Sad But True

James Hetfield’s ‘Symphony of Sorrow’

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From symphony performances to rehab, Metallica still lives the rockstar life. Credit: Ross-Halfin

Last week a man in a brand-new Metallica baseball hat stood outside a West Marin grocery and asked about the breed of a peculiar and hairless dog wandering nearby. “I’ll answer your question,” I responded. “But first—what’s with the Metallica hat? Are you with the band or something?”

The man, who appeared to be in his late 50s, pointed toward the store and said, “We just played with them.”

It took a moment for the casual comment to register. What? You just played with Metallica? “Yes,” he responded, affably. His partner was inside shopping. “My husband,” he said, pointing again at the store, “he’s the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony.”

Much laughter ensued and the conductor emerged for the store with his parcel. Michael Tilson Thomas lives in these parts, and the symphony performed two nights of Metallica music, “S&M2,” in early September. It was the second time the Bay Area thrash metal titans have worked with a symphony. A movie of the shows is due out this month. It will play locally at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael on Monday, Oct. 14.

The men departed. One of the high-holy hippies of West Marin was on the scene and noted, “You know, they say that conductors live longer than anyone—they have the longest life span.”

It makes sense, the high-holy hippie continued, and we checked off the various reasons why. Consider the aerobic aspect of a conductor fully in his element, for one thing. The musicians focus completely on the conductor as he gyrates and coaxes and persuades them to heights of symphonic glory. That’s ego-gratifying stuff right there, and quite uplifting from a spiritual perspective. Plus, the conductor is the star of the show and he or she’s got their back turned to the audience the whole time. That’s pretty punk rock.

The high-holy hippie declared it his favorite interaction of the day, maybe even of the month, and everyone went about their business. Days later, news emerged that Metallica frontman James Hetfield had entered a rehab clinic and the band was canceling tour dates to deal with the shared trauma. Reports highlighted that Hetfield had been sober for 15 years and helped other musicians with their addictions during that time.

Then news broke that longtime Grateful Dead lyricist and San Rafael resident Robert Hunter had passed on. A real double-shot of sad news. I always keep the “Uncle John’s Band” lyrics at bay for moments like these—when “life looks like easy street, there is danger at the door.” There’s a beautiful Jerry Garcia Symphony version of the song from Red Rocks that’s seen heavy rotation in my house this week.

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