EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: JACK DANIELS, ART AUCTIONS, FORTY GRAND THERAPY AND THE DEATH OF ART

I used to like Metallica. When “… And Justice For All” came out, though, the band seemed to be at a turning point. It was the end of a good thing. The band’s sound changed, its fan base changed, and I wasn’t happy with either. Granted, bands get a lot of static if their sound stays the same, and they get the same grief if they “mature.” That wasn’t Metallica’s problem, however. Metallica suddenly seemed interested in being, well, liked.

When I heard about Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the documentary covering Metallica’s recording of the “St. Anger” album, I knew I had to watch it. I wanted to see if my long-standing fears were warranted. I hadn’t picked up a Metallica release since “… And Justice For All,” but I had heard some songs and wasn’t impressed. But was I right in shunning the band for as long as I had?

Yes.

Metallica, as documented in the fantastic film, has problems. Two of them, to be exact. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield. They are egotistical maniacs in charge of the biggest metal band on the planet, and they can’t even get along despite the often dubious intentions of their forty-grand-a-month on-call therapist. They have lost sight of what made the band great, and now things like rehab and art auctions fill their spare time. The fact that they called in a therapist to help them with their problems only leads to a bigger question: What took them so long?

I know I’m probably pissing off a lot of Metallica fans here. I don’t care. I’m not the guy you should be mad at. That honor should go to Hetfield. Not only is he is the one who went into rehab, thus delaying the recording of the album and throwing the band’s future in jeopardy, but he’s also a petulant child whose ego demands that the band work around his schedule, which he alone will determine. That scene in the film was the moment Metallica went from “artistic endeavor” to a “job.” Rarely do you get to see such a transformation, and it is equally rare that it so apparent, but there it was … splayed out like a drunk whore for all the cameras to see.

It was amusing watching this transpire, but also a bit sad. You got the idea that Ulrich cared about the artistic side of creativity (and suing fans who download the band’s music), and Hetfield was more concerned with everything else. He set a schedule where they would only work four hours a day, and nobody would work without him. And therein lies the problem. You can’t schedule creativity. It hits when it hits, which Hetfield ignored. Alcohol kills brain cells, kids. There’s the proof.

I appreciate the band putting itself out there like it did. It took courage to let the fans see the guys behind the instruments act like spoiled rich men who forgot what made them that way. And as musical documentaries go, this is one of the better ones out there as it shows wanna-be musicians how things go when one thinks he is greater than the whole. More importantly, however, it demonstrates what happens when your bassist dies and the band plays on despite never feeling quite right about it.

Some kind of monster is what the band has become, and like all monsters, it needs to be put down. The bell tolls for thee, Metallica. Are you wise enough to listen?

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Posted on April 21, 2005 in Features by
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