A Picture Book That Teaches Kids How to be Heavy-Metal Sellouts
Recently I went to my local bookstore to pick up a book I ordered and when the cashier gave it to me, I was surrounded by a few employees who stared at me as I paid. One asked to see my new book and as I handed it over, the cashier remarked, “Oh wow, she never does this.”
Making the situation weirder was the book itself, The ABCs of Metallica. It’s a kids book. Not a young adult novel or a classic children’s book so good it’s high art, but a brand-new picture book with cartoon drawings and rhyming text.
But it’s about Metallica and, if you know anything about Metallica, it’s remarkable that they published a children’s book. There was a time when Metallica embodied angry machismo, their songs the perfect soundtrack for total dudes raging hard. Now they’re meme fodder. They’re the band that opens the new basketball arena playing their symphonic album. They also make millions every year from branded merch, including children’s books. They are the definition of sellouts.
Not that I have a problem with that. I did at one time, back when I was an obnoxious teenager with a righteous streak. I had my reasons; Metallica served me and a million others as a gateway to a heavy-metal addiction, so important to my life it became part of my identity. When a band has that big of an impact, you can’t help but feel ownership over them. But twenty years later, I couldn’t give a shit. They can start their own line of cargo shorts for all I care. At this point they’re corporate sluts, though less whorish than KISS. (Gotta give credit where it’s due.)
So it shouldn’t be surprising that the ABC’s of Metallica is a few embossed letters away from being completely unremarkable. The art attempts to turn the band of four ugly dudes into something cartoonish and fun, yet it feels disposable, worthy more of a T-shirt sold at Target than a book. In his defense, the project challenged the poor artist to make heshers, some of the ugliest people on this earth, cute. That’s just not going to happen.
The text is the one reason to even crack open this book. The writing itself is fine, nothing embarrassing about it. But what matters is what the band chose to highlight in their alphabet. After the four current band members (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujilo) and the deceased bassist Cliff Burton (who the book refers to as “Major Rager” and depicts as an angel playing bass in the clouds), there’s still 21 more letters.
So what do you talk about? All things Metallica, right? Well, mostly the band’s songs and albums. For example, E is for Enter Sandman, a “heavy metal lullaby/Which Everyone Agrees/is one of the greatest songs ever/including the Virginia Tech Hokies.” There’s also entries for their “No Life For Leather” demo (“It made its way around the world/Without the help of the Internet”), and the video for “One” (“A grand display of artistry/For all the world to see”).
The S for “Some Kind of Monster,” the band’s disastrous documentary from 2004, is the most laughable of all the entries. That movie portrayed the group as bickering, money-loving prima donnas who operate less as a band and more as a business that allows everyone to be overly emotional. The ABCs of Metallica addresses the doc as such: “Fans got to see how a band works/With an honest, open view/The good times and the challenges/That Metallica sometimes goes through.” I’m guessing when they say “challenges,” they mean brutal arguments about coming in late to the studio.
There’s a little more fun to be had in the subjects that are tangential to Metallica’s body of work. There’s V for Volume (“As loud as it will go/You may have heard the old saying/IF IT’S TOO LOUD, YOU’RE TOO OLD”), which doesn’t even fucking rhyme, and P is for Punk (“Punk was high speed and full of mischief/And its fans looked pretty weird/With colorful hair and combat boots/The look and sound has persevered.”) My personal favorite is Q for Q Prime, because that’s Metallica’s management company and children need to know what band managers do, apparently.
Clearly the band geared the ABCs of Metallica towards collectors. The print is exceptional, making it practically a $19 coffee book. And that makes the publication of this book even worse. This is meant for the band’s most dedicated fans and it doesn’t hold up to the standard of quality for which the band once stood. Say what you will about their recent output, this was a band that once swung for the fences with every artistic endeavor. Need a reminder? Watch “One,” their first music video. They waited until 1989 to release it and when they did, it was a seven-minute (mostly) black and white short about a man left blind, deaf and limbless after World War I.
Metallica fans deserve better than the ABCs of Metallica. The band is exploiting a dedicated fan base, one I’ve come to know quite well. I live in El Cerrito, Metallica’s first homebase in the Bay Area. From 1983 to 1986, the band lived in a tiny house at 3132 Carlson Street, just down the street from me. Its garage, now gone, was where the band practiced and wrote the songs for the albums “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets.” It’s become a Mecca of sorts for Metallica fans, who come from all over the world to see it. (No one comes to see the house nearby in Albany where John Fogerty wrote his album Centerfield.)
Currently the house is in good, Metallica-loving hands, as Drew Cramer, the guitarist for the band Personal and the Pizzas, lives there. He occasionally lets visitors tour the place and he’s tried to make it somewhat metal inside, having hung an upside down cross in what used to be Lars’s room. He recently told me over a few beers that he likes to sit in Cliff’s old closet with his guitar to see if musical inspiration strikes. He swore there’s magic in the house, something more than Paul Baloff’s ghost (which haunts the place). Now he waits to tap into that Major Rager energy and write something so powerful it brings people from all over the world to come together and stare at a tiny house that’s missing its garage. If only Metallica could do the same.