Monday, August 25, 2014


Metallica, Toronto 1991

AT SOME POINT IN YOUR CAREER YOU KNOW that it isn't all fun and games any more. Some people know this from the start - it was never about fun, and they make sure you know it. For the rest of us, it takes a bit longer.

I shot Metallica in 1991, when they were passing through town promoting Metallica, also known as the "Black Album." I can't remember who the client was - it might have been HMV magazine, or it might have been whatever incarnation Music Express was on at the time. Whoever it was, they had enough pull to get the record company to schedule a shoot with the band, and I was given the gig.

I booked an assistant and a backdrop and set up in what I remember as a basement space in the record company offices downtown. Metallica was on their way to being the biggest band in the world, and I was made to understand this fact. Shortly before the band showed up, I was handed a contract to sign, agreeing that the band had the right to review and reject the results of my shoot, which would only be used for the purposes of this story.

I'd seen these contracts before; they'd been handing them out to photographers when we waited to shoot major acts in concert, but the right to review the shots was something I'd never encountered. I swallowed hard and signed, not wanting to sour my relationship with the client. Metallica were a metal band, sure, but they were a notably creative one - hell, drummer Lars Ulrich even collected modern art. How bad could this be?

The band filed in one by one, clearly not feeling the thrill of another photo shoot. James Hetfield made an only slightly racist comment about my assistant when I showed them the test Polaroids I'd done, with my assistant standing in for them. I could see him wince from the sidelines where he was waiting with my camera. It was a pretty stock show of rock star bad attitude, especially for a band who were about to have a huge hit with a song about being afraid to go beddy-bye.

I tried to break the ice with Lars by mentioning the interview I'd done with him a few years before, when the band was in town promoting Master of Puppets. I'd just gotten into jazz, and Lars told me his dad had been a big jazz promoter in his native Copenhagen, and that bop saxophonist Dexter Gordon was actually his godfather. When I brought this up, Lars denied it, laughing that he was bullshitting me. (It was actually true. Who does something like that?)

So I felt a bit wrong-footed from the start of the shoot, embarrassed and, frankly, a little bit angry. I motored through several rolls of 120 colour slide film, then finished off with a single roll of black and white 35mm. As soon as I put my camera down the band tore out of the room, except for guitarist Kirk Hammett, who seemed like he wanted to say something, then thought better of it before leaving.

About a week later I got a call from the magazine; the slides had come back from Metallica's management. The band had put a lit cigarette through every frame they rejected, burning a hole through the negative sleeve and the film, leaving only the single frame they liked intact. My whole shoot had been reduced to a single shot, which I don't think I ever picked up from the magazine when they were done.

I'd once been a fan, but after this experience - and a bunch of crap albums - I soured on Metallica, so you don't need to guess whose side I was on when the band, led by Ulrich, decided that the best way to deal with file-sharing was to sue their fans.

I never sent in the roll of black and white film from the end of the shoot, however, and sat on the pictures for years. This is frame #33, four shots from the end of one of the unhappiest shoots I ever did. Not the biggest bunch of dickheads I ever photographed, but pretty close.


  1. Sleep with one eye open, Rick. They're not going to like this.

  2. Weird that this is the picture they kept. Hetfield looks like he's about to puke from a hangover.