Ah, Metallica. The best concert I never saw.
To be clear, I had tickets. I had every intention of seeing them perform. I got to the arena in plenty of time, had my ticket torn and everything. And then I bailed.
I may not have seen the concert, but the stories that came out of that moment in
A little backstory is in order.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this concert was the biggest thing to happen to Alaska to date since the earthquake in ’64. More consequential than statehood, even. The moment Metallica announced their intentions to play Anchorage, the world turned upside down.
This was during the dark ages, when Alaska’s musical landscape was drier than the Sahara. You took what you could get.
A few weeks earlier, Bon Jovi was announced for an upcoming show. Then, as now, I didn’t give a hoot about Bon Jovi one way or the other. But a concert was a concert. I headed down to the local grocery store and camped out for tickets with a dozen other misguided souls. I left the next morning with my ticket.
Next thing I knew, Metallica was coming to town.
I was out of funds from the Bon Jovi tickets. Fortunately enough, the boys from New Jersey had sold out and I was able to unload my burden in relatively short order. I’m happy to say I made some lady’s day by selling the tickets for face value and had enough cash to see Metallica. Went to a different grocery store, camped out again, and scored myself a ticket to rock.
In the late-eighties there were precious few musical acts that rockers and punks could agree upon. Danzig, Slayer, the first Guns-n-Roses album, and of course, Metallica. Metallica was universal. Fight Fire with Fire, Battery, the glory and wonder that is Fade to Black. Hell, Metallica turned me onto Johnny Got His Gun and Dalton Trumbo. I’ll remain forever in their debt for that gift alone.
The arena floor was an interesting scene. Obviously every self-respecting thrasher and rocker showed up in force – and in Anchorage there were many. The punk contingent showed up as well. We numbered in the twenties.
Hypothermia – a local band – opened. They were one of the few local bands that played originals. They even made it into Spin magazine. Their guitarist Zal was a heck of a nice guy and was pretty well known about town. Unfortunately, though not entirely unexpectedly, Hypothermia later became known as a white power band thanks to the delusions of their lead singer. He later made headlines for killing an African-American neighbor in cold blood and getting off on the charges. Years later he barged into a peaceful activist training class and maced the joint, eventually being arrested for terroristic threats. Total scumbag.
I managed to see their set before bailing.
Why did I bail? Many reasons, I suppose. I was seventeen and easily intimidated. I liked Metallica enough, but their audience at the time made me itchy. This was a day and age when cars would suddenly stop when spotting a punk walking down the street and the occupants would pile out of the vehicle with baseball bats ready to do serious damage. This happened to me on more than one occasion. I never tried out for track and field in high school, but I could outrun damn near anyone back in the day. Think Danny Zucko in Grease. Think Flock of Seagulls. I ran, I ran so far away.
I couldn’t find my mates and as there is safety in numbers, I bailed.
The following night I was working my shift at the University Theater. I was a floater; tearing tickets, sweeping floors and doing bathroom checks. Who should show up that evening, but Lars Ulrich. The drummer for Metallica.
My fellow employees were going apeshit, trying to keep their cool and failing miserable. I was more annoyed than anything. As far as I was concerned, Metallica was a cool band and all, but I was out twenty bucks.
I went about my business and set off to complete one of my hourly bathroom checks. This was a simple enough task – making sure the bathrooms were clean, checking the temperature and initially a clipboard hung on the wall. Of course when I enter the men’s bathroom, there’s Lars taking a leak. We’re the only two in the restroom. I was sporting Sid Vicious style spikes back then, a look made all the more mad by my tuxedo shirt and bow tie. We make eye contact, both thinking the same thing. Fuck. He’s thinking I’m a fan looking for an autograph. I’m wondering if my night could get any more awkward. The seconds ticked by.
Left with no other choice, I rolled my eyes, turned on a dime and high-tailed it out of there. Lars goes back to the auditorium to enjoy his movie, I go back to pushing the sweep vac.
Meanwhile, word had gotten out that there was a rock star at the University Center.
You know that scene in Shaun of the Dead where the zombie army is trying to get into the Winchester? The glass doors to our theater opened into the mall. Every square inch of space was filled with teenagers, noses smeared against the glass, hoping to get a glimpse of Mr. Ulrich.
We locked the doors.
At the end of each showing, our employees entered the theater in squads to ensure out guests exited safely and to clean all the popcorn and puke they inevitably leave behind. These squads are usually teams of three or four, but for Mr. Ulrich’s showing, the entire staff showed up. They were there to gawk, of course. But also to deliver a warning. The teenagers are coming, the teenagers are coming. We advised Lars and his guests to exit into the parking lot rather than suffer heavy metal Beatlemania that awaited in the food court.
That was the last I ever saw of Lars. As Metallica went on to make more albums, I assumed the scamp made it out alive. I left work with an interesting story to tell. One of my more bizarre stories until the day the Dali Llama waved to me.
But that, as they say, is a story for another day.