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Editorial: More Metal Musicians Should be Like Jason Newsted

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Former Metallica, Voivod and Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted has done what to many metal musicians would be the unthinkable: transitioned into an acoustic artist. His new project, Would and Steal, made its debut last Friday, July 22nd, via a live stream on Mighty Fine Guitars’ Facebook page.

Here’s what Newsted had to say about his decision to transition into the realm of grandpas guitars:

“After thirty years of playing heavy music and traveling around the world — I’ve been around the globe about five and a half times, fifty-five countries — I’ve already climbed that mountain; there is no more of that mountain to be climbed. So within the accolades that I shared of [Metallica’s] success — I was one member of that group, something bigger than all of us; and we got Grammy Awards and [Rock And Roll] Hall Of Fame and all those different things — that’s as far as you can go in that kind of music, and it’s someone else’s turn to have fun in that music now.

“I can’t play like Slipknot now; those guys are heavier and faster than I could ever dream of playing now. So this is how I can play, and this is what I’ll do for the rest of time.

“I always wanna play music; I have to have it in my every day, and if I don’t, I’ll go mad — literally. Anybody that knows me knows that. And so now as I play this, I find myself being able to expose myself to more people. I’d say age four to ninety-four can listen to this music and enjoy it. How can’t you like Johnny Cash? How can’t you like ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken?’ You have to like those songs, American music like that.”

Newsted’s dated example of Slipknot as what’s “heavier and faster” in today’s metal landscape notwithstanding, he is completely fucking right: those guys — and Cattle Decapitation, and The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Pig Destroyer, and dozens (hundreds?) of other metal bands in today’s scene — can play heavier and faster than he can. Not to mention better. And in a way, the fact that he unknowingly chose a band that’s already considered old only underscores his point that he should not be playing metal anymore.

And that’s just it: Jason Newsted, a 53-year old man, should not be playing metal anymore. Nor should Ozzy, or Metallica, or Slayer, or any of the dinosaurs that trot around the world every year delivering half-baked versions of the shows they once did, and churning out Reign in Blood Part VI or whatever. The kids do it better. Too many artists continue touring and making music to the point where it’s just embarrassing, and while nostalgia certainly has appeal — shit, I just paid stupid money to see the “original” Guns N’ Roses play mostly 25+ year old songs — even that wears off pretty quickly.

Oh, don’t make this about me restricting art and passion… Newsted should of course do whatever makes him happy, including playing metal if that’s where his desires lie! Later on in the same piece quoted above, he conceded that he still plays metal, too. But no, I’m speaking professionally, here; there comes a time in a metal musician’s career where he’s got to admit he just doesn’t have what it takes anymore to keep up. New bands do it better.

And Newsted, unlike most metal musicians, has the self-awareness to say, “You know what? Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this anymore.” As an artistic individual he’s still got that fire to create, to work, to move forward, to experiment, to write. He’s just channeling it into a different vehicle now.

Shockingly few metal musicians have the wherewithal to slip into middle age gracefully. Shit, metal’s fucking fun, and no one wants to quit — I totally get it. But at some point it must stop feeling fun and start feeling disingenuous. A change is needed.

Worth mentioning: as a personality on the fringe of modern metal consciousness, Newsted’s got more freedom to change it up than those who are still in the game. While it’s easy for Newsted to venture down a new road because he isn’t leaving very much behind in the way of an active career, if Metallica suddenly became a blues band they’d be leaving millions of Benjamins on the table. He’s got nothing to lose. Further, Newsted probably has money left in the bank from Metallica with some kind of residuals regularly rolling in; he can afford to take a career risk like this, whereas someone like Gary Holt probably doesn’t have the kind of money coming in from Exodus royalties that would allow him to do anything but keep his fanbase happy for the rest of his playing life.

A few artists with plenty to lose and little in the bank have made the transition smoothly. Devin Townsend has traded in the aggression of Strapping Young Lad for a more balanced, experimental, and at times poppy approach, producing some of his most-loved material to date. Mikael Akerfeldt is over it with death metal, having turned Opeth into a Yes-worshipping ’70s prog machine. Justin Broadrick ditched fuzzed out industrial in favor of fuzzed out shoegaze. Morbid Angel’s David Vincent is now a country crooner.

So, at the very least, there’s proof it can be done. Whether Newsted’s Would and Steal will find success is still unknown. But don’t you wish more artists would accept their age and hang up their cleats? I sure do.

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