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Don't Tread On Me: Metallica's James Hetfield

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Have you ever been arrested?
Not as often as I should have been [laughs]. Yeah, a couple of times. Nothing major. One was in San Francisco, when they were cracking down on Broadway, where the peep shows and rock clubs are. Kids were hanging out all night. They set a curfew, I refused to leave, and I got arrested. It was at a Samhain show, I was pretending I was their van driver. "Get in, boy." Put the cuffs on me, threw me in the wagon, finally dumped me off at the station. I saw Lars in there. He got picked up, too.

There was one time in London, I got arrested for destruction of property. We were drunk. Smashed up a movie theater.

You didn't like the movie?
I don't think we ever saw it. We climbed up on top of the marquee, kicking the lights down on people. It was just one of those things we had to do when we were drunk.

You mentioned backstage the other night that you had cut down on your drinking. But there was a time in the mid-Eighties when Metallica was renowned for its alcohol intake. You even picked up the nickname Alcohollica.
I think drinking made me forget a lot of stuff at home. Then it became fun. Schnapps was the big thing when Metallica first got going. We'd drink a pint of schnapps every night. I think that's how we got faster and faster. We didn't really know what it sounded like, but it felt good.

Where did the name Alcohollica come from?
The first time I saw it was some kid had done a shirt, with silk screens or paints at home. He had the Kill 'Em All album cover, except instead of Metallica it said Alcohollica, and instead of Kill 'Em All, it said Drank 'Em All. Instead of the hammer with the blood, it was a vodka bottle dumped over. We thought it was pretty cool. We had shirts like that made up for ourselves.

Why did you decide to cut back on drinking?
I used up all my hangovers. It was basically waking up, not feeling very good and not wanting to do a show. I started to feel a sense of responsibility, at least for myself, let alone anybody else, to play better.

So what do you consider cutting back?
No hard booze. The Jagermeister really killed me. Chewed my guts out, no doubt. Me and my buddy Jim Martin of Faith No More, we were dubbed the Doctors. I was Doctor H., he was Doctor M. We prescribed this medicine to people; Jagermeister was the cough syrup. "What's the matter? You must be consulted by the Doctors!" We'd all sit down, do some shots and fix everybody up. I guess I just had a little too much of my own medicine. I got too well [laughs].

It's been a while since we've had a real band drinking session. You just missed it. It was two or three days ago. There was a poker session on the plane, we were doing shots and listening to the first Iron Maiden CD. We hadn't heard that in a long time; it brought back a lot of memories. We started getting out of control, wrestling, messing the plane up a little. Then we landed, and it got really bad. Shit was broken. The pilots were standing there going, "God, what happened to the nice professional young men who are paying us?"

Last year in Britain's 'New Musical Express,' you described rap music as "extra-black" and said that it was "all me me me and my name in this song." How about elaborating on that?
They say a lot of "I'm this, I'm doin' this, you gotta do this with me." It's not my cup of tea. Some of the stuff, like Body Count, our fans like it because there's aggression there. I love that part of it. But the "Cop Killer" thing, kill whitey – I mean, what the fuck? I don't dig it.

Some of it makes me think that they just want shock value. They want people to pay attention. It reminds me of some of the death metal, the Slayer thing with Satan and tear-your-baby-up. Like going out and shooting cops. Hopefully, no one's going to go out and do either.

People like it, it's fine. Whatever blows your skirt up, as my dad would say. It just don't blow mine up.

You've also taken a lot of flak for "Don't Tread on Me," which was criticized for being a flag-waving prowar song, especially since you had written so vividly about the horrors of war in "One." Where do you really stand?
We never labeled ourselves as an antiwar band. Anti-this or pro-anything. We got called a political band around . . . And Justice for All, and it really scared us, because that's not what we want to write about forever. We've got other things to think about. "Don't Tread on Me" was quotes from military people back in the Revolutionary War. I didn't come up with too much of the shit on my own. It's about a flag, a snake and a symbol. There's nothing wrong with being proud of where you're from. There's some patriotism in there, yeah.

How would you describe yourself politically? One of your managers described you as a libertarian.
I don't know what the isms are. I don't really fit into any political party. I'm pretty conservative on a lot of things. This new tax thing doesn't make sense to me. I don't know what the goal is. The middle-class people really suffer for it. But I believe abortion should be a choice. All these people complaining about taking a life where it starts – there are loads of unwanted children in the world already. I wonder if some of these anti-abortionists would adopt some of them.

There are too many people on the fucking planet. I love nature. I love the wilderness, and there is not much more of it left. It makes me hate people. Animals, they don't lie to each other. There is an innocence within them. And they're getting fucked.

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