SnarkNotes: “Fuel” by Metallica

  • Axl Rosenberg

snarknotes new logo


Metallica is the most financially successful, and arguably the best, metal band of all time. Although they are considered to be a part of the Big Four of thrash bands alongside Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax, they are truly in a league of their own. They achieved this status in part simply by making some truly righteous albums, but also by shifting gears (pun intended) in the 90s and appealing to the lowest common denominator by writing simplistic hard rock songs about subjects such as wood, Windex, and, in the case of “Fuel,” gasoline.

Plot Overview

After suffering severe brain damage, possibly due to a vehicular mishap, The Narrator makes a series of nonsensical claims and demands, before finally being incinerated to death.

Character List

The Narrator — A staunch supporter of the Fast and Furious franchise.

Analysis of Major Characters

The Narrator — In a rather fascinating way, “Fuel” is a companion piece to Metallica’s 1988 hit, “One.” As is the case in that song, very little is known of the narrator, other than that he has befallen a terrible fate as the direct result of his participation in dangerous activities (in “One,” going to war; in “Fuel,” possibly race car drive, almost certainly drinking gasoline). As is the case with The Narrator in “One,” the protagonist of “Fuel” has a solipsistic view of his situation — although whereas in “One,” this was the result of our hero being robbed of many of his senses as a result of an injury sustained in a war, whereas in “Fuel,” our hero just seems to be a total idiot/from New Jersey.

Themes, Motifs, & Symbols


The protagonist’s motivating principal is to obtain gasoline (the “fuel” of the title). Since his rambling is mostly nonsensical, it’s difficult to discern what use he has for the gasoline, although he does suggest that he may be drinking it, which would suggest why he’s just spouting random phrases as though he were suffering from Tourette’s.


The narrator makes many literal and figurative references to this dangerous element. In 1999, scholar Harold Bloom proposed that the protagonist may be narrating the song as he burns to death — another plausible explanation for the nonsensical nature of phrases — although, obviously, this remains open to interpretation.

The Colors Red, Black, and White

Many feel that the use of these colors is the most interesting recurring visual motif in the song, since they can each have multiple meanings, and since, once again, much of what the narrator says makes about as much sense as opposing the gay marriage of Slash and Kerry King’s respective pet pythons.

Summary & Analysis

Gimme fuel
Gimme fire
Gimme that which I desire

The Narrator makes his initial request for gasoline. To whom he is speaking and for what purpose he needs the gasoline has not yet been clear, and will, in fact, never truly be clarified.

Turn on… I see red
Adrenaline crash and crack my head
Nitro junkie, paint me dead
And I see red

Although the phrase “I see red” is generally intended as a euphemism for losing one’s temper, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Although some hypothesize that The Narrator is, indeed, furious, on account of not getting “that which he desires,” others have noted that the word “Yeah!” is generally used in a positive manner, suggesting that The Narrator has, indeed, received his fuel. This theory is bolstered by the simple fact that when he says “Turn on,” he is presumably referring to his vehicle… and if the vehicle can turn on, then it must already have fuel. Under this interpretation, “I see red” is generally considered to be a reference either to the lights on the car’s dashboard, or to a red traffic light, the disobeying of which may very well caused the protagonist to “crack my head.”

Whatever the circumstances, it quickly becomes clear that our hero is not in his right mind, as the phrase “paint me dead” is not one in common usage, and doesn’t actually mean anything, figuratively or literally.

One hundred plus through black and white

This is another sentence fragment which is difficult to interpret. Although the obvious allusion would be one to the checkered flags commonly used to signal the start and finish of a car race, The Narrator has not, at this point, made it seem as though he were participating in such a race… to say nothing of the fact that he’s already made a reference to being injured in a crash. Sir Ichabod Fauntleroy, Professor of Semiotics at ITT Tech, has speculated that, much like the protagonist of the film Memento, The Narrator’s sense of time may have been skewered as a result of his head injury, which would explain why events are not necessarily placed in chronological order.

War horse, warhead
Fuck ’em man, white-knuckle tight

Perhaps the most obvious instance of The Narrator failing to make sense up to this point. What does a war horse or a war head have to do with his desire for gasoline? Who does he mean to fuck? Is he comparing himself to a war horse and/or a warhead? His vehicle? Whomever is going to get fucked? It’s never made clear.

Through black and white

Once again, The Narrator could be referring to a checkered flag, but he could just as easily be referring to a newspaper or the movie Casablanca.

On I burn

The first suggestion that The Narrator may be on fire, which, once more, would help to explain why so little of what he says is coherent.

Fuel is pumping engines
Burning hard, loose and clean
And on I burn
Churning my direction

A fairly straight-forward, if highly poeticized, account of how gasoline works. The mystery, of course, is why The Narrator is choosing to convey this information now.

Quench my thirst with gasoline

Writing for The New York Times, Janet Maslin has suggested that The Narrator may, in fact, be drinking gasoline — another plausible explanation for the apparent brain damage that has been suffered by the song’s protagonist.

So gimme fuel
Gimme fire
Gimme that which I desire

The Narrator reiterates his desire for gasoline and/or fire. Could he be a pyromaniac? Perhaps he burns himself “just to feel something,” as the Afterschool Special parlance might say?

Turn on beyond the bone
Swallow future, spit out home

Another demonstration of The Narrator’s damaged mind. What does “turn on beyond the bone” mean? Is it some kind of sophomoric sexual reference (“turn on” and “bone” both being common colloquialisms associated with sexual activity or arousal)? And when he says “Swallow future, spit out home,” does he mean the gasoline he may be drinking is his future, and the contents of the vomit induced by that gasoline are his home? Does he view this endeavor as some sort of mystical, psychedlic Ayahuasca ceremony?

Burn your face upon the chrome

Another suggestion that The Narrator may be badly injured.

Take the corner, join the crash
Headlights, head on, headlines
Another junkie lives too fast
Yeah lives way too fast, fast, fast, oohhOH!

This seems like The Narrator’s most straightforward and literal admission of having been in a car crash yet. There is no discernible metaphoric meaning, beyond “junkie” referring to someone addicted to something other than heroin.

On I burn
Fuel is pumping engines
Burning hard, loose and clean
And on I burn
Churning my direction
Quench my thirst with gasolineGimme fuel
Gimme fire
Gimme that which I desire

On I burn

A final reiteration of The Narrator’s desires. Bloom has suggested that, much like the protagonist of “One,” the hero of “Fuel” may now be lying in a hospital bed, trapped by his traumatic nightmares, a victim of a dueling id and super-ego. Françoise Meltzer, however, has offered a counter-theory: “It’s just a song. They used whatever lyrics sounded good. There is no need to overanalyze this.” Bloom, in turn, called Meltzer “a dirty fucking German nihilist.” The two camps continue their debate to this date.


Show Comments
Metal Sucks Greatest Hits