Our time is limited, and everyone has to find their way somehow. If influences are necessary to get to that point, then so be it. If another musician in the industry is going to provide that inspiration to not only help others get better at their craft but also teach life lessons or just lead by example, then it’s a good thing that most musicians have people they look up to in the industry.
For Metallica’s James Hetfield, the situation was no different as he was also once a young rocker kid trying to get through the doors of the industry. After having a go at a few bands and seeing where it would take him, he reached a point where he needed to take a leap of faith. That was when he responded to Lars Ulrich’s search for a vocalist, and everything changed for the frontman that day.
However, as mentioned, inspirations and mentors are pretty important in the business, especially people who went through similar life experiences and reached similar heights in the industry. For Hetfield, that inspiration came from Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister with not only his voice but also the path he took to be the rocker that he had been in the scene.
Kilmister was an idol to Hetfield, so much so that his passing was a true wake-up call for the singer. He even shared with a heavy heart in a 2017 interview with Newsweek, “Lemmy, in particular, was an icon, sort of a godfather for people who love heavy metal. He was the captain of the ship.”
He added that if it weren’t for him, Metallica wouldn’t be the same, saying, “We all felt he was immortal, doing the hard, hard, hard livin’ for such a long time on the road and just really going for it. We knew it would come to an end at some point. But we really didn’t expect it. There’s certainly no Metallica without a Motörhead.”
You know, some people seem to have lived a thousand lives and will continue to do so without ever leaving this world. That was Lemmy for the Metallica singer. His career and presence were not only an inspiration to Metallica, but his lifestyle also helped Hetfield, especially when he turned 50.
“Oh, that was f*cked. I’d tell myself every birthday, ‘I don’t care about birthdays, it’s just a number, who cares, blah blah blah,’ but man, at 50, I had a f*cking freak-out,” explained James to Metal Hammer in 2016. He also noted, “My wife and family said, ‘Oh, another crisis?’ But there was something about turning 50 that brought a clearer bifurcation.”
That was when Kilmister’s rebellious lifestyle came to his help when he needed a guide to figure out how he would continue in the industry. Hetfield said, “It was like, ‘Am I the family guy, or am I Lemmy Kilmister? Am I going to go out a rebel, ‘F*ck you!’ to the end? Do I do both? Can I?’”
So Kilmister saved the day by being the rocker he was and allowing others like Hetfield to follow suit. Now we are gearing up to hear Metallica’s upcoming album, ‘72 Seasons,’ and it will be surely exciting to listen to the band’s evolution through the years. So hat’s off to you, Kilmister, for paving the way for other rockers in the industry.