In which I recount a tale of waking up people in a hotel room with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. And admitting to his face that I illegally downloaded music of his……
Back in 2002 I travelled over to San Francisco to attend the Metallibash (a Metallica convention put on by the fans). You can read a better write up of the Bash itself here and on Metallica’s official site here. I attended the event show (cover band, quizzes, interviews with notable Metallica related folks etc.) and then headed back to the hotel I was staying in. The hotel had about 20/25 fans staying there so it became a sort of Metallica fan central. We were all hanging out in the lobby at about 4am, when I noticed one of the guys from the Metallica fan club hovering around which I thought was odd. 5 minutes later Lars turned up. Mental.
He hung around for 10 minutes chatting and then suggested we crash a room so we headed up to one of the fans’ room and he hung out with us all for an hour or so, signing stuff taking pictures and chatting. When it came my turn, I sat down next to him and asked him how things were going (this was during the time when Hetfield was in rehab and the future looked decidedly bleak). I remember very clearly 2 things I told him. Firstly, that if it all ended tomorrow whilst it would be shit we would always have the music for the rest of our lives. And secondly….. that I had (illegally) downloaded the track they had done with Ja Rule & Swizz Beats.
Yeah, ya know, right after the whole Napster issue. Stupid me.
He looked at me, patted me on the knee and told me that it was ok and asked me what I thought of it. Classy dude. So I got my photo and made way for someone else.
A little while later I headed down to the street for a cigarette and to marvel at what had just happened. When Lars appeared again. So we stood out on the street, me him and about 3 other fans, having a smoke (him too) and waiting for his cab to arrive (it did, but he waved it away so he could stay & chat some more). We talked about his kids and the BBQ they had all gone to earlier in the day and just general family stuff. At one point I said to him, jokingly, “You know, as a drummer, you probably shouldn’t smoke!!” he looked at me, poked me in the ribs and said “Some people would question the use of the word “drummer” with me”.
Eventually he left and we all kinda just looked at each other a bit speechless. We knew that we had just been a part of something unique and different. Something a little bit special. Lars got a huge amount of grief from “fans” after the whole Napster issue. People seemed to either not understand or deliberately ignore the root of the issue: artistic control. Taking Napster (and its users) to court was never about money it was about control. It is up to the artist to decide when to let their art be seen/read/heard by the world. That control was taken away from Metallica. Mind you – if you were idiotic enough to smash or sell your Metallica collection because Lars took a stand for his rights, then you’re probably a bit “special”.
Lars Ulrich didn’t have to come to the hotel. He could have carried on with his life and we would have had a great time regardless. But he DID visit us. He made the effort to come and hang out with us, a bunch of fans, in a hotel. He was gracious, funny and friendly. He provided myself and a number of other people with a moment that meant/means a lot to us. A change to have an informal chat with one of our icons. Think what you like about his band’s music or, these days, his drumming. But I will always have respect for a man that took the time to meet with the people who put him where he is today.