Three months after Metallica bassist Cliff Burton’s death James Hetfield told me “You can’t give up”

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 26, 1986

By Steve Newton

“Beware the Merciless Onslaught” were the words that came to me when Metallica vocalist James Hetfield opened the door of his Hyatt Regency hotel room. That message was emblazoned on orange across Hetfield’s black t-shirt. Straggly blonde hair hung across his rough face and thick sideburns, and when we shook hands my fingertips said hello to a row of nasty-looking skull rings.

“Does this guy know I like hard rock?” I wondered as he motioned me in.

The room was a shambles, and Hetfield kicked pillows and assorted junk out of the way, then took a healthy swipe with his arm to make room at the table to sit down. The view from the picture window went down, down, down, and I suddenly wondered: “Hey, what if this dude gets ticked off for some reason, turns into that raging madman he portrays on stage, and kicks your wee ass through yonder sheet of glass?”

As it turned out, I never did have to ponder that possibility for long, because in no time I’d discovered that–offstage at least–James Hetfield is a regular Mr. Mellow. One listen to his band’s sonic machine-gun roar and you’d figure that tossing people from 12th-story rooms would be one of Hetfield’s more charitable occupations. Their sound gives a whole new dimension to the term raunchy, as anyone who saw their show at the Pacific Coliseum last Friday (December 19) will attest.

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They say that music soothes the savage beast. Well, the “beast” that night was an unruly crowd of 4,000, made even more fierce by a 45-minute lull that occurred after opening band Metal Church blew the P.A. Luckily, Metallica’s music was even more beastly, and when they started off into “Battery”, the opening track from their new album, Master of Puppets, everything was under control–so to speak.

Hetfield’s mellow streak vanished when someone threw a bottle in his direction. “If I was one of you out there and I saw some guy throw a bottle at me, I’d beat the f— out of him.” No more bottles visited the stage, but one brave lad did. Grabbing one of Kirk Hammett’s guitars from stage left, he played along beside him before being nabbed.

As it to provide Canadian content, Hammett played slide guitar with a hockey stick, and new member Jason Newsted finished his bass solo by banging the instrument on his head. Newsted is the replacement for Metallica’s old bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a bus accident earlier this year. According to Hetfield, Burton’s untimely demise, though tragic, has only made the band more committed in its worldwide quest for heavy metal fame.

“We’ve always been a fighting unit,” he says. “When I broke my wrist skateboarding, I was back out playing the next night.

“You gotta keep jammin’ on,” the 23-year-old headbanger concludes. “You can’t give up, no matter what.”

 

 

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