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My Theory on Metallica
– Jan. 24, 2010

So. It's 9:30-ish; I'm pulling into the local grocery mart on my way to pick up milk, soda, and a sixer, and I'm listening to this song on the radio . . . .

You need to know before I continue that a few of the radio stations in my area[FN] showcase (in various ways) local talent. And while they are generally very supportive of up-and-comers, occasionally the djs will call a spade a spade

[FN] At the time I was living in the Shenandoah Valley. The station out of Charlottesville, 99X, was the best radio station in whose service area I've ever had the pleasure to live. (Edit.)

. . . So I'm listening to this song and, to be blunt, I'm having difficulty parking between the lines I'm laughing so hard. The lyrics were something you would expect from a fourteen-year-old boy who listened to too much Ozzy Osbourne, who thought 'brain/insane' was a really clever rhyme, and who had the depth of thought of an Ed Wood script. The vocals were crafted by someone who knew that if he sings real slow and throaty it makes the song creepy and scary, in the same way contemporary poets think speaking in a heartfelt voice makes their poems profound. Or poetic. Or not banal. Or in any way read-worthy. This means you.

But I digress.

The lead guitar: a couple adequately executed but otherwise unremarkable runs used in place of nuance and inventiveness, the void of which is wholly revealed in clunky transitions. Now, very usually it takes being a musician -- to some degree at least -- to understand what makes one riff inventive and the next one repetitive, or makes one player elegant and the next mechanical. What makes one poem a sonnet and the next doggerel. (Technique is not a substitute for nuance.) Nonetheless, the judges at the Southern Kansas Community A&M Year End Talent Show and Pig Rodeo would have been seen politely clapping at this one. (For the sake of the kids, who did try so hard.)

For a moment -- and I admit, only for a moment -- I wondered if I should be pitying the band, who were so evidently putting so much effort and earnestness onto their aural assault. That is, until the next pre-adolescent, force-rhymed couplet came plunking out of the speakers

Curious as to the whos and whats of the band, I pulled out my newly acquired smartphone and opened my newly loaded Shazam app to test out its local-band acumen . . . and what to my wondering eyes should appear?

Metallica! Of course! How could I have been so blind. (Or deaf, as the case may be.) How could I not have recognized that particular brand of just-plain-bad-but-popular-irrespective? That singular arrogance-in-the-face-of-incompetence?

Laughed twice as hard for knowing.

It's the simple things often. Is it not?

Yet, how is it that a band which writes and performs such bad lyrics and music can get as popular as they did? (Implicit comment on the nature of the music industry lying there.) Here's my guess: It would be very interesting to see some demographics on the following:

  1. How many of their fans became fans after age 21? (I would bet a very small minority.)
  2. How many of their fans became fans while in high school. (I would guess a dominating majority.)

That's my theory. I think it's a good one.

You have to give it to them though. They are definitive proof that you need neither talent nor ability to make it big in the US. All you have to do is appeal to -- or even better, connect with, at their level -- fifteen-year-old boys. Or thirteen-year-old girls. They're ahead of the pubertal curve on this one too.

OK. Creed made a good run at the trophy, bringing that tried and true substitute for talent -- Christian devotion -- to the game. But the religion card has a short shelf-life (outside Christian radio, that is), and even those over-the-top, bathetic videos couldn't quite launch them into Metallica's heights.