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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Six Signs of Metallica's Pervasive Influence on Pop Culture

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 9:03 AM

metallica_on_south_park.jpg

See more of our Metallica Week coverage:

Metallica Kicks off Its 30th Anniversary Week with Notable Guests, Rare Songs, and Lots of Talking

Sad But True: How the Black Album Both Made and Ruined Metallica

Can't Make It to Metallica's 30th Anniversary Concerts? Celebrate at These Shows Instead

Like it or not, Metallica is the biggest metal band of all time. It has gone from a niche act to an ultra-sized, all-consuming juggernaut -- an inescapable, irrepressible rock entity with the ability to draw massive crowds across the globe or pleasantly do whatever the fuck it wants. Only the likes of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Guns N' Roses could conceivably challenge Metallica's throne as the biggest name in metal. But even then, for all those bands' influence, something just makes James Hetfield and co. tower over them. No other metal band has stayed so prominent within the broader culture -- or become a worthy shorthand for heavy music -- the way Metallica has.

To get an idea of Metallica's cultural influence as the band turns 30 years old this week, let's move past the standard tools used to measure success in the music biz (namely, record sales, ticket sales, and awards won) and instead consider how often Metallica has appeared or been referenced in general pop culture. Along with getting its own edition of "Guitar Hero" and being name-dropped on Murder, She Wrote, here are six curious examples of Metallica's tremendous influence on pop culture outside of heavy music.

"My ears are still ringing!"
  • "My ears are still ringing!"

1. Seinfeld jokes about Metallica's name

In "The Lip Reader," an episode of everyone's favorite sitcom that first aired in 1993, Elaine is using a limo service but isn't the mood to talk to her driver, so she feigns deafness. After she accidentally reveals her ability to hear to her driver, he's disgusted by her actions. Elaine attempts to make up for her faux pas by giving him tickets to a concert. Later in the episode, Kramer, George, and Jerry ride in the same limo, and the guy mentions having trouble understanding Jerry:

Driver: I'm so sorry. You'll have to forgive me. I can't hear a damn thing. I went to that rock concert last night at the Garden. My seats were right up against the speaker. It's a heavy metal group. Uh, "Metalli"-something.

Kramer: Ca.

Driver: Huh?

George: Wha?

Jerry: Ca.

George: Ah!

Driver: My ears are still ringing. Some woman's idea of a joke.

For a goofy, throwaway Who's on First?-esque exchange, it's a fun little reference. Sadly, no one snaps up the opportunity to poke fun at the inherent goofiness of Metallica's name. (Try calling your rap group The Hip-Hoppers or alt-rock band Alt Rock without getting any jokes.)

2. San Francisco gave Metallica its own day

Occasionally, a city will officially dedicate a day to a band or musician of local relevance. July 10 is Beatles Day in Liverpool, while Pittsburgh named Dec. 7, 2010, Gregg Gillis Day after the main man behind Girl Talk. In 1999, S.F. mayor Willie Brown made a similar move, dubbing April 7 Metallica Day. On that date, Metallica received a plaque on the Walk of Fame on Grove Street near Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The Chronicle reported that guitarist Kirk Hammett used the occasion to declare, "I love San Francisco. I was born here, and I'll die here."

3. Beavis perpetually reps Metallica

MTV miscreants Beavis & Butt-Head, who've built a rep on silly dick jokes and occasionally insightful music video critiques, have always had a soft spot for metal and hard rock groups. This appreciation of course influenced into their apparel of choice, as Butt-Head nearly always rocks an AC/DC shirt and Beavis a Metallica one. (These names are transformed into generic metal-sounding words when the pair's image is being licensed for merch (AC/DC became "Skull" and Metallica "Death Rock"). When the pair returned to the air in late October, they were still wearing the same shirts they were in the '90s. (Those things must be falling apart by now.)

But then, Beavis' love for Metallica is of the true and unconditional sort. When the pair once watched a clip for "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Butt-Head incited Beavis by saying that Metallica sucks and comparing Hetfield to the Cowardly Lion. Beavis angrily shot back "Shut up, Butt-Head" a couple of times, and the pair even came to blows over the issue. (Heh, heh. Blows.) Butt-Head did return from the Dark Side quickly, head banging and tossing up the horns when the song became more to his liking.

4. The film Hesher uses Metallica as shorthand for the genre of metal.

It's always a good indicator that a band's typeface or logo is iconic if you can write a different word in the same style and instantly know exactly what it's referencing. Such is the case with the poster for Hesher, an indie flick released in May that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson, and Natalie Portman. Its logo unabashedly apes Metallica's pointy symbol. The homage occurs with good reason, as the film features Gordon-Levitt as the titular character -- a dirty-lookin' dude with long hair who adores metal. The flick's trailer also prominently features Metallica's "Battery" from the 1986 classic Master of Puppets.

5. Metallica has been on both The Simpsons and South Park.

In "The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer," an episode of The Simpsons that first aired in 2006, Otto the bus driver finds Metallica stranded on the side of the road. Otto offers to give the band members a lift, but they give him the cold shoulder. Otto then mentions that he attended a Springfield show in 1997 -- an act that was apparently a turning point in Metallica's career (Lars Ulrich proceeds to name the exact seat Otto sat in, while Kirk Hammett says that he was about to quit Metallica until that point). The bit doesn't end with Otto's success, but rather his failure: Bart steals his bus while he's out chatting with Metallica, and the band is subsequently rescued by Hans Moleman, the aged man who reveals that he banged Lars' grandma. The band rudely tells Otto to never listen to its music again and then proceeds to play "Master of Puppets" on the bed of Moleman's pickup truck.

Metallica is one of many bands to pop up on The Simpsons, along with the Rolling Stones, U2, the Ramones, Green Day, and The Smashing Pumpkins. Hell, even Cypress Hill was on once. (You've gotta wonder why that deal was brokered.) It's a cool thing, yes, but the novelty value isn't particularly high.

However, Metallica have accomplished a rare feat by appearing on not just The Simpsons but South Park, too. In season seven's "Christian Rock Hard," Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman form a band called Moop (Cartman leaves quickly), but after the boys learn about the effects of illegal downloading, they go on strike until things change. Stan, Kyle, and Kenny look to have a bust of a protest, but then Metallica show up and makes its feelings known.

Lars Ulrich: Hey, are you the guys protesting free Internet music downloading?

Stan: Hey, it's that Lars Ulrich guy!

Lars Ulrich: That's right. Metallica is behind you dudes a thousand percent!

James Hetfield: We're gonna sit here and protest with you until free downloadin' stops, hyeah!

Soon, Alanis Morissette, Britney Spears, and a bunch of other names to show up to take part in the protest, but of course, Metallica beat them all there. (One quick side note: Metallica isn't the only band to appear on both South Park and The Simpsons; Blink-182 has done so, too. Hopefully, that piece of knowledge will come in handy during a future round of Six Degrees of Metallica or something.)

6. A pro wrestler made hearing "Enter Sandman" an integral part of his charm

In 1993, wrestler Jim Fullington joined the Philadelphia-based Eastern Championship Wrestling as The Sandman, a character whose persona consisted of every lame surfer cliché cobbled together. He was blonde, wore big red glasses and a wetsuit that jovially read "SURF'S UP" on the pocket, and, most ridiculously, carried around a surfboard. His entrance themes included "Big Shot" by Billy Joel and "Surfin' USA" by The Beach Boys. All in all, he was absolutely fucking dreadful.

Then, his company changed its identity, and so did The Sandman. Eastern Championship Wrestling became Extreme Championship Wrestling, a game-changing organization that promoted violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, and more violence at a time when the World Wrestling Federation barely had a sharp edge. Fullington dropped the surfer shtick and became a trashy, drunken maniac who loved to smoke, drink (and spill) beer, and smack the shit out of people with a Singapore cane.

Fullington retained the Sandman name in the transition, but gained new theme music: "Enter Sandman" from Metallica's 1991 self-titled "black album." The Sandman's entrance usually involved him coming through the crowd, which sent the ECW faithful into a frenzy. The tune heralded his arrival for years, and became a crucial part of his persona. Motörhead even ended up covering "Enter Sandman" for ECW: Extreme Music, a compilation of themes and ECW-related tunes released in 1998.

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Reyan Ali

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