Three Decades of Metallica
Metallica was formed in September of 1981. This month we celebrate their 30 years of music making with a collection of essays. For some, Metallica will always be a part of the big 4 in thrash along with Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. For others, Metallica will always be remembered for their ongoing fights with former Metallica member Dave Mustaine (of Megadeth) or for their iconic bass player, Cliff Burton (R.I.P. February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986). Maybe Metallica meant headbangers and cigarettes. Maybe Metallica meant “dude rock,” as less than a quarter of female poets responded to the essay call. But Metallica doesn’t care. Metallica cut their hair, reinvented themselves as hard rock, riffed on, and made a mark in the revolutionary debate on artists’ rights and digital music downloads by going after Napster. Whether it’s early Metallica or “new” Metallica (which is The Black Album and everything after) few bands have had the longevity in the music world or have managed to capture the imagination like Metallica have.
“For Whom The Bell Tolls”
When I think of those three years when Metallica was colossally important to me I think of all the boys I wished I was, all the boys with the sleeves ripped off their jean jackets, whose parents had let them cut the sleeves from their jean jackets, whose parents didn’t care, didn’t notice if the sleeves were cut from their jean jackets. They were a churning of feral sweat & Marlboro smoke. Like Brad Shebargo who got sent home for wearing the Metallica Metal Up Your Ass T-shirt. Who would run full-tilt, head-first into walls, knocking himself unconscious, in a display of… of what? Is it definable? Perhaps disregard, a recklessness, a perversely performative insanity. It seemed somehow an antidote to the precise failure of the suburban experience; the only way to find authenticity was through failure, through flaw. One time he opened his eyes after hitting his head & they were only whites.
When I think of them now I don’t see them as office workers rocking out the old cds over the grill on Saturday afternoons, or as construction workers driving home with a thick rim of concrete on the cuffs of their jeans. I see them eternally as kids, five-foot-tall gods of righteous, spastic energy, banging their heads, waving their metal-horn hands with dervishes of cigarette smoke surrounding them, running headfirst into every wall & floating in the anesthetized swell & fury of the eternal chorus, chorus, chorus.
Noah Eli Gordon
A Poetics of Appropriation
I cut holes in the lining of a coat so without removing my hands from the pockets, without attracting attention, I can grab whatever’s within reach, wander a little around the store, and then walk out. I steal a cassette single by Metallica. I take piles of candy, a pack of lighters, lift a pen, a keychain, nail clippers and a bottle of honey barbeque sauce. I put a foot-long flashlight in my sleeve, a pair of dice in my mouth, a paperback on the history of torture in my pants. I tell my stepfather I have no idea what happened to the money he kept in his dresser. I learn to attach strips of Scotch Tape to a dollar bill, send it into the vending machine, then pull it back out; I drink lots of soda. Odd, unnatural bulges accompany me out of store after store.
I want you to take this, fold it up, hide it in your wallet, and forget about it, my mother says, handing me a twenty dollar bill, which she then calls my only in an emergency money. I take, fold it, and two months from now have completely forgotten about it. After school, my friends and I drive to the mall, walk into a department store where I take a shirt off the racks, tie it in the fitting room around my waist, attempt to leave, am abandoned by my friends, stopped by security, taken into a back room, photographed, scolded half-heartedly, handed off later to the police, who drive me to the station where I’m booked and told that bail comes to exactly twenty-five dollars. I open my wallet. There’s a five and two singles. My mother is furious when I call, furious when she picks me up at the station, furious during the long car ride home, when, suddenly, I remember the twenty dollar bill.
At some point, I construct an ethics, a code, a flimsy rational: steal only from those whose actions amount to a theft of my own sense of self; anything corporate is fair game; anything privately held has to include some act of personal transgression. When my boss belittles me at work, I figure out how to recalibrate the cash register. When the eye doctor rushes me through an appointment, I search the drawers in his office while waiting for him to return. I’m not proud of this history, and I’ll admit, it isn’t exactly over. But the one thing I really want to steal, the thing I’ve all this time been working up to but can’t quite see though, the thing above all else that would make for the ultimate theft, is this, this sentence by Anne Carson: “No, it is not a mirage, this stupendous humming hulk of gold that stands as if run aground upon the plaza at the center of the city of Santiago.” It’s a perfect sentence, perfect in its scope and movement, its rhythmic music and transformative imagery. The problem is I wouldn’t know where to put it.
I will forever associate Metallica with the late summer/early fall of 1998. I’d just turned 17, I’d had this crazy summer fling with someone who gave me Metallica as a parting gift for my drive back to school, saying, particularly, that I should listen to “Nothing Else Matters.” I listened to that song, and then the album on repeat, while I drove away, away from Cleveland, away from my parents, away from it all, and felt oddly nostalgic and reminiscent about how I was soon to be a senior, about how, in only one year’s time, I would finally be going away to college and looking back on high school, on the summer I turned 17, as nothing more than my stupid past. I hated high school, had no desire to return. I hated Cleveland even more, but going away to school beat living at home where I had to spend my summers. It was a weird, sad drive, but that album kept me company. It’s nice, 13 years later, to be able to remember it.
Jeff T. Johnson
Metal belonged to metal dudes in junior high. I’m not sure I even thought about the music they listened to. For me, metal was a style of mean kid who looked too old to be in middle school, and Metallica was his favorite shirt.
Years later, thanks to the social leveling of college dorm life, I made a discovery: Most American metal heads are Metal Nerds, if not straight-up Nerds. Of course, Nerds Who Love Metal are distinct from Metal Nerds, and cannot peacefully share a niche. Their encounters end in tears and cigarette burns.
As any teenage ethnographer knows, mutual intolerance between Metal Nerds and Punk Nerds is amplified, but more complex: a sneering, spitting, beer-can-throwing antipathy abetted by a Cold War of the words via Sharpie: METAL SUX! etc. Historically speaking, mutual disco resistance was a detente between these rivals (DISCO SUX!).
If only I’d discovered these subspecies earlier, I could have been a freak-of-nature Nerd Who Loves Metal & Punk.
But then I would have been a Metallica fan—Master of Puppets tugs at my vestigial white adolescent tail while my Punk Nerd roots twitch along to Ride the Lightning. And if I was a Metallica Fan for Life, I would have been devastated, instead of disgusted and amused, when Metallica sued its fans for sharing their favorite music.
Fuck those guys, but long may Master of Puppets Ride the Lightning.
Metallica did not figure heavily into my life, except one time when I had spent the evening drinking rosé wine and watching Lost in Translation with my boyfriend’s roommate. We had also made canned lentils, with extra carrots and celery chopped in, because I think we were dieting at the time so eating healthy drunk food made us feel pretty OK about drinking rosé wine all night.
Because he had a great radio voice for mid-2000s Florida, my boyfriend was an intern for the local rock station, and he had received two free tickets to see the world’s greatest metal band play the amphitheatre. He brought along as his plus-one the metallest friend he had (who still wasn’t very metal and I think this friend would agree with me). Late in the evening, after we homebodies had finished our lentils and booze, those two got back and told us an incredible tall tale about hanging out backstage with Metallica, the world’s greatest metal band, and drinking Cristal with Metallica and having a great time with them. About fifteen minutes later they cracked up a lot and said it never happened and that they just got stoned in the car right before they came inside. And I think then we all went to sleep.
A few months ago I was driving from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to see my dad. I had run out of CDs to listen to—burnt out on Red House Painters and Yo La Tengo and other sad highway-type bands—so I put in Ride the Lightning as a joke. During “Fight Fire with Fire” I kind of just sang along in my loud mocking Hetfield voice, punching the air. The standard way to listen to Metallica. I kept doing this through the beginning of “Ride the Lightning,” until, during the second solo, I said “man, this is pretty sick, I have to say,” out loud, as though somebody invisible was disagreeing with me. I actually did this. When “Fade to Black” came, I remembered my friend Ross’s middle-school screenname—Fade2Black88. I’d spent the weekend at his house once, in the woods. Real good guy. He had this cool skylight built into his living room. Then three songs later, I was punching the roof of my Camry, swerving to the beat of “Creeping Death,” and by the middle of Dave Mustaine’s solo in “Call of Ktulu” I was crying slightly, just saying, “aw shit, man, aw shit” over and over.
Metallica was the first band I listened to whose lyrics my mom demanded to read. I was 13, and had been into metal since the fourth grade when my best friend introduced me to Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe because, as he put it, the Duran Duran, Culture Club, Michael Jackson and other pop of the day I had been listening to was “for queers.”
This was a small town in the 80s and statements like that were common. So was the belief that metal bands were devil worshippers and their songs contained subliminal messages that hailed Satan and urged listeners to kill themselves and/or babies and virgins.
But mom wasn’t like that. She and dad were ex-hippies who moved to the country to pursue some quasi-idea of a blissed out hippie utopia. Mainly, they wanted to be left alone, smoke weed and raise their kids.
Album and song titles like Shout at the Devil, “Burn in Hell,” and The Number of the Beast had long been staples of my ever-growing cassette collection. So why, all the sudden, did my mom want to read the lyrics of this band Metallica whose album Master of Puppets I’d just bought?
Because, she said, their songs were about killing your mother. I reluctantly gave her the lyric sheet. She read them, and though some lines concerned her (“cannot kill the family / battery is found in me”) she deemed the tape acceptable for my young, impressionable ears.
But the moment was not lost on me: This was music that actually scared my liberal, open-minded, ex-hippie mother, and that was enormously cool.
Angela Veronica Wong
We had a ritual, my hockey-crazed high school girlfriends and I. Driving the fat Texas highways from North Dallas suburbia to Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas, there were songs that we had to listen to in the car. Had to. They included hockey favorites like “Black Betty;” songs with a personal hockey meaning like “Last Dance With Mary Jane;” and songs that transcended any categorization, like anything off Appetite for Destruction. They included Metallica, usually “Enter Sandman,” though often supplemented with other Metallica songs. And so Metallica will always bring a smile to my face, reminding me of riding in compact cars with girlfriends, of Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway, of rolling the windows down to scream and sing with no shame because how wonderful those expansive Texas nights when you are sixteen, and headed to a hockey game.
My parents are Jehovah Witnesses. This made my life as a teen-age metal-head one filled with desperate deceits. I kept a jean jacket in my locker & adorned it with pins by Testament, Overkill, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Megadeth, D.R.I, Suicidal Tendencies & of course, Metallica. My friends & I would spend countless lunches consuming slurpees & soft-pretzels arguing over the merits of Cliff Burton & whether Slayer were really Nazis or just trying to be “shocking.”
I would go to the grocery store with my mother then drift over to the magazines to read up on all the bands. Knowing “everything” about thrash metal was my purpose as a teenager.
1991, we were all psyched for Metallica’s newest record (The Black Album). It came out on a Tuesday, some of us cut class, drove to Strawberries, bought it, hated it, I mean really hated it, then got caught trying to sneak back into school.
Later, sitting in Saturday detention, thinking life was pretty lame & scribbling “Metallica Sucks” over & over again. So long 1991.
I still love “Anesthesia” & think of Rich, Dave, Bill, Drake, & Jason. I hated life & hated my “teen years,” but those guys were pretty rad. If I were to make a film of an awkward, angry teen in the late 80s to early 90s, that teen would be me & Metallica would be the soundtrack. Sit back, turn-up the volume. I hope it hurts. (At least a little bit).
Everyday I strive to be someone who calls Metallica, ‘tallica.