Hey, When Did Metallica's Lars Ulrich Turn into a Cool, Funny Guy?
Over the years, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich just hasn't done a lot of things to make people like him. Let's recount: he's often an obnoxious interviewee; he pulls some of the most annoying faces in drumming history; he played a role in one of the most embarrassing music documentaries on earth, Some Kind Of Monster; and -- who could forget the final nail in the coffin -- his grandstanding brought Napster to doom. No, Lars hasn't really excelled at making himself look like a good guy all that often.
But recently we've started thinking that Lars maybe isn't such a dick after all. Yesterday, NME reported that Ulrich admitted that his Bay Area metal band's old rivalries with Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax were childish. "When you get out of the sandbox and grow up, you stop worrying so much about what everyone else is doing," he stated. "To me, the competition is now internal. That's the biggest difference from twenty years ago." How remarkably reasonable!
The first major sign of "new Lars" arrived with his self-deprecating role in Get Him To The Greek -- in which he played himself exactly as many music fans view him: arrogant, shallow, and rude. And Lars was hilarious, precisely because he was willing to face all of the insults people have thrown at him, via the mouth of Russel Brand's Aldous Snow character. By taking the role, Lars opened himself up to abuse, took it on the chin, and came out finally looking like a guy with a sense of humor.
And it would seem his highly strung and tightly wound days are behind him. Last May, Tom Bryant -- a London-based journalist for U.K. rock magazine Kerrang! -- tweeted: "Just admitted to Lars Ulrich that I missed his call as I was lawnmowing. It's not every day Metallica's drummer tells you 'Hey, garden away'." Years ago, such sloppy interview time-keeping would surely have been met with disdain and bitchiness from Lars, but "Hey, garden away"? What the hell is going on here?
Perhaps Lars has just mellowed with age -- he is almost 50, you know. Perhaps being so widely disliked prompted some self-reflection and soul-searching. Perhaps he's just quit trying so damn hard. Whatever it is, it's a massive improvement. His attempts at humor prior to Greek weren't always terribly funny -- as the MTV Video Music Awards proved after the Napster scandal:
Most uncomfortably of all, it might be time to admit that Lars wasn't entirely wrong about Napster. At the time, many used the Internet to download music that may have been otherwise unavailable, and decided whether or not to buy a record or not based on the illegal previews. These days, everyone and their mother are downloading to save money, bands are struggling to survive, and a large number of people feel no obligation to pay for the music they listen to. For every Radiohead that can give it away free, there's a tiny band wondering how to make ends meet in the current environment.
So, as controversial and as unpopular as it seems, it might finally be time to forgive Lars. Yes, his drumming faces still suck, and yes, he's been an aggravating character over the years, and yes, Metallica isn't even that good these days. But his primary sin may not be worth continuing to punish him for, especially when the musical environment now seems to prove him right in his war against file-sharing. Aside from anything else, Lars is funny now -- and bitter pills are always easiest to swallow when there's a joke involved.