Saturday, November 22, 2014

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, Me and Metallica

It was in the Yosemite mountains. She sat beside me early in the morning, resting her head on my shoulder. I love to get up early and imagine I feel my little section of earth turn toward the mass of incandescent gas. This time Jennifer joined me, popping out of her tent. My headphones were blaring sound she’d never heard.

It was Metallica’s Master of Puppets, perhaps the greatest album in the history of recorded music. Nearly every song is a masterpiece. As a band, they’d finally hit their stride. Where Kill ‘em All was too British sounding, and Ride the Lightening was ill mastered, Master of Puppets brought the four horsemen together in heavy perfection.

I knew every cymbal crash, every chord change, every grunt of the album.

Jennifer borrowed one slice of an earphone briefly, squinting her face at the quickness of the song Damage Inc. This was a deal breaker in our young love. If she couldn’t understand Metallica, I didn’t want any part of her. She thought I was joking. The look on her face when I got up to walk to Half Dome, without her, was priceless. So long, chica.

She would later write out the lyrics to Sanitarium (Welcome Home) … in an effort to get back in my good graces. Too late. I’d found another cutie, my Concha.

Concha’s musical taste was pedestrian. She liked the Beach Boys. She was a typical blonde haired, blue eyed beach girl … as far as music was concerned.

Then she met ME, Satan’s little brother.

Concha at least PRETENDED to like Metallica. No, she did like them in parts. Not as much as me, of course, but she enjoyed my enthusiasm. I’d play songs for her, explaining why this or that song was important. She was so patient with me. 

That same year, Metallica’s Cliff Burton died while the band was on tour in Sweden. He was probably the best bassist of his generation. Incredible. Me, OM, and Lip saw his last show in San Diego when Metallica opened for Ozzy, during Ozzy’s glam phase. Metallica blew Ozzy out of the arena. I had the ORIGINAL shirt with the Master of Puppets album cover on it. Wore that shirt into the ground.

Anyway, Cliff’s death was a turning point in our lives. Seriously. Because of his untimely demise, the band searched and found Jason Newsted to cover the bass parts. Newsted was okay, but no Cliff … that’s for sure. The band cut a ‘tween record, Garage Days. They built their own studio and covered Misfits songs. Probably my favorite Metallica record. It’s only a few songs, but it is raw and real.

Concha LOVED that album.

She especially liked the song Green Hell. The chorus went, I’ve got something to say, I killed your baby today! She hung around all the preppy kids, and they didn’t listen to heavy music. When she’d for a moment forget where she was, she’d suddenly start to sing a few bars of Green Hell. They’d look at her in horror. 

As the popularity of Metallica began to soar, they got a slot on the Monsters of Rock tour, Van Halen (Hagar) headlining. Metallica was relatively unknown; they were like the second band on the bill – out of like six bands. The closest the tour came was Los Angeles, the Coliseum. Something on the order of 80,000 motherfuckers on a hot LA day. Damn!

Concha was scared. She didn’t ever mean to actually GO with me to a show. She’d heard about my concerts, where we’d mosh and stage dive (this was when those things were INVENTED – people routinely died and shit at shows). I told her I would never let anything happen to her. That, and our fucking seats were at the top of the stadium … so nothing COULD happen.

Well, during Metallica’s set, and ironically enough during Green Hell, something happened. The sound turned off. Someone unplugged Metallica. Yeah! EIGHTY THOUSAND PEOPLE NOW WANTED TO GET ONTO THE STAGE. No metaphor, this was a real RIOT.

I turned to Concha, LET’S GO BABY!

She looked at me like I was nuts. I grabbed her hand, pulling her down the stairs.      

I can still see her face. So beautiful. So trusting.

We made our way down toward the field. The fences used to keep us off the field were now pushed over by the sheer mass of people. COPS WERE LYING ON THE GROUND, knocked out. Stacks and stacks of chairs were pushed together like some kind of modern art. It was chaos. Just the way I like it.

I helped Concha onto the field.

We made it to about, say, 20 feet from the stage! I stood behind Concha, using my arms to surround her, protecting her from the surging crowd. She leaned back to kiss me, and her eyes bugged out. I turned around to see what she was seeing behind me. The stands were close to empty, and TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WERE HEADING TOWARD US.

At that point I could no longer guarantee her safety. If it was just me and the fellas, I’d keep going. But I had a treasure, my chick. Had to keep her safe.

Let’s go back, I yelled. I could see a worried look on her face, like, HOW are you going to get us out of this? I just started pushing. Shoving. Get the fuck out of my way!

We made it to the side, where we could watch the rest of the show.

Returning to school the next day, Concha proudly wore her Monsters shirt. All her friends were like, Wow, we had no idea you liked THAT music! Damn she was adorable.

My father was a Vietnam Veteran. He’d be in the thick of things, killing people and getting shot at. He was forever tortured by the experience. Never got over it.

Metallica released And Justice For All.

Great album. Still holds up, and it was before they were to destroy their legacy with the Black Album, Load, and Re-Load (all three are shitty fucking recordings). 

They decided to cut a video for the war song, One. Watching MTV one day at my father’s house, he asked what it was so captivating me. I explained how Metallica had never had radio play and had never been on MTV before. This was a first. The song One is about a dude who has lost all his motor skills, but can still hear. They used creepy footage from a famous old movie. Fantastic video.

My father watched for a while, and it was the most intense I’d seen him watch television. He looked at me half way through the video, and asked I turn it off. I did.

We never spoke about it. Too real.

The next full release, The Black Album (Metallica), saw the boys come back to San Diego. By this time, my musical tastes had changed significantly. I was “in” to less produced, less corporate music, like Fugazi. Fugazi was a revelation for reasons I’ll write about another time.

January 13th, 1992 Metallica played the San Diego Sports Arena. How do I know THAT? One, I had a ticket to the show. Two, it was the day my father killed himself. I still went to the show. Hey, he was dead. Hahahahaha. Unfortunately, Metallica were far from their tight sound. And I disliked the new songs. Halfway through the show, my best friend and I left, disgusted. Metallica officially sucked ass. My father was still dead, and the next day I went to his room to clean his brains off the bedspread and floor.

Through the years, I’d kept up with Metallica’s career. Most of the music had become so syrupy, such a caricature of itself, I could no longer count myself as a fan. I still LOVED the old shit, but the new stuff I’d had an ass full. Yuck.

Arrest. Prison. You know the story.

About a year into my sentence, a friend came to me. He’d just scored a CD player and headset. Would I like to borrow it? No, I said, thanks anyway. Too many memories. I’ll listen to music when I get out.

To sweeten the deal, he waved a new Metallica CD at me. Death Magnetic. I opened it, and I found Rick Rubin listed as the producer. FUCK YEAH. Rick Rubin had taken so many bands and turned them into studs: The Cult, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slayer, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and now Metallica. I could not wait to hear.

The last time I was excited about a Metallica record was years and years and years ago. This fucking thing rocked my socks off. I rocked out with my cock out. I exercised to that disc for WEEKS, wearing out my buddy’s batteries. He didn’t care, he said, because it was nice to see me excited. Such a nice guy.

When I was released, I immediately went to the library and borrowed Death Magnetic. It’s on my Ipod. And when I go for long runs, it plays.

Metallica, then, made my remaining months in prison easier. I owe them for that. Metallica, now, serves to remind me of my life’s most profound moments.

Through it all, Metallica remains. Love. Loss. Death. Pain. Metallica is there like an old friend. James, Lars, Kirk, and now Robert Trujillo (a BETTER bassist than Cliff, if you can believe that).

I put no stock in celebrity, and still less in rock stars. Rock stars KNOW NOTHING, and are more than stupid. They’re fucking idiots. But, I can honestly write how Metallica brought me a ton of joy in times I needed it.

I guess that’s all I can ask from musicians.

And I mean it. 

Craig Edward Kelso is the author of Anarcho-Capitalism (2014), a primer on the philosophy of peaceful, stateless cooperation. His curriculum vitae include a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from San Diego State University, and a Post-Baccalaureate secondary education credential in both Social Science and English Language Arts. Kelso taught for nearly a decade in the American public school system, and was voted by colleagues Teacher of the Year, twice in his short tenure, earning numerous accolades from chambers of commerce, mayors, state assembly persons, governors, congresspersons, senators, and even Wal-Mart. Currently he struggles to earn an opportunity to be employed, working as a laborer, dishwasher. He is deliriously happily married to Myra Kelso, living in Southern California with their adorable children.

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