James Hetfield: Iron Man
GW Were you shy back then?
HETFIELD Very. I was very withdrawn. I didn’t trust the world whatsoever because of what had gone on as a child. The drinking helped me break out of that a little bit, but at the end of the day it was worse. I’d dug a deeper hole for myself.
GW Was there a feeling that Metallica became your family?
HETFIELD Yes, yes. There’s no doubt. I was searching for people that I could identify with. I couldn’t really identify too much with my family, and, basically, as a child my family disintegrated right in front of my eyes. There’s a part of me that craves family and another part of me that just can’t stand people. At the end of the day I feel like this lone wolf, but, you know, I do feel that I need family. But not all the time.
GW Were you glad when [early Metallica guitarist] Dave Mustaine was asked to leave?
HETFIELD I don’t know if “glad” is the right word, but it was definitely necessary. It’s obvious that he had the same drive as us; he went on to do great things in Megadeth. But with him in the band, there was me, Lars and Dave all trying to lead things, and if we’d stay that way it would have been a triangulated mess. The way things are in Metallica now—the character dynamics, I mean—Lars and I are on one side of the scale, and Rob [Trujillo] and Kirk [Hammett] are on the other. They’re great “idea” people, but they’re also very good about letting someone else do the driving. They’re not really driven by their egos, while Lars and I are the other way. That’s what I’ve been told. [laughs] So back then, Dave had to go.
GW In his scenes in Some Kind of Monster, Dave seems fairly unhappy about being let go.
HETFIELD He’s an amazing, talented person. Maybe just part of his character is having a chip on his shoulder. If I got kicked out of Metallica I would have one too. Ron McGovney, our first bass player—very big chip on his shoulder. They can’t accept that they’ve accomplished so much. Lars says that in the movie when he’s talking to Dave. He says, “Can’t you see what you’ve done?”
GW Cliff Burton died in a tragic accident in 1986 when Metallica were on tour in Sweden. Did seeing your mother pass away make it any easier to cope with Cliff’s death?
HETFIELD It’s never easy. You don’t get used to it, especially at that age. And with the mindset that I was in at the time, I was drinking so much just to drown out any feelings. That was another part of Christian Science: there were no funerals, no grieving period where you’re able to cry and get support. It was just, “Okay, the shell is dead, the spirit’s gone, so move on.” When Cliff died there was a funeral, but I didn’t feel the vibe. I just drank harder.
GW Lars said that before the accident you and Cliff had become close, and one of the effects of the tragedy was that you and Lars became close afterward. Would you agree with that?
HETFIELD Yes. Cliff and I really identified with each other. We liked a lot of the same stuff, same music. He was into more southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd—stuff like that, which I love. He loved being out in nature, hiking, camping, shooting guns, drinking beers. He and I identified with each other.
GW What do you remember most about the accident in which he was killed?
HETFIELD It was so cold. We were in Sweden in the winter. I would sleep in the back lounge for a little warmth. I would have been right next to him. You know, I don’t dwell on that. It is what it is. We survived for some reason to carry it on. We certainly do miss Cliff. So many things could have been different.
GW Do you think you toured again too quickly after Cliff died?
HETFIELD I think we did everything too quickly after that: getting a bass player, touring. We went straight back out. That was management’s way of dealing with the grief: “Just play it out through your music.” Now it feels like there wasn’t enough grieving or enough respect paid and enough of just dealing with each other and helping each other through it. We went out on the road and took a lot of it out on Jason [Newsted] once he joined. It was more like, “Yeah, we have a bass player, but he’s not Cliff.”
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