Thursday, March 15, 2012

Metallica: The Beatles of Metal?

Probably the only person in the world who would be more disgusted by that headline than my 15-year-old self would be Rob Sheffield, my rock critic hero who reveres the Beatles and declares Metallica to be overrated. But a chapter about Paul McCartney in Sheffield's latest book, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, made me see that the two have more in common than my teenage self would've hoped.

(Not the Beatles or Metallica)

Sheffield writes, "Countless bands have stylized themselves in opposition to the Beatles as the 'bad boys' of rock: the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, etc. These bands set out to piss people off. But there's no way they could possibly piss people off the way Paul does."

Haven't we all heard about how Slayer, Megadeth, Pantera and countless other metal bands are "heavier," "louder," "faster," "more 'real,'" "more badass" and "less commercial" than Metallica?" Yet none of those artists have offended people the way that Metallica does. Every satanic death metal band in the world combined can't even come close.

Sheffield writes, "(McCartney's) moronic public actions get more attention than his smart ones...His flaws are a nonstop source of comic delight. He has no apparent ability to feel shame. If Terry Bradshaw wants to sing, Paul's game. If he wants to release hit singles so cringingly awful I would rather gnaw my fingers off than type the titles, he goes for it."

Likewise, Metallica has built a career on career-killers. Fans were up in arms when the band started making music videos and crashing the Billboard charts. Who would've guessed that they were on their way to cutting their hair, suing their fans, going through publicized group therapy and teaming up with Lou Reed to create the worst album of the century?

Sheffield writes, "The Stones suggested that if you dabble in decadence, you could turn into a devil-worshiping junkie. Paul McCartney suggested that if you mess around with girl worship, you could turn into a husband. So Paul was a lot scarier."

These insights remind me of this moment with James Hetfield in Some Kind of Monster:

Is there a less image-conscious frontman in metal? The idea of mighty James Hetfield turning into a doting husband and father is stranger and scarier to me than anything on Reign in Blood. Cannibal Corpse, Varg Vikernes and Dave Mustaine's tongue don't even compare.

On my favorite metal blogs, Metallica is trashed almost daily. They're easy targets, for sure, and much of it is the band's own fault. Nobody wants to see anything they care about go bad, which is why, despite Godsmack making worse music, St. Anger takes more abuse. It's the same reason why George Lucas gets more guff than Brett Ratner.

But in being savaged, Metallica, the Beatles and their individual members just remind me that those artists the standard by which all of their peers are judged. Every time Kerry King or Zakk Wylde claim their bands' superiority, it confirms that they're living in Metallica's shadow. Every time Metallica falls on their gazillionaire asses, I can be thankful that they take risks, follow their artistic visions and don't concern themselves with how they're perceived. If that results in Lulu now and then, I can deal.

Are Metallica the Beatles of metal? No, although it's a fun idea to throw around for debate. More so, they're the Metallica of music. It doesn't get much cooler than that.


Anonymous said...

The people who are smug about Paul McCartney or James Hetfield never outgrew adolescence. We may feel sorry for their stunted growth, but it's difficult to take their opinions seriously.

Ben Apatoff said...

Well put.