What do you remember about Metallica's first European tour in 1984?
We played with a band called Venom — masters of black metal! [Smiles] We were super-psyched. I thought I was worldly, because I'd stayed in New York for a few months. But to go to Europe, for James, Cliff and I, the culture shock hit us pretty hard. It was the food, the language barrier, the fact that stores were opening and closing at different times of the day. On Sundays, you couldn't get anything. The television was different. You couldn't read anything when you looked around. We got over it after awhile, but it was so different than any of us expected.
Was Lars, being Danish, the mediator?
He was like, "Oh, no problem." He'd go to the train station, buy the tickets. "You give it to that geezer there." "This is the good beer to drink." "This is the best hot dog stand in Copenhagen." "These are my pals in Mercyful Fate." And I'm like, Mercyful Fate? That's my all-time favorite band.
Six months previous to that, I was sitting in my Volkswagen, drinking vodka, driving over the Bay Bridge, cranking Venom on my way to hear some metal bands play in a club in San Francisco. Now I'm on tour with them. It was quite a leap for me. I went from being an uber-heavy metal fan to being a heavy metal musician, to being in it.
When did you meet your first bonafide rock star?
We played a show in 1984 with Ozzy, Dio, [guitarist] Gary Moore, that band No Heavy Petting, maybe Virgin Steele. It was in Paris, the Breaking Sound Festival. We called it the Breaking Wind Festival. I can remember being backstage and freaking out because there's Gary Moore! We went into his dressing room, and I could hear him warming up on a little practice amp. My jaw dropped as he was ripping these licks off. He only warmed up for five minutes, then came out and looked at me as he walked to the stage. I was like, "Woah!" I jumped.
I saw Ozzy, [his guitarist] Jake E. Lee, Ronnie James Dio. I actually knew Jake E. Lee's guitar tech, this guy from the Bay Area. He goes, "Bro, it's alright, they're just normal people like you and I." I looked at him and thought to myself, "No, they're not!" We were pretty low on the bill, but I was so nervous, knowing they were backstage and might be listening to us. I remember quaking in my shoes, going out and playing. That was one of the best shows we had played up to that point, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that all those people were there.
Was there a point when you realized you were a rock star?
It was probably the "Black Album" tour, when thing started to get really crazy. We would go to social events, and Ozzy would come up to us — "Hello!" Or we'd get a message — "Tony Iommi is here. He wants to say hello." If our heroes, the people we were so inspired by, are interested in us now, we might have crossed a line somewhere. We had reached a level, in musicianship, in respectability. It was a powerful feeling.
Did it also make you realize that your friend was right — rock stars are normal too?
There came a time when you started feeling comfortable with them, and realizing, yeah, they have the same mechanics as every other human being in the world. Just because they played that fantastic guitar solo in 1978 does not make them non-human. I hope that carries on to people when they meet me. I'm always uncomfortable when people start bowing. I'm waiting to shake their hand, and they do that. Just shake my hand! [Laughs]
How much do you think you need to be in Metallica — that there is nothing else you can or want to do? During the making of St. Anger, when it was clear the engine was not turning over, were you able to accept the fact that nothing lasts forever?
Honestly, I was ready to start working on a solo album. I had a bunch of music I was sitting on. I was going to ask Lars to play drums on it. But to get to the real meat of the question . . .
The need to be in this band.
It's really important. I've been in the band longer than I haven't been. I joined the band when I was 20 years old. I've been in the band now 25 years.
And you were only in one other band before that.
I started Exodus when I was in high school. We started out playing cover tunes — Thin Lizzy and UFO songs, the odd Hendrix song — and some originals. But the need to be in Metallica — it's pretty great. If it all fell apart tomorrow, I'd be extremely proud of our accomplishments. Having said that, we're always going to be in Metallica, even if the band breaks up. We're always going to be linked to the concept of what Metallica is, musically and artistically. We will be in Metallica until the day we die.
It also means you can never have a life separate from it.
The way I look at it, to quote Keith Richards, the only way out of this band is in a wooden box. I am such a loyal person. Honesty and loyalty are so important in my life. I'm loyal to my friends and my family and to my band. And for as long as we want to do it, and feel like it's the right thing to do it, I will always be there for those guys — and as long as they feel the same with me.