James Hetfield, singer, lyricist and rhythm guitarist of Metallica, has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember. From the youthful angst in the band’s debut album Kill Em All, along with the social, political and religious commentary of Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, to the ever-changing and evolving lyrics of the newer albums devoted to personal pain, anguish, isolation and addiction, Hetfield’s larger-than-life personality and in-your-face guitar playing has impacted the way I approach certain aspects of my life: guitar playing, the importance of music in life, and staying true to one’s self.
Raised in a Christian Science household and tempered by enormous success and epic failures, Hetfield’s vision and voice shines a light in the bleak musical landscape of the modern music scene. With this in mind, here are my five questions for James Hetfield.
1.) One of your most painful yet insightful lyrics is from “The God That Failed” in which you attribute the death of your mom to her belief that she would be miraculously healed instead of seeking treatment from doctors: “The healing hand held back by the deepened nail… follow the God that failed.”
What would your life look like today if the healing hand was not held back by the deepened nail and your mom was miraculously healed?
2.) Your lyrics started out as angst-ridden commentaries on society, politics, and religious corruption, but evolved over the years to be more about personal pain, addiction, isolation, fame, loss and death.
How has the struggle of dealing with pain, addiction, fame and celebrity, combined with the influence of a wife and children, changed the way you look at the world? Do you still see a need for music to provide a commentary on social, political and religious problems of the day?
3.) You have sold more records than most bands and accomplished more than most people can ever dream of. You have fortune, fame, and a life that in many ways is the ideal standard for America’s definition of success. You could easily quit, retire and live off the royalties of your past accomplishments.
What is the driving force for you to continue writing new songs and kicking the collective ass of your audience with an explosive live set year after year?
4.) If Cliff Burton (Metallica’s bass player from Kill Em All to Master Of Puppets) had lived instead of tragically dying in the prime of his life, would Metallica be as successful today? What do you think Cliff would have to say about the Metallica journey of the past 25 years since his death?
5.) Your legacy through Metallica is firmly established and you’re a living legend.
What legacy do you hope to leave through the relationship with your family, specifically your children?
With that, I finish my series, “5 Questions For 5 Heroes.” There are a lot of questions that I could ask my heroes, but I had to start somewhere. It has really given me pause to think about why these five people — Terry Gilliam, Cornel West, Jon Krakauer, Galen Rowell and James Hetfield — are my heroes.
I hope that you think about who your heroes are what you would want to ask them. In identifying our heroes, I believe that it removes them as idols in our minds and gives us a glimpse at their humanity.
While you can think big about the people that you deem as heroic, I encourage you to think about the day-to-day heroes that would actually give you the time of day in order to sit down with them and ask them your questions. All it takes is courage to go a little deeper than the surface and routine that invades our daily lives.
Thanks for reading and please share who your heroes are as well as what you would ask them.