Let me introduce you to the “burnout.”
This now rare species roamed the earth from the 1970’s through the 1980’s. They could be easily identified by their untied high-top sneakers, tight pants, and a jean jacket with a patch of their favorite heavy metal band emblazoned on the back. A cigarette could usually be seen hanging from their bottom lip, and when they weren’t inflicting pain on neighborhood children, they could be found waxing their automobiles, while blasting their favorite heavy metal tunes of the day.
I grew up in the same neighborhood with many “burnouts,” and let me tell you–like AC/DC suggested–they made my life a “Highway To Hell.” Now that I look back, I guess I was perfect fodder for a burnout attack. My family went to church two times on Sunday, I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but “Christian” music, and swearing was strictly prohibited (even the word “fart” was off limits).
(above: The sight of one of these used to send me running home.)
Imagine the fear that shook through me the first time I saw an Iron Maiden patch on a burnout’s back. The band’s skeletal mascot, Eddie, looked like he was going to jump right off the jacket-patch and strangle the life out of me. Then there were the many Metallica t-shirts and icons I encountered on a daily basis: a raised fist with knife in hand coming out of a toilet, a cemetery littered with crosses, and phrases like: Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, and Metal Up Your Ass. Seeing Metallica’s blocky-font-logo meant one thing to me, RUN!
The neighborhood burnouts inflicted pain on me in various ways. Before the “wedgie” became a pop-cultural punch line, my tormentors used it as their favorite torture technique. And let me say, there’s nothing funny about being lifted off of your feet with a pair of whitie-tighties wedged between your butt cheeks. The burnouts also had access to various weapons. Though they never blew me up with an M80 (as threatened), there were countless times when I was sent running home dodging bottle rockets, bee-bee gun pellets, or rocks being propelled by industrial-strength slingshots.
Was I ever hit? Yes. Did it hurt? Like you couldn’t believe.
The only thing that hurt more than getting shot with a rock was being verbally harassed by the burnouts. They could make you feel like crap in two sentences flat. Change that–they could do it with one word. Like most bullies they reinforced the obvious. Because I wasn’t allowed to listen to heavy metal or swear, I quickly became known as Holy Shearer–later shortened to just Holy. Shearer (pronounced sheer) also rhymes with another word. Take two seconds to figure it out, and that was another choice insult used masterfully by the burnouts.
In high school, my parents loosened their grip as I began listening to secular music. In 1991 I was reintroduced to Metallica via their Black Album, and after a quick burnout flashback, I actually started to enjoy all of the band’s singles: “Enter Sandman,” “Unforgiven,” “Wherever I May Roam,” and “Sad But True.”
In college I managed to befriend a Metallica fanatic and caught up on the band’s entire back catalog, realizing for the first time the genius of Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All.
Would the burnouts be proud of me? Probably not. I’m guessing they would have offered something similar to the following: Duh–if you weren’t so holy you would have listened to all of those Metallica albums years ago!
I bring all of this up, because if you don’t believe in karma or the expression, “What goes around comes around,” you will now.
The irony can be cut with a big Metal Up Your Ass knife, cause the boy that was once mocked for not being allowed to listen to Metallica, was invited to their headquarters last week to interview founding member and drummer, Lars Ulrich.
Metallica’s HQ (that’s headquarters for short) is the business and musical brain center of the bay-area-based thrash legends. Oh how the burnouts would have been jealous as I walked through Metallica’s two huge practice spaces, adorned with countless banners fans have tossed on stage over the years. Not only that, but many of the bands old stage backdrops hang across the walls, including the original one used when Metallica toured in support of Ride The Lightning. Hmm, wonder if the burnouts ever got this close in ’84?
Oh, look over there, it’s the set piece Metallica used for the …And Justice For All tour. Wait, is that a box of James Hetfield’s signature black wristbands? Why yes it is. Whoa, look there’s Lars’ drum kit, Kirk’s rack of guitars, and a whole bunch of lyric sheets with handwritten Metallica scribbles all over them. Wow, here’s James’ lead vocal mic. Since I got a second, why don’t I just lean into this and pretend I’m singing “One” in front of a crowd of thousands. Ouch I just stubbed my toe. Damn these vintage Metallica road cases.
Later, during my interview with Lars, he extended me an invitation to watch Metallica warm-up in their Tuning + Attitude room before they play live on their upcoming tour. Suddenly, memories of wedgies and slingshot welts faded to, uh, black. It may be sad but true for the burnouts, but it looks like there is justice for all in Metallica-land–even for a holy kid who wasn’t allowed to listen to heavy metal music.