re on.
As I said, I look at everything dialectically. While I definitely do see the positives in Metallica’s music (and am enjoying their growth and maturity) I also have trouble seeing their disconnect between the music, and taking an actual collective position on the content inside of it. The liberalism of it all frustrates me. I think that is okay to say, and struggle around.
I think it’s also okay to address and struggle my own contradictions around my relationship to this band.
I haven’t seen anyone in Metallica publicly say this; however, I have seen more than a few in the fan base openly disparage anyone not right wing or politically conservative: folks who support the democrat party (which is definitely not radical or revolutionary in any way), to anyone who is left of that (you know, Anarchists, Socialists, Communists… and if y’all haven’t figured it out yet, this is the position I take, and have publicly done so for over 30 years). I mean, Kirk and Lars were attacked by fans as well. Critiquing Trump’s policies and saying that white supremacy is bad, while I wholeheartedly agree with them, are not even revolutionary positions. These are the people who will consistently call democrats ‘Marxists’ (which makes NO sense at all, since democrats tend to not be anticapitalist in any way. Also, democrat policies are just as imperialist and inhumane as republican policies). These are the same people who go on about people being ‘sheep’ who ‘hate freedom’, while supporting appendages of the state, such as the police and the military industrial complex. These are the same people who say that ‘backing the blue’ is ‘thinking for oneself,’ and that supporting anything from police reform to abolition is something a ‘mindless sheep’ would do.
The role of any art that’s any good is going to question the system. It’s going to question the status quo. A lot of these fans lament Metallica making an album that don’t sound like Kill ‘Em All, and some of them ALSO lament marginalized and colonized folks actually fighting and organizing for self-determination. Sometimes, people don’t like change, regardless of where it comes from.
Back to the front.
Just because you claim an apolitical position, it doesn’t mean the situations which drive political analyses and action cease. But for them, “the CNN years” (as Ulrich called it) were over. And of course, they have certainly endorsed bands that have taken strong positions, such as Anarcho punk band Discharge (along with GBH, they are noted to be one of Hetfield’s favorite punk bands. Metallica even covered 1982’s ‘Free Speech For The Dumb’). Despite having political themes throughout their albums to this day, ..And Justice For All was a particular point, a particular place in time. And that’s what mattered to them.
‘But I thought nothing else matters. What about that song anyway?’
‘Nothing Else Matters’ is the true centerpiece of the Metallica album, and every one of their albums have one.
‘How can it be the centerpiece, when it’s just about a dude who misses his girlfriend while he’s on the road? What is WRONG with you??!! I told you, you think too hard about this stuff.’
But you see, that’s exactly why it’s the centerpiece. It’s not that it’s simply about a girlfriend- it’s about the willingness to lay aside the facade for a moment, and just be vulnerable. It’s clear that this person grounds him enough to be able to open himself up to trust another person, after whatever traumas he’s faced. The verses kept repeating themselves, as if they were mantras, as if to remind himself that it’s okay to sit in these feelings. The verse which opened the song also ended it: “So close no matter how far/Couldn’t be much more from the heart/Forever trusting who we are/And nothing else matters”. For a hardened heart to be able to accept that kind of love from someone is a beautiful thing. “Open mind for a different view/And nothing else matters”. Even if you’ve moved on from that person, the first time this happens, you never forget it. You let people in so many times, and get hurt. The person who comes in and kisses your wounds, you never forget it.
I never really understood these lyrics until I was older.
On ‘Nothing Else Matters’ (and ‘The Black Album’ as a whole), Kirk Hammett says, “Lars, Jason and I were going through divorces. I was an emotional wreck. I was trying to take those feelings of guilt and failure and channel them into the music, to get something positive out of it. Jason and Lars were too, and I think that has a lot to do with why the Black Album sounds the way it does.”
The other centerpiece of Metallica is ‘The Unforgiven’. That said, I want to focus on the ‘Unforgiven’ series as a whole. I, II and II are among my favorite pieces in their whole catalog. In the same infamous 3SAT interview Hetfield says, “Our music, we’re talking about human emotion; hopefully a universal feel… the feelings of humans. We’re not trying to make a statement. The statement we’re making is death, fear, confusion, wonder… human emotions.”
The greatness of those songs is not because of some inherent need (as a woman) to hear ‘soft music’ from a heavy metal or thrash band. I know that’s a common stereotypical sentiment (some of that even coming from the band in the past), but as to its validity I have no empirical evidence. I can counter it though, as in the course of exploring that journey which is Metallica, I found that a lot of men love the trilogy as well.
Why? Because it speaks to a subject that many of us have struggled with: forgiveness.
“What I think a dramatist has to do is to thoroughly inundate himself or herself in an awareness of the realities of the historical period, and then dismiss it. And then become absolutely dedicated to the idea that what you are going to do is to create human beings whom you know in your own time. So that all of us sitting out in the audience feel that ‘Oh yes, we know him,’ no matter what period. This is the 1700s, but we must feel, ‘I have had this experience, I have known this person,’ so that once you know the realities of the time, you use them really as residue at the back of the head so that, you know, you don’t have them go out and get an automobile; but where the human emotion is universal in the time sense, as well as the world sense.”
– Lorraine Hansberry
I have been writing songs since the age of 8. Even though I continue to write and create music and have performed live over the years, I in no way consider myself a musician. I’m not saying that I won’t get better at it but frankly, in comparison to the range of music I listen to I’m just not that good. I play music and am okay at it, but I am not good at it. I am not a musician. There IS a difference. What I am is a writer of words. Throughout life I have been a writer of essays, commentaries, stage plays, screenplays, poems and lyrics and still it took years for me to be comfortable with that, because I never wanted to label myself.
It was Lorraine Hansberry who was the catalyst for the cessation of that fear and apprehension.
In response to the idea that her most famous work, A Raisin In the Sun, is not a ‘Negro play’ due to its universality (despite its south side of Chicago location, despite the fact that it was about housing discrimination and despite the fact that she openly identifies it as “a Negro play before it’s anything else”) she says in a 1959 conversation with writer Studs Terkel, “Invariably this has been the point of reference… What they’re trying to say; and mistakenly as a matter of fact… What they’re trying to say is that this is not what they consider to be the traditional treatment of the Negro in the theater. They’re trying to say that it isn’t a propaganda play, that it isn’t a protest play, and that it isn’t something that hits you over the head, and the other remarks which have become cliches themselves… So what they’re trying to say is something very good. They’re trying to say that they believe the characters in our play transcend category. However, it’s an unfortunate way to try and do it. I believe that one of the most sound ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create the universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific.”
“And as of today, if I am asked abroad if I am a free citizen of the United States of America, I must only say what is true: No.“ Without acknowledging the historical (and present) relationship the U.S. has to Africans who live there, as well as Africans across the globe, one may be upset at her statement, espousing the ‘Love it or leave it’ ethos (as echoed in songs like ‘Don’t Tread On Me’). If one does not examine the U.S. involvement and support in the destabilization of democratically elected and socialist-leaning countries around the world, through coups, blockades/embargoes and more (such as Cuba, Chile, Haiti, Grenada, Honduras, Vietnam, etc.), then the comment will be taken as nonsense. If all one is fed is, ‘’Murica is about FREEDOM, and we go over there to not only protect ours, but others’ as well…’ then one will not ask why U.S.-based private contractors exist to protect resources (which the people in those places have no access to)- follow the opioid and crack epidemics. If the only sources you get your information from are ones in which the intention is to galvanize support for imperialism and (neo)colonialism around the globe; and if one refuses to look at primary sources from anywhere outside of CNN, MSNBC, FOX and all the other capitalist media, then of COURSE one is not going to understand the context of what Lorraine Hansberry is saying. And instead of thinking about WHY she, or anyone else, would say such a thing the only thing done is to react and be jingoistic.
It’s a funny thing, people continue to talk about how ‘America is the most free country on earth’ when remnants of McCarthyism still exist (‘The shortest straw’ is still being pulled). It wasn’t until 2015 where gay people in all states could be legally married. They keep updating CoINTELPRO under different names, regardless of the political party working at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Slavery still exists under the prison industrial complex. Not everyone has access to health care. Militarized police are still an occupying force in select communities. Educational and economic inequities persist. People still have to decide whether they are going to pay rent or mortgage, or if they are going to eat. Where on earth is this freedom? It is funny that the countries declared as ‘lacking freedom’ (according to ‘Murica) have free health care for all, free housing, free education…
(Oh, and by the way, for the 2nd amendment absolutists and essentialists who see any sort of regulation as ‘Marxism’, this is what Karl Marx himself had to say about waging armed struggle: “The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed.” Also: “Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”. From the Deacons Of Defense to the NAACP to the PAIGC to AIM, right on down to the ANC; there has always been a history of armed struggle waged against the oppressor.)
This is why it is crucial to study primary sources.
It should be noted that Lorraine Hansberry publicly understood the connections between capitalism, imperialism and racism, and their consequences. Through Freedom, she, Paul Robeson and others continued the ‘Black radical writing tradition’ in its staunch class/race/gender/land analysis. The publication was decisively socialist, pro-worker and anticolonialist, and as a result was (unsurprisingly) targeted by the FBI. As to A Raisin In The Sun (and other works which tend to be universalized despite the specifics of the subject matter) people saw themselves in the experiences of the characters, and were not able to pathologize them. This was confusing to people. Someone can only be humanized if the observer sees oneself in it. She continues, “That kind of care, that kind of attention to the detail of reference… I think people, to the extent they accept them and believe them as who they’re supposed to be, to that extent that they can become everybody.”
Even though individual band members have been open about where they stand politically, what I sense is ultimately, this is where Metallica are coming from with the decision to, as a collective, stand on the hill on apoliticism. But as ancestor Lorraine Hansberry said, I think it’s an unfortunate way to do it because once again, you are always going to potentially alienate someone, either based on your openness, or your silence.
If we are to simply talk about writers conveying a particular scenario or emotion which can be universal; despite any divergent political and/or social ideology there is a value that tends to be ignored when it comes to James Hetfield’s pen game in the latter half of Metallica’s catalog. While the first three albums used heavy inspiration from books, films (or other pieces of music), and while you saw some emotion bared on the second and fourth respectively- ‘Dyers Eve’ is one of the most emotionally brutal in the catalog; it wasn’t until the fifth album where self-reflection was allowed a space to peer in. And there’s always been a visceral reaction to that ever since, by many of the old school Metallica gatekeepers.
In discussing the collective listening experience of Metallica there are specific things I love about them- the cymbal hits (on the second) and pattern shifts on the first (‘On the one! Uh!’) and third beat (I also appreciate that Lars is not a metronome, contrary to the thoughts of a lot of fans and appreciators); Kirk’s ability to capture a phenomenal solo or riff out of both pain and wonder (wah and all- LEAVE HIM ALONE!); the little references which contribute to the song’s narrative (like the passing ambulance siren in ‘Hate Train’ from Beyond Magnetic); all of the bassists’ capacity to take the band to various places (Yes… ALL the bassists. I am not in that fight about who was the best, because I think they are ALL dope. Burton’s playing, even with all the classical and jazz phrasing, have the punk sensibility. Newsted’s beefiness is pure metal. And Trujillo’s clean tones have that versatility, representing the best of the former two). I love when the harmonics come out.
And yeah, I love their ability to capture the experience of death in all its forms. Which is ultimately the whole point of this thing you’re reading, isn’t it?
Back to the subject at hand- please forgive me for my meanderings.
Please forgive me.
Forgiveness can only occur upon death.
In retrospect the writing in general wasn’t just about being young and angry, even though I WAS young and angry back then. With a little more of life’s experience, a little more wear on the body and a lot more discernment I saw that my or my family’s experience was not an anomaly; I discovered that far too many ended up growing into a society where there was no support network to deal with trauma in a balanced or humanistic way. I lived in a world where I was sexually assaulted/almost raped on a school bus at the age of 8. The other kids laughed as it happened. I was consistently told growing up that I was ugly, stupid and worthless. I got beat by my mother occasionally, but I got beat up and bullied religiously by my sister. My stepfather was there, but he wasn’t always present. By the time of his passing at age 50, we were not on the greatest of terms. I grew up in a pool of narcissism and toxicity, and I was drowning. My parents eventually couldn’t stand each other. There were a lot of stories involving knives, involving biting, things thrown all over the place. Sometimes he would hide from her. Both my parents were self-hating, imagining this proverbial notion of ‘whiteness’ to be this symbol of moral and societal perfection. (Fortunately my mother became a little less self-hating as the both of us got older.) When I was a bit older people at school weren’t exactly condescending (at least not like my blood relatives), but thought I was weird because I was ‘the Black kid who was vegetarian/vegan, and into rock.’ Obviously there was some joy in between the pain, but much of my life was spent internalizing that pain. I kept myself busy so as to not think about life. Sometimes when I would stop I would cut or burn myself. I tried to be me in the best way I could, but in those moments i was for sure, gone.
It’s something I have to fight every day, even with all of the healing work. I pray that I will not fall into despair because of the new body i live with now. At age 43 I finally came to the point where I have accepted my body, which is what has helped me to accept this new body. Admittedly I still I have an unshakable worry.
‘The Unforgiven’ series is one of the band’s best explorations of existentialism. It is one where I’ve found myself returning to them repeatedly, capturing new things every time.
It’s clear that the series is exploring different levels of forgiveness. Can we forgive those who have done us harm? Can those who have experienced trauma build balanced, healthy and humane relationships? Can one who has lived through trauma experience forgiveness of the self? Is it even necessary to forgive one who has done irrevocable damage? Emotionally, is there such a thing as irrevocable damage?
The first ‘Unforgiven’ seems to be a continuation of ‘Dyers Eve’; where the latter was pure unadulterated/youthful anger, the former (and the others which make up the series) comes from someone with a few more years’ experience, and a hard, world-weary cynicism.
I can definitely trace semblances of my life’s experiences in the lyrics, as I’m sure many can. As Janet Jackson once sang, children are “living in a world they didn’t make,” and they end up either reiterating or reacting to the rules the grownups make up. In capitalist, neocolonial and patriarchal societies in particular, gender expression (outside of the ones societally assigned to you) is frowned upon. There could be repercussions for this, or for not fulfilling any societally-destined role: ‘man as provider’, ‘continuation of the family tradition of doctors’, and so on. These scenarios are still common, but there are many more people in this day and age tearing down that foundation and building a new one. What lay beneath the rubble from the old edifice are the kids who were not given a chance to grow.
It starts from day one: unless we came onto this earth in a more natural environment, most of us reading this were born in a hospital. With bright lights and loud noises, it would make sense that a baby would cry as a result of the contrast to the peace of the womb. Sometimes, the child is snatched immediately away from the one who provided that safe haven, sometimes for health reasons, sometimes not. The world a baby enters is, in many cases, violent.
That tragic expression, those tight-shut eyes, those twitching eyebrows…
That howling mouth, that squirming head trying desperately to find refuge…
Those hands stretching out to us, imploring, begging, then re- treating to shield the face—that gesture of dread.
Those furiously kicking feet, those arms that suddenly pull down- ward to protect the stomach.
The flesh that is one great shudder. This baby is not speaking?
Every inch of the body is crying out: “Don’t touch me!”
And at the same time pleading: “Don’t leave me! Help me!”
Has there ever been a more heartrending appeal?
And yet this appeal —as old as birth itself —has been-misunder- stood, has been ignored, has simply gone unheard. How can this have been? How can this still be?
A newborn baby doesn’t speak? No. It is we who do not listen.
-Frédérick Leboyer, from Birth Without Violence
In rarely (if at all) ever attempting to understand a child’s perspective, too many adults set their children up for a lack of preparedness in how to navigate the world. There is an expectation that somehow they will magically know as an adult how their bodies work, how to build relationships and interact with others, and how to respond accordingly in the face of injustice. Too many adults inhibit the creativity of children, by either setting boundaries so thick, or not setting any boundaries at all. In this environment it’s not as easy for a child to learn basic life and survival skills, and they eventually have to learn on their own, either through other adult figures or peer groups.
New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Sometimes, children are thought of as the extension to a parent or caregiver, and any potential or actual deviation to that role is unfavorable. A child’s self-expression can be shut down either due to familial or societal expectations. Therefore, the child shuts down. A narcissistic caregiver can see the child as “new blood” to siphon energy from.
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules
Children are sponges, and sometimes they echo the behavior of their caregivers. They are admonished for it, and are told, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on and on he’s known
A vow unto his own,
That never from this day
His will they’ll take away
A child’s spirit has been so diminished, they begin to withdraw. They were never allowed to have self-expression, and any hopes and dreams once had are either no longer, or were never expressed. Thoughts are the one thing they feel they can control. The child begins to internalize doubt, or hate. The child struggles into adolescence, then into adulthood, unprepared for the world outside. The child of narcissist or toxic parents or guardians may not have boundaries, because they are seeking love or positive reinforcement. They become a people pleaser.
Won’t see what might have been
The child grows into an adult, who potentially becomes a shell of the self. The adult grows into an elder, possibly never fulfilling any of the dreams they made or achieving goals they’ve planned, based on fear of rejection or failure.
The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
I do not want to be that old man.
I want to grow old. With cats.
Lots of them. Well, up to ten.
(I wanted kids too. I love them, but my perspective on being a parent or caregiver shifted after the accident.)
In order for me to realize the potential of that simple wish… the true potential of myself, I had to move away.
I made the decision to move away from it all at the age of 23… 3000 miles away from the place I was born and raised. I took my yoga teaching certification and my BA (with a concentration in pre-digital photography and minor in women’s studies, because apparently I am an SJW) and moved to the west coast. I did do some photography, but I never kept it up like I should have. Sometimes I take time to apologize to Roy DeCarava for that. I appreciate the conversations about about jazz we would have. I appreciate the time he told me (when I was doubtful about my work) that if I liked it and was comfortable with it, then it was good. That reminded me of the time my grandfather sweetly told me, when I was upset at burning a piece of toast, that “burnt toast is good for you.”
I did however, continue making films (which I began doing in New York). I quit teaching yoga classes after four years because I became frustrated at the focus on the asanas (postures), and not the spiritual journey which the union of mind and body consists of. I was doing some nude modeling at the same time, which I actually did once or twice before I left NYC. I did it as a challenge to myself. I wanted to overcome the horror I felt for my own body. After standing still under all those hot lights 20 minutes at a time, I always wondered if people saw my body in the same ways I saw it. Was it simply a drawing to get a grade, or did it further their own wonder about the variations in bodies that exist in the world?
Standing there under the hot lights was when I heard ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ by the Beach Boys for the first time in my life. Never before has a song (that I did not play on my own) depicted how I was feeling at that very moment. I stood there physically naked but was blanketed with feelings of melancholy. I still internalized that which I escaped. I have not heard their full catalog, and out of the songs I’ve heard I acknowledge it’s not my style. ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ is the only one which seems relatively impactful.
That, and ‘‘Til I Die’.
In a funny way the song still applies. I mean, how many African anticapitalist organizers are writing long pieces about the impact of Metallica? I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m just one, or at least a solid minority on that. I just wasn’t made for these times. Or maybe I am.
‘That’s why I keep asking you, why are you doing this? Is it really worth your time writing all these words… for NOTHING? Why don’t you just write it in a diary and keep it moving?’
To answer your question, yes, it is worth it. We can now keep it moving.
As I write this I realize how much I’ve done in my life. But at the time I couldn’t see it.
It was difficult for me to see or believe much about myself that was good. There were people in my life whom I loved, and who loved me back; but I didn’t see what they saw. If the one person I wanted to see those things in me didn’t see it, then what did it matter? So many times, the ones who are our caregivers are the ones doling out the abuse. They either reiterate the behavior that was bequeathed onto them, or they are directly reacting to their material conditions. There was a point where I knew I could not blame her forever for whatever choices I made in life. I did not want to give anyone that much power over me.
In order for me to truly heal, I had to forgive my mother.
I figured the best way to do so would be through writing. I interviewed her in the book I was writing on Michael Jackson. The book was not unlike what I’m writing here. It was about healing. It took two years to write, and I was 3/4ths of the way done when he passed. After June 25, 2009 I made the decision to never return to it.
So perhaps this is the book I am supposed to finish.
For the MJ book I interviewed a lot of people- people who personally knew him, worked with him; people who were fans and appreciators. What impact did he have in their lives? Was he an artistic or cultural vehicle through which people gravitated towards in times of escape? Could people relate to him, based on shared experiences of trauma? One of the most personal to me was the interview I did with my mother. It was the first time I can recall the both of us opening up about our own traumas. We both shared tears. We shared laughs. I felt as if it were the beginning of something new.
I returned to NYC after 17 years, with the intention of helping take care of my mother. She was getting older, and I wanted to be there. I stayed with her for six months. While I was there I began to withdraw. The ideation returned. Everything felt so beyond my control.
I became that child all over again. I didn’t want any of the wounds to reopen. I didn’t want to resent her. I didn’t want to redub her ‘unforgiven’. It was really important I heal from this… we heal from this. Do I love her at a distance, or do I work through it?
What exactly is love?
In the everyday pictures in my brain, the aperture was sometimes closed, leading to a lot of dark thoughts. I would fall in love too easily, knowing the feelings would never be returned. Still, I pushed harder. I would say and do things, and drive people farther from me (if not push them away totally). That was my way of dealing with my simultaneous fear of rejection and total vulnerability. What I felt was unrequited love from my mother as a child, and that extended over into other relationships. Me always being looked at as someone’s ‘kid sister’ was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that I wasn’t seen as a ‘threat’ to anyone’s romantic relationship (as the friends I hung out with most tended to be in partnerships); it was a curse due to the unrequited feelings. I was always told (by people in partnerships, of course) that I would make a good partner. They can say that because they never felt that way about me… and not many others did either.
I didn’t have an interest in ‘dating’ people when I was younger. I’m not particularly fond of the words ‘date’ or ‘dating’. Even though I know that’s not what it means, it makes it seem like relationships happen for a very brief amount of time. There’s no focus on building anything larger, significant or sustainable. I know people develop those type of feelings at early ages, but that never happened for me. People thought I was strange, to the point where they set me up with a fellow classmate. I was about 12 years old… way to early for me to be thinking about that sort of thing. I went along with it, but it did not make me comfortable. I remember us going on a double date with my sister and someone she was with (she actually was into boys at a young age). I remember my sister (who is my twin) and I having a birthday party (probably the 13th), and the person I was set up with ate the portion of the cake with my full name on it. I just never understood that sort of performance.
Before I had ‘the sekks’ with anyone, I did ‘date’ and mess around with a few people. That was in the upper teenage years. The first time I ever had intercourse with anyone, I was in my early 20s. I hung out with this person a couple of times, but I did not think of them in that way. The night it happened, I was not anticipating it. I was not physically, mentally or emotionally prepared for it. When he began taking off my clothes, I was stunned and could not figure out what to say. As it was happening it felt unreal. I didn’t consent, but I didn’t say no either. It is the ‘gray area’ I’m sure many people experience, yet aren’t sure how to speak about it.
I do not hate this person at all for what happened. It took me many years to be able to find my voice, in being able to say no with assurance and assertiveness. We all have to be better at being in tune with those we are with, and asking if it is okay to move forward. Consent is crucial.
In the first ‘significant’ partnership I was in, I had not yet found my voice. Because of that fear of rejection I made a commitment to never reveal my feelings. The moment I break my commitment, I enter an abusive relationship. He was significantly older than I, and while some flags went up in our ‘friendship’ stage, I moved forward because I feared being alone. I grew tired of being consistently rejected. I think I was the one who actually initiated it. I remember us sitting in his car, and I said something like, ‘Do you wanna go out?’
He had a daughter that was around my age (we have actually met). I would stay at his place if I wasn’t at my job. It got to a point where I wasn’t hanging out as much with my friends. He became incredibly possessive, asking if I was dating any of my friends. He would fly into rages, which he also did one time at my job. In between those moments of tenderness we would fight, have sex, fight, have sex… It became an inescapable pattern. I was afraid that my life was becoming too similar to how I grew up.
One day, in public he was getting on me (for reasons I cannot remember. I think it had to do with him thinking I was paying too much attention to a friend, and not him). He said to me, “I’m gonna walk away now, before it gets physical.” The next day I wrote him a letter, breaking up with him. I rode my bicycle to his house, and left it on his car’s windshield.
That was my breaking point. After he read the letter he came to my house, incessantly knocking on the window, to the point where a housemate had to ask if I was okay.
What exactly is love? I actually did love this person. It is true though, that love should not hurt. After the breakup I would see him on occasion; he would either stop by my job to purchase some things, or I’d see him randomly in the supermarket.
Can damaged people truly love?
Can a broken heart be repaired?
Are our relationships as adults reflections of our childhood? Do they have to be?
How does one navigate lying with an abuser, longing for their embrace because you’ve longed for one for so long, but at the same time you are dying inside?
Lay beside me, tell me what I’ve done
The door is closed, so are your eyes
But now I see the sun, now I see the sun
Yes, now I see it
The sun had to set on our relationship in order for me to appreciate the beauty of the rays.
How deep is the ocean?
I lost my way
-The Beach Boys, ‘Til I Die
How can I be lost
If I’ve got nowhere to go?
–Metallica, Unforgiven III
All of our life’s experiences, be it positive or not, shape us into the person we are today. All of these experiences are opportunities for us to learn from. For some, possibly many, the not-so-positive outweighs the positive. When that positive moment is within view and within reach, we grab on and refuse to let go, for fear of ever losing it again. We marvel at a rose’s beauty without acknowledging the self-protection of the thorns. We crave a love that is unremitting after a full life of abuse and trauma, but we do not produce the same love in return. Because we do not yet have the capacity to.
We crave this type of love, but we have not forgiven ourselves enough to fully receive it. As much as we desire to move on from the past, we cling to it. With that, we cannot appreciate the beauty of the sun’s rays which produce the light of the new dawn.
A son’s heart’s owed to mother
But I must find my way
For our forgiveness we cannot carry with us our family’s transgressions, our lover’s or friends’ transgressions… Our own transgressions. In order to truly forgive, we must self-reflect.
Let your son grow
Mama, let my heart go
Or, let this heart be still
Mama said… She told me a lot of things, but I had to fly away from the nest to truly understand myself growing into an adult, and to understand forgiveness. I now understand that I cannot make her love any more than she has the capacity to. I try to connect, but she barely checks in with me. Between us, I end up doing most of the emotional labor. She has not yet visited me once in the hospital or during the initial part of rehab since the accident, and I have to accept this may never happen. If it does happen I will be glad. But I know I must practice the cessation of expectation.
I had to let go to truly love her. I had to let go to see love in her.
Never I ask of you
But never I gave
But you gave me your emptiness
I now take to my grave
So let this heart be still
The ‘more controversial’ period of Load and Reload in particular was honestly their most balanced, in terms of energies. Musically it was technically hard rock, more inspired by country and southern rock (with some nods to Machinehead-era Deep Purple) than the thrash they have become associated with (and people want to box them into). Lyrically it was the most vulnerable and introspective. It was a quality most people (including myself) initially missed. You can miss a lot if you’re only hearing and not listening. These are albums you actually have to sit with.
You must die in order to love life again.
It was written. It was done. They were the ‘chosen ones’. They were crowned one of the Big 4 of thrash (along with Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer). But Metallica as we knew them HAD to die by their own hands, in order to live.
In other words, their death style… determined their life.
I feel Load and Reload were especially crucial to make in order for them… or perhaps just Hetfield, to “Fall in love with life again.” The Metallica we all knew had to die. From my vantage point, this period appeared to be a catharsis of sorts, from the makeup and nail polish (even if half the band didn’t like it), to all the conversations revealed to fallen loved ones, that may not have been able to have had when they were physically present.
I really do feel the visceral reaction to these works are not simply because ‘Metallica switched up their sound,’ as many beloved groups have switched up their sounds, and were not vilified for it. I think part of the reactionary takes on Load and Reload are due to a conditioned acceptance of self-destruction being a ‘natural’ part of life. Accepting vulnerability and reflection is a weakness. And Metallica is not supposed to be weak.
I went to see Some Kind of Monster in the theater upon its release. I, like many, had a visceral reaction to it. Most fans of the band going into it perhaps imagined it to be thematically similar to their Year And A Half documentary, covering the ‘Black Album’ period. Instead, the collective question was, “Why are these man babies whining on camera?” In retrospect, I think Jason Newsted publicly leaving (as well as the cinematic display of internal struggles the band was having) was the universe’s way of calling for some self-reflection. They received a giant dose of reality in terms of how they treated others (and each other), and the masses of Metallica fans (and beyond) saw that it was necessary to make mistakes in order to grow. Humans should never be idolized, because the facade is going to always crack. While I do not advocate for so-called public meltdowns and drama, this was seemingly the only way for the band to take a hard look at itself, and truly find ways to heal.
In recognizing this, they are forever magnetized to death so they could live. As much as Newsted’s presence in the band was a gift, his leaving was too.
I ended up actually re-watching the movie, 17 years later. Coming out of it I realized I had watched a whole new movie. Even though I remembered the plot line, There were few scenes I actually remembered. I watched it with a more humanistic approach, and it became less about ‘man babies whining’ and more of an examination about the decisions one makes when there is no space to heal.
The editing (by Doug Abel, M. Watanabe Milmore, Greg Rogers and David Zieff) was excellent; the inclusion of ‘Frantic’ as the soundtrack for the search for a bassist was a great addition to the plot line. One of my favorite scenes was where they had a bass player ‘audition’ as part of their fan appreciation day/’Band Depreciation Day’. There was someone named Andrew who played Creeping Death with them, and Elena guested on ‘Seek And Destroy’. It was as if they got a little bit of a break for a moment since they slowed down the tempos. As someone who is not a dude who was into the band, it did my heart good to see Elena, a woman, up there rocking with them and doing an excellent job. If only for one song, Metallica had a woman playing with them. That may not be significant to the people who idealize the ‘universalism’ of metal, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds significance in that. While there have been women doing it since the birth of rock n’ roll (Wanda Jackson, Girlschool, The Runaways, The Great Kat and of course, the mother which gave birth to the sound, Sister Rosetta Tharpe), it is heartening to see more representation with young women today, like Meliani Siti Sumartini from Indonesia.
Another favorite scene is one most people probably ignore as a throwaway one. Hetfield’s wife Francesca enters the room to pick up their son. She instructs the son to say goodbye to the “boys… I should say men.” While not the centerpiece of the film, it’s probably the most important to the narrative on several levels. These are people who never had room to grow as men because of who they set themselves up to be. Their occupation was also something that could be seen as ‘fun’- they had access to rivers of alcohol, mountains of cocaine, and as many women as they desired.
(To that point, naive little me never even processed this band as being one to have ‘groupies’. It didn’t compute. It just didn’t coincide with how I saw them, which was a tough metal band that talked about all which was wrong with the world. It was actually relieving to see a band not sing about girls in their music, or openly brag about how many of them they got backstage. It was finally a world where I wouldn’t be objectified, trivialized or sexualized. If consenting adults want to have some fun after the show (safely of course), that’s their prerogative. It just made me happy to see there were bands out there who didn’t make it part of their persona. I was the person who wanted to hang out with people after the show to talk about life and music, and not feel like I was made to be there for other reasons I did not consent to. It upsets me that anyone would want to make a connection with any musician, and their favorite artist or ‘hero’ ends up violating them. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of emcees and musicians, hanging out with them after shows for hours (and sometimes even building friendly relationships over time); and I’ve always been treated with respect. That same level of respect should apply to everyone. I can count on less than one hand how many musicians have flirted with or taken interest in me. Interestingly, one of the rare times a musician has flirted with me was Dee Dee Ramone, at a bar on Avenue A, many a year ago. I doubt he was serious but it was still interesting to have that happen. A few years later, he was gone.
(On another note, I remember when I brought my Ramones tapes to school, and everybody was asking, ‘Is that Howard Stern in a band?’ Has anybody else experienced that? That makes it funnier, since the Ramones made one of their first ‘official’ announcements of retirement on Stern’s show. The very public battles that band (Joey and Johnny specifically) had over the years actually makes Some Kind Of Monster look like kid’s play.))
I think the film did an excellent job of showcasing how detached they were from one another; not just at that moment, but the whole time of their existence. Alcohol, drugs and music concealed all, and Cliff Burton’s passing made it easier to be wholly consumed by all of those things. To immediately audition bassists, resume a tour, constantly work on riff tapes, release two recordings (this includes The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited), tour some more… THEN record an album which cemented your fate, all without coming up for air… It’s just not healthy. As horrible as it was, all of the bullying Jason Newsted experienced was culminated in the scene when Kirk, Lars and Bob Rock went to see him perform with EchoBrain (one of the few scenes I actually remember seeing from the first time). After the show they went to see their old band mate and congratulate him on his new musical life; however, Jason exited the building, leaving Rock and Ulrich in a trail of humiliation. Ulrich comments on how Jason/EchoBrain is the ‘future’, and Metallica is the ‘past’. The funny thing is that Kirk Hammett actually spent time talking to Jason outside. He also contributed to a track on EchoBrain’s first album. It’s understandable if Jason wouldn’t want to be seen on camera, as part of the ‘Metallica show’.
Lars Ulrich is an interesting character, and the one seemingly with the biggest contradictions. His father (Torben Ulrich) was a major tennis star, and Lars could have been one as well, but he chose a life of music instead. His father had been supportive of him in his developing years, and was the only one shown in the film, participating in the creative process (“Delete that.”). While his father was supportive, Lars still felt as if what he did wasn’t good enough at times, because his father would catch mistakes right away.
The ‘Lars’ scenes are actually the ones I remember the most from back in 2004, interestingly. (There are scenes in the DVD extras that I remember being in the theatrical release though. I remember seeing Lars back in Denmark, and the scene about Dee Dee Ramone. Is that just me? Is it a ‘Mandela Effect’ thing?) In the film Ulrich was presented as the ultimate stereotype of what right-wingers consider a ‘liberal’ to be: a person who grew up with a level of financial comfort (from one a dem ‘Soshalist Yurapeeean Countries’, of course); he talks about being in tune with his feelings while simultaneously interacting with a certain coldness. The most glaring example of these contradictions is how he laments not having a real loving connection with his bandmate (and how alcohol was the driver in showing affection); in another scene he is auctioning off a Jean Michel Basquiat painting for millions of dollars, getting drunk in the process as the auction closes (while said bandmate is dealing with addiction)- “I got drunk to numb the pain…” In this same segment he discusses what art means to him, and how it’s worth more than a monetary value. He drops a wine glass, and as he is walking away the camera pans to what looks like the janitorial staff, left to clean up the mess. A human moment occurred in the first quarter of the film, where Ulrich ponders the meaning of the “starting points” and “end points” of art and music, and his son (Myles) calls out for him.
The thing about this documentary is that if one has been ‘following’ the band up to that point, the personalities displayed in the movie would have already been known to some extent. The primary factor is that everything was heightened without the veil of music. Obviously the Monster that was revealed (not just in the film/song title) was not only the monster of addiction/alcoholism, but Metallica itself. They got too big for their own good, and they were ready to implode. James Hetfield lamented how he was “tired” of the “bigness of Metallica.”
Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, two of the longest-running members of Metallica, are the band’s co-founders. They are also both the head writers and arrangers. Ulrich, the more business-minded of the two, looks at the band from the perspective of where the band can go, both musically, and in terms of marketing/promotion. Hetfield, who designed the band’s logos (and is the primary lyricist), looks at the band as a situation of life or death. Literally.
Despite massive sociopolitical and ideological differences I actually emotionally resonated with Hetfield here, as much as I did with Kirk Hammett. It was like watching the two sides of my lived experience. Not remembering the bulk of the film before I watched it again, that actually surprised me. One thing I’ve experienced most of my life was a fear of rejection. I have been rejected more times than I can count, but somehow I maintained this unshakable fear of it. Growing up in an environment that wasn’t wholly supportive is a contributor. You read about all that earlier, so I don’t need to further expound on it. However, what one does with that information is what’s most important. If not dealt with in balanced ways, any attachment or abandonment issues may never be resolved. Aside from practicing non-attachment, the one moment that challenged me was when a friend at the time yelled at me, in public, letting me know that what I was doing was too much, but no one else wanted to tell me, in order to not hurt my feelings. What she said and how she did it definitely hurt at the time (it’s not something I suggest people do… ever), but ultimately she was right.
These days if I am experiencing depression, giving compliments to others actually alleviates some of it. Even if I’m not having a good day, perhaps a kind word will help someone else. How I approach everything now is very different from when I was young; I was so afraid of people leaving me, I would go out of my way to do things for people, whether or not they’d ask. I didn’t want anyone to hate me or beat me up. My head just stayed down when I walked. I was always considered the ‘weird’ kid, and when I got to high school I got even ‘weirder’. I was the kid with a shaved head who listened to punk and metal, and drew all over my arm- two things I knew by the age of 15: that I was going to be tattooed all over my body, and that I would be anticapitalist. My best friend was from Yugoslavia (when it was still Yugoslavia) and she loved death metal and hardcore; I think we were the only girls in the whole school with shaved heads, and we wore them proudly in the yearbook. The photographer wanted to make me look ‘more feminine’. The other friends I hung out with the most were into Megadeth, GWAR and the Ramones. We were part of the island of misfit kids.
To be invisible
Will be my claim to fame
A man with no name
That way, I won’t have to feel the pain
Just a plain old human being
Today, don’t mean a thing
In a world that’s so mean
A world that seems not for me
So privately, I’ll be invisible
That way, I won’t have to explain a thing, if you know what I mean
I won’t even have to be here, on the scene
-Curtis Mayfield, ‘To Be Invisible’
Out of the way and you’re kept to yourself
Ooh, can’t you see that he’s not here
He doesn’t want the attention you give
Ooh, unplugging from it all
Invisible kid floats alone in his room
-Metallica, Invisible Kid
To be honest, seeing Metallica live and watching their live footage (and even interviews), I never would have figured James Hetfield to be shy. I mean, all of the footage from the ‘Metal Up Your Ass’ days, to all the tours covering ‘The Black Album’ especially… Maybe it was me, but I just couldn’t tell. It wasn’t until later on where I saw it. When he was not on that stage, he was a whole different person. The amount of confidence you had to have to take a song you’ve already done in the past, and put it on your band’s first album, talking about how your fans… your FANS are SCREAMING. To top that off, have a near 3-minute bass solo before the drums kick in. And… to let the world know on your FIRST ALBUM that you’ll “never stop” or “quit” because you’re Metallica? I am sure that was all in fun, but you gotta hand it to people who could predict the future as well as they did. The birth of Metallica was built, based on confidence though- Lars Ulrich arranged for the band to be on Metal Massacre before they were actually official band!
If most people saw me, they’d assume I wasn’t shy or introverted either. The most I’d gotten was ‘standoffish,’ but I suppose many shy people appear standoffish. Once a person gets to know me really well, I tend to bare my soul- maybe a little too much at times. So I did look at James Hetfield in a different light, watching the documentary in my 40s, as opposed to when I originally did so in my 20s. Perhaps the wounds in my own life were still fresh, and it was jarring to see it played out among people you didn’t expect it to.
Watching this again (as if with fresh eyes) actually gave me a larger context around Hetfield’s adamant avoidance of anything political. Again, even if I don’t agree with his stance, I understand it. From my vantage point it’s the same reason he hadn’t dealt with Cliff Burton’s passing in a balanced way. It’s the same thing a lot of adults who grew up with trauma as children do- AVOID CONFLICT. The thing is, because the child grows up with trauma, they were never encouraged or taught to struggle around conflict in principled ways; so you either do your damndest to avoid it all together (and clam up or put your foot in your mouth when it presents itself), bestow that same trauma onto others that was bestowed onto you, or surrender to addiction. James Hetfield has done all three in his lifetime, as have I.
I saw that scared child, and I didn’t like it.
Hetfield is obviously the one who drives the narrative of the documentary. It was him who was the catalyst for Jason Newsted’s decision to leave. It was his decision to enter rehab which put a pause in the creative and recording process. It was the conditions set by the rehab program which determined the band’s working schedule. It’s definitely plausible for his band mates to be frustrated or upset at this. It’s very clear that Hetfield’s life has spiraled in and out of control to varying degrees, and despite his fear of abandonment it’s the control he desires in his life which either drives people away, or encourages conflict. He acknowledges that while he doesn’t “want to let the team down” he also has a tendency to suffocate people. He also acknowledged in the film that he was “afraid to get close to people. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how you’re supposed to do it.”
I know the feeling. I also know the feeling of “protecting yourself with depression,” which to me was one of the most succinct things Hetfield said in the film, documenting his experience. I cannot speak for everyone who lives with depression, but as a person who does live with it you work on dealing with it every day… but there is also that recognition in how it drives creativity at times. There is that recognition of it as a preemptive guardian against being hurt. There is a bit of danger in that comfort, but it’s the familiarity that is connected to the comfort.
For Lars Ulrich- the person you have developed a working and familial relationship with over the course of 20 or so years at that point- to address your need for control in both presence and absence, as well as lament that he doesn’t “wanna end up like Jason… I don’t wanna be pushed away,” That is saying something.
I do wonder if the working title of this film was All Within My Hands, because the lyrics specifically describe Hetfield’s inability or lack of awareness of how to get close to people, his suffocation of anyone or anything he loves, and his determination to control situations, and people.
I’ll die if I let go
Control is love, love is control
I’ll fall if I let go
Control is love, love is control
I will only let you breathe
My air that you receive
Then we’ll see if I let you love me
(Interestingly, the band founded All Within My Hands, in which the mission statement “is dedicated to creating sustainable communities by supporting workforce education, the fight against hunger, and other critical local services.” It is the exact opposite of the meaning of the song. The recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti was another tragic situation for our comrades and families there, as they are still reeling from the effects of U.S. and European imperialist policy. The foundation contributed to relief efforts in regards to the earthquake.
May the spirits of Dessalines and L’Ouverture guide and protect the people of Haiti. The revolution lives on in the people.)
Phil Towle, who led the therapy sessions with the band, responded that people “don’t know the difference between sadness and depression.” Having experienced both, Towle’s statement is one that is also very true. I do not know Hetfield’s mental state (as I don’t know him personally), but I am willing to guess with whatever unresolved issues in his life, with his inability or unwillingness to mourn his parents and friend/bandmate over the years, and his addiction(s), that he was dealing with a lot more than just a simple sadness.
Out of the three primary characters Kirk Hammett was the solid voice of reason in the film.
(I do want to show a little more appreciation to my fellow Scorpio here. I want to reiterate appreciation for the childlike wonder and lack of cynicism that exudes the people in his profession (including his fellow bandmates). While Hetfield SHOULD be commended for his mastery of downpicking (especially as a vocalist), I want to show appreciation for Kirk’s downpicking skills, because they tend to be ignored. I appreciate that he acknowledges his mistakes and his willingness to try new things, as a professional who has played in the biggest metal band for 37 years. And his ‘Traffic School’ song is adorable. It’s similar to songs I’ve written, but my songs are not as adorable. I appreciate how he finds joy out of the smallest things.
In rewatching the film I saw so much of him in myself, especially when I was younger. I was a pretty quiet kid in general, to the point where people had to get close to me to hear me, or ask me to speak louder. Because of that I would always get talked over or ignored. Like me, he rarely publicly gets upset, and reserves the anger for when it’s actually necessary- when he does, people are taken aback. Perhaps that’s a Scorpio thing, I don’t know. Another similarity (and this is for when I got a little older) is the connection to a spiritual base to counteract life’s stresses. “I spend a large amount of my time trying to downplay my ego and get it even smaller and smaller..that’s part of my beliefs. I try to be an example of being ego-less to the other guys.”
While he mentioned that he was happy with his position in Metallica, the points of contention were still quite evident. It was clear that he grew frustrated with being in the middle of two warring egos. I have been in similar situations in bands, as the ‘middle person’. It’s difficult to feel heard in between two dominating voices like Ulrich and Hetfield. One of the most memorable scenes was his (in my view, rightful) grievance toward the omission of solos on St. Anger. He was correct in stating that not putting solos on an album “dates it to this period. And that cements it to a trend that’s happening in music right now.” His whole objective on the album was about “serving the song,” and following trends would inhibit that. “We don’t necessarily have to stick to our traditional way, but we also don’t have to follow that trend.” I feel like even the approach to his anger in regards to this situation is spiritual. Another memorable scene is when James Hetfield is talking about how decisions have been made in his absence, and he feels left out of that process. “It’s a total uphill battle for me a lot of times. I don’t like that feeling.” Kirk Hammett’s response: “Well that’s just like the last 15 years… for me.”
And of course, the most memorable is the infamous ‘facepalm’ scene. In the middle of Hetfield and Ulrich arguing, he intervenes. “Why don’t you just go in there and just hammer it out, alright, instead of hammering on each other?”
Even though the ‘mission statement’ of the band (discussed toward the beginning of the film) may have been a collective effort, it appears that Kirk Hammett was the most proud of the contents of it, at the very least. He also makes mention of the concept of saṃsāra (in Buddhism and Hinduism), which is a repeated cycle of death and rebirth. In between those cycles is constant pain, brought on by desire and ignorance. Hence, “my lifestyle/determines my death style.”
I am amazed I did not remember that part. During that time period I was practicing Buddhism (I was even studying Tibetan, which is HARD); even though I did not practice Hinduism I went to kirtan weekly, and I would go to the kṛṣṇa temple on occasion (My introduction to kṛṣṇa was actually through Paramananda Das (aka Porcell), from the hardcore bands Youth Of Today and Shelter. This was in Conneticut, at what I think was a 108 and Baby Gopal show. I was mentioning to a friend how much I loved cows (I still love them to this day). He overheard that, and we began talking about cows and Krishna.) I have taken all of those things in my practice, and applied it to my life now. I really do believe that practicing non-attachment has helped me throughout my experience in this new body I have. I obviously struggle, but practicing it has helped me to not totally succumb emotionally.
It appears that Kirk’s spiritual journey (either through practice or study) has helped him as well, in this experience called Metallica. In a funny way… or actually, maybe not-so-funny way, it makes sense that a significant number of Metallica fans are Christian. Perhaps there are plenty of Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Jainist or Hindu fans as well. Maybe there are even some who practice Ifá. There really are a lot of spiritual references in their music, either through straight-up biblical references, through the struggles with dogmatism, or through the concept of saṃsāra.
Death and rebirth.
It all makes sense now.
‘Okay, you finally got it! Fin. End of novel. Are you finished now??!!’
Are you asking me if it’s over, or are you telling me you want it to be over?
Why is our flag black? Black is a shade of negation. The black flag is the negation of all flags. It is a negation of nationhood which puts the human race against itself and denies the unity of all humankind. Black is a mood of anger and outrage at all the hideous crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of allegiance to one state or another. It is anger and outrage at the insult to human intelligence implied in the pretenses, hypocrisies, and cheap chicaneries of governments.
Black is also a color of mourning; the black flag which cancels out the nation also mourns its victims the countless millions murdered in wars, external and internal, to the greater glory and stability of some bloody state. It mourns for those whose labor is robbed (taxed) to pay for the slaughter and oppression of other human beings. It mourns not only the death of the body but the crippling of the spirit under authoritarian and hierarchic systems; it mourns the millions of brain cells blacked out with never a chance to light up the world. It is a color of inconsolable grief.
But black is also beautiful. It is a color of determination, of resolve, of strength, a color by which all others are clarified and defined. Black is the mysterious surrounding of germination, of fertility, the breeding ground of new life which always evolves, renews, refreshes, and reproduces itself in darkness. The seed hidden in the earth, the strange journey of the sperm, the secret growth of the embryo in the womb all these the blackness surrounds and protects.
Howard Ehrlich- Reinventing Anarchy
Time and space never ending
Disturbing thoughts, questions pending
Limitations of human understanding
Too quick to criticize
Obligation to survive
We hunger to be alive
-Metallica, Through The Never
After I rewatched Some Kind Of Monster (which I saw upon its original release) I immediately watched Through The Never, which I had never seen before. Up until my 30s I was a frequent film watcher; I would write papers for fun, or I’d spend time at friends’ houses for hours dissecting them. The last time I went to see something in the theater was Moonlight (one of my favorite films of all time) and Get Out (another excellent film), in 2016 and 2017 respectively. I actually saw both of those movies three times each. It just started to become too expensive. Even with Netflix and all these streaming services I don’t particularly have the passion to sift through the hundreds of titles.
I actually do remember when Through The Never (directed by Nimród Antal) came out in 2013. I remember it specifically being promoted as an IMAX film. Where I was living at the time, I don’t recall there being many IMAX theaters around. I watched it on this occasion, having no idea whatsoever what it was about; all I knew was that it was a mix of concert film and a whole separate plot line.
As a standalone film, it was one of the most well-made I have seen in my life. The cinematography and visual editing (by Gyula Pados and Joe Hutshing respectively), as well as the music editing (Matt Fausak and Ryan Rubin respectively) were absolutely stunning. It was simultaneously sparse and crowded. I am actually not a fan of when movies are fueled by pop soundtracks; I adore the non-diagetic. I enjoy when there’s minimal to no music. Dog Day Afternoon, Moonlight and Funny Games (I think both versions are fine but I prefer the 1997 version) are some examples which use sound and silence effectively. They also challenge the viewer’s sensibilities. While Through The Never’s narrative is guided by a soundtrack (obviously) it’s done in a way that’s neither overpowering nor detracting. There was a scene I loved in particular, where the masses were revolting in the street against the cops, as ‘Cyanide’ (from Death Magnetic) is playing. ‘The Rider’ (played by Kyle Thomson) begins to chase Trip (Dane DeHaan), but loses him in the crowd, as the police and protesters are going at it- you even see some billy clubs being used on the police. In this shot you see the rebellion being merged with the audience members at BC Place, where the concert footage was filmed. I know Metallica collectively identify as apolitical, but I will be shocked if not one of them at least took a peek at some anarchist theory at some point, at least the so-called ‘heroes’ like Proudhon, Malatesta, Kropotkin or Bakunin… or read about the Haymarket massacre, and the anarchists and socialists who organized and fought for humanistic labor practices- which is why the ‘8 hour work day’ is accepted as the standard in the U.S. There’s too much in their music and visuals (including that constant DISCHARGE patch) for me to think otherwise…. Including their Blackened logo, a black flag. A classic symbol for a pirate flag? Possibly. But I don’t know.
Another brilliant moment of editing was during the performance of ‘Fuel’ (aka the younger sibling of ‘Motorbreath’). The choreographic placement of Trip looking up as the stoplight turns from yellow to red, as the classic “Gimme Fuel, Gimme Fire, Gimme That Which I Desire!” line was screamed, forcing him to slam on the brakes of his van, was nothing short of editing brilliance. The ‘Fuel’ sequence (and the scene which proceeded it) was another moment sound (and lack thereof) was used effectively. Yes, they used aspects from past tours as characters in the sets shown in the film, but the addition of Trip added to the tension. Through The Never is a surrealistic experience that I feel film enthusiasts and students will love; that said, the film is ultimately a love letter to fans of Metallica. About Some Kind Of Monster, James Hetfield describes it as “The best mirror we’ve ever had in our lives,” as well as stating that “nothing catastrophic could happen from telling the truth.” To me, Through The Never is another chapter in the book of self-reflection they are writing. They are, as beloved character Grover puts it, the ‘monster at the end of the book,’ except this book, like life, will continually have addendums and updated editions. The book will never end, because the experience of Metallica will exist for many around the world, regardless of time and space.
The ‘imperfections’ on stage were many (the mic going out during ‘Ride The Lightening’ (the protagonist of the song didn’t want to die, but the mic surely did); crew members getting ‘injured’ and the stage being utterly destroyed during ‘Enter Sandman’ (interspersed with Trip battling The Rider)… and after all the injury and destruction, Hetfield starts to play the chords of the ‘Castle of the Wicked Witch’ chant from the Wizard Of Oz (which opens ‘Frayed Ends Of Sanity’ from …Justice). I’m not even going to get into L. Frank Baum’s racism (yes, the flying monkeys represented indigenous folks), because that will be another 20 pages. Nevertheless, that was a brilliant move. Hetfield nods to Ulrich, and after a few words introduces ‘Hit The Lights’, the song which started it all, and ends the concert.
And if I’m not mistaken, both Kirk and James had Flying V’s. Did I see that correctly?
This film, I tell you.
There are so many scenes you could point out: the camera panning across the arena as the audience continues to sing ‘The Memory Remains’ in a Capella; you can tell everyone in the band is pleasantly surprised, as they were expecting to begin a new song, but the visual embodiment of the love felt is when Hetfield put his hand over his heart. You could tell the appreciation was sincere from all four.
Then came those opening notes to ‘Battery’… When I tell you how I almost jumped out of my wheelchair- because I keep telling you, that is my jam. I am a different person than I was 30 years ago, but it’s still my jam- what can I say? The screen is black, and ‘Battery’ fades in immediately. The scene opens from the same shot it ended with at ‘Master Of Puppets’. In a scene that is MADE for 3D, Trip self-immolates, in order to defend himself. What occurs is actual assault and battery on the poor kid (while he is still on fire), by a group that is somehow allied with The Rider. Sooo… every fan or appreciator of Metallica knows (for the most part) that they didn’t always play the bridge of ‘Battery’ before Kirk’s solo much in the later years, and James yells, “Are you alive??!! HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ALIVE??!! SHOW ME!!!!!!!” So as he is saying this, I anticipate it and go, “WELL THEN SH…” and don’t finish it, because THEY DON’T FINISH IT. They actually do one better. Trip is being beaten within an inch of his life, and in the following scene Hetfield asks the audience if they are alive, over a shot of Trip floating in water; the flames have turned into the sun’s reflection over the water. It’s clear that water is the ‘safe and vulnerable space’ in which Trip goes when facing some sort of trauma (Hetfield also merges with the water at the end of ‘Nothing Else Matters’, and Trip floats again earlier in the film after the accident, and before ‘One’ is performed). That ‘safe and vulnerable space’ is also a return to the womb when things get “much too real.” With all the destruction and death, there is continual rebirth.
(I honestly get second-hand PTSD at times when I see a Metallica set. I have heard stories from audience members feeling the impact of the heat whenever fire shoots up on the stage, so I can only imagine what the band feels on stage- especially Lars. Also, I think about James a lot, given the accident that happened in Montreal (Canada) in 1992. I do laugh at some of the lyrics to ‘Fuel’ though. I also wonder about the thoughts of the fans who have light sensitivity, or folks who experience seizures due to exposure to flashing lights.)
One of the words I keep seeing in the midst of writing this is ego. When we apply qualifiers to the self with the belief that these qualifiers define us, this is the ego. The ego, if one is to follow Freudian theory, is also the thing which keeps one’s impulses in check (the ‘reality principle’). There is of course, the more colloquial definition of ego: self-importance: ‘He is conceited, he has a big ego.’ My guess is that this is the use of the word Kirk Hammett was referring to when he talks about trying to be “egoless” in Some Kind Of Monster (as he doesn’t pick up a ringing phone- one of my favorite moments in the film).
I see Through The Never on several levels: I see Trip as a manifestation of the collective ego of Metallica, and the ego had to consistently be tested through a series of traumatic experiences. He thought, as a runner he had more access to the band than most fans, and could just go out there and see a free show. By the end of the experience Trip’s ego (flip it around) was put in check. Another interpretation I have of the character of Trip is that he is either the embodiment of James Hetfield, or at least Hetfield’s consciousness. The screenplay was written by all four members of Metallica, plus the director. The horror and animation elements were most likely inspired by Kirk and Rob; the concert footage most likely inspired by Lars, based on past tours. But the character of Trip appears to most embody James. While three out of the four members look Trip directly in the face, James is the only one who slows down to purposefully look at him.
Another interpretation I have (and the one I think is the most plausible and applicable to the plot): TRIP IS THE PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF CLIFF BURTON’S SPIRIT. At the beginning of the film, it is (again) only three of the four members who look at Trip directly in the face. Even though he is a part of the crew, everyone looks at him as if they’ve seen a ghost. James slows down in his vehicle (with sunglasses on), and slightly nods in acknowledgement. Kirk (in shock and holding a guitar dripping with blood), acknowledges that he’s part of the crew: “He’s cool. It’s alright.” Lars does a double take when walking past him in the hallway. The only one who has no direct interaction with him is Rob, practicing before the concert in a small room of stacks surrounding him. In another moment which is specifically for 3D purposes, the room reverberates due to the power of the bass. Could I be wrong on any or all these interpretations? Absolutely. I haven’t looked up much information on the film, so I really could be.
In a moment of solitude (and quiet) and after the fall of ‘Lady Justice’ (aka Doris) Trip approaches the truck he was instructed to find. He was asked to go on this assignment to find the truck (and its contents) during the bridge of ‘Creeping Death’… you know the part where everyone chants ‘Die! Die! Die! Die!!!’ (I saw an interview where Kirk discussed writing that riff; he was almost in tears at how proud he was of it. It warmed my heart). It is interesting how Trip was stopped in the middle of that part, considering he almost died (or actually DID die) several times to fulfill the assignment. All of the aerial shots (this one included), were excellent.
As he was instructed to not “pass go,” the lyrics “Lamb’s blood painted door, I shall pass” are sung.
All people who worked on this film need a raise.
It is interesting how he is treated as nonessential, despite being the most essential part of the narrative. He is the one link to get the band what they needed, and was treated with condescension from the higher ups. “That’s why we pay you. Now look…” “Good boy.”
Another day in the life of the working masses.
The driver inside the truck (played by Hrothgar Mathews) is very much alive, but non-responsive. Trip takes it upon himself to open the back of the truck, where he finds a singular bag. He opens the bag, aghast at its contents. He ALSO looks like he’s seen a ghost, and falls back, as ‘Master Of Puppets’ starts. Time passes (some of what happens is described above), and he returns, limping, battered, beat, broken, bruised and scarred, with bag in tow. Trip enters an empty arena. He drops the bag on the stage, underneath a spotlight. He take a long, hard stare. After an almost close-up of the bag (which has almost been through just as much as Trip) he walks off. Everything fades to black.
Not knowing what was to come, I figured the film was over, and it would be either a replay of some of the concert, or footage of the crew as the credits rolled. After that moment of (much needed) silence, When I heard those opening drums, my heart began to sink. ‘Those are the opening drums to ‘Orion,’ I thought to myself. The shot of Robert Trujillo coming in made my heart sink even more. ‘This IS ‘Orion.’’ James Hetfield is sitting there, with sunglasses on, just as he did in the beginning. He slightly nods again, before they go into the first main riff. My heart cannot take it.
In what may look like a simple jam or practice session to those not familiar with the band; those who follow or appreciate them will most likely recognize its double significance. As we get to the centerpiece of the song, Trip reappears. He sits and watches from afar. As tired and worn as he is, his face also reads, ‘Everything I went through was worth it.’ Trujillo is faithful to the jazz and classical-inspired scales played by Cliff Burton in the original. As a matter of fact, they all appear focused to stay as faithful as possible. They went a half step down (and slowed it down a tiny bit), but it doesn’t change the significance, or intensity of the moment. As the final credits roll; split between the four of them (two on each side) are the words, ‘In Memorium: Mark Fisher’.
Therein lies the first half of the double meaning. Mark Fisher was the stage designer/architect for the set shown in the film (and is listed in the credits during ‘Orion’), and the Death Magnetic tour. The MetOnTour setup (which is similar to what’s seen in the film, even though this set is specifically for Through The Never) is one of their most elaborate. He designed sets for artists such as U2, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. His physical transition occurred in June of 2013.
The other half? As the song hits its final note, the final scene is a close-up of the bag.
The bag belonged to Cliff Burton.
The film as a whole gave me a lot to process (obviously), but that ending was really difficult to watch. I had to sit with it for a while. It was a solid send-off to some missed comrades, one of which they publicly did not have time to grieve for in balanced ways. I have seen more than a few performances of ‘Orion’, and they usually do appear solemn but this one hits differently. The looks on their faces here are similar to the ones when performing ‘Junior Dad.’ Make of that what you will. The thing that makes this tribute even more significant is that it was officially released (to IMAX theaters) on September 27, 2013, 27 years to the day of Burton’s passing over. If one studies numerology, there’s an understanding that these two numbers combined equal 9, which is the number of completion. Biblically, the number also symbolizes death and completion. The 9th hour is also the hour of prayer.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
Even though the book of ‘tallica has not yet closed, Through The Never appears to be a visual representation of closure. Not only was it a love letter to the fans; it was a love letter to Clifford Lee Burton as well. It represented the acceptance of Rob Trujillo. I know there are concert films and films based around music such as Stop Making Sense, The Song Remains The Same, The Wall (which this film seems to be a clear nod to), URGH! A Music War, The Last Waltz, the Decline Of Western Civilization series and others; that said, despite watching movies my whole life it wasn’t until I saw D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, where I developed a love for the medium. It was the first film which inspired me to make them myself (which I actually did for a while). Aside from the cinematography (by Pennebaker, Howard Alk, Jones Alk and Ed Emshwiller) I enjoyed that it didn’t lionize Bob Dylan. From my vantage point I found him to be portrayed as kind of an ass (and if the current abuse allegations about him are true, then my hunches about his portrayal were correct).
One of the only pieces of information I’ve seen in regards to the film is a piece from the NME, via the Metallica fanzine So What! James Hetfield laments the loss of money from the making of the film: “We put a lot of money, time and effort into it, and how awesome we thought it was, and how ‘wow, this is pretty unique’ we felt about it, at the end of the day, was its downfall. It was not so much a concert film, not so much an action drama, it was somewhere in the middle; it just fell right down the crevasse. It disappeared. And it was sad to see that.” He adds, “We really took a giant risk on this. Maybe we should’ve thought a little more about it. Building that stage – there was a lot of money put into that thing. But at the end of the day, it’s on us. It’s our fault! We agreed to it, and there you go. So we’ve learned a lesson.”
The greatest lessons are learned in failure. But honestly I don’t see the film to be a failure at all. It seems that all of the projects that are Metallica’s most compelling (or seemingly a labor of love, like Lulu or the Orion Music And More Festival) seem to lose a lot of money. It is funny though, simply because of the clip in Some Kind Of Monster, where they are negotiating the contract with the lawyers, regarding Robert Trujillo. In the first portion of his tenure, he was not as responsible for any financial losses the band encountered. Speaking of Orion, in the 2013 version of the festival the band posed as dehaan (named after the actor who played Trip) and played a ‘secret show’, covering their first album in its entirety. Aside from the films I saw (in 2016 and 2017, respectively), Through The Never has helped to me to fall in love with the medium all over again. While I have yet to see how others feel about it (be it fan base or not); I want to reiterate that I don’t feel the film is in any way a failure or mistake, and I stand by my reasoning.
On the whole ‘St. Anger’ experience and being able to let go, Hetfield says, “When you finally realize what things you do have, the gratitude you need to show for them… You become extra alive.” St. Anger was a major shift sonically from their past two albums… or any of their other albums, in every way; that said, the frequent shifts in tempo and tone make it one of their most interesting. It really was a reflection of what was being documented. In a spiritual sense, St. Anger plugged us into a world that was was a beautiful chaos. It was, at the time, their world. It was a feeling unnamed, because we are conditioned to never name our feelings. It was a process of searching, seeking, creating and destroying. Do they get props for referencing their first and third albums in the title track though (‘Damage Inc.’ and ‘Hit The Lights’ respectively)? The album was indeed the ‘invisible kid’ of the catalog (due to the amount of hate it gets), giving that double request to “open your mind” for that ‘different view’. Not only could this apply to the listener, but to the song’s protagonist as well.
Open up your heart
I’m beating right here
Open your mind
I’m being right here, right now
What with all of the criticisms of the album (and the film documenting everything surrounding this period), St. Anger was crucial for the band to produce. It was during this period we saw a hardened Hetfield begin to open the box he was imprisoned in, in order to be present. This period (in my view) certainly began in the ‘90s, but culminated in the ‘absolute horror’ of Some Kind Of Monster. Arguably, the man is one of the fastest, greatest downpickers (if not the greatest) on rhythm guitar in metal; but honestly, I want to focus a moment on the evolution of his vocals, because it is the biggest evidence of the man’s journey into maturity. He’s not an Ella, a Whitney or a Luther; nor is he a Freddie Mercury or a Bruce Dickinson. Still, I think he has one of the best voices in metal (and rock music in general); and while his trademark growls and ‘Yeah Yeeeeeeeahs!” are enjoyable and unforgettable, people sleep on his ‘natural’ voice, or when that vibrato comes out, or the couple of seconds of runs he does. While I don’t think he generally has a bad vocal moment (even the youthfulness in the first couple of albums has something to it (even if Hetfield himself hates it)), whatever imperfections he does have lend to a certain lack of pretense. Some of his best work is on the ‘softer’ songs, or when he’s on the acoustic guitar. On songs like ‘Mama Said,’ (which is honestly my favorite song on Load) he is able to shine; and the acoustic versions of classics such as ‘Motorbreath’ and ‘Blackened’ show that these songs are able to transcend time, and reach a particular level of maturity.
This level of maturity (musical, emotional and otherwise) proves that we should never support a ‘holding cell’ for anyone.
Back to Some Kind Of Monster for a moment… That space in time where the court of public opinion dubbed ‘the greatest heavy metal band in the world’ unforgiven. There were a lot of scenes cut and were left out of the ‘official’ release, but were quite crucial to the plot. One of the centerpieces of the film (to me anyway) is the scene where Lars Ulrich and Dave Mustaine (the first lead guitarist of Metallica, who formed Megadeth, one of the ‘Big 4’) open up around the hurt that was expressed upon Mustaine’s firing from the group. Ulrich mentions the “overwhelming sadness and guilt” he felt in regards to the firing, because in the end, outside of the angry drunkenness, the “boasting and the He-Man” facade Mustaine had a “tender side” to him that he “was really attracted to, and felt comfortable with.” Ulrich actually speaks of James Hetfield with the same level of sadness and disappointment. He mentioned that love could never “materialize” between them, especially if Dave Mustaine were around. If any affection were shown, it was when they were alone, and after “42 beers.”
This is a scene that could easily be missed as pivotal to the narrative, due to the visceral reaction to the film as a whole. Also, people are still upset that Mustaine was fired from the band, especially when (again) the band prided themselves on alcohol being the fuel to which drove them- the insult to injury being them alternately naming themselves ‘Alcoholica’. In a way, this documentary (and the inclusion of Mustaine in the narrative) was poetic justice. To watch a beloved band’s very public unraveling (and need of intervention) due to one of the very things Mustaine was fired for is, in a way, poetic justice. To watch Ulrich struggle around his emotions in a very public therapy session, and to have Mustaine recounting the consequences of his behaviors (not all to his own doing) should not be taken lightly, if one is serious about studying this band. Despite any level of success after the firing Mustaine, like Hetfield, was that hurt little boy who struggled with rejection and loss. He acknowledges that the firing was the correct decision because he was “dangerous because of (his) disease.” However, he was hurt by the attacks from particular fans, as well as what he’s described as erasure from the Metallica narrative. Despite being credited with co-writing various songs on their first two albums, Dave Mustaine became haunted by the eventual massive success of the band he was once one of the original members of. He did not take his firing as a blessing; instead felt as if he was a failure, and that everything he’d done “backfire(d).”
“It is pretty crazy that we were actually in a band together for what now seems like about five minutes or something… but it’s something that nobody can ever take away… It’s a great part of our history, a great part of his history, and a great part of rock n’ roll history in the last 20 years of the 20th century.”
– Lars Ulrich
In retrospect, would they have given their friend and brother Dave Mustaine that ‘second chance’, given their experiences which led to the documentary? We will never know. It is interesting that Ulrich also acknowledged elsewhere the mistakes he made in not seeing the signs and intervening, in relation to Hetfield’s addictions. “Part of me wanted to drive over and say, ‘What can I do to help you?’” He states that he “didn’t have the guts to do that.”
The scene was also pivotal, in light of what was to come: in 2019, Dave Mustaine was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, on the base of his tongue. On fighting the cancer, Mustaine discussed in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine how utilizing the lessons learned in his martial arts practice enabled him to be disciplined in his healing journey. As a person who was regularly exercising and training in Brazilian jiu jitsu prior to the accident, I empathize with that as I feel as it was a bit of a contributor to my own healing process. The medical staff also commented that my being vegan may have also been a factor in healing quicker than they’ve normally seen in the sort of trauma I’ve experienced.
He received a lot of support from fans, from others who have also healed from cancer… and from those he struggled with. “i got a text message back from my old brother James Hetfield, and I was so, so happy to hear from him. Contrary to what anybody says and contrary to any of the act we put on, I love James and I know that James loves me and cares about me. You can see that when the moment-of-truth is here and I’m telling the world that I’ve got a life-threatening disease. Who comes to stand next to me? James.”
In a recent interview with Gibson (as part of the ‘Icons’ series), Mustaine explains: “I’m glad to say that our friendship today is so much different from that moment, those moments, those days, those times, those people.” He adds,“We’re all different. We’re dads. We’re older now. And I think that probably was the most shocking and hardest thing to tolerate or to accept at the end, was that when the band stopped, I kind of felt like I stopped. I know that’s not true.”
What can be seen as another centerpiece of the whole experience that is Metallica is the infamous Playboy interview, published in 2001 (the same year Jason Newsted left). I remember reading it around the time it was published (it was a MASSIVE online story), and feeling kind of sad, yet appreciative for how honest they were. I was also impressed by the interview because of how well edited it was. They were all interviewed separately (and not really talking to each other), and had one not known that it would not have been easy to spot. That said, if they actually were interviewed together you may not have received the level of pettiness, honesty and cynicism that was displayed. They must have hated each other on some level because it was way too easy, how each person took the bait of those insinuating questions. I didn’t see it that way at the time, but this interview is the preface to the book of Some Kind Of Monster. These four people were literally falling apart in front of the world. These were all men in their thirties, still trying to navigate their own growth spurts and insecurities, and not really knowing how to handle it. It culminated in the documentary.
Even if you see it in interviews and live performances over time, the role of each member was clear. Lars was the face/voice of Metallica (the business). His setup in the interview (as the ‘cultured’ Danish tennis player who collects art and hob nobs with celebrities: “I come from about as liberal an upbringing as you can imagine”) also presented itself to be a cultural and class contrast to James, who was the ‘American everyman’- he hunted, drank beer, had a family, and again, loved his guns. Jason was the voice of the hardcore (old school) Metallica fan base, who embodied the phrase, ‘never meet your heroes.’(“I like the fast, heavy stuff. I don’t think Metallica should do country. We came pretty close to it on ‘Mama Said’. I don’t think that tasted very good to me.”) Kirk was caught in the middle of all of this, and didn’t want to choose a side, because he loved all of his brothers. He was the mediator, and he was kind of done.
In the interview you see similar themes running, that were there in the documentary: the prioritizing of family over the business of Metallica.
The interview in a way did make Hetfield look like the ‘controlling bad guy’, despite being thought of as the “enlightened redneck.” He had a cynical response to fans on the Napster issue (“Why don’t you go live in Canada or some socialist country?”), in comparison to Ulrich’s more measured response. A lot of the interview were barbs between Lars and James, and Jason and James. The person who seemed the most clear-headed though, was Lars. Class aside, he was the one person who grew up in a supportive environment, and was encouraged to explore his dreams. He never came into music as a means to escape trauma. As cringeworthy as his comments and actions may have been at times, his pragmatism is what’s kept Metallica’s name in people’s mouths. When asked about why people who have been abused tend to be attracted to metal, Ulrich says: “I’ve always had issues with that, because I don’t feel I had major psychological damage in my life. Why is that limited to metal? If you go to an Elton John concert, people have the same emotional baggage. If you lined 10 Metallica fans up against the wall, you would get 10 different stories.” If he’s ever said anything else I agree with, it’s this.
Both Kirk and James used music (and alcohol) as a way of countering their traumas, but James was more outwardly aggressive, while Kirk used whatever energy he had on the guitar. As mentioned earlier, as a shy, angry kid I did resonate with Kirk Hammett, if you were to ‘pick’ a member of the band. Without knowing much about his life outside of the music, I felt that ‘hurt kid quiet’ energy, just watching him. He did a lot of the stuff the other band members did, but he just seemed a little more sensitive, and I really appreciated that. While I totally agree with Lars about not essentializing the musical tastes of abused people; I got into punk and metal for the same reasons as Kirk. It was a way of countering the abuse. It was a way of countering the bullying. It was a way to get out some aggression. And I had lots of it. Some of it I took out on myself, some of it I took it out at shows.
Even in the interview, the contrasts are clear. Kirk Hammett: “I’ve never hit anyone in the band. I practice a lot of yoga now, and read a lot of Eastern philosophy. I’m a huge believer in karma: no meat, no beef, no swine, no fowl.” James Hetfield: “I’m definitely not the smartest guy in the band, so winning an intellectual argument is not going to happen. Resorting to violence used to work. And intimidation.” Kirk Hammett: “When James comes at you screaming, he can be intimidating.”
The part of the interview I remember the most (and I haven’t read the interview in years until I made a decision to write about it here) is the question around homophobia. I always had a question around that issue (as well as transphobia) when it came to Metallica, even as a teenager. They covered Queen (and even intro-ed their cover of ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ as ‘a song by the not heterosexual band’ (or something to that effect) when I saw them live). And of course they love Judas Priest and have been on stage with Rob Halford on more than one occasion. And they made a whole album with Lou Reed, who has openly been in relationships with trans women. Still… It’s like Eric Clapton. He can like and play ‘our’ music all day, but he don’t want us in ‘ol England.
There was the time, touring for ‘The Black Album’, where they had the camera show the audience their activities backstage, where Lars said to Kirk, “I’m telling them that you’re heterosexual.” Kirk responded that he was bi. My guess is that they were joking (and it’s probably not a joke they would publicly make today)… but I was like, ‘Hol’ up, WAIT A MINUTE. Is this true? Is this a thing? My heart… Stick a pin in that one.’
I really did want it to be a thing.
Then Load/Reload happened. My question was kind of answered, in regards to homophobia. Yes, I actually like those albums. I am one of the few. Dang, I don’t even think people in Metallica like those albums! Again, I love that period though, not simply because the music was ‘softer’ (remember, ‘Battery’ and ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ are my jams). Not simply because they wore makeup (way more makeup than I’ve ever worn in my life, actually); a whole lot of bands in the 80s wore makeup, and they were pretty much all toxic as hell. I loved it because it was a direct challenge to the toxic masculinity of metal.
When asked the question, Ulrich says, “Ultimately, why do me and Kirk stick our tongues down each other’s throats once in a while in front of the camera? The metal world needs to be fucked with as much as possible. When the band started, everybody would sit around proving their heterosexuality by gay-bashing and stuff like that.”
I don’t know why, but I’ve never respected Lars Ulrich more than I did after reading that. Is there a bit of a contradiction or irony in that two men who (I suspect) publicly identify as heterosexual can do this, and men and women who identify as gay (as well as folks who are bisexual, trans, nonbinary, pansexual, asexual, etc.) continue to be recipients of violence, either verbally or physically? Of course there is. But admittedly I still love it. Because it’s Metallica. Not only was there a bit of self-critique in that comment (I mean, they used to tell everyone Jason Newsted was gay when he joined the band, as a form of hazing), but it was a critique of the metal world in general.
When asked if James Hetfield was homophobic, Kirk Hammett responds: “Um, probably. James hasn’t had a lot of experience with gay people, and that’s a large reason for being homophobic. He needs to be enlightened in that area.” Ulrich says, “I know he’s homophobic. Let there be no question about that. I think homophobia is questioning your sexuality and not being comfortable with it.”
Ouch. My guess… well, hope is that things have improved on that end, since this interview, for both Hetfield AND Newsted. There was no response from Hetfield or Newsted on the issue, so perhaps Newsted took the same stance as Hetfield (which would make sense, particularly in light of his hardline defense on the band’s ‘classic’ period. I cannot verify it, but it makes sense). There was a scene filmed in Some Kind Of Monster where it was mentioned that Newsted called his ex-bandmates “a bunch of homos.” He’s also heard on voicemail saying it. Hetfield rationalizes it by saying, “Maybe the ‘homo’ thing he’s talking about, is this,” referring to the meetings they’d been having with Phil Towle. “Getting in touch with feelings and stuff. I think he’s fearful of this process and how it’s working for us, and how strong it is, and he’s fearful of that. I can relate to that. Years ago, if I were to have heard this stuff, you know… Just rock man! Metal’s in my veins! Screw all that feelings stuff. I can relate to maybe where he’s coming from on that.”
It’s nice that Hetfield seems to have worked through some of his biases post Playboy interview, but I’m gonna say this one more time for the kids in the back- BEING VULNERABLE AND SHOWING FEELINGS DOES NOT MAKE ONE GAY. STOP IT WITH THIS TOXIC MASCULINITY. STOP USING ‘GAY’ AS A PEJORATIVE, OR TO TRY TO BE A ‘TROLL’. STOP IT WITH THE SLURS, JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE AFRAID OF BEING VULNERABLE. IT’S NOT CUTE. If the point of the music is to ‘bring everybody together’ then you have to acknowledge there are fans who are LGBTQ+, and that homophobia (and all which fall under that umbrella) is going to alienate people.
I don’t support in any way what was done to Jason, and he definitely has a right to be upset. But to resort to slurs is uncalled for. It’s immature. And it’s clear that a lot of dysfunction stems from people not giving themselves that space to be vulnerable. So they enact violence or control upon others, or themselves.
Newsted discusses that after the hazing he received at the beginning of joining the band, things “actually got tougher as time went on. The second and third years were the most brutal.” He felt most disrespected by them “(t)urning the bass down on …And Justice for All. Not listening to my ideas, musically.” One of those ideas most notably is his desire to have ‘My Friend Of Misery’ (from Metallica) as an instrumental. Obviously, that did not happen. In response, Hetfield jokes, “His picture is on it.” Ulrich seems a lot more regretful. “It’s the only record of ours that I’m not entirely comfortable with. It became about ability and almost athletics, rather than music.” …And Justice For All is one of my favorite Metallica albums. But yeah. They did Jason pretty dirty on that one.
Jason has long since made up with James and his other (former) band brothers, but in terms of this interview… Besides the battle between Jason and James- and I’m sure this interview was the catalyst for his decision to leave, the following response was perhaps the other biggest piece of foreshadowing to what was seen in Some Kind Of Monster. When asked if he’s ever been to Alcoholics Anonymous, Hetfield says: “I wouldn’t say I’m an alcoholic—but then, you know, alcoholics say they’re not alcoholics.” That was the kind of stuff my mother would say too. Earlier in the interview he says, “I’m surprised I’m still alive.”
In 2019, after almost 20 years of sobriety, James Hetfield once again entered rehab. In response to any cancelled dates which occurred as a result, he stated, “The reality is that I have not prioritized my health in the past year of touring and I now know that my mental health comes first. That might sound like a no-brainer for most of you but I didn’t want to let the Metallica team/family down and, I alone completely compromised myself.”
Even with everything I’ve said in regards to Hetfield’s politics (or assumed lack thereof), and (again) despite whatever ideological and/or social differences we have; on a humanistic level I empathize with him. As a person who has experienced childhood trauma, who has grown up with an alcoholic parent; as a person who lives with depression and has had control issues (mine has been mostly around food- something I don’t particularly talk about), I have compassion for him. I empathize with his mental health struggles, and the necessity in getting that in order. Despite how okay I am with this new body I have, I still have days where ‘the unnamed feeling’ appears. There’s the new reality of random phantom pain. There’s the increase in time of things people who have all their limbs take for granted. There’s the struggle in having to ask for help, when you’ve always been independent.
Addiction and depression are not things you can simply turn off; you have to put in work every single day. I am happy he had the foresight to take steps to continue to heal.
Lars Ulrich said it best, in a more recent interview with So What!: “…I mean, we’re coming up on 40 years here. You surrender to the elements. It’s part of the ride, and, obviously, none of us are officially married to each other, but you know, in marriage vows you say ‘in the good times and the bad times, in health and in sickness, in ups and then downs,’ and if there’s anything that’s clear almost 40 years later, it is that we’re in this for the long haul. We love each other, we believe in each other. We have each other’s backs. We will fight for each other. And we sort of roll with it.”
In the later years of Metallica, Beneath all the wrinkles, age spots and gray hair, lie that same “tender side”, formerly enveloped by three very heavy sheets to the wind, as they sailed on the boat to success. While they all participated in levels of ‘brotherly love’ over the years, some of that was still shrouded in adolescent and hypermasculine antics. Their journey from ‘man boys’ to ‘family men’ has been fascinating. To watch them acknowledge their partners and children as being an integral part of their growth as men is delightful.
This “tender side” in combination with the brotherly love shared between these bandmates is most evident in that embrace shared between James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich at their induction at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2009. It was a fateful day in 1981 that brought these two together, and despite Hetfield thanking Ulrich on that stage for calling him “so (they) could include each other in (their) dreams of being in the greatest heavy metal band in the world,” that embrace was filled with decades of loss, trauma, addiction, celebration and growth that only family, close friends and dear comrades share. All was lost in the moment, except the love these two brothers shared. Very few people experience relationships with that level of intensity and come out unscathed. We are so encouraged to build relationships based on trauma bonding, but very few people are willing to jump in the fire in order to move forward and heal.
Though I am physically far away from my closest friends (which is extremely devastating) I am always happy to see when others can physically be with theirs. As a person who absolutely loves and is craving hugs (but am not really receiving them due to the current pandemic, as well as being in a state of rehabilitation) I watch that hug on repeat, as it is a reminder of the humanity inside us, no matter how worn or jaded we are about the state of the world, or our lives. To watch a man who towers over nearly everyone around him and has been so hardened by life embrace others as a means of comfort and love, or accepts embraces as a means to be comforted himself, is so wholesome. And I am here for it.
It all comes full circle. As I was writing this I discovered the news of the forthcoming release of the interestingly-titled Blacklist project.
‘Wait- are you saying Metallica are Communists? Are you saying they support McCarthyism??!! WHICH ONE IS IT??!!’
Your questions are getting to be mad corny and annoying. Let me finish.
‘Like dang. I’m just saying.’
So I was saying, before I was once again interrupted… August 12th arrives again. This project ultimately is the culmination of their objective: to bring the world together through their music. Despite any criticisms I have of some of the tactics they’ve utilized to achieve this objective, I cannot disagree that this is what they’ve achieved. On Blacklist:
“One hundred percent of the profits go to charity – 50% to our own All Within My Hands and 50% to a charity of each artist’s choice. In addition to raising money for charity, we wanted to show that Metallica’s music transcends genres, distance, and cultures, and we like to think that – with everyone’s help – we’ve done just that. It was important to us that the artists could choose whichever song they most connected to; it didn’t matter if we already had multiple versions of a song, if an artist wanted to cover that song, so be it. We were honored to have artists of this caliber want to be a part of the project and we hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed putting it all together!”
Metallica is the album which cemented their place on the global scale, and the diversity of artists who found inspiration from their music in their own creative process is a sign of the band’s maturity- not just in age, but perspective. I would not have seen a project like this being collectively accepted in the earlier half of their career. It is clear that people exist who discourage this type of growth- the ‘thrash gatekeepers’, if you will; they continue to hold their breath as they wish for the thing that should never be: stagnation.
As I look fondly on those teenage days where my political analysis was developing (and contributing to the person I am today), I also look fondly on the days I first found Metallica (despite not remembering the exact moment that was). I look fondly on that night of December 3, 1991, where I was there to witness a fraction of an aspect of the musical and emotional growth of one of the most beloved groups of all time. Looking fondly at these moments don’t take me back to being a teenager; it’s simply a part of reflecting on the person I am today.
I think if we look at Metallica only within the context of who we (or they) were, we could never really enjoy them. We may be in disparate worlds- physically, politically, geographically- but they have been weaved into the quilted narrative of my life. And I regret not one second.
Breaking your teeth on the hard life coming
Show your scars
Cutting your feet on the hard earth running
Show your scars
Breaking your life, broken, beat and scarred
But we die hard
If I were to actually meet them (whether in person or virtually)…
‘That’s if they don’t hate you after reading this mess.’
I am not sure why I continue to take up so much space in your head, if you hate anything I’ve written. Anyway, if I met them I would simply say, thank you for contributing to helping me make sense of death. Given my life’s experience and given the shifts they’ve made from ‘man boys’ to men, I’d definitely be interested in seeing them live again. Will age have changed me?
Nah… I may be an old punk now (with one less limb), but the memory of December 3 remains!
I think it is fitting to end this with a portion of the famed poem by David Harkins. The poem is interpreted as being about death, when Harkins’ intention was for it to represent unrequited love. And though Metallica publicly state that their songs can be interpreted as the listener sees fit, there is an understanding that their music, both lyrically and sonically, has always been about death. In order for life to creep across the various lands, something must die.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
‘So… ARE YOU FINALLY DONE??!!’
You’ve been asking me a lot of questions. I have one for you.
Since I now have a permanent rod and some pins in my leg, does that make me metal?
‘Yeah YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH… YEAH.’
(All images courtesy of Metallica/Blackened, unless noted (or knowledged) otherwise)
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