BMOWP Classic Album – Master of Puppets

I was 14 when Super Mario Kart was released for Super Nintendo. Despite months of religiously dedicating my life to Final Fantasy II, as any geeky fanboy wanna-be did during the first few years of the Super Nintendo, I took time out to try the game out.

BMOWP Classic Album

Master of Puppets by Metallica

It probably goes without saying I was hooked. Most people were. For the rest of the year, there was only one game in my system – Super Mario Kart. We all became experts. We all mapped multi-player strategy in our heads at night, when the console was turned off.

Master of PuppetsThis isn’t about Super Mario Kart, but it might as well be. Because during that time, my love for something else was just reaching its apex. Metallica. Kings of thrash metal, and emerging monsters of rock.

1994 was three years after the release of Metallica. It was two years after my father and I had seen them live at the Arena. It was a year after fully accepting and devouring the entire Metallica canon – at that time, five albums and a cover EP.

You have to picture me at that time: awkward, tall and scrawny, with unmanageable tight curly hair. T-shirts and jeans that were often too short. A cautious self-esteem that wasn’t dangerously low but threatened at times to dip below normal – or, however normal self-esteem can be in middle school, where every kid is desperately searching their life for meaning and popularity and the niche that they will eventually ride out for the four years of high school.

I was the least likely Metallica fan in the world. I wasn’t like my friend Eric, who kept his thin blonde hair long, wore metal shirts and played football, giving him a seeming toughness that befit the strong nature of thrash. I was, instead, an outcast. No leather, just a Chicago Bulls Starter jacket. No ripped jeans, just shorts with socks.

But somehow, I made it there. It started when my dad purchased Metallica on CD. It continued with that Arena show, during the two-and-a-half year Wherever We May Roam tour. It sprouted into something real when I bought …And Justice for All on cassette and discovered the complexity and thoughtfulness I thought lacking from most metal groups.

Everything steamrolled, really. The five albums became a constant playlist of middle-school angst. Metallica didn’t rock out about ladies or mythical demons or any of that – they laid out blistering diatribes on war and society and politics and, occasionally, metal itself. …And Justice for All has always been my favorite – after all, it was the first Metallica album that really clicked.

But it’s Master of Puppets that’s by far the best. And it always comes back to Super Mario Kart.

As far as memories go, it’s forever paired with the game, their points of reference intertwining – the game just months old; the album, several years – combining into some kind of two-headed monster (see what I did there?) that encompassed every thought. Every emotion. I rarely played the game without Master of Puppets in the background. It was the soundtrack of the year, the game serving as an effective stage for escape from whatever it was life was supposed to be like in middle school.

When I hear “Disposable Heroes,” its anti-war message still resonating today, I think first of a red turtle shell seeking out the first place Kart. When I hear “Master of Puppets,” I can still rattle off the solo like it was part of my DNA, but its lasting image is a banana peel in the middle of the road.

It’s no doubt that, when I dreamed of being the frontman of some heavy metal cover band, that I wanted our name to be Damage Inc.

Today, after years of mediocre Metallica albums, I am reminded of what Metallica really was – and is again – by their newest album, Death Magnetic. I remember that discovering Metallica was a movement in my life – a personal shift from safe and easy to that which still drives me today: creativity, complication and mastery of craft.

Yeah, it’s just metal. But I have no shame in being a Metallica fan anymore. Just as I didn’t back in 1994, when my life revolved around two things: a video game and an eight-year old album. It’s just that now, I can put things into perspective, understanding that it wasn’t the video game that made the album so fantastic.

It was the album itself that made life seem so different.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 25th, 2009