Sunday, November 22, 2009
Metallica: The Club Dayz 1982-1984
Photography by Bill Hale
More than humdrum recent albums like St. Anger and Death Magnetic, zine photog Bill Hale's portraits of a young-and-hungry Metallica are exactly what the band needs to burnish their image and re-establish their underground bonafides. Before the Napster debacle, before tearful therapy sessions splashed all over the big screen, before Bob Seger covers, before being rendered down to loony caricatures in some video game, in The Club Dayz we hearken back to a time when Metallica actually mattered. In direct contradiction to most band/celebrity photobooks, Metallica (whether they know it or not) NEEDS Bill Hale's photos to see the light of day more than Bill Hale needed them to be seen. Funny, that.
The various forewords are in turns vaguely amusing, vaguely informative, and in the case of Ron Quintana, laugh-out-loud funny -- though not in the way he intended. Quintana pulls out every metal-press-release cliché in the book to the point where it actually deadens the visceral impact of what he witnessed. And make no mistake, what he witnessed was epochal. Early Metallica could be a life-changing epiphany, a communal celebration, in the way that the Sex Pistols or Bad Brains or Who gigs were. They basically remade metal in their own sweaty, manic, delinquent image, mainlining the primal adrenaline of Motorhead and Venom and Discharge; making metal dangerous and taboo again as the Sunset Strip scene was setting the tone for mainstream metal. A scene sprung up around them in San Francisco, kids who would turn their backs to hapless opening acts with denim jackets covered in NWOBHM patches, and peer bands like Exodus and Testament, for whom there was no such thing as too fast and too loud. It was heady stuff.
Club Dayz is also the ultimate redemption of Dave Mustaine, long dismissed as inconsequential to the Metallica sound in the official version, and a loose cannon egomaniac at that. (Not helped by his own behavior with Megadeth in the succeeding years, did you see him skydiving on Headbangers Ball?) But whereas James and Lars and even Kirk look terribly gangly and awkward, Mustaine just oozes star quality. He hits all the iconic poses, shirtless, clad in a leather vest with one of those unfeasibly spiky guitars. His curly teenage metal hair ends up looking cool instead of goofy, ditto the blindingly pale skin, and from the visual evidence, he was an important focal point for early Metallica. Check out the shots where the fans at the front actually stop headbanging for a moment, so they can watch him dive into another solo. The backstage shots, on the other hand, make him seem most likely to make your life miserable. Believe it.
Most importantly, this book humanizes Metallica: they're kids, man. Zitty, greasy teenagers in the first flush of metal fandom, clad in crisp Motorhead and Venom t-shirts, bullet belts, tight jeans, and ludicrous white high tops. Their hair is still growing out, fer chrissakes. In other words, crucially, they look exactly like the faithful crammed at the front of the stage, headbanging insanely. Their eyes shine enthusiastically and almost innocently, the whole thing seems so pure and full of promise. Metallica, and peers like Exodus and Armored Saint, really wanted to conquer the world for metal. And coming from a lapsed Metallica fan, this reminds me why I was drawn to them in middle school.
Remember what I said about them being human? That doesn't go for late bassist Cliff Burton. Cliff Burton wasn't human, he was lightning in a bottle. Looking like a member of Crazy Horse or Saint Vitus or a '60s Hells Angel beamed right into the thick of the Frisco thrash scene, he was every inch the icon. Clad in denim, bell bottoms, Cuban-heeled boots, and shoulder length hair with porno mustache -- Burton thrashed away at his bass with joyous abandon. Who the fuck else could get away with the first extended bass solo in thrash metal without being run out on a rail a la the end of O Brother Where Art Thou? He's utterly incandescent in every one of these photos, and much missed.
It ends fittingly with Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammet's first gig with the band, Dave Mustaine already sent packing off to Megadeth, resentment, and heroin -- and world conquest beckoned. Hale's shots -- damn, he was just a kid too -- are top-shelf, crisp, clear, colorful, and kinetic. Some remind me of Ross Halfin. He had full access backstage and wasn't afraid to wade into the pit to get crucial shots from the front. He has a good eye for the pose, and his fan's eye view allows him to capture shots that more experienced and blasé snappers might pass up. Some of these shots have been pilfered for various Metallica releases and the pages of US metal zines and the hipper UK mags like RAW, but this is the first airing of the entire collection. A slim volume but very much worth it for all serious students of metal. And I'm not even a fucking Metallica fan!
ECW Press: www.ecwpress.com