Thursday, February 12, 2009

James Hetfield: A Cool Icon

Over the years, I’ve idolized many people and thought that they were the ultimate definitions of cool. When I was really young that person was my older brother, when I was around nine or ten it was any given Backstreet Boy, and then a couple of years later my idol became James Hetfield of Metallica. Granted, I’ve never thought any of these guys were quite as cool as Woody Allen apparently thought Bogart was— I never have hallucinations involving them or carried on complete conversations with them like they were right next to me when in fact they weren’t.

I suppose James Hetfield would still be the ultimate cool for me. I first discovered him when my brother brought home Metallica’s seventh cd, ReLoad, in 1997. It was instant love for me; all Backstreet Boys cds went out the window and were soon replaced by a complete collection of Metallica albums which I’ve cherished ever since. I loved the powerful lyrics Hetfield wrote, the amazing guitar, and I loved the passion he put into his live performances. When my family drove out to Denver, CO for my brother and I to attend our first Metallica concert I was in 8th grade and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was in awe the entire night because James Hetfield was the single coolest person alive and I was standing less than 200 feet from him.

Outside the schoolgirl obsession with this rather rough and tumble looking metal star, I realized that Hetfield had a lot of merit as a “real” person too, not just as a star. He had a hard life growing up in a strict religious environment that isolated him from the world, he lost his mom at a young age to cancer because she refused treatment, and after leaving home to pursue music his father refused to acknowledge his existence for a time. For me the fact that he overcame such a childhood was incredible because my family is a huge part of my life. He was also a cool idol for me because of what he did after gaining such fame. At first alcohol ruined his life and almost killed him, but after getting married and starting a family he changed completely. He made the band switch from “Alcoholica” to a truly respectable group of men. Whereas most rock bands never mature past the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of their younger years, Hetfield lead his band of family men on to even greater heights. That spoke wonders to me and made me respect this man for more than just his brilliant lyrics and music.

So while Metallica’s frontman isn’t actually a voice in my head that I confide in often, he has had an impact on my life that I can never forget. And in fact his lyrics do pop into my head at random times to provide insight about situations or information I’m mulling over. He doesn’t walk down the street talking to me as Bogart did for Woody Allen, but he is a childhood idol that still has great significance for me. His music and his life story have always inspired me, and Metallica will always hold a special place in my heart, mind, and iTunes library.


  1. Do you think Hetfield is cooler because he was able to overcome the alcohol addiction or do you think their music has suffered in the recent years?

  2. I think he is much cooler for overcoming his addiction and becoming the husband/father/rock star he is today. It shows his true devotion to his music and his other life at home. However, I don't agree with those who say their music has suffered in recent years because of these changes. I think Metallica has matured as a band, and so has their music. You have to take albums such as St. Anger that most people hated and view them in the context of the band's career to see how the music really reflects what they were going through at the time-- their bassist had left, and the band had just recovered from the ruins that alcohol had lead them into. So yeah, their music is different know than it was when they put out their first real album in '83, but they are different people know too and listeners have to understand that to fully appreciate their music and career.

  3. You know, James Hetfield is very much a cool icon, and not just in metal. When someone is first looking to get into the genre, one of the first bands suggested is Metallica (usually their older albums). But there's a bit of a mainstream appeal to Metallica and James Hetfield. This has actually caused some pain for fans, which was only accentuated when the entire band cut their hair. For many, it was the nail in the coffin of Metallica's authenticity.

    For a band like Metallica, appearance means a lot, whether it means keeping their long hair or appearing to be uncaring alcoholics. While you see Hetfield as your cool hero, do you agree with the reasons other people have stopped loving the band?

    Very interesting choice, and an interesting and informative post to boot! Very nice.

  4. Great appreciation. I like that you chose somebody in my generation. (Hmmm ... are older people cooler? Is there a curve at which you're too old to get cooler and you start to decline?)

    I hope you've seen Some Kind of Monster, one of the greatest music documentaries ever made.

  5. In response to Whit, while I do understand why some people have stopped loving Metallica, but at the same time I find their logic very immature. Anyone who can't accept the fact that people naturally mature and change overtime is just being ridiculous. Not everyone wants to stay an alcoholic teenager forever. It seems to me that people should be able to respect them more for growing as individuals and evolving their music with them, but at the same time keeping up their metal image with the fiery, angry music.

    In response to Donna, I can't imagine a point in time when the members of Metallica become too old to be cool... but that could just be my obsession talking. For most icons though, there is the point when they become washed up and simply stop being cool just because people get tired of them and want some new faces to take over. And yes, I have seen "Some Kind of Monster." I saw it in theaters when it first came out and thought it was wonderful.

  6. Hetfield is truly a rock star for the ages. He is truly one of the few surviving rock stars of the 80s that rarely draws much in the way of mocking (minus the whole Napster thing, but that was really Lars's campaign).

    I also agree that we cannot deny that people are going to mature, but what about going beyond just growing to making a conscious effort to change? By this I mean selling out, which many would argue Metallic did with its first video in '88 or its '91 self-titled album.

    Is Hetfield's cool hurt in your eyes by knowing that he has done things that were done with the express purpose of making him more popular?