A little break from poetry and theater.
This morning I saw an update that said today marks the 25th anniversary of Metallica’s …And Justice for All. Now, not only is Justice a great album, but it’s also the album that introduced me to Metallica. And I love Metallica. I love them. Love.
It was the fall of 1988, the beginning of my 9th grade year. I was a typical preppy 80s kid: Polo shirt, Levi’s pegged by rolling them up, Converse shoes, short hair with long bangs. I listened to some good music like U2 and Pink Floyd, but a lot of the stuff I listened to was downright satanic: The Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode, INXS, to name a few. That’s right, 80s new wave. It was like living through some kind of sonic disease that was the result of very bad life decisions. I was so unhappy. All these years later, I’ve never quite recovered from the shame.
Then one day a friend of mine, Jon “Jonnycakes” Kerr, said, “I’ve got the cure for what ails ya”––a phrase he coined that very moment. He reached into his trench coat pocket and pulled out a cassette tape. “Metallica.” “…And Justice for All.”
Now, at that point in my life “heavy metal” meant things like Motley Crue, Poison, etc. ––the makeup and hairspray bands. I was not a fan. But this band was immediately different. There was no pseudo-scary pretend-to-be-evil stuff, and the air of sex and drugs was entirely absent. The inlay art contained no party scenes or half naked women. No. There was a gavel being slammed down, and on the fingers of the fist that clenched it, the tattooed letters F-E-A-R––which I thought was cool. And then the photos of the guys in the band radiated genuine anger. In my ninth grade mind that meant they thought deeply about life and stuff.
That afternoon I went home with my buddy Ryan Richardson. We were so innocent. We had no idea this would be the last day we would ever watch MTV before midnight or talk about The Breakfast Club without saying it sucked. We put the tape in Ryan’s ghetto blaster and changed the course of our lives.
It’s difficult to describe what happened. As everyone knows, the first track on Justice is “Blackened,” one of the greatest face-melters ever written. It began with a barely audible guitar drone, which crescendoed like a slow sunrise. The drone itself was a kind of high-pitched, vertigo-inducing guitar chant. I felt the vertigo. I felt a trance. Suddenly the drums, the chug, and then the shred. Face? Melted. You can listen to the intro here.
You might think that a kid who had never before been a metal-listener would have to acquire a taste for Metallica. Not at all. My love was immediate and real. And undying. I was transformed. Here is a picture of me on the day I was given the tape:
And here is me at school the next day:
Suddenly I was serious about everything. I was Holden Caulfield as a metalhead. I couldn’t stand phonies and their phony music. (Hearing some kid singing an Erasure song was a perfectly good reason to push him down in the hallway.) I also became a Metallica expert. Every album. Every song.
These days you’re more likely to find me listening to Bob Dylan or some obscure Russian choir, but my love for Metallica lives on. And the music on Justice holds up. It’s so crisp and clean, without ever losing its wilderness. It’s a true metal classic. Here’s to 25 years.
For your further edification, here’s the Shakespeare of metal bands playing the Hamlet of metal songs.
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.