James Hetfield: Iron Man
GW Presumably she wouldn’t have treatment for her illness?
HETFIELD No, no, definitely not. She wasn’t interested in finding out what it was, even. We watched my mom wither away. My sister and I would look at each other, and we couldn’t really say anything. My brothers were old enough to understand this and finally said, “Something’s really wrong. Let’s get her some help.” But it was much too late. She died of cancer. I had to go live with my older brother, David, for a while and leave all my friends halfway through 11th grade. He was fairly well off and established, and he had a wife. Dealing with me and my sister kind of put his life on hold. My sister didn’t last that long—she was too much trouble. They found my dad, and she went to go live with him. I wanted nothing to do with him. It took a long time to get back in with my dad and forgive him, as well as embrace the concept of unconditional love between a father and son. But still, there were tons of questions that were left unanswered when he passed away. A lot of the stuff I had to go through in therapy revolved around childhood and my reality versus their reality.
GW When was the first time you took any medicine?
HETFIELD When I was living at my brother’s house. I had this massive headache. I used to get migraines all the time as a kid. I didn’t think there was any relief or any help for that. Prayer didn’t seem to be working for me and that was the only prescription in my house—that or reading the Bible. I remember my brother giving me some aspirin for the first time, and I was freaking out: “What’s it going to make me feel like? What’s it going to do?”
GW What age were you then?
HETFIELD Probably 16 or 17. I’d gotten no shots, none of that stuff, which I’m kind of glad about. Who knows what was being shot into kids back then.
GW By this point you were learning guitar?
HETFIELD My mom took me for piano lessons, because once when we were at a friend’s house I started beating on the piano. She thought I was going to be a virtuoso. [laughs] I took three years of piano lessons at an old woman’s house that smelled horrible. I realized quite early that music was a great communication tool. I liked being alone. I liked being able to close off the world, and music helped a lot with that. I’d put on the headphones and just listen to music. Music would speak my voice, and it connected on so many levels. It made perfect sense that I would want to express myself that way. It was all about Kiss and Aerosmith. The first concert I went to was Aerosmith and AC/DC at the Long Beach Arena [July 12, 1978]. I also loved Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper—a lot of the edgier, harder American rock that was of that time. I didn’t get into other stuff until I was introduced to Lars two years later.
GW How did you meet Lars?
HETFIELD When we first hooked up I was in high school playing guitar with a friend of mine and trying to get this band, Phantom Lord, going. Lars had placed an ad in the paper, looking for musicians. We answered the ad and met up with Lars at a little warehouse somewhere. He set his drums up, and he wasn’t very good at all, but he had the motivation and the knowledge. He had the drive and the aspirations that I did.
GW Culturally, how different were you two?
HETFIELD Extremely. There were some different smells coming from him. [laughs] The stigma of being European is that everyone here thinks that they don’t manufacture soap over there and no one bathes. Going to his house was definitely a different vibe: very friendly, very open. My house was very elitist, very closed off if you didn’t believe in our religion. We didn’t have a lot of houseguests. Lars’ house was the exact opposite: very hippie, very “come on in.”
GW Apparently, Lars had a pretty impressive record collection.
HETFIELD I wouldn’t say he was spoiled, but as an only child he had a lot of records. I walked into his bedroom and I could not believe it. I had my little stack; he had a whole wall in his bedroom filled with stuff. He’d just go to the record store and say, “I want to check these guys out.” I could not afford that. But, man, I came over and started recording everything I could from him.
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