So what place does Metallica have on a writing blog? I’ll be up front, I’m not a fan, but a couple of years ago I stumbled across the documentary Some Kind of Monster, it essentially follows the production of their St Anger album but also one of their incredibly troubled periods, their bass player left, the lead singer ended up in rehab for 6 months and could only work from noon to 4pm once he got out (hardly hard rockin’ hours) and they had a ‘therapist’ on the payroll at $40,000 a month. Nice job if you could get it.
I’d been thinking about this potential post topic – about how once we put our work out there the interpretation of its meaning is out of our hands and how the Metallica documentary actually helps demonstrate this – when out of the blue the doco was on TV here last night! The look into this band, their interactions and their whining about feeling disrespected and the like is absolutely hilarious and addictive viewing.
But to the point, the most interesting aspect of the documentary was the insight into their song writing process. Metallica has legions of obsessive fans, they analyse the lyrics, engrave them on their bodies, possibly get married to them. And you know what – they actually mean nothing at all. Watching them write their lyrics, Metallica throw around random rhyming sentences, there’s no topic they’re covering, no message they’re trying to convey. Their ineffectual and pricey ‘therapist’ says a trite line that they find amusing and they throw it on the whiteboard – that sounds like a great line for a song. Taa Daa, Billboard topping album.
How often does that happen in art? I know writers agonise over every word and yet some sentences ring with their beauty from the first moment they flowed onto the page. But still you reread, to make sure, you read it again, you play with alternatives and return to the original. Sometimes you just get it right the first time. And benefit of the doubt to Metallica, maybe that’s how it works for them, but it sure seemed a heck of a lot more random than that.
But the lesson from Metallica is that it doesn’t necessarily matter what your original intentions were. The ultimate analysis is up to the fans. The meaning that was intended, the messages the writer wanted to impart are secondary. Once you put it out there, there’s no telling what people will read into your words, what messages you have unintentionally portrayed.
Of course the beauty of the presentation of the message is all up to you, the understanding of the message is out of your hands. Just make it beautiful and I’ll buy it and read it, and if I decide your main character is 5’10” and you thought they were 5’6″ – bad luck, your story is mine now 🙂