My 30ish Years of Metallicas 40
Back in August I was in Dallas to see Chris Stapleton with my brother; the great Bryan Wakefield.
I was doing some pre-show Googling on Stapleton. Fan for sure, but still learning stuff about him. I found out that he had contributed a cover of Nothing Else Matters to a record called the Black List. Metallica had “commissioned” this project of covers as a part of the celebration of the Black Album. Black List was set to release on or around the release date anniversary of the Black Album. 30 Years! Am I that old? I was a high school junior. Bought it as soon as I could back in 2001. First concert I ever drove myself to was on that tour in Greensboro, NC.
My history, and I’d not classify myself as I die hard follower either (I’ve gone away from them periodically), does go back to 1986 at the age of 12. I was aware before then. But my first two loves were Motley Crue and Iron Maiden. Imagery as much as the music.
I was reading the metal mags around 11 years old. They toured with Ozzy. But they didn’t make videos. So I didn’t have real access yet. But I knew well who they were. Interesting because they looked more like me than Motley Crue did. Hell they could have easily been a band from brothers High School. Jeans, sneakers, t-shirts, leather jackets.
There was an awesome record shop in New London, CT in the same mall where my Mom worked as a store department manager at Caldor’s. This shop had a ton of stuff. Vinyl was still a thing. Cassettes weren’t yet the dominate way to purchase music — CDs existed but you had to be rich. They stocked all of the Metallica records (Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and picture discs) all the time. I used to look at record covers for fun when I go into work with Mom.
I remember watching MTV and the story that Cliff Burton had died in a bus accident broke. The next Sunday that I went into work with Mom, and that record store, I used the money I had to buy Ride the Lighting on cassette. For some reason I could not afford the vinyl copy of Master of Puppets (which was the record that had them out in the road when Cliff died).
Holly shit!!!! How is no one else aware of this at my school? How is this not all over the MTV (they refused to make videos). It was fast, heavy. The songs were all long as hell. Poetic. The topics weren’t what Motley Crue was singing about. I was in. Bought all I could. Even the picture discs.
The songs were so long (average song length on Ride the Lighting is 6 minutes) though that it took until 8th grade when we moved back to South Carolina to learn them all. Almost 2 years to digest 3 records with like 24 songs. Loved it. I wasn’t a great reader, but I could patiently listen to these jams, and I felt somewhat more intelligent, like I knew something. Songs about politics, mental health, and broader subjects than say Whitney Houston.
And Justice for All was released as I was entering high school. September of 88’. What a late summer/early fall that was. Slayer who I’d recently gotten into (their vinyl was also on display in that same CT record shop) released South of Heaven around that time. Danzig (self-titled first record) and Janes Addiction’s Nothings Shocking were also in my personal rotation.
Metallica was still sort of a cult type band for hardcore metal heads (the video and massive airplay of One was still many, many months away). A year later though they were like massively huge. I saw them play the Columbia (South Carolina) Coliseum (the Cult, who l loved, opened) in the summer of 89’. Somewhere I still have tapes of that show (Metallica openly encouraged taping). My Dad (RIP, Dennis Wakefield) took me and the daughter of his girlfriend. Weird and wild. I think my Dad could sort of wrap his head around Motley Crue and some other concerts he took me to. This crazy Metallica shit, not sure, as we never spoke about it.
I floated away from them for a minute after One became a heavy rotation MTV video. And it got huge air play on 96 Wave (the local rock station in Charleston, SC). They were no longer an unknown band (that was packing arenas — that I still thought was unknown). Seeing kids in my High School, that a year or so early would talk shit to me for being a metal head, now wearing a Metallica shirt was too much. I moved on a little I thought.
But when that Black Album dropped soon after I moved to Durham, NC (new school, new town, thank god I had music). I was back in. Enter Sandman was over played. For some reason I no longer cared. Was what it was. They were popular. People who had no clue about the Call of Klatu were loving it. My teenage musical snobbery seemed to be fading a little. The music was great nonetheless. The first concert I ever drove myself to and went to by myself (seemingly my only friend at the new school was not allowed to drive an hour away with a 17 year old, highly responsible me) in Greensboro, NC. I had shitty nose bled seats like I’d had for the show in Columbia. But the show was awesome.
For many years after that show in Greensboro I floated away again. I went on to other bands. I discovered other types of music. I went on the radio at WXDU — Durham (Duke’s radio station)-and thought I was super cool and knew even more than others because I was into these little indie rock bands. Huge bands like Metallica no longer did it for me-except for some sort of guilty pleasure.
Roll tape in my life to 1998. I’d been in the Army for a few years. Somewhat adapted to no longer being around cool college radio people. Just returned from a tour/deployment in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Over there I was listening to Pantera and some other super heavy stuff to stay pumped up. I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. Somehow (probably the library internet at El Paso Community College where I spent a lot of weekends plotting my Army exit) I learned that Metallica was playing in San Antonio at a Polo Field. So I trekked over there with a buddy and saw the show. I don’t remember much. I remember the pre and post show stupidity.
I went away again. For a long time. I heard some of the new material on radio, which was okay as sort of anthem rock. I knew that Jason Newsted had left and Hetfield went into rehab. But I wasn’t in fandom at the time.
It was not until around 2008 when they I saw them play at the Savemart Center in Fresno, CA that I felt I came back. I know at the time I was in a physical place I no longer wanted to be, I’d gone through a string of breakups after a divorce. I needed a jolt. And so happened one night I was able to walk up to the ticket window and score a ticket. Lamb of God opened (they shredded the place). And then this new look Metallica hit. Raw, heavy, fast, blistering songs. Robert Trujillo was in the band now and they sounded and felt more like Ride the Lighting. I was back in.
I went away again. Why? For a few years after the show I was working through career and personal changes. Music in general faded away. I was busy man. I had to pass up an opportunity to see them at Outside Lands even — no time or disposable money with a new baby at home.
Bring the timeline forward about 8 years from the Savemart Center. I was in Chandler, AZ now. Career was at a peak. I was a dad of a 5-year old. They’d not played any shows near me (at least I’d not noticed). But there was buzz. New album coming. Heavy shit.
I went to see them twice on the Hard Wired to Self Destruct tour. The football stadium in Glendale, AZ, which was so good. They sounded awesome, they looked great (I’m old guy now like them), and the pyro was intense. One of those shows that made me feel like I 19 or 20. I saw them at the Moda Center in Portland, OR at some point in 2018 I think. I was up there for work, so why not get a ticket and go.
I consider myself back. And I’m passing it on. I remember showing my son, Aden, some video on YouTube shortly after I took his Mom with me to the show in Glendale (I had even more fun that night because she had fun). We watched them play a show in Union Dale, NY (the old Nassau Colieseum I used to hear about in the metal mags). Aden was jumping back and fourth on the coaches like a crazy man. He was 6 then.
Now at age 10, we took him to Vegas to see his first concert, period. Metallica with his parents in their late 40’s. Plenty of others our vintage.
Highlight for me was that when they started in on Whiplash and I started head bangin, he grabbed hold of and started “Thrashin All Around https://music.apple.com/us/album/whiplash/579146130?i=579146165”
I feel like I savored this show more than others. Granted I had a get off my lawn moment when the seat crashers behind us blew pot smoke in my face. But the reality is there for me at 47 that these opportunities won’t be as plentiful as they once were. COVID shut-downs lessened those as events were shuttered for the past two years. I can still stand, head bang, scream, and keep up with my 10-year old, so I have to do that as much as I can.