The musicians our parents idolized as teenagers are slowly dying off. Two Beatles have already left us. Johnny Cash. Lou Reed. Entwistle, Bonham, Moon.
Today’s generation of 25-45 year olds will soon be faced with our mortal heroes succumbing to the realities of age, too. And while the metal community is no stranger to death — Lemmy’s passing being the most recent and obvious example — we haven’t yet had to deal with losing someone at the absolute top of the genre.
I mean no disrespect to Lemmy. The man’s legacy speaks for itself, and Motorhead’s music directly influenced hundreds — even thousands — of bands that’ve graced our ears over the past three decades.
But Motorhead were still something of a cult act, appreciated casually by many but adored by a relative few. Compare Motorhead’s final tour this past summer — on which the band played mostly 1,500-3,500 capacity theaters and partially sold amphitheaters — to Metallica’s performances in arenas, soccer stadiums and 100k+ attendee festivals the world over, year in and year out for over two decades now. Metallica are the first obsession of teenage metalheads. Metallica are the band whose name your parents recognize when they see it in the newspaper. Metallica are the band we blast from the MetalSucks Comic Con booth that draws in casual metal fans and diehards alike. Not Megadeth, not Slayer, not Motorhead… Metallica. Always Metallica.
Simply put, Metallica are the undisputed kings of metal. They are at the absolute top of the food chain. Even Dio and Hanneman — whose deaths shook the metal world deeply, and both of whom are undisputed metal icons — don’t approach the reach that Metallica have.
So: what will happen when a member of Metallica finally turns to dust?
(Yes, I know, Cliff Burton. But Metallica were but a drop in the bucket when Cliff died in 1986 compared to what they are now. It’s not the same thing at all.)
To be clear, I do not wish death upon anyone in Metallica. I hope they’ve got many years of vitality left, and it certainly seems like they have no intention of slowing down any time soon. But as someone who covers metal every single day — and, sadly, as someone’s who’s learned that no stories garner as much traffic as deaths — it’s a question that’s crossed my mind. As Metallica’s members all push past 50 it’s certainly worth asking.
I predict mass pandemonium. You thought things got crazy when Lemmy died? Weiland? Brockie? Mitch Lucker?
Tributes and essays will pour out of every orifice of the musicsphere. EVERYONE — from the guitarist of underground cult favorites Yog Sorgolgoth to Kerry King to Bruce Springsteen — will have something to say. Front page of the New York Times? It’s certainly possible. The local evening news, with special guest interviewees that knew the band back in the day. TV specials. Made-for-TV movies. Wide release films. Books will be written.
There will be impromptu candlelight vigils on every corner and celebrations of life at every drinking hole, metal or otherwise. Drink specials will be offered in honor of the deceased, perhaps for weeks (month?) on end. The jukebox will be in full-on Metallica mode.
People crying in the streets? Rioting? It’s certainly possible. Make no mistake about how massively popular Metallica are: they’ve sold 52 million albums IN THE UNITED STATES ALONE. I don’t have sales numbers for other countries, but rest assured the experience of seeing them live in other places (which I’ve had the privilege of doing twice) is exactly the same as it is here: at least 50,000 fans packed into a tight space, all screaming their heads off and headbanging furiously.
There will be a MASSIVE surge in album sales. News outlets (including this one) like to poke fun at the fact that the Black Album still regularly moves between 1,000 and 2,000 units every single week… imagine how that number will spike in the wake of all of the above?
Metallica will suddenly be featured prominently in the most unlikely of places (see: previous mention of NY Times) and their career will suddenly be celebrated by outlets that would’ve never done so if not for a death. Think: NPR, Pitchfork, Stereogum, etc. They’ll be hailed as masters despite nary a previous mention.
What will happen if the first to go is Robert Trujillo? Will the public reaction by the same? What about Jason Newsted?
There will be round-the-clock radio marathons, not just immediately following the death but every year on that day, just as we do for Dimebag every December 8th. If the death was the cause of a rare or particularly debilitating or aggressive disease, expect memorial funds to be set up in honor of the deceased.
Speaking of Dimebag: remember how in the years following his death bands would use Pantera riffs — or entire songs — as a means of pumping up the crowd? That will DEFINITELY happen. Which Metallica song will become the “Walk” of its generation? “Enter Sandman,” perhaps? Seems fitting.
Perhaps Through the Never will suddenly become profitable thanks to renewed interest in the band. Maybe Lulu will be revisited and will be hailed as a masterpiece.
Fans will create silly petitions that demand we honor the deceased in whatever arbitrary way they deem appropriate, such as a statue of Lars in a town square in Copenhagen or renaming a San Francisco street James Hetfield Boulevard.
Endless raping and pillaging of the band’s legacy through musical instrument sales (again, with Dime: see how Dean Guitars handled his death). Explorer sales will skyrocket. Crybaby Wah pedals will fly off the shelves.
Social media will be flooded with photos of Metallica tattoos — both antemortem and posthumous. The “Gimmue Fue Gimme Fai Gimme Dabajabaza” meme will make the rounds again. So will the one of Papa Het shopping at Armani.
Whatever happens it’s sure to be a crazy time and, like I said, I hope it’s not one that we have to experience any time soon. Just food for thought. Chime in with your opinions below.