I had an epiphany at the Metallica concert in Bangalore a few days ago. If I was an Auntie in the crowd, Metallica was made up of Uncles. That made me feel much better as I looked around and saw rockers with vomit matted on their hair and lying prone in the thick, wet mud (anyone would have felt better, come to think of it), young girls gyrating with their fingers splayed in the devil’s horns and thick swirls of hash near my head. All par for the course; the same scenes are played like a Groundhog Day reel everywhere whether it’s Coldplay in Glastonbury or The Kills at Lollapalooza. But there are some things unique to India.
Take the Metallica debacle in Delhi a few days earlier where 25,000 people had gathered, some who had come from Mumbai, Pune, the North East, who had waited decades, literally, to hear the band, and then were shafted in the crudest way possible. I can’t see this happening in New York: A white Metallica crew member comes onstage and starts dictating to the audience on how to sit, stand and fluctuate, unfortunately couching it in terms like “Move away from the barricades, buttheads” etc. I underscore the ‘white’ here because you can see in every western band that performs in India, the same shock in the eyes when looking out at indistinguishable brown faces who each seem to know every line of every song you created in another continent.
The Delhi fracas even made it to E!online where the comments to Indians trashing the stage were as follows: “Monkeys,” said one, and “These are the guys we have to go to for tech support?” asked another. Racism and its twin Ignorance flourish in Metallica’s home country.
It’s not our fault if people are ignorant about the state of rock and heavy metal music in India. But this is why you have visitors talking down to the crowds like they are illiterate. Is that the message musicians should be sending when involved in what should be a border-less industry? Imagine telling a rock crowd in India where Black Sabbath is still a password to a Stairway to Heaven, how to behave. That is calculated to make them misbehave, the last word on which belongs right here: http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/open-letter-from-an-angry-metallica-fan-145022
Metallica later commented on their website about how disappointed they were not to play in Delhi “but the safety of you, the fans” was their foremost concern. Give us a break, fellas. You mean your safety is your foremost concern. What kind of chumps do you take us, the fans, for? Because if it was the other way around, you would have performed with another barricade.
The reason half a dozen kids stormed the stage is because of the insults and the indifference of the band’s management.They did the same thing in Bangalore. A white Metallica crew member comes onstage at around 7: pm (crowds had beeen waiting since 3:pm) and tells everyone things like “Move back, come on, we had a deal. The sooner you listen the sooner the show can start. Ok, look to the left and take a few steps, it’s called walking.” And the fact that you weren’t slapped, my friend, is called restraint on our part.
The band’s frontman, James Hetfield, looking at a sea of humanity he couldn’t quite figure out, kept saying “Are you with us? Because we are with you.” What was this, a church revival meeting? Were we supposed to respond with ‘Hallelujah, brother!?”
Let us not forget, in the midst of the great music that followed, that Metallica once created history by suing its fans (http://old.disinfo.com/archive/pages/dossier/id374/pg1/). So while we enjoyed your performance, boys, we’re not as ignorant about you as you are about us.
In an age of Slipknot, Jay Z, Muse and Lady Gaga, Metallica can’t afford to be naive about where they stand in terms of popularity. India may be one of its last bastions where they can get away with charging Rs 2,750 for standing room only. Calling us buttheads and cancelling a show at the last possible minute? Suicide, a real Fade to Black.
One amazing thing about the Bangalore event was that 30 minutes before curtain call, hundreds of kids without tickets were allowed in. That is the real spirit of music.
Sheba Thayil is a journalist and writer. She was born in Bombay, brought up in Hong Kong, and exiled to Bangalore. While editing, writing and working in varied places like The Economic Times, Gulf Daily News, New Indian Express and Cosmopolitan, it is the movies and books, she says, that have always sustained her. She blogs at http://shebathayil.blogspot.com/