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

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Are you a loner?
Sometimes. Sometimes I hate being alone. I'm pretty confident in myself most of the time. But like everyone, there's times when I need a second opinion on whether the brain cells are working or not.

Who do you go to for a second opinion?
There's someone on the road, one of the tour managers. He is real people. I don't know if he's taken any kind of sociology or psychology courses to understand people's minds and how they work, but I'm really bad at first impressions and he can snap into things right away. He knows me pretty well. I also have a girlfriend who is very easy to talk to. But sometimes I just need another guy's opinion.

Everyone needs that. No matter who it is. And on the road, you just can't talk to anybody. The road crew is like As the World Turns, the Metallica soap opera. When someone finds out a little something, it gets blown up into this huge thing. "Did you hear what happened to so-and-so?" The crew is bored. They show no mercy. But in a way you can't blame them. They need things to occupy their time.

I try to look inward most of the time. Go with my gut feelings. But sometimes I need that reassurance. Everyone questions their sanity, me probably more than others. Because this lifestyle is not normal. There is no doubt about that.

If Metallica stopped tomorrow, what would you do?
I'd go home. I'd write material. [Pauses] There's no doubt Metallica will be around, probably longer than it should be [laughs]. We like doing it. When the desire is there, you can't stop. Bands like Blue Öyster Cult, Kiss – why the fuck are they still playing? Because they like to play. And why the hell not? "Well, they should have given up on this album, in their heyday." Fuck you. This is about music. It's not about popularity. So as long as we wanna be together and write material together, we'll be together.

I don't know what we're gonna do if we're not together. It's a scary thought. It's family.

But what if the fight went out of you? You're almost thirty, making more money than you ever dreamed of. What is there left to be pissed off about? The kids don't want to hear you singing about what a great time you're having.
"The couch is comfortable, yeah." Nobody wants to hear that, and they're not gonna. There's always gonna be stuff that bothers us. And we'll write about it. It may not cater to a sixteen-year-old kid. I'm not going to write "Bang your head against the stage" forever. Our fans are growing up with us. These lyrics are not directed just at the young male of America anymore. It's what I'm feeling now. What I feel tomorrow could be a lot different.

Then again, anyone who says, "Well, you better be pissed or you ain't gonna write a good album" – that right there pisses me off.

This story is from the April 15th, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.

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