Susan Speaks: Dead and Dying


It began innocently enough, as the most disturbing things tend to do. I caught a Tweet from a pretty prominent local blogger. Seems she was rattled by her daughter singing sexually explicit lyrics.

Her daughter just turned 5.

I Tweeted back, “That’s why we listen to Metallica in my house. It’s not terribly sexual.”

I gotta admit, I find the Load twins to be nothing but fertility symbols, packed with innuendo, but it’s quite possible I’m the only one who views those albums that way. Most people are too busy groaning over the worst period in Metallica’s musical history; I doubt they’re looking at the snakes and the keys buried deep in you to get hit over the head.

This local blogger chick’s response raised my normally too-low blood pressure to something that might have been dangerous. “I’ll take the innuendo over singing about death, kyhxbai,” she Tweeted.

My first response was, “Then why the fuck are you bitching about your daughter parroting it back to you?”

My second response was, “Didn’t you basically just tell me to fuck off and (yes) DIE?”

My third response was more measured. It’s the one I went with. “Listen more closely.”

She didn’t respond. I’m not surprised. Know why?

Although my all-time favorite band has put out a reported 125 songs over the years (including their covers and soundtrack work), only 17 (maybe 14? I can’t find the number online) don’t contain some form of the word death. Thus, it’s not hard to look at the band and make a blanket statement.

However, this is Metallica we’re talking about. Believe it or not, they’re pretty subtle — lyrically, at least. That’s because it’s James who writes the lyrics, not Lars. He ain’t very subtle, our favorite Danish drummer. Which is why we love him.

Shut up. We love Lars.

Anyway, yeah. On the surface, you see a band mention death or dying this many times and you’re all ready to lump them with some Satanic cult or something.

This is why learning a thing or two before you open your mouth is a good thing. Look, for instance, at many people’s favorite Metallica song, Enter Sandman. Know where the word die appears? In the bridge (that’s a musical term, folks). Which, in this song, includes the 18th century children’s prayer, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

Yep. Not something I want my kids singing about, either. God forbid they get a prayer in with their music. (An aside: there is a branch of the Kabbalah that assigns a numeric value for each letter in a word. Add ’em up and you’ve got a meaning. The Hebrew words for prayer and song mean the same thing. So, yeah. God forbid kids get a prayer in with their music.)

Want more religion? Try Creeping DEATH. It’s a song all about the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt. You know: Pharoah, the parting of the Red Sea, Moses, Charlton Heston…

Yep. Sexual innuendo is SO much better than Bible stories.

Okay, so that’s only two examples. Didn’t I say this band had 125 songs attached to their name? Maybe I’m blowing things out of proportion.

Or am I?

Sanitarium and One are both based on books (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Johnny Got His Gun, respectively). The Call of Ktulu is based on the famed HP Lovecraft story (No one said James was a stellar speller!).

The God that Failed (oh, no! More religion from our band that’s all about death! Save us from a fiery hell!) is about James’ Christian Scientist upbringing.

Even famed classic songs For Whom the Bell Tolls and Disposable Heroes are about way more than death and dying. They are wonderful anti-war songs. In fact, some say the overriding theme of the Master of Puppets album is anti-war. That doesn’t explain the song Master of Puppets, itself, though. That’s possibly the most famous anti-drug song of all time. Again, we can’t have our kids singing anti-drug songs. Nope. Might warp them for life.

Offhand, the only Metallica song I can think of that’s totally about death is Ride the Lightning, and even that’s more a meditation from the condemned prisoner. It’s a story. And you know what? That’s not even one of their more popular songs. Commercial radio won’t touch it (although satellite does. On certain stations.).

Okay, so I’m only talking about the old stuff. Know why? The newer music is way more introspective, more open to interpretations. James never explains a lot of what he’s thinking during his lyric-writing process, leading such Internet fan sites as the Insanity Palace of Metallica (IPOM) to have an entire section devoted to lyric theories.

Yet even songs like the much-maligned St. Anger (a song I personally find very sensuous in spots, albeit utterly lacking in sexual innuendo) can be pretty easily interpreted. It’s about anger. It’s about wearing it, owning it, being controlled by it.

Lotsa death there, huh?

Or from DEATH Magnetic: Unforgiven III (why am I making examples of the songs people make fun of?) is a meditation on a path to fame. I think. Broken, Beat, and Scarred is more clear-cut. It’s about overcoming adversity. The Day that Never Comes? Getting out of an abusive relationship.

Go on. Tell me how this is so much worse for our children than sexual innuendo. Tell me how power, how thinking things through, how finding your strength are concepts you don’t want your children singing about. Tell me how these songs are all about death.

I sure don’t see it. I see strength, I see energy, I see owning your power. I think back to sitting in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions and hearing James Hetfield say, “Dream big, and dare to fail.”

THAT is what Metallica is about, boys and girls.

It’s so much bigger than death.

But if that’s all you can focus on… well, you just keep cringing as your pre-tween gets her sex on in the back seat of your car. It’s not like you can’t change the radio station. It’s not like you can’t teach your kid that a song is about more than a commonly-repeated word.

Oh, wait. Maybe you really can’t.



  1. Cindi

    February 4, 2011 2:28 pm

    I feel so much better letting my 14 yea old love Metallica. Wait a minute, I never felt bad about it but now I feel righteous about it. hehe

  2. carol

    February 4, 2011 2:41 pm

    Metallica was never really my thing, more my husband’s, but I’m amazed about the woman complaining about the lyrics her 5 year old knows. Five. You can still control what your kid’s listening to at 5. And I am always amazed at how kids pick up on lyrics that I’ve never paid much attention to.

  3. Eli

    February 4, 2011 2:44 pm

    I have actually never been a HUGE Metallica fan but I never associated them with death lyrics either. Now Marilyn Manson…yeah, sue me. I know “Enter Sandman” and I like it. This from the chick that only listens to yeshiva music and 1940s radio. Metal doesn’t equal “death lyrics” and frankly, I, too, would rather have my kid listening to Metallica or Zeppelin or gross, Twisted Sister, before I’d be wild about him listening to Katy Perry. Oh wait. He DOES listen to Katy Perry…but he still thinks Elton John and Michael Jackson are VERY cool. Huh. By the way, you forgot the whore and the star comment 😉

  4. Janet

    February 4, 2011 2:44 pm

    oooh I love when you get all worked up! See the great blog post that came from a tweet! Well said 🙂

  5. Joel Kirkpatrick

    February 4, 2011 2:53 pm

    Susan, You may be my ghost writer. When I desire to tell someone, ‘Kiss my ass!’ it needs to be in your voice. 😀

  6. karen

    February 7, 2011 4:50 pm

    Great post, Susan.

  7. Alice Audrey

    February 11, 2011 4:53 pm

    You can also – dare I say it? – turn the radio off.

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