Phil Towle: “I Don’t Think Jason Newsted Wanted to Leave Metallica”

  • Axl Rosenberg

There’s a kind of shitty moment in Some Kind of Monster, the infamous documentary about the making of St. Anger, in which Metallica suggest that Jason Newsted may have seller’s remorse.

“A good friend hinted that Jason would really like to join the band again,” producer/interim bassist Bob Rock reveals.

“Man, I popped his little bubble for a second,” drummer Lars Ulrich replies. “I don’t know, man.”

Rock subsequently implies that Newsted was never that important to Metallica anyway:

“I’ll be quite honest. I think the heart and soul of Metallica, from this point on, and has been for a while, since Cliff [Burton, late Metallica bassist] died, is the three of you guys. I think you will never, ever, ever find a permanent bass player.”

Then, if you listen really carefully, you can hear Rob Trujillo clear his throat from miles away.

I was reminded of this scene from Some Kind of Monster when the band’s unlicensed therapist (er, “performance coach”) from that chapter of their history, Phil Towle, popped up on ...And Podcast For All!. During the course of the interview, Towle, too, suggests that Newsted was “acting out” and not sincere about quitting the group:

“I don’t think [Jason] wanted to leave the band. I think he wanted to leave the reality of what existed. And this was the only way he could start to do something with it.”

Which is not to say that Towle doesn’t thin Newsted didn’t have a right to be angry:

“Have you ever had a fight with your wife? When we’re fighting with our spouses or significant others or good friends or whatever, it’s hard. It’s easy to build up the animosity and the resentment when you’re feeling uncomfortable. And I think that Jason — this is my second-hand knowledge — but I think that Jason, coming off of Cliff’s reputation and the way that Cliff died so tragically, and that he was so instantly a replacement for Cliff, that he became what the guys would say a ‘whipping boy.’ He was the way that they grieved unhealthily. And Jason, because he was so — like anybody else — so grateful to be a part of the band, never felt like he could quite make it. He was hazed to the point where I think it blew because he’d had enough of something. And when we’ve had enough of something, then it’s hard to go to somebody and say, ‘Can we sit down and talk about this?’ No. It’s, ‘Fuck you.’ It’s a straight head-on… It’s, ‘This is what I’m pissed off about.’ So you have to ride that wave out. And because it was stunning, and because the band had certain resentments — the rest of the band had resentments — these are cumulative effects. And the fact that they never talked out — this is what Lars would say — the whole never really took the time to talk out the issues they were involved in, then this becomes an explosion. Then you have to pick up the pieces of it.”

Towle went on to suggest that despite the crappy way things ended, some good came of Newsted’s departure:

“[It] triggered a whole bunch of things. That contributed to ultimately James [Hetfield, Metallica singer/guitarist], months later, going into rehab. It wasn’t the exact fact, but if you look at the overarching life of Metallica and you see that they were trashing each other in Playboy magazine, in that interview, and you see then a month later they come in, or maybe two months later they come in — January of 2001, I think — and there’s this kind of animosity, that Jason is acting out. He’s the identified patient of the therapy, so he’s acting this act. And then the fight ensued.”

Back in 2014, Newsted alleged that Hetfield stopped Metallica’s managers — Cliff Burnstein and Q-Prime — from also working with his then-side project, eventual-post-Metallica band, Echobrain. He also claimed that when Hetfield learned of his plans to tour with Echobrain during Metallica’s downtime, the frontman implied he’d be fired for doing so, telling him “Other arrangements can be made.”

Elsewhere in Some Kind of Monster, Hetfield owns up to his part in the conflict with Newstead. But that doesn’t stop the band from making fun of him on-camera: later in the film, when planning their MTV Icons show, someone asks if they want Jason to be involved. “[Jason] lost his icon status when he left Metallica,” Ulrich cackles.

All parties involved seem to be on amicable terms now… although Newsted has criticized Trujillo’s playing in the press. So, basically, should a horrible accident ever befall Trujillo, Newsted will still be suspect #1.


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