Mission to Lars, Some Kind of Monster & COVID-19
They say that you should never meet your heroes, because you’ll only be disappointed. I think most people have someone that we look up to, who we would love to go for a pint with. My sister jokes that one day, I’ll take Taylor Swift to Nando’s, for example. I’m fully conscious of the fact that’s highly unlikely to happen, which is a shame – I’d have been more than willing to buy us both a half chicken, with a medium/hot spice level, a side of fries, and a bottomless drink.
However, many years ago, I was reading a music magazine, which had an article about Metallica in it, which mentioned a film, in passing, called ‘Mission to Lars’. It’s a 2012 documentary about an autistic man who wants to meet the drummer from Metallica. For anyone unaware, Metallica are the biggest metal band of all time. I’m not the most die-hard fan of theirs, but I’ll listen to them on occasion, and went to go and see them live at the Hydro a couple of years ago.
And so, I went to find Mission to Lars. It turns out it is free to view on YouTube at the following link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUIESf0g56M). For the sake of a free film for 1hr and 20 minutes of your life, I can’t recommend watching it highly enough. You don’t outright need to know anything about Metallica, or like their music, to enjoy it. It’s not really about that. I’ll go into more about why it is worth your time below, and also what I took from revisiting it for COVID-19.
However, I have the rarest of opportunities to recommend a double bill, and direct you to watch the 2004 documentary, ‘Some Kind of Monster’ – the two are complete contrasts of one another. You can just watch Mission to Lars, though.
A Brief History of Metallica Up to 2001
The contrasting nature of the two documentaries is better highlighted by a very brief history lesson. Metallica’s origins date back to 1981, when drummer Lars Ulrich, put an advert in the local newspaper for other metal musicians to ‘jam’ with. Guitarist, James Hetfield, was one of those to reply. They fired the original guitarist, and were joined in 1983 by Kirk Hammett, and the bassist, Cliff Burton.
The band released 3 studio albums, but in 1986, Burton was killed in a tour bus crash. Jason Newsted replaced Burton, and the band continues to release music, and become one of the biggest rock bands of all time. However, they would go on to become one of the most hated bands in the world, owing to a lawsuit against the file sharing site Napster, with Ulrich, in particular, as the driving force of the band, being the focal point of a lot of the anger (Weird Al Yankovic's parody song is 'Enter Napster', and in ‘Get Him to the Greek’, Russell Brand’s character says to Ulrich, “why don’t you go and sue Napster, you Danish little t***?” The video below is a discussion with Ulrich and Chuck D, of Public Enemy). In 2001, Newsted left the band acrimoniously.
Some Kind of Monster - The Metallica Documentary
In Some Kind of Monster, a film crew are invited into the studio to record promotional material of the recording process for Metallica’s next album. However, we are met with a band being confronted with 20 years worth of anger at each other, and their frustrations at not being able to work through their issues. Hetfield enters rehab for his own addiction issues, and when he returns, tries to maintain control over how the others in the band work. They resent each other, and can’t bear to spend time with one another. There are a lot of band meetings, which involve literal facepalm moments.
They are going through the most chaotic of group therapy, and it is very much a warts and all account of the process. It doesn’t make them likeable, but you can understand why each person feels the way that they do – if I spent 20 years with Lars, I’d probably have a short fuse, too. They do still make the album, 2003’s ‘St Anger’, which is truly dreadful – it is just noise, and if I start blogging about that, then you know we’re desperate for content. Since St Anger, they have released 2 decent albums, and one absolute stinker, ‘Lulu’ (although I’m not sure if that’s cannon, since it’s a joint album with Lou Reed).
Mission to Lars: The Metallica Documentary that’s not about Metallica
In contrast, Mission to Lars features Tom, who repeatedly says “I want to meet Lars”. Tom has fragile X syndrome, a form of extreme autism, and lives in a care home in Bristol. He has an elder sister, Kate, and a younger brother, Will. The introduction to the documentary sets up Tom’s adoration of Metallica, and Lars in particular. It also explains how, as a family, they have drifted apart, as the siblings moved away and forged their own career paths. They want to do something for their brother. And they decide to try and see if they can get him to meet Lars.
I don’t really want to spoil what happens if you haven’t seen it. But what you have is a family confronted with the unpredictability and challenges that Fragile X syndrome poses. In contrast to the scenes we see in Some Kind of Monster, where people can’t stand to be in the same room as Lars, they are travelling across the world to try and spend 5 minutes with him. Ostensibly, it is music film, but in reality, it is part-road trip movie, part-family documentary, and is incredibly informative about portraying the difficulties Tom has in coping with Fragile X syndrome. Just getting on the plane is a challenge on its own.
The family have drifted apart, and don’t entirely know how to handle each other, but they are trying to put it right. There’s quite a poignant moment where the siblings reflect that those who have Fragile X syndrome tend to become more reserved as they are older. They reflect that, whatever the result of the trip is, they can’t allow themselves to allow the experience of connecting with their brother wane. I promise you though, it is uplifting, and worth your time to watch it, though. And stick with the end credits.
Lessons for COVID-19
Watching the documentary again brought home a realisation – it is easy to be critical of the siblings for drifting apart, but that’s not my intention, at all. I am incredibly lucky to have fantastic family and friends, but as you grow older, you don’t speak to each other on a daily basis, so I am (for want of a better way of saying this) guilty of the same thing. You’re not attending the same classes together, or going on nights out every week. Other things take priority, whether that is pursuing a career that you’ve already worked so hard to follow, or family matters. You move to different cities, and whilst it is easier to keep in contact now, more than ever, when you do meet back up again, it can be hard to work out what to talk about.
One of the things which has become apparent with the current COVID-19 situation is that it has taken a global pandemic to kick me into gear to reach out to friends. Of my school friends, one of them is living in Australia as a teacher, and I know nothing about the Aussie response. One of them is a pilot and is worried about his job in the long-term. One of them is a microbiologist, working in a lab, knowing people who are researching towards a vaccine. Last weekend was due to be one of my best friend’s wedding. We organised a Zoom call with the Erasmus cohort we were a part of in 2009-10, and I think it’s the first time all 6 of us have been in the same conversation at the same time since then. One of the people on the call was my best friend – the last time I spoke to him consistently was last year when he was in hospital, having his appendix taken out. And we never did take that road trip around France in a VW campervan.
I’ve been keen to try and break up communication with students, and do something different with blogging, and a few other activities, to distract from the news, and to try and be positive and proactive. But it is serious. A close friend of mine recently lost their dad to COVID-19. He had been away in Spain, and a week later, they lost him. Aside from the other points from Mission to Lars, one thing I’m taking away from this is to keep up the effort with your family and friends, even if it’s a short text, or a 10 minute phone call – you don’t want to be playing catch up, and it’s a damn sight easier than convincing them to help you try and to arrange to meet Taylor Swift in person.