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diskant rewind: Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS #6

Posted: January 20th, 2009, by Dave Stockwell

(Originally posted September 2004)

Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS by Dave Stockwell

[Before I begin ranting, let me just clarify that I am in no way a Metallica fan, and nor was I ever one. But…]

Fuck! I think I’ve finally found a film that I can safely say YOU HAVE TO FUCKING WATCH THIS about for 2004. It’s the Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster. I tell you, it’s the new This Is Spinal Tap.

No, seriously. You know how Tap was just crammed full of classic, unbelievable moments, hilarious quotes, and godawful haircuts? You know how there’re moments where you find yourself exclaiming out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, and then there’s others where you’re howling in painful laughter? Well, SkoM probably matches it in all of these regards. It’s so much more than I was expecting. This thing was made during the recording of their new album, just after bassist Jason Newsted quit, and saw the entire band go into therapy, James Hetfield check in and out of rehab, and an awful lot of squabbling, sulking, repressed anger, and an insane amount of money spent on doing nothing.

I tell you, this film has got everything. I was going to reel off a list of highlights, but there’s just so goddamned many. I could write for hours. There’s the interview with Newsted, who’s hilariously candid about how he got bullied as ‘the new boy’ for a full ten years before he finally had enough; which is boosted by Hetfield saying that he’d driven him out because he felt threatened by Newsted’s desire to promote his other musical project, whilst merrily recalling that he never let the fella have any creative input at all into Metallica. There’s the bit whilst everyone sits around in the studio for A YEAR waiting for Hetfield to work up the botheredness to come back to work; during which Ulrich finds the time have a therapy session with Dave Mustaine, who breaks down in tears about how he considers himself an utter failure since he got sacked as Metallica guitarist back in ’82 (note: Mustaine has sold fifteen million albums in Megadeth). And when Hetfield deigns to come back, you get to see him sulking like a baby when the others dare to listen to tapes of sessions outside of the strict noon-’til-4pm schedule that he has to work by. Then there’s the band’s laughable attempts to work together on lyric-writing, which reaps some of the worst teenage poetry you’ll ever have the misfortune to hear outside of a GCSE English class populated by tragic Goths. Oh yeah, and there’s the awful lumpen riffs all over the place…

And this is just scratching the surface. There are just so many classic moments.

Maybe the best aspect of SkoM (aside from the wistful two minutes reminiscing about long-dead bassist Cliff Burton) is how you get to know the three remaining members of Metallica. James Hetfield actually draws some sympathy as a guy who’s clearly struggled with any kind of success, as well even any kind of normal life since being a teenager. He’s just so repressed it’s almost painful, and you can see why he’s been an alcoholic for twenty years: facing reality just seems too hard for him to bear. And when he comes out of rehab, his desperate struggles to articulate his feelings without resorting to beating the little putz Ulrich to within an inch of his life are awe-inspiringly monumental: such is the slow majesty of his thought processes that it makes you think you’re watching tectonic plates shift or something.

Obviously, Lars Ulrich is a whiney little conceited prick, and early on you get to laugh out loud at his pathetic drumming as the band try and ‘jam’ new material and he can’t even stay in time with another leaden riff. It’s hard to believe that he’s something like 40 and married with kids, because he acts just like a twelve-year-old for the entire film. His attempts to channel his experiences from the Napster debacle into some lyrics are just plain simple genius. The bit where producer Bob Rock suffers a moment of inspiration and coerces Ulrich into screaming “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” into a microphone over one of the songs is one of the most bellyaching moments of the film. Hell, it’s probably on the new album somewhere. And then there’s Ulrich’s artwork. In possibly the best sequence of the film, you get to admire his lousy daubed atrocities being removed from his house and installed in a proper gallery, and watch his ego swell up like a diseased hard-on. Then you get to watch him get pissed as some really dumb (anonymous) people buy his shit for millions of dollars. Then the directors brilliantly cut to him walking into the studio the next morning, and leave the camera lingering on a piece of graffiti on the wall outside that’s about fifty thousand times better than Ulrich could ever hope to produce.

And then there’s “Mr Anonymous,” Kirk Hammett, who reveals himself as a master of staying out of everything and contributing nothing apart from awful widdly solos and some wonderful sartorial sensibilities throughout the film. Considering he’s been carefully avoiding conflict and staying out of fights between Hetfiled and Ulrich for over twenty years now, he comes off as such a pro at arse-licking and keeping schtum that it seems totally unreal. The only moment he gets worked up is right near the end, during one particular gem of a therapy session, when you get to see Hammett’s incandescent reaction to the idea of not having a guitar solo in every song, how he then tries to control himself when he’s clearly outnumbered, and then buckles within two full minutes to toe the party line. At this point I was laughing so hard I was hoarse.

There are just so many more moments that make this film special. It could be the bit where their record company makes them record some jingles for some radio station, and they ‘rebel’ like the highly mature 40-somethings that they are. It could be the one moment of clarity that Ulrich provides: a five minute rant about how much he hates what Metallica and Hetfield have become, and how he just wants to be a teenager making heavy metal in his bedroom again. It could be when Lars and Kirk attend Jason Newsted’s new band’s first gig, and go backstage to congratulate him after the show, only to find that he’s split. That point is so much like some awful movie (well, probably Spinal Tap, to be honest), I couldn’t believe that it actually happened. In Real Life and everything! But maybe the whole bass-player-recruitment sessions probably glean the film’s most lucid point: where the band sit down with the “winner” of the bass-player spot and offer him a million dollars just to join their band. The look on the guy’s face is priceless. I’m sure the look on my face was too. But then you realise that he’s got to put up with two of the most bone-headed egos running up against each other every day, and that he’ll never have creative input into the music, and that he’s therefore never going to see any royalty checks. So maybe it is fairly reasonable.

Actually, I think the greatest aspect of this film is that one of the guys who made it directed Blair Witch 2. No shit. Apparently it’s out in the UK on some kind of ridiculously limited release at the start of October. If it’s on near you, go and see it. Or just download it off the internet, thus cannily avoiding lining the scum-ridden pockets of Messrs Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and NewBassPlayer any further. Lord knows they don’t need any more cash.

Further Information
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Dave Stockwell

David can always be relied on to end his e-mails with one of those 'np: blah blah' things in order to remind us of how much more music he listens to every day than anybody else. His interests include rockin ' out in a major style as guitarist in Souvaris, throwing frisbees from tall buildings "just to see what happens" and simply kickin' back with his bitches in a gold-plated jacuzzi.


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