Thursday, June 16, 2011

"For Thursday's Child Is Sunday's Clown"

Earlier today, I saw an item on Pitchfork, announcing that Metallica and Lou Reed were planning a full length album in collaboration.

Now, I've been planning a post for MONTHS about how I came to be a Metallica hater, and why I believe I'm still justified in hating on them.

But this won't be that post.

Because, the truth is that like nearly every other thirty- and forty-something metalhead out there, Metallica was once very special to me. Between the years of 1987 and 1991, they were one of my two favorite bands (the other being, ironically to some, the Rolling Stones).

Unlike the Stones, however, Metallica was in the now in the 80's. They were, in fact, way ahead of their time.

And despite being arguably the biggest metal band in the world in those years (yes, Mister Harris, your band was really great, too) , Metallica was also something of a cult band....a cult band that happened to make aggressive, literate and visionary music that was - to me - like some kind of a hidden treasure kept from other kids who were too hung up with their preconceptions about heavy metal to actually give it a chance.

Of course, right about the time I stepped foot onto a college campus in 1991, I began to slowly hit a punk phase. (This, of course, was something of an extension from Metallica, given the strong Misfits connection.) And that path always leads at some point to the Velvet Underground.

I won't pretend that the Velvets were even a fraction as important to me as Metallica was, but they absolutely do form the soundtrack to a lot of my college memories. I damn near wore out that cassette of "Live at Max's Kansas City" by the time I'd graduated, and I remember an awful lot of lonely nights trying to figure out the chords to "Lisa Says" on my roommate's guitar. (I never did get it right. Lou's a tricky fucker).

I loved the way Reed - in the Velvets and as a solo artist - could make his lyrics work on so many levels: the tender, the triumphant, the desperate, the devastated, the dark and the depraved.

I even had a ridiculously awesome over-sized poster of the "Rock and Roll Animal" album cover hanging above my dorm bed, complete with a verse from "Heroin" printed in the lower left corner. (Dad was just delighted to see that over parents weekend).

So, I hope we got all of that out in the clear: I still have an awful lot of love for the music of both Metallica and Lou Reed.

But, my God, I'm really not looking forward to this collaboration.

Because, unlike Death Magnetic ("return to classic form" my white, Polish ass), I have a feeling I'm not going to be able to resist checking this one out.

And, unfortunately, in the exact same way I have misgivings about tribute albums, I'm just not that comfortable with mega-artist collaborations.

Sure, I know that this is all the rage right now. Bon Iver working with Kanye. Robert Plant and Allison Krause. That Dangermouse guy and basically everyone.

But its just not for me. And I think I have a fairly logical explanation for that:

Making great music is a delicate process. It is a collaboration in and of itself, and the right mix of artists, personalities and perspectives is essential.

Furthermore, although there is some truth to the notion that most successful bands are led by a dictator personality within the unit, the fact is that the process always remains a collaboration: the dictator keeps every single member of the band because he knows that they make his vision for his music that much closer to reality. Along the way, new arrangements are suggested, new skills and talents are discovered and fostered, and -- perhaps most commonly -- beautiful mistakes are made, yielding new and often more exciting perspectives on a song.

It requires an immense amount of trust, and quite a bit of humility. (No one knows this better than the drummer).

It was true for the young Metallica. It was true for the young Velvets. It was even true for mid-career Lou Reed, when Bowie and Bob Ezrin produced albums with him.

But I question how much any successful and firmly established legacy artist can *truly* collaborate with another successful and firmly established legacy artist.

I question whether or not Reed has enough respect for Metallica to have them rearrange his songs without meddling.

I question whether or not Metallica has it in them to rise to someone else's standard.

I question whether or not this project should have been given to the guys in Mastadon, instead.

And, honestly, more than anything else, I question whether or not I can ever get over my nagging certainty that this entire idea would sound so much better if Cliff Burton was still alive.

Because when I look back at the young Metallica -- those long-haired, awkward, pimply kids -- I really do find myself thinking of them as artists.

But when I look at the clumsy arena rock juggernaut they've been for the past 20 years...with the law suits, and Saint Anger, and the Basquiat collection, and that fucking album with the philharmonic....

...Well, when I do that, I find myself sadly realizing that when that bus went off the road in Sweden, something truly did "flicker for a moment, and then it vanished and was gone."


Anonymous said...

While I've never been the metalhead, I found a path through the weeds to Velvet Underground, too (actually, thanks to Oliver Stone). And of course I also came to really enjoy Metallica's signature stuff. But I think that one of your points here, that a mega-collaboration is by its very nature difficult if not doomed to fail, is spot on. Great post, man.
And OpenID is having some error right now, otherwise I'd sign in.

Scott said...

Funny, I was circling thru the dial the other day and landed on Metallica covering Bob Seeger. And I just couldn't finish it, it was so bad.

Not that this is the "hater" post...and I did enjoy "All Nightmare Long" (tho I didn't hear the rest of Death Magnetic)...but the wheels came off the bus in the early nineties and that was that.

t-o-n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
t-o-n said...

Well, I just got back-to-back calls from Brian May and David Bowie. They wanted to remind me that I have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about.

Maybe Lita and Ozzy will call, too!

t-o-n said...

Crap. Now Steve Winwood is on the phone, and he's conferencing in Clapton.