What Metallica Taught Me About Myself

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

I have always loved music. I think it has a special power to bring us closer to ourselves. My favorite band, from a young age, is Metallica. I remember in 1992, I was ten at the time when I first heard Black Album. My dad put, what I think was a cassette tape, into the stereo. That intro for Enter Sandman hit and I was hooked. It is the album that single-handedly made me want to be a drummer!

When I was about eight my mother and father were divorced. She left him with my sister and I while he was at work with the help of a wonderful man who would become an amazing dad to us. He is a great man who I will never be able to thank enough for what he did for two children that may not be blood but are definitely his children

That story, as wonderful as it may be, is not what this post is about. I have always had a very special place in my heart for The Unforgiven. It has always stirred up a very strange cocktail of emotions for me. I never really understood why.

It has been a while now but I came across a great documentary called Absent. It is about how the loss of a father, biological father, will impact a child. I found it on Netflix and watched it three times in a row. In that, there was an interview with James Hetfield. He talks about his relationship with his own father. At one point he is asked what the most personal song he has ever written was. Without missing a beat he says The Unforgiven.

So at this, I thought I should take a closer look at this song. Given this new insight into one of my childhood heroes (hell who am I kidding, he is still my hero to this day). I listened to the song again and by the end, I was in tears. It had touched me in a way I never felt before. It was almost like it was a mirror of myself.

"New blood joins this Earth

And quickly he's subdued

Through constant pained disgrace

The young boy learns their rules

With time the child draws in

This whipping boy done wrong

Deprived of all his thoughts

The young man struggles on and on he's known

A vow unto his own

That never from this day

His will they'll take away easy"

I have a very strong emotional reaction to the first verse. I really can see myself and my childhood here. I was always told what to think and who to be. I was often told I was lazy. I was told, not directly, of course, I was worthless. I had this message delivered by the way my mother spoke about my biological father. He was spoken of as a worthless piece of shit. He never wanted me. That he was a long laundry list of bad and horrible things. As a child, I knew I was part of him so I must be all of these things too.

I felt constant pain and disgrace of my past and where I came from. From this, I formed a wall around myself and vowed that no one would ever see me for fear they would reject me.

"What I've felt, what I've known

Never shined through in what I've shown

Never be, never see

Won't see what might have been

What I've felt, what I've known

Never shined through in what I've shown

Never free, never me

So I dub thee "Unforgiven"

The chorus really touches a nerve. It reflects my own need to hide myself away. I buried my feelings deep inside to protect them and the judgment that was always there. My mother is a very judgment person of everyone around her. She was not afraid to say what she thought of anyone who fell outside of what she felt was the "correct" behavior and thoughts. As a young child, I knew better than to show how I really felt or saw the world. As a result, I slowly build a very strong internal anger that I thought would protect me.

"They dedicate their lives

To running all of his

He tries to please them all

This bitter man he is

Throughout his life the same

He's battled constantly

This fight he cannot win

A tired man they see no longer cares

The old man then prepares

To die regretfully

That old man here is me"

Here is a verse that speaks to my growing internal struggle with building my wall taller and stronger or allow the true me to shine through. I was a very angry and bitter person for years. I had been taught that life sucks and the only way to protect yourself were to get them before they got you. I had built this into my personality in a way that almost seemed to make me stoic. I showed the world an uncaring, unfeeling, shell of a person. I think I wanted or needed this to be true of who I was. I hated myself and I hated her for making me this person.

"Never free, never me

So I dub thee "Unforgiven"

You labeled me, I'll label you

So I dub thee "Unforgiven"

Never free, never me

So I dub thee "Unforgiven"

You labeled me, I'll label you

So I dub thee "Unforgiven"

Never free, never me

So I dub thee "Unforgiven"

Labeled the "asshole" I wore this almost as a badge. I thought if I am the asshole then you know not to mess with me. You know I am strong, powerful, capable. This, of course, was a lie. I was petrified that I would be discovered. That I would be found out as being the weak, frightened, little boy, who still needed the approval of mom and maybe even the rest of the world. I was not able to be free to be the person I really was. I was not free to explore the side of me that loved people, that wanted to help make people feel better about themselves.

I found this freedom finally. I started down this path to forgiving myself, the world, and even my mother. I have found that real strength comes from being vulnerable. I have found a path in Buddhism that has allowed me to be me, without fear. I still have a long way to go but I am now able to be more open with my wife. I am now able to be hurt without the need to cover it with anger. I want to keep this new, or maybe original, me forever. I love the way I feel and the new energy I am bringing to my life now.

Is there a song, movie or book that reflects you in some way? Maybe it touches on something that you have tried to bury and forget. It only seems to surface when you interact with whatever stirs that emotion.

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