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Guilty Pleasure: Metallica

on March 11, 2010, 4:45pm

One wouldn’t look at me and instantly peg me for a Metallica fan. I know it. I’m a schoolteacher, and dress accordingly: lots of boxy sweaters with snowflake and diamond patterns, plenty of scarves, and even – yes, it’s true – a chain for my reading glasses. The closest thing in my wardrobe that anyone would use to describe me as hardcore is my pair of Doc Martens, and I’ll admit that I wear those only because they provide added height without pain.

So, I definitely don’t look the part of a metalhead. And yet – when it comes to Metallica, anyway – I am one.

Aside from my failure to look the part of a true Metallichick, you might be wondering why Metallica is my guilty pleasure. They’re not exactly Celine Dion.

Well, for starters, I’m a total girl about my fandom:

Exhibit A: I felt sad when in 2001 Cliff Burton-replacement-bassist Jason Newsted left the band, because he was cute. Also, the others were mean to him: tricking him into shooting wasabi during one of their tours, turning down the bass on …And Justice for All, and basically making him feel like a second-class citizen. That wasn’t very nice.

Exhibit B: I sincerely wish that all members, save bassist Robert Trujillo, perhaps, would come to an understanding once and for all that a receding hairline = cut that shit off. I’m not that metal. The long hair can go.

Exhibit C: If lead-singer James Hetfield decided to up and leave his wife and kids, I’d be the first in line to marry him. Either way, I’d settle for him serenading me with an acoustic version of “Fade to Black”, the way he plucked it out on camera in the A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica documentary. Acoustic versions of Metallica songs, even those about suicide, are so romantic.

So … yeah. I suppose it’s no wonder that my guy friends from high school never asked me to accompany them to a concert, perhaps not trusting my level of devotion. After all, my high-school boyfriend listened to “One” every night before bed as a means of winding down. Songs about dying on a battlefield, they do so calm the mind.

One male friend, in fact, once summed it up nicely: there are Metallica fans who are familiar with songs such as “Trapped Under Ice,” and there are those who are not. Nowadays, it’s about 50-50. Look around at fellow concert-goers, he’ll lament, and you’ll see those who discovered Metallica only during the Black Album days.

I do know “Trapped Under Ice”, but I suppose I fall within the newbie category – hence, more grounds for classifying Metallica as my guilty pleasure. To be fair, Metallica came together in 1981 (the year I was born), and didn’t really achieve mainstream success until said Black Album’s release a decade later. So far as I can remember, my five-year-old self wasn’t really seeking out Master of Puppets, nor were videos for it airing on MTV, nor was my mom playing it on vinyl (she reserved her turntable for The Carpenters and Whitney Houston).

Now, I’m not here to get into a debate about whether or not the Black Album actually marked the dreaded point of selling out, but I’ll point out that it’s not necessarily a bad thing for someone to discover a band’s older, supposedly purer stuff as a result of being exposed to the mainstream releases.

For example, I remember seeing the “Enter Sandman” video on MTV and being entranced by James Hetfield’s strange, growling beast of a self. Who was this guy? I would have to learn more.

And so I did. Granted, I can’t really explain what it was that appealed to me so much. Lyrically, I can’t relate; not with songs about suicide, drugs, death, cancer, fucked-up religions, insane asylums, insanity in general, Biblical plagues, Saddam Hussein, death, childhood alienation, war, death, and death. But for the record, my favorite album is Master of Puppets – how disgustingly happy was I when the movie Old School featured the title track during a hazing scene? – and my favorite song is “Harvester of Sorrow,” track six on …And Justice for All. I enjoy music that kicks a little ass. I think that’s good enough.

Load and Reload … okay. “Ain’t My Bitch” is a lovely little song, as is “Fuel”. They’re no “For Whom the Bell Tolls” or “Battery”, but they’ll do.

I even felt that all of the brouhaha surrounding S&M – the live-performance album of Metallica’s pairing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra – was completely unjustified. Finally, someone somewhere had come to the realization I’d always held: Metallica’s music is simply gorgeous. Listen to a live version of “One” – with or without the symphony, I suppose – and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

True, my interest started to waver around the time of 2003’s St. Anger, because seriously, Hetfield? I know you sobered up and made your life better on a variety of fronts, which I guess is all fine and good, but wouldn’t sobriety have made you more aware of the fact that lyrics such as “I’m madly in anger with you” would not be, and never will be, good?

Metallica somewhat redeemed themselves with 2008’s Death Magnetic, or maybe that album holds a special place in my heart because it was the album for which I finally caught a stop on its tour.

And again, there is something to be said for any band that kicks even more ass live, instead of sounding like what came out of a recording session was a happy fluke. I remember Hetfield once saying that they were a live band – started as a live band, always would be a live band.

Fuck lip-synching pop artists who charge $90 for a seat in the nosebleed section of a non-air-conditioned basketball arena, and then refuse to do an encore. (I’m thinking of you, Madonna.) You haven’t seen a live performance until you’ve seen Metallica thrashing it out on stage for three-plus hours, beads of sweat flying into the audience. Promising that there would be plenty of “old shit” to go along with the “new shit.” Sounding just as excited to play songs like “Enter Sandman” for approximately the three-billionth time. Even if, as my concert date pointed out, and not without justice, that Hetfield had morphed into something of a Brian Setzer-type, what with that cute little pompadour and all. (And were those skinny jeans we glimpsed from afar?)

No matter.

If I haven’t convinced you of Metallica’s live ass-kickery, look up the YouTube video of “Harvester of Sorrow,” live in Moscow in 1991. The skies are gray, the fingers are raised in devil’s horns, the helicopters are circling overhead, the police are kicking some overzealous concert-goers’ asses. And Hetfield.

Wait for the extended pause about two-thirds into the song. Lars Ulrich rises from his drum kit. Jason Newsted wipes his brow with the back of a forearm. And James Hetfield flares his nostrils and exhales one dragon-like breath into the microphone, before roaring, yes, roaring, “Alllllllll have said their prayers, invade their nightmares! To see into my eyes, you’ll find where murder lies …”

It’s kind of the sexiest thing you’ll ever see.

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