James Hetfield and Modern Day Pedestal Smashing

In my last post I examined eighteenth century pedestal smashing in the form of Jonathan Swift’s poem “The Ladies Dressing Room” where a naive young gent discovers that his cherished girlfriend is an illusion made up of glue, clay, and colored wax. His inexperience with women was evident in his clumsy discovery that women also take nasty, steamy dumps just as men do.

In his writing “The Ladies Dressing Room,” Swift probably felt the same feelings a lot of modern men have with women- that their willingness to so readily deceive through both aesthetics and behavior is not only immoral, dishonorable, and crude but also greatly skews the sexual marketplace in their favor where the majority of men already have women on a pedestal; to a greater or lesser extent depending on the depth of their own experience with women.

Enter James Hetfield. 

Before Metallica were collectively driven mad by the trappings of their own success they were a beloved staple of the heavy metal community for embodying what was the anti-rock star, a novel concept for the late 1980s. Running opposed to the overt bravado and endless excess of other popular rock acts of the time, like Motley Crue, the boys in Metallica seemed downright low-key and tame. They were musicians foremost and rock stars as a distant second.

After all, they were made of up a shy, socially awkward frontman, a comic loving geeky lead guitarist, and an impish, effeminate European drummer. These were not the guys getting laid in high school. Success hit like a ton of bricks.

So what happens when a group of awkward, beta guys suddenly find tremendous success? 

They get married!

It doesn’t matter if it’s the beta geek who spends his twenties with a dry dick and a head buried in medical text books, the middle-management dummy drooling over his washed-up club girl, or the awkward rock star who has the attention of a girl he never thought he’d be in the same zip-code with as a sixteen year old.

It’s always the same story.

So James, as the song writer and lyricist of Metallica, falls head-over-heels for some pretty young girl and suddenly he thinks he’s in love. As a result, Hetfield pens his first and only love song, the beautifully constructed and haunting “Nothing Else Matters.”

Nothing. Else. Matters. 

Poor bastard had no idea what he was in for, did he?

With lyrics about vulnerability and trust, you can surmise that James felt he stumbled into the real deal; he let his guard down and believed the myth of egalitarian love.

The record with “Nothing Else Matters” went on to sell thirty million copies, embarked the band on a multi-year world tour, they all ended up divorced, and they collectively lost their minds.

I couldn’t possibly know the specifics of Hetfield’s relationship woes, but I can take a good guess based on how their next album, the mangled 1996  record “Load,” starts out the gate with a track called “Ain’t My Bitch.” And it appears that in the five years between albums, Mr. Hetfield became acquainted with a certain Red Pill.

The rest of “Load” revealed a vulnerable Hetfield, tortured and mentally distraught, a feeling of desperation and urgency prevailed in songs like “Bleeding Me,” “The Outlaw Torn,” and “Thorn Within.” A bizarre record where truly dark material met a mid-nineties radio sheen.

The band’s follow up, recorded concurrently with “Load” and aptly titled “Reload,” featured more of the same material thematically.

In the first single, “The Memory Remains,” Hetfield stands squarely in the shards of his shattered pedestal and addresses venomously the finite nature of female power. The song details a fading starlet, in denial of her aging out of Hollywood, as Hetfield commands her to “dance, little tin goddess.”

Hetfield here recognizes that female power is based primarily on how well they can pull off the illusion of perfection– how high the men they attract can erect a pedestal in their honor, as he had in the past, as the fictitious Strephon had in “The Ladies Dressing Room,” as men always will.

As a compliment to his pointed lyrics, to drive home his point, Hetfield employed an outside vocalist for the only time in Metallica history: the aging, withered, decisively unfeminine voice of Marianne Faithful; a clear reality check for any young starlet.

Age and experience had taught James Hetfield a powerful lesson; while the little girl may feel like a goddess, she’s only made of tin; the power she wields is an illusion, and this power is only significant when there are men who fall for the illusion and validate it as reality.

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  1. Brett Stevens · April 27, 2015

    Obviously this was long after he prostrated himself for passive anal intercourse by bulls which resulted in the abomination that is Metallica.

  2. rogerrrrrr · May 10, 2015

    Metal. When I was younger, I actually thought on a subconscious level that the ability to crank out a nasty, driving riff was evidence of actual toughness and warrior status. That’s the power of music.

  3. Jake · November 1, 2015

    The only one in that band who was Red Pill was Cliff.

  4. Dan · December 14, 2016

    I hadn’t read Ladies Dressing Room before – thanks for the lead.

    We are talking nearly three hundred years ago, and what was the female response at the time – dick shaming! I couldn’t believe it. Oh how human nature never changes.

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