By Shawn “Speedy” Lopes
Once considered among heavy metal’s most wrathful, wild-eyed bands, Metallica may have seen the last of its dark days.
Its 15 years together have seen as much tragedy as triumph within its ranks. It’s no wonder guitarist Kirk Hammett bubbles over with enthusiasm at the prospect of returning to Hawaii for another much-anticipated show.
“No, let me start the interview,” he insists as we decide to forgo the usual over-the-phone formality. “All I wanna say is I married a local girl. And guess what her named is?”
“Lani.” He pauses for effect, no doubt beaming on the other end.
“Yeah man, I’m practically a ka-ma-ai-na,” he adds, careful to phonate in his most heedful Hawaiian. “We hang out in Palolo Valley with her family whenever we get out there and I love it. I was never a ‘Hawaii’ type of guy – I mean, I was pretty nocturnal for the most part and rarely ever saw the light of day before she turned me into a total beach bum. Now I longboard, bodyboard, we eat at L&L, and Irifune – I’m down with the whole local thing.”
It was at a San Francisco wedding that the two met.
“She was working at the wedding and I started hounding her and saying, ‘Go out with me, go out with me.’ And she was like, ‘Who the hell are you?’”
“I’m practically a kama’aina. I longboard, bodyboard, we eat at L&L, and Irifune – I’m down with the whole local thing.”
Little did the future Mrs. Hammett know she stood before a genuine rock icon and one-quarter of one of heavy metal’s most prolific and revolutionary bands. For proof of Metallica’s foresight, rewind to 1983, when Hammett, then of Bay Area thrashers Exodus, auditioned for the band. Metallica, though struggling through lean times,was already counted among the handful of head-banging pioneers just beginning to fuse the blistering fury of American hard-core punk with the cabalistic, full-tilt power of British heavy metal.
In time, Metallica would push the envelope further by experimenting with odd time signatures and musical concepts usually reserved for the more “respectable” idioms of jazz and classical music.
“Back then , I used to listen to bone-crunching heavy metal and nothing else and I’d sneer at bands like Duran Duran and Motley Crue, or whoever was popular back then,” recalls Hammett. “I was just into groups like Mercyful Fate, Motorhead and the Misfits. “If I was still like that now, I don’t think Metallica would sound like we do today. I don’t think we realized how groundbreaking we were because it all seemed to be a reflection of all the things we were listening to at the time.”
In 1986, just as the band had begun its expeditious ascent up the rock ‘n’ roll ladder, there was a sudden, calamitous event that would forever change Metallica’s fate. In the midst of a Scandinavian tour, the bus skidded on a patch of ice near Ljungby, Sweden, and flipped over, killing bass player Cliff Burton instantly. Without time to mourn, Metallica auditioned a number of hot-shot musicians, including Hammett’s high school classmate Les Claypool (now with Primus), before agreeing on Jason Newsted.
When asked to compare bassists, Hammett’s answer is immediate.
“Night and day,” he says. “I would call Jason a ‘social musician’ – a really nice guy who is very much into his instrument. Cliff was a very unique individual; he wore bell bottoms before they became popular again.”
Did his attire signify a special affinity for the early metal bands of the ‘70s like Black Sabbath or Deep Purple?
Hammett starts to laugh, then pauses for a second.
“No … I think he just liked wearing ‘em.”
Again in 1992, Metallica’s resolution was put to the test when, on stage in Montreal, an exploding flash pot sent singer/guitarist James Hetfield to the emergency room with first- and second-degree burns.
The fact that Metallica got through yet another ghastly career-threatening ordeal was surely a testament to the band’s fortitude.
In addition, Hammett says, the members of Metallica have never had any interest in pursuing outside projects.
“Metallica is as much a solo thing as a band thing,” he says. “All my best music goes to the band and nowhere else, so (going solo) is not something I ever think about. We all realize we’ll probably be around forever. I mean, if guys like Aerosmith and the Stones can do it, why can’t we?”
Dubbed from the Honolulu Advertiser, from April 9, 1999