Known Johnson

June 2, 2005

Ear of the behearer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 7:56 pm

I vividly remember the specific even that really cemented music as an important aspect in my life: in 1988, 15 year old me, complete with geeky, pretty questionably confused taste in music in general, had heard something on the radio every night for weeks as I slipped off to sleep. I used my Walkman to help coax me closer to sleep with music, and each time this song came on, I lost my feeble grip on sleep. It was completely different than anything else I’d listened to, much darker, more complex, scarier . . . it was Metallica’s “Eye of the Beholder,” and its stop-start rhythms, pummeling drums, and warped riffing fascinated me. No one I knew listened to them, but I’d heard the negative comments about the music enough to know my enjoying this song would be frowned upon. That, however, did little to dissuade my enjoyment of the song and one day I finally simply gave in.

Out with my dad on some deliveries for his business, I would usually skulk around the music or hobby stores, whichever the shopping center we’d stopped at had the better example of. While my dad did his business, I scurried off to the Musicland store (now called Sam Goody in most places) and checked out the tapes (yes, tapes,) my eye continually straying toward the M section. What I really wanted was there, I knew it, because I’d seen it there all the other times. I’d been hesitant to buy it for fear of seeming a freak to my friends, but I knew today I had no choice – I was buying it and that was that. And I did – and then promptly stuck it in my pocket, hidden away from prying eyes, including my dad’s. I didn’t want anyone to know, and so I didn’t bother opening the tape until I got home, when I could slip the cassette into my Walkman and find out what I’d gotten myself into. I was certain I would hate it. I couldn’t possibly like something like this, something so metal and mean and rough, right? Later that night, . . . And Justice for All lulled me to sleep, its hammering rhythms actually soothing and calming me, like a train’s incessant pounding of the rails induces sleep. It was the first of many nights like that, and days when friends weren’t around, poring over the lyrics and drawings in the booklet, examining the music’s complex ins-and-outs.

I kept it quiet for months. No one would know that I owned this secret. Many months later the then-controversial video for “One” hit MTV, and all my friends suddenly “found” Metallica. I played along with it, acting like I didn’t know what they were. I don’t even know why – I could have been the cool one, having stumbled upon this great musical discovery long before they had, but I didn’t. Having just gotten my license, plus a portable CD player for the car and truck, I played off our “new” interest in Metallica and purchased my second copy of . . . And Justice for All, but this time on CD. My friends fell in love with what I pretended to not know inside out. It had felt good to have this weird little secret, but it felt better to know what I’d found, and how right I was about it. They just never knew it.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I’m not given to fits of nostalgia, generally, but . . . And Justice for All has withstood the test of time. It’s still as solid a listen as it always was, it still fascinates me and paints imagery that is as vivid as when I first grasped the apocalyptic visions in album opener “Blackened.” Maybe I don’t need to hear “One” anymore – MTV and radio pretty much burned that song out long ago – but somehow everything else on the album remains fresh. Metallica’s changed since then, and so have I – I’ve found much more meaningful, heavier, scarier music than Metallica could ever render – but there’s still no small amount of pleasure to be found in this one album.

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