Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fade to Black

I'm pressed against the barricades amidst a surging sway of bodies. The crowd is chanting "Die! Die! Die!" I'm loving every squished, sweaty moment of it. My newly acquired Metallica tour T shirt sticks to my skin. My best friend Jackie looks over at me approvingly, her mane of black hair thrashing back and forth, her hand proudly molded into a devil sign above her head. I duck to avoid the occasional foot or hand as crowd surfers navigate the sea of sweaty metal heads. It's 1988 and I am sixteen.

Last night, twenty-plus years after that monumental concert, I was driving home and skimming through the unimpressive sea of Austin radio stations when I came across the opening riff of "Fade to Black" by Metallica. Hell yes! I thought. As I drummed out the rhythm on the steering wheel, singing at the top of my lungs "Life it seems to fade away - drifting further every day," floods of memories came rushing forward.

I spent a painstaking amount of time learning that song note for note, rewinding the tape to listen to an elusive part over and over again. Is that an A minor or an A Major? What the hell is Kirk Hammett doing there? I debuted my masterpiece in front of my friend Jackie and a pair of incredulous neighborhood boys who were convinced that a girl couldn't shred. I showed them!

The first time that I ever heard the song was at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. My boyfriend and I had driven three hours from Oklahoma to see the Monsters of Rock Festival, the penultimate rock extravaganza starring Van Halen, Dokken, The Scorpions, Metallica and Kingdom Come. Remember Kingdom Come? They were a Led Zeppelin carbon copy band that featured Jason Bonham, the son of late Led Zep drummer John Bonham, on drums.

I had heard of Metallica, but hadn't really listened to much of their music. When they started, I left my boyfriend in our nosebleed seats in the stands to get a better look. I wanted to be where the action was in the crowd gathered around the stage, and he wanted to sit comfortably with his Coors Light and wait for Van Hagar to take the stage. I was making my way down through the crowd when I heard this sweetly beautiful riff emanating from the massive speakers. I muscled my way through the mass of people, mostly men, who were singing every word. Why had I never heard this song?

When I asked a black clad man with stringy hair the name of the song he looked at me like I was a complete moron. "It's 'Fade to Black'," he sneered. "Only the best song ever written."

After that experience, I bought all three Metallica albums and submerged myself in their music. Soon after that, my friends and I formed a shitty little garage band whose repertoire consisted mainly of Metallica covers. My love affair lasted through the infamous "Black Album." After that, grunge hit the airwaves and Metallica's newer music just didn't do it for me. To this day, I still get goose bumps when I hear "Master of Puppets" or "Fade to Black," and I still have the urge to bang my head to "Am I Evil" or "Creeping Death."

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