Monday, April 06, 2009

No Sleep 'Til San Francisco

The exciting conclusion to I'll NEVER Talk Sh*t About That Band Again, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and Garage Days Revisited!

The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction
April 3-4, 2009
Cleveland, Ohio

The first time I met Metallica was as they arrived in front of The Stone on Broadway in San Francisco on September 18, 1982; they had just driven up for their first show outside of Los Angeles. I had received their demo tape via a friend a couple of months earlier and had talked to Lars a couple of days before to arrange meeting them at the club. Lars was driving a green AMC Pacer that had a U-Haul trailer hitched behind it containing the band's equipment. If you're interested, click HERE if you must know the rest of the story.

The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame opened in 1986, but it took 11 YEARS for them to recognize a Hard Rock band when Led Zeppelin was finally inducted in 1995. Since then, the only other Hard Rock bands that have been inducted are Aerosmith, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Van Halen. So, it was weird when this bastion of the mainstream music industry decided that Metallica was up there with those bands (the bands who we grew up listening to...) and elected them into the Hall Of Fame's Class of 2009. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, and Metallica are the only Hard Rock bands alongside the otherwise lame Hall Of Fame drivel like John Cougar Mellancamp and Billy Joel.. WTF, right?

Indeed, the concept of the "Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame" is elitist bullshit and reeks of a music industry circle jerk... but the old school manner in which Metallica approached this "honor" was pretty fucking cool. Rather than making the event their own self-congratulatory circle jerk, the band used the event as an opportunity to have a reunion of old friends and associates who supported them in their earliest days.. People like the first fanzine writers and editors to original roadies to journalists to photographers to record company people. They used their moment of glory to honor those people who appreciated them when they were unknown pimply-faced teenage Metalheads. Pretty... fucking... cool.

On February 27th I received a voicemail from Metallica's management that left me speechless. As part of their Hall Of Fame induction the band wanted people who were there in the beginning to be in Cleveland with them, and that included me... all expenses paid. Over the next week I helped management get in touch with Old Metalheads from a list the band had given them. The list included some people who the band only remembered by nicknames ("Bulldozer Bob"..) and, in some cases, only by their first names... Incredible, right? Now, no matter what you think or want to think about Metallica (Napster lost, dude..) you cannot deny how insanely cool it was for them to basically seek out the people who they thanked in the liner notes of Kill 'Em All. In the end management was able to contact everyone on the band's list except one guy (Where is "Dave Lights"?). Unfortunately a couple of people are no longer alive, but it was cool the band remembered them (R.I.P. Bulldozer Bob...) and in the end around 150 people were invited to Cleveland on the band's dime.

A couple of weeks later formal invitations were distributed: Balcony seating for the band's friends and table seating for the band members, former band members, family members, management, etc.:

It was obvious the band was not doing this half ass... and, long story short, Continental Flight 254 left S.F. for Cleveland full of old Metalheads. For the old S.F. Metalheads, besides Umlaut the passengers included Ron Quintana, Ian Kallen, John Marshall, Harald Oimoen, and Rick Brackett among others. Oh! In an amusing sidebar, we met Dr. Phil Towle as we were boarding. Yes, The Sweater was a guest in Cleveland too.

The Party: Dude, JIMMY PAGE was one of the invited guests to the band's private pre-induction party at The House Of Blues... and at one point I found myself standing 5 feet away from him and Joe Perry... JIMMY PAGE!!?

Personally, the party for me was defined by how I was greeted by Kirk, James, and Lars in almost exactly the same way but at different times during the night: They all shook my hand, gave me a hug (awww...), thanked me for coming (Lars also specifically thanked me for helping them locate people), and then they all said a variation of "You're wearing a fucking Record Vault shirt!??"

Umlaut with The Drummer(Pic by Ian Kallen)

Old School San Francisco Metal representin'! Metallica may be Rock Stars, but they do still remember; it was cool to just hang with them again and chat. It wasn't like seeing them backstage at a show where they're basically "at work" and sometimes that's how they interact with people; for one night they were just The Guys again.

The vibe of the party was really, really cool... No egos and most people were approachable and open to having a conversation with a stranger; I finally met the infamous Jonny and Marsha Z. and was talking with Pushead for around 5 minutes before I realized who he was... DOH. The band had flown in Old Metalheads from all over the world for the celebration; there were so many old friends and faces in attendance my head was literally spinning... Old friends who now lead normal lives.. Old friends who are now heavy hitters in the music industry... SO MANY OLD FRIENDS!! People such as K.J. Doughton (who sent me Metallica's first demo and introduced me to them..), Dave Marrs (original roadie and the person who called to tell me Cliff had died..)... Ron McGovney (their first bassist who I hadn't seen since his final show with Metallica in November 1982..)... Ron Lafitte (who was Metallica's first merch guy..), John Marshall (original roadie and stand-in guitarist.. who I actually talk to all the time but I need to name check him anyway)... It was beyond surreal. Yes, time travel does exist.

Dave and John relive their roadie days on the 1984 Tour
(Pic by Umlaut)

However, despite how approachable most people were, I didn't have the balls to approach one person: JIMMY PAGE! Regrets.

All of the Rock Stars and old friends was cool and once in a lifetime, but another awesome aspect of the party for me was meeting a lot of the old school Rock / Metal journalists. Many of these writers date back to Circus, Sounds, and Kerrang! in the late 70's and early-80's; these are writers who helped shape my musical aesthetic by introducing me to bands or who I liked because they wrote about my favorite bands. Meeting and chatting with scribes like Xavier Russell, Sylvie Simmons, Ben Liemer, Lonn Friend, and David Fricke really had my head spinning. I was completely taken aback when I was introduced to Lonn Friend and he said to me "I heard you on NPR this morning!"... and I think I geeked out a little too much with David Fricke of Rolling Stone because, among many other things, he wrote the liner notes to SubPop's Radio Birdman compilation.

David Fricke of Rolling Stone with The Dork

A highlight of the night came when Umlaut's Old Metal friend K.J. showed Steffan Chirazi a copy of his first Metallica article (circa 1984 in Sounds):

(Pic by Umlaut)

I have a vivid memory of reading that article back in 1984; it was Metallica's first appearance in a major publication outside of the U.S. and I remember thinking "How the HELL did Metallica get into Sounds!?" Fast forward 25 years, and here was that very article bringing us Metalheads together again. Amazing.

However, my major epiphany about the night was this: There has never been a larger gathering of people in one room who actually knew Cliff Burton (including myself). Chew on that.. Also, Cliff's dad and relatives were all wearing a Cliff tribute t-shirt. "Bass Solo, Take One.."

Yes, there was delicious food... Yes, it was an open bar. Yes, we stayed up well into the wee hours of the next morning. Yes, there were ice sculptures:

Umlaut and Ron with Evil Ice
(Pic by Ian Kallen)

It was a fucking GREAT party..

The Hall of Fame Museum: The next day we visited the museum and there is a criminal lack of Metal in this supposed Hall of Rock. The only items that impressed me enough to make me write them down were:
  • The Lynyrd Skynyrd display with Allen Collins' cream Explorer, Gary Rossington's red SG, and Ed King's cream Telecaster all in a row. Dude, THAT'S the Explorer Collins' would play the solo to 'Freebird' on every night..
  • Randy Rhoads' iconic homemade polka dot Flying-V.
  • The handwritten lyrics to 'Highway To Hell' in Bon Scott's handwriting.
  • The handwritten lyrics to The Clash's 'Clampdown' in Joe Strummer's handwriting.
  • The handwritten lyrics to Metallica's 'Hit The Lights' in James' handwriting.
Of course, that last item got my inner 1982 Headbanger's head spinning: How the fuck did Metallica get here!? However, the one item that completely blew my mind, but NOT in a good way, was seeing Cliff Burton's old red Rickenbacker bass behind glass. To be honest, it freaked me out and it was almost like seeing Cliff's corpse on display. There's a no camera policy at the museum, but I snuck a picture anyway:

(Pic by Umlaut)

Also on display was a letter Cliff had written to someone, his leather belt inscribed with "Black Sabbath", and his Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell jersey. Profoundly weird, man.. Profoundly weird. I took quite a few photos of Cliff playing THAT Rickenbacker back in The Day. "Bass Solo, Take One.."

Cleveland: This was Umlaut's 2nd visit to Cleveland (yes.. I'd been there before..) and I don't want to talk too much shit about the city... but, man, the downtown area was unbelievably dead... AND we could NOT find a fucking Starbucks or decent coffee anywhere! It was unreal... Thankfully, Umlaut friends (and Cleveland residents) Jim and the lovely Rose saved our asses by picking us up and taking us to the Great Lakes Brewing Company for a proper meal and beers before the ceremony (THANKS Jim Rose!). Trivia: Famed Untouchables leader and crimefighter Eliot Ness was once involved in a shoot out in the space; bullet holes from that incident can still be seen in the bricks behind the bar.

The Ceremony: To be honest, Wanda Jackson and Jeff Beck were the only other inductees who I gave a shit about. The vintage film of Wanda in her prime was so cool... and Beck's set was awesome and included an instrumental version of Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' with JIMMY PAGE playing with him and his band! DOH!! It tripped me out during Page's induction speech for Beck when he said they had known each other since they were 13 or 14 years old. WOW.

We had great stage left, lower balcony seats that gave us a good angle and vantage point to watch the proceedings and to check out the action down in the fancy black tie VIP tables. For those who care: Down in the front row Jeff Beck > Jimmy Page > Joe Perry were sitting next to each other at a table. Flea > Ron Wood were at the next table with some of Run-DMC's posse (including Russell Simmons). Metallica and their families were at the 2 tables next to them. I don't know what was on the fancy black tie VIP dinner menu, but for dessert each person was given some giant chocolate tower thing.

Okay, the actual induction of Metallica was alot more emotional than I thought it was going to be.... Some random thoughts:
  • I was sitting in between Ian Kallen and Ron Quintana with K.J. Doughton sitting behind us... These are the specific guys who I started the Metal journey with in 1982 that led me to Cleveland. Surreal.
  • Flea: He's an old school Metallica fan!? Who knew?! I think everyone agreed his induction speech was amazingly old school and the fact that he ranted about Cliff for much of it was really amazing.... plus he was the first person onstage all fucking night to use the F-word! Yay Flea!
  • Ray Burton: This moment was beyond emotional, especially when Mr. Burton mentioned Cliff's deceased mom as "Cliff's biggest fan"... I flashed back to the first show Metallica played with Cliff at The Stone in S.F. (March 5, 1983); Mr. and Mrs. Burton attended to support their son and his new band and Mrs. Burton was wearing a Metallica - "Metal Up Your Ass" shirt. "Bass Solo, Take One.."
  • Jason: His speech had the unique perspective of someone who had been both a fan AND in the band.. and I was glad he participated and all of the drama in the wake of Some Kind Of Monster was laid to rest.
  • Rob: As he was giving Mike Muir props in his speech, Umlaut friend Ray sent me a text about seeing Suicidal Tendencies at almost the exact same moment in San Jose! Irony.
  • Kirk: The Lead Guitarist's time at the podium was probably the most emotional of the band guys. Man, his mom was sitting directly in front of him as he spoke.. and when he thanked his brother for urging him to pick up a guitar to channel his anger as a kid, his brother was sitting right there too... woah.
  • Lars: His words had the most impact on me since he was the first band member who I ever talked to and befriended. When he mentioned the party the band had the previous night, and he thanked all of us who were there with them at this moment, the ghost of my old denim vest cried. You can talk shit about The Drummer, but he brought the past 26 years all the way back around with his time at the podium.
  • James: It ruled how he started his speech by running off a list of "suggested" bands for the Hall Of Fame to induct now that they've recognized Metallica... such as Rush, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Motörhead. Also, it was pretty intense for me to see him give Lars a huge brotherly hug after his speech; all of the drama in the wake of Some Kind Of Monster was laid to rest and it was like they were those pimply-faced teenage Metalheads who started the band again.
The only thing I'm going to say about Dave Mustaine's legacy with Metallica is this: Yes, he was with them in the beginning, but he never played on a Metallica album. He was invited, but he didn't attend. Done. However, I met Lloyd Grant in Cleveland and he was super cool. 'Nuff said.

I don't want to rant too much about the band's performance, but it was perfect how they had both Jason and Rob play bass. The song selection ('Master Of Puppets' > 'Enter Sandman') made complete sense given the mainstream nature of the occasion (one old song from The Cliff Days > Their signature song). However, it was funny how the vast majority of the folks down in the VIP black tie tables (the tables cost up to $50,000 each!) were like dead fish as Metallica performed.

(Video by Umlaut)

It was funny how, despite the respect the band was getting from the Hall Of Fame, Metallica (and Hard Rock / Metal in general) are still outsiders to the mainstream music establishment. I'm sure everyone in the VIP black tie tables were on their feet and dancing when lame ass Billy Joel was inducted in 1999... but for Metallica in 2009 just about the only people down front who looked like they were rocking out were Lars' son and Jimmy Page (who was nodding his head up and down to the Metal in an almost-headbanging like motion as they played). I guess it was too much for me to expect the people at the back of the floor to rush the stage as 'Master Of Puppets' blasted from the stage.. I guess it was too much for me to expect to see tables, chairs, and bodies flying from the mayhem. Oh well... Tuxedos do cost a lot of $$ I guess.

However, the show closing version of 'Train Kept A Rolling' more than made up for my disdain of the black tie crowd: Metallica onstage with fucking Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, AND Flea was THE most amazing concert experience for me!! First of all, it rocked so hard. Then there was the whole symbolic nature of it: Kirk playing onstage on the greatest night of his career with the guitarists who he listened to as a kid! Come on! It doesn't get more amazing than that, man! Trivia: According to an Umlaut friend who attended the soundcheck, it took the super group around 90 minutes to work out the version of 'Train'.. so now you know.

The Hang Time: Of course, all of the Rock Star stuff was cool and once in a lifetime.. but the best aspect of the weekend was the hang time I had with Old Metalhead friends, some of whom I knew 25 years ago and had never met before! People like Metal Joe from the legendary Old Bridge NJ Metal gang and Metal Mike and Andre of the mighty Aardschok magazine in Holland. I used to trade tapes with Metal Mike back in The Day and to finally meet him was astounding, especially since here in the 21st Century Aardschok is one of Europe's premiere Metal magazines and concert organizers.

While the band and other "celebrities" stayed at the Ritz Carlton, the rest of us were at the Hyatt Regency. From what I heard, the bar at The Ritz was beseiged by fans trying to get a glimpse of their heroes, so security was all over that place. Fuck that! The Hyatt was super mellow and quiet and we could just hang out, have drinks, and do things like order pizzas at 1:00AM and have them delivered to us in the bar. METAL!

The cool vibe of the entire weekend spiked in the Hyatt bar after the induction ceremony, when Metallica's management, old and current road crew, and a bunch of us Old Metalheads all ended up there. Metallica's co-manager Cliff Bernstein even stopped at our table to chat with us; all mellow... all good.. It was that kind of weekend.

Another cool moment during that last hangout for me was when Adam Dubin came up and said he wanted to meet ME; he liked an article I had written a couple of years ago about Metallica and wanted to tell me. WOW.. My Music Geek alarm went off since Adam did the documentary A Year And A Half In The Life Of Metallica and also directed THIS landmark music video in which he also uttered the immortal dialogue that begins with "Do you like parties...." I was gobsmacked he knew who I was and we had a nice conversation about the 3 M's: Metal, Metallica, and Music... You gotta fight for your right to party, dude.

Adam Dubin and The Dork

Oh, Adam also did THIS video. Thanks Adam.

I'm still processing everything from the weekend and my head is still spinning, either from the memories or from the fallout of two consecutive nights staying out 'til 4:00 in the morning.. Probably a combination, right? METAL.

On the flight to Cleveland I sat across the aisle from Jim Martin, and on the flight home I sat next to Jim Martin. On the way back to San Francisco, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. It was an amazing weekend... and I can't believe I've been friends with Metallica for well over half my life now... and I can't believe that they are literally this generation's Led Zeppelin. Cue Fade To Black..

Click HERE for John Marshall's coverage of the weekend from his Red Carpet perspective!