In 1984, I was on tour with my band, somewhere in the middle of America. It was around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. We're all crammed into our van, with all our equipment. It was raining. We were tired, we'd been on the road. And this music comes on the radio. I couldn't believe that it existed. My mind was being blown by this beautiful violence that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.
It wasn't punk rock. It wasn't heavy metal. It was precise and explosive and heavy. It was aggressive and intense, and it had these really wild and bizarre rhythm changes. But it still held together as a bitchin'-ass song. I was singin' along with it by the end, though it certainly wasn't using any conventional pop-song pattern that I had ever heard. That song was "Fight Fire With Fire." And it opened up my mind to the mighty force of nature that is Metallica.
When Metallica started in 1981, they didn't really take your typical path to success. I don't know if massive stardom and selling a zillion records were on their minds when they were getting the ball rolling. But if they were aiming at becoming one of the most successful rock bands of all time, they sure were going about it in a kooky way. Maybe they were thinking they were going to break into Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown with their debut record, Kill 'Em All. They were definitely going for a hit single with the song "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth." A five-minute-long bass solo is a sure ticket to commercial success.
That song is one of the great moments in rock history for the electric bass guitar. Every Cliff Burton-based solo I've ever heard is a soulful, psychedelic, headbanging expression that rocks your world, trips your brain out and gets the house rockin'. It's a beautiful piece of music played by an awesome rocker of a young man who was a masterpiece of a human being. I can never listen to any Metallica record without thinking of him. It is clear that the gift he gave lives on in that band's music.
The fact that Metallica connected with the world in the way that they have is phenomenal. They have become a household name with music that is anything but mainstream. It's outsider music. And for it to do what it has done is truly mind-blowing. When I hear Metallica, I get this feeling that they're doing something that they have to do.
There is this thing in them wound up so tight that they have to let it out, let that thing uncoil; it has to be released. An infinite well of sadness, a hell of a lot of pain and anger, but mostly, a lot of love for the process of releasing this stuff. For the people who give it up and get rocked by Metallica, the world is a less lonely place. When a person gets rocking to their music, everything else disappears, and that person is just one with the rock. It is an inexplicable, awesome thing, and I bow down to it. Pain and hurt can be a muse for great art. It's one of the greatest rites of passage for any artist, and it's something that touches us most deeply. Anyone who has ever been to a Metallica show, and banged their head, and thrown up the devil horns, has been a part of something great. Rocking so hard to the brutal beat of Metallica for those couple of hours, in a way, is as healthy as any spiritual exercise — group meditation, any love-in, anything.
Metallica's career is a huge, dynamic thing, and they have done it all. They have worked their way up from nothing, and written the jams that rocked the world. Metallica are fucking rad! The music is bitchin'! It is unbelievable! And they continue to rock on. Whatever gets thrown at them, they persevere and they get stronger; they are a family. And they are as intense and inventive as ever.