As I sat on the grassy knoll overlooking the Big Air ramp last night, eagerly anticipating my BMX idol Morgan Wade doing his thing, I couldn’t help but listen to some of the conversations around me. And this stood out: “Man, I can’t wait for Metallica tonight. I grew up with those guys.”
I surreptitiously turned to get a look at the speaker. He was a mid 20s guy, sitting with a group of friends of approximately the same age. The entire entourage agreed enthusiastically, and then he went on to ask about a mutual friend who was married — two years already! — and the conversation shifted.
But my mind stayed on the topic. He’d gotten me thinking about music, age, and — naturally — Metallica.
Growing up “Dazed and Confused”
I was a teenager in the ’70s, cutting my teeth on cheap concerts. That was back in the day when no one had any idea what, say, Steve Miller really looked like until going to a concert. Back then, the complaint was that all the GOOD shows went to Houston or Dallas; this was pre “live music capital of the world,” Austin’s 1991 self-declaration, and I remember scoffing at the time. (I also remember scoffing at anyone purchasing CDs over vinyl, though opinion may be circling back on this one.)
KLBJ came into being while I was in high school, the hard rock radio alternative to the disco and pop crap flooding airways. Yes, time softens all things and I now enjoy the happy, good-time feel of Donna Summers, but back then, I completely embraced a “disco sucks” mentality.
That was a time when Blondie was a rocker anomaly (my young feminist self wondered just how much of Debbie Harry — who’s 69 now, BTW — was all about beauty), and Joan Jett was simply a class of her own (she still is), and so I passionately worshipped Heart, those talented hard-rocking sisters with a band. A boyfriend requirement: sharing my love for Aerosmith and Rush. My high school experience was capped by catching Blue Oyster Cult at the famous Armadillo World Headquarters just prior to its demise. Good times, good times.
And then came MTV and VH1, where I met Metallica. I remember their “Enter Sandman” video like it was yesterday. By this time, I had little kids. Kids who enjoyed listening to Joe Scruggs and Raffi. Kids who covered their ears and wailed, “We don’t want to listen to your yucky music.” That yucky music included Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day. And so I didn’t subject them to my tapes (LOL) or the radio while we were in the car. After all, I wasn’t sure how “appropriate” my music was for children’s tiny ears, though when middle school came around, they were the ones worrying about how appropriate their musical selections were for me.
Hello, X Games
When I’d found out that Metallica was playing X Games Austin 2015, I had to go. It seemed like such a perfect marriage; I’d fallen in love with X Games when I covered the inaugural Austin event the previous year. Until then, I’d had no real interest in action sports.
Sure, my kids had watched TV coverage here and there, but Extreme Games, as the event was originally known, really didn’t grab me. These were “novelty” sports, not anything I had any practical familiarity with. Skateboarding? Never ridden one. BMX? Sure, I have a road bike and cycled, but that’s like saying I know what desert truck racing is like because I drove the family Suburban off-road a few times.
But once I’d interviewed Morgan Wade, once I’d been to the venue, once I’d experienced the energy pulsing through the live event, X Games had me by the proverbial balls. In a death grip.
Yeah, I was stoked for Metallica.
That excitement made me feel a little foolish. There in the moment, the thought plagued me that I cut a ridiculous figure in my signed Morgan Wade Empire BMX T-shirt, eagerly crowding the fence to see Metallica, Mom dancing.
Can Aging and Rocking Co-Exist?
I’m 53 years old. I have stretch marks older than many of the X Games’ gold medalists. Half of the pump-you-up music played during events is completely unfamiliar, and often, I strain to understand the announcer (is that young man mumbling?). When twilight came, I had to put on my glasses — bifocals, for God’s sake — to make sure I caught all the Big Air action.
I grew up in an era without aging rockers.
It was Mick Jagger who famously said in a People magazine interview, “…I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.“
That was, naturally, a few decades before 2015, which finds Jagger still strutting his stuff (and singing ‘Satisfaction’) at the ripe old age of 71.
The audience at the concert had, indeed, grown up with Metallica. The band has had a 30-year career; original members James Hetfield (vocals and guitar), and Lars Ulrich on drums are one year younger than me. Kirk Hammett, lead guitar, is my age, and bassist Robert Trujillo is the baby at a spritely 51. For those 20–30 year olds in the crowd who’d had cooler (or less concerned-with-appropriateness) parents than I, Metallica could very well have been the soundtrack to their entire lives.
Last night, I listened in utter awe as the crowd of thousands sang every word to every song. I was amazed watching Hetfield and crew totally thrash non-stop for more than an hour — what 50-year-olds can maintain that energy, much less survive that much serious sweating without cramping up?
While the band worked the set list like a well-oiled machine, Hetfield’s pleasure was visible when the crowd roared its love. When the opening notes for “Sandman” sounded and I screamed my approval, he didn’t care that I was a 53-year-old, Mom-dancing, never-been-skateboarding fan in practical shoes. He loved me and I loved him.
So thank you, Metallica, for helping me embrace my aging fan status.
It turns out there’s nothing foolish about being passionate about something you love, and finding new things to embrace is what keeps us all young at heart.