But killing rock-star mystique isn't quite so easy. Once a band has ascended the musical Olympus of iconic stature, bringing it back to this side of the velvet rope -- putting it into perspective, making its members human again -- is an arduous, delicate, painful process.
Unless the band releases Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and saves us all the trouble.
Thanks, guys. But we didn't get you anything.
A band documentary isn't typically we-interrupt-this-broadcast material -- the rise of reality television and the proliferation of bands peddling behind-the-scenes DVD footage have made voyeurism implicit nowadays -- but Monster isn't an entirely typical band documentary. The film -- commissioned by Metallica -- is fairly remarkable both in its ambition and its willingness to expose the soft underbelly of one of the most seemingly indestructible bands in history.
But the band stretched, popped and threatened to blow apart during the making of the band's 2003 album, St. Anger, and it's the events surrounding the St. Anger sessions that anchor Monster. As the movie unspools, Metallica battles a gamut of rock clichés -- substance abuse, personnel upheaval, legal battles, infighting -- that threaten the band with implosion. But these aren't salacious hookers-and-hooch tales of backstage debauchery. These are raw revelations that reveal impenetrable gods of metal to be frail, uncertain and vulnerable.
It can be painful to watch.
We cultural vultures pick and peck at scraps of celebrity -- everyone knows that Eminem loves glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but no one could name a single Supreme Court justice if Ruth Bader Ginsburg were giving lap dances. But as much as we salivate for details sordid and mundane about our heroes, most of us don't actually want to know them. Not really.
We want to think of Ozzy Osbourne as the mildly satanic, pigeon-eating Iron Man of hard rock, not the mumbling, shuffling parody of a human being we see on The Osbournes. And we know that our idols most likely won't hold up their end of the bargain; the actual rarely lives up to the ideal. That guy in the poster on your wall may seem like a deity born beside the pearly gates; but chances are, the guy is an ignorant, moody prick who skips his son's first birthday to go on a last-minute hunting and vodka (but mostly vodka) binge in Russia.
That's precisely what Metallica singer James Hetfield does as Some Kind of Monster begins. But before you can dismiss Hetfield as a self-absorbed, meatheaded musician, the complexities and insecurities of the man -- not the rock star -- unravel to reveal a sight that caters to the kind of lurid fascination normally reserved for ten-car pileups.
Metallica has been an unsinkable mother ship of metal for more than 20 years. But in Monster, the band whose debut album proclaimed Kill 'Em All seems to want to cuddle 'em all. The opening frames of Monster find Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and producer Bob Rock in a misty-eyed group-therapy session as they struggle to articulate their feelings with psychologist Phil Towle.
It's not exactly biting heads off bats, is it?
But it resonates in a more meaningful way. Ulrich screaming. Hetfield slamming doors. Hammett nearly bursting into tears. Anxiety, self-doubt and melodrama as the mighty Metallica languishes in limbo while Hetfield slogs through rehab. It's all refreshingly ... real. Or as real as the band allows it to be.
The film isn't a making-of-St. Anger documentary but rather an interpretation of the band and its place in history. Its members grapple with the past -- the death of original bassist Cliff Burton, the firing of guitarist Dave Mustaine and the exodus of second bass player Jason Newsted among them -- for what seems like the first time. At least the first time sober.
Monster isn't just macho pass-the-Kleenex moments, though. There is laughter, absurdity, stupidity and dullness. But there isn't an ultimate revelation. You won't necessarily love or hate the band after it's over, but you might find yourself rooting for it.