A Letter to Jason

A couple weeks ago, I asked my parents and sister to keep on the lookout around their house for a couple pieces of music memorabilia I remembered buying in college. Their efforts were fruitless, and I found them in the attic on a visit a few days later (I may discuss “them” in the future). However, my dad turned up some interesting pieces of paper I had long forgotten about. Maybe not all that interesting to you, but here’s the find regardless.

Nothing extraordinary found in terms of rarity. Two of the items are postcards featuring Metallica and Rage Against The Machine on them, which I remember buying at nearby Star Records as a teenager back when I could count all the vinyl in my collection on my fingers. The next piece I found a bit more curious. The black sheet of paper, which I’m certain was inserted into my former copy of St. Anger, lists a Metallica Music Online code to gain access to the Metallica Vault website. The site was rather appreciated at the time, which hosted mp3s of live Metallica shows from throughout their career. It sort of went against the viewpoint that Metallica were greedy and unwilling to give back to their fans in the wake of their Napster court case. I know there must be a CD-R with a few dozen of those downloads on it somewhere, in a landfill possibly. Having dial-up internet in my house when I got this access code, I couldn’t take the greatest advantage of the site with my limited internet time, a curtailing of computer usage that may have been more of a blessing than a curse. The site is currently down, but feel free to take a peak to see what stock message now appears in place of a functioning web page.

The typed white sheet of paper was the work of my own creation, a fan letter to Jason Newsted, who is best known for his time as the bassist of Metallica. So not to strain your eyes by squinting at the photo, here’s what the letter says:

Dear Jason,

My brother and I had the thrill to see you play with Voivod and Ozzy in Toronto. Not only was I happy that you guys played despite the SARS nonsense, but we saw it all standing directly in front of you! I enjoy this column of yours, and after two years of playing bass, I still have difficulties in matching the velocities of your work in Flotsam & Jetsam and Metallica. I was hoping that you could teach how to play “Blackened”, which you helped write for Metallica, to improve my playing.

Dan

I instantly recognized it as a letter I wrote for Bass Guitar magazine (not to be confused with the U.K. publication of the same name), a now defunct offshoot of Guitar World to handle topics exclusively bass-related. It was a welcome magazine for me since the focus on rock and metal was more of what I enjoyed at the time compared to the coverage of the other major bassist-aimed publication in North America, Bass Player. Back then, I couldn’t care less about cover stories if they had someone holding an upright bass or if they played as part of a pop star’s backing band. Much has changed in the last fifteen years, but at the time I had a preference for Bass Guitar in spite of having a subscription to Bass Player. Aside from Jason Newsted, I remember other bass players with articles included Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantomas) and Paul Romanko (Shadows Fall), but I’m drawing a blank on others. Anyway, back to the letter itself.

The first two sentences I wrote were completely accurate, and aside from the poor grammar and structure, I stand by the sentiment. The year I penned this letter (2003) was The Year of Jason. More accurately, for Newsted it was The Year of the Comeback, a phrase that sounds like I may have lifted it from a John Facenda / NFL Films clip. It goes without saying his highest profile years were with Metallica, but when leaving the band in January 2001, he began working with other projects that he couldn’t normally make the time for. The most noteworthy of these was with the rock band Echobrain, who received some press but never really caught on with the public. 2003 was where it all came together for him, which was when he made his recording debut with Canadian tech-thrashers Voivod with their self-titled album (he joined a reunited band the previous year). If that didn’t do enough for his metal credibility, joining up with Ozzy Osbourne’s band for a massive touring schedule that summer surely helped matters. What made the situation rather buzz-worthy was that Ozzy’s previous bassist, Rob Trujillo, successfully auditioned for Newsted’s vacated position in Metallica. The media ran with this narrative, and I can’t recall a single music magazine that didn’t turn this into a featured story. I happily soaked in the view and the sound of what was one of my favourite bassists at the time performing double-duty with two legendary bands on the week of my 18th birthday. This meant much more to me at the time than turning voting age, seeing as I was about as politically informed as a piece of toast. Plus my brother got to high-five Ozzy, so that was pretty awesome.

 

Would I refer to SARS as “nonsense” today? Poor word choice, considering the virus lead to 774 deaths worldwide. SARS scare would be more appropriate, seeing as there was plenty of hysteria in the media and the general public in the Toronto area. I remember as a Catholic church attendee at the time, many people would skip the tradition of shaking hands when greeting their fellow parishioners with a “Peace be with you!” out of fear of contagion. I found such attitudes rather disheartening, but people were genuinely afraid of making physical contact if it could be avoided. A few high-profile artists had cancelled performances in Toronto, leading to concerns that I’d miss my chance to see the Ozzman (though he’s still touring in 2018). Ozzy was having none of it, and was quite vocal about his desire to play for the city, being more flippant with his language than I was. Concerns did grow large enough that a star-studded benefit concert was held at Downsview Park that summer, which was headlined by The Rolling Stones. It was a uniting experience for the entire crowd and city, with many in attendance unfortunately showing their unity to Justin Timberlake with a chorus of boos. Check out a highlights package of was was unofficially called SARSstock, which stands as the highest-attended concert in Canadian history.

The gist of my letter is that I ask for instructions on how to play “Blackened”, as innocent a request as any for a musician’s advice column. Did I really need to mention he co-wrote the song? If I wanted to intrigue the man, I should have requested more information about “Where The Wild Things Are”. To this day, I know nothing about what his role was in developing that track, which was his final writing credit for the band. “Blackened”, on the other hand, became a popular enough song for the band that they used it to brand their own record label and whiskey. His other two Metallica credits have been discussed heavily. “Blackened” was conceived in the band’s earliest attempts at writing material following the Master of Puppets touring cycle, which lead them towards creating The $5.98 EP – Garage Days Re-Revisited. “My Friend of Misery” was first intended as an instrumental and developed from a solo piece Newsted would continue to play on-stage to give the band a breather. I’m not even sure if “Where The Wild Things Are” has anything to do with Maurice Sendak’s popular children’s book.

To nitpick further, I spelled Flotsam and Jetsam with an ampersand. I’ll defend myself in saying that I probably thought putting “Flotsam and Jetsam and Metallica” might have made it look as if I was talking about three bands. Couldn’t I have trusted Newsted to remember that he wasn’t in one band called Flotsam, and another unrelated band called Jetsam? This is all reminding me to put Doomsday for the Deceiver onto my Amazon wish list. I don’t know why I no longer have my copy. It hasn’t aged as well as most Metallica albums, but it’s still a fun listen.

 

Flotzilla – the Slimer of metal band mascots

This discovery makes me wonder if I have any other letters long forgotten from the time people actually wrote letters. I know I penned a few, but did they actually make it to the mailbox, and how would they stand up next to the literary masterwork I just shared? What ever did I tell Dave Winfield after writing to him in the second grade (aside from the overly-ambitious “I hope I grow as big as you one day”)? Did I ever write an apology letter to Jean Chretien for an unflattering impression I did once to a friend that he’d have no way of knowing about? I’ll likely never find out, but if you’d like to know more about Jason Newsted, the best place to learn is through shoddily-translated biographies on celebrity net-worth websites.

 

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