Metallica has already received the ultimate pop-culture seal of approval: a guest-starring role on an episode of "The Simpsons." On April 4, the thrash-metal band takes another step toward the mainstream when it is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Before heading off to Cleveland, singer James Hetfield spoke to NEWSWEEK's Seth Colter Walls:
Walls: You're right on time.
Hetfield: Sorry about that. I know it's not very rock and roll of me.
How about this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame business? Is that really "metal"?
It certainly wasn't in my mind, even two years ago. Then we had the good fortune to go play and induct Black Sabbath, and that's when it hit me: hey, aren't we eligible? It is somewhat surreal. One of the greatest things is that we're still relevant, still enjoying each other's company, still making heavy music. We are going to make it as much of a family reunion as possible.
Have you invited Dave Mustaine, even though you and Lars Ulrich fired him?
I would have to say we cast the net very wide, including Mustaine. I want everyone possible to show up. You've seen the ridiculous drama, like with Van Halen, that totally messes everything up. I don't get it. This is a celebration of life and accomplishment, not by your means only.
That's mature. Are you guys still in therapy?
In our own way. We'll get in the jam room before a show, and actually putting a set list together is pretty therapeutic. We do our little huddle, take turns making little locker-room speeches—about kicking ass and stuff.
Is it exhausting, keeping up the right image for the fans? You were widely mocked last year when a photo of you shopping at an Armani store surfaced.
It's awesome. I welcome that. We've got such passion around Metallica, making fun of us or completely worshiping. There's passion there, and that's what matters. When I'm holding my wife's bag in front of—
So it wasn't your bag? You weren't shopping at Armani?
It was not mine. But it really doesn't matter. It's summertime, and I've got flip-flops and shorts on. We're kicking it. That's what I wear. People's image of what you're supposed to be is really amazing. Maybe you're a full-on headbanger from Latvia and you just don't see me like that very often. Or even fans in America—they love to poke fun and rip you to shreds, but if you're laughing, they can't.
Spinal Tap is touring again, and there's a new documentary about the '80s metal band Anvil. Is metal back in the zeitgeist?
The 20-year cycle is pretty much right on time. I loved the Anvil movie. It is sad and great and everything in between. We've all had our Spinal Tap moments, no doubt.
Like when the airplane lands at the wrong airport. There's things that happen still, to this day, that are absolutely hilarious.
The new Metallica version of Guitar Hero is about to come out. Do you ever play it?
Yeah, I don't like it very much. And with my kids, there's a stigma: they don't want to play it. Because I'm pretty good at doing it for real. I played once and I made something like 14 bucks. My family certainly would not survive on that.
You recently met with Acrassicauda, the Iraqi metal band who have been resettled as refugees in America. How was that?
I'm amazed by the fact that there was a heavy-metal band in Iraq, and that they got the attention. And that they have this passion, and society is crushing it, but they find a way to keep going. When they showed up [at our concert], it was a pretty big deal. At first they were cowering. They literally turned and put their faces against the wall. It was just a different culture. But I was open and outspoken and in their face, which is very unlike what they were able to do. And, man, within moments, though, they saw the love and they felt pretty comfortable. Handing over that guitar was a pretty big deal to me. Here's the key, open it. Welcome to America.