Backstage Adventures

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The Adventures of Zoë

Chapter 9 -

In which Zoë almost blows it with Spastik Children and then learns why "Life sucks, man."

Spastik Children c Jay Blakesberg/Artist Publications

James Hetfield (back), Jason Newsted (orange cap),
Fred Cotton (middle front), Kirk Hammett (green shorts), Jim Martin

photo © Jay Blakesberg/Artist Publications

"Oh, man," the guy in line a couple of bodies down from Zoë is enthusing, "I can't believe it! Metallica's playing in club!"

You dope, it's Spastik Children," someone protests. "Yeah, that's what they're calling themselves, but really it's Metallica," the first one insists. "You know, like Soft White Underbelly is really Blue Oyster Cult."

Yeah, well," Zoë thinks, "Spastik Children may boast James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett among it's members, and it may've been started by Metallica when Cliff Burton was still with the group, but it's definitely not Metallica. After all, it's also Jim Martin from Faith No More, and Fred of Piranha and James McDonald, who's not even a musician.

It's really just an excuse to get all your friends together and be drunk and stupid, as Cliff said. Which lots of us do anyway; it's just that now that Metallica's a bona fide music biz success story, getting drunk and stupid with your friends can be done in a 1,200-capacity club with the public paying $10 a head at the door. Unless, of course, you're on the guest list—which usually means the line is shorter, but since Metallica, et al know half the population of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, it seems, the guest list line tonight is several blocks long. And it's raining. So much for my curled hair. But, hey, I've already spent two hours getting here, so what's another hour in line in the cold and rain, a guard who claims I'm not on the guest list (nothing unusual—few security guards seem to be able to actually read), and a few random assholes on the way to the backstage door. Ah, the glamour and excitement of being a rock journalist!

Of course, with all this nonsense coming down, Zoë misses Pigs altogether, "Damn, damn, damn," she stomps her foot at the guard, "This is Yaz's new band (Yaz: ex-Heathen and childhood friend of Cliff Burton and Jim Martin), and I promised him I'd be here to review it!" As if the guard gives a damn.

Time passes as Zoë waits for someone she knows to appear and take a message back to someone in one of the bands who'll come out and convince the guard to let her through.

Finally, finally, she passes inside, by this time also having missed Billy Bighead, though she arrives backstage just in time to see the garbage can Billy destroyed with his head while on stage, and promptly gets chewed out for letting MTV know about the gig ahead of time… "Oh!" Zoë exclaims, "but I told them they couldn't advertise it until after the gig started!" "Yeah, well, Inga (Fred's girlfriend) says, "it's been running every hour since noon today. But don't worry, Fred and Jim are secretly excited about it."

Oh, shit, oh, shit," Zoë worries. "I know that Spastik shows aren't supposed to be advertised ahead of time. I know that can get you ostracized forever. Oh, oh…"

James Hetfield/Spastik Children c Rich Likong/Artist Publications

James Hetfield
The Omni, Oakland, CA, 1989

photo © Rich Likong/Artist Publications

But Fred tells Zoë, "Hey, don't worry, I'll take the rap for you." And goes off to tell James Hetfield (who's mad as all get-out) that he—Fred that is—was the one who let MTV know, getting Zoë out of total hot water. Since Fred is a long-time friend of James' and part of the Spastik band, well, he manages to calm James down, and even talks him into letting Zoë's photographer backstage and joining in the group photo.

Zoë has to drag Jay, the photographer, used to covering much quieter events, like the Grateful Dead, out of the corner where he's cowering, totally overwhelmed by the high-spirited raging going on backstage—later, he says, "Those people are disgusting!" Obviously, he feels stoned hippies are vastly preferable to drunk thrashers. But, mindful of the rarity of the pictures he is about to take, he does set up the lights, the "band" and assorted friends are assembled and the shots are taken. Much to Zoë's surprise.  Sometimes, things do work out in this business, even when you least expect them to.

That settled, everyone goes back to partying and then suddenly everyone is rushing up the stage steps to see "The New Homosexuals!" This is a new—indeed, spur-of-the-moment—project comprising Kirk Hammett and Billy Gould (FNM bassist), which currently consists of one 3-minute song they make up while onstage playing.

Afterwards, Kirk says "Hi," on his way across the room to join James, Jim and their women, but Billy stops to chat. Faith No More, having released The Real Thing only a few months before, have only sold 30,000 units to far, and Billy's really pretty depressed about it.

So, to cheer him up a bit, Zoë tells Billy how knowing Faith No More personally gave her great credibility with the (reformed) Buzzcocks when they were in town a few weeks before. He's delighted: "Really! That's so cool! My first band was a Buzzcocks copy band," he reveals. "I was the only white guy in the group, and we played these sort of jazzy, funky Buzzcocks covers—that's why I play bass funky now, in fact." But then he grows ironic. "As for the New Homosexuals, well, everything we are we owe to Spastik Children. They are our mentors, our gods. Well, them and Elvis Presley. It's his birthday today, you know. And to keep his memory alive, we're here to celebrate that and the dawning of a new age, the Age of the New Homosexuals!"

Zoë can't think of any snappy comeback to that, so she asks him about the rumor that Faith No More's guitarist, Jim Martin, was responsible for bringing down the Berlin Wall. "That's right," he confirms. "But what a traffic jam it caused! We were on our way to Oslo and it took us five hours to go half a mile through Berlin. But, yeah, ol' Jimbo was responsible. Him and Elvis."

Um, yeah, well," Zoë excuses herself, "I have only a few minutes before Spastik hit the stage, and I wanna check out Hetfield's new shaved-on-the-sides-with-a-samurai-style-topknot hairdo and (his girlfriend] Kristen's ultra-cool blue suede shoes (the rest of her outfit is of course regulation black], meet someone to hang out with, and fight my way out into the moshing crowd to catch Spastik play. Catch ya later!"

Kirk Hemmett & James McDonald/Spastik Children c Jay Blackesberg/Artist Publications

James McDonald (rear) & Kirk Hammett
The Omni, Oakland, CA, 1989
photo © Rich Likong/Artist Publications

Tonight it's James Hetfield on drums, Kirk Hammett and Jim Martin on bass, James McDonald (who is not a musician] on guitar and Fred Cotton on vocals perform their favorite song, "Guys Like Farts," and a few other bits of nonsense. The crowd jumps up and down, screams, makes obscene gestures and runs around in circles. The band is totally drunk, everyone sings off-key, James, playing on Pigs' drum kit, spits beer in the air....

As always, they do their encore in their underpants. ("We wanted to do it naked," Kirk tells Zoë later, "But the clubs won't let us.")

During all this, Zoë tries to stay out of the way of flying bodies, drinks Scotch, wonders what happened to the guy who'd been buying her drinks until he went "to the bathroom;" and then goes backstage again just as they bring in one of Billy Bighead's friends, who's been knocked unconscious by a collapsing line of people on the stairs.

With the show finally over, the guy who went to the bathroom reappears and escorts Zoë to Billy Bighead's house for a party and an illuminating look into the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of the East Bay's thrashers—a good-size clue as to why these guys so often operate on the assumption that "life sucks."

Billy and his friend, a very large black dude wearing a Kiss T-shirt ("Kiss is god, man.") are worried about their friend, the girl who was knocked down the stairs. "Man," Billy shakes his head, "That poor girl's really been through it. She's just as sweet as can be, but her life's been pure hell. Her dad was a [Hell's] Angel and was lynched by a bunch of sheriff's deputies long ago. Mom married again, and that guy's in jail now. He killed 25 people, right in front of her and her brother's eyes; think what that must've done to those kids! Then, they were robbed and the brother was shot in the head, blinding him for life. And as if that wasn't enough, recently they were robbed again and he was shot again! Imagine being blind, thrown on the floor, and waiting to be shot. Now, he's a paraplegic."

Billy, the very picture of a biker himself—long hair, open leather vest over a hairy chest and beer belly, tattoos up and down his arms—has tears in his eyes. "There's no one in his family can take care of him all the time, like he needs. So I told 'em, 'bring him over here, man, I'll do it. I'll take care of him myself.'" He shakes his head. "Life sucks, man. Life sucks."

Interview with Cliff Burton next
Metallica History next


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