Culture Schlock – By Darren Garnick
February 17, 2005
In the emotionally manipulative Age of Reality TV, it is sometimes difficult to know whether the producers want you to laugh or to cry. And, if you happen to laugh when you are meant to cry, should you feel guilty about it?
Such is the definitive moment of “Some Kind of Monster,” the new behind-the-scenes documentary about the heavy metal pioneers of Metallica. Just released on DVD, “Monster” features a tearjerker exchange between the band and its castaway guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was kicked out in 1983 following unresolvable differences with drummer Lars Ulrich.
“It’s been hard, Lars. It’s been hard to watch everything you guys turn to gold and everything I do (expletive) backfire,” says a watery-eyed Mustaine, adding he wished he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous two decades ago.
“I never talked to my little Danish friend again,” he somberly continues to Ulrich. “I remember the day you and I talked about digging a hole in the dirt and smoking hash through the ground … we never had any more moments like that.”
This touching encounter takes place during a therapy session with Phil Towle, a celebrity “performance coach” who specializes in rock star ego massage. The recording label hired Towle to smooth things over during the creation of Metallica’s new album, “St. Anger.” The therapy discussions are the chief narrative device in the film, bringing us from the first jam session through their long-awaited summer 2003 tour.
Although he clearly feels like a failure, Mustaine was hardly a flop. He founded rival metal band Megadeth, which went on to sell 15 million albums. But that pales in comparison with Metallica’s 90 million. Success is all relative — and bitterness can last forever. Camera presence aside, Mustaine’s feelings are clearly earnest and genuine. But is tough to take him seriously given his long, curly red hairstyle. He’s Debra Messing with beard stubble.
Overall, “Monster” is a highly entertaining and engaging film even for a non-metal fan like me who knows as much about Metallica’s songs as I do about the music of Hilary Duff. This group encapsulates all the heavy metal stereotypes explored in the infamous “This is Spinal Tap” mockumentary — but takes them even further. For example, before settling on “St. Anger” as the new album title, other names in the running included: “Satanic Cuckoo Clock,” “Butchered,” “Floods of Vomit,” and “So Much Better Not to Think.”
Towle is the ultimate caricature of all therapists, making the case to the band why his services would be especially necessary for an extra few months. The band, apparently, was not smart enough to know when their disagreements and tensions were resolved. A surreal moment involves the therapist drafting a Metallica mission statement that includes sentences like: “As we experience ultimate togetherness, we become healers of ourselves.” I was waiting for him to next plaster the recording studio with inspirational posters of people mountain climbing and rowing with captions such as “RISK,” “DETERMINATION,” and “TEAMWORK.”
Regardless of how cynical or embracing one might be of the language of 12-step programs, the discussions themselves are fascinating. Even if you are never in a battle for creative control, or never wake up in the morning with no idea where you are, all of us sometimes spend a little too much time in a car with our family or friends. “Monster” is an enlightening warning of how easy it can be to hate the people we profess to love.
Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in Encore. Reader feedback, even from dysfunctional Hilary Duff fans, is welcomed via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.