Connected \\ August 11, 2017

Meeting Kirk

Career paths are generally full of twisting curves and hard right turns, but sometimes things come full circle in the most surprising ways. In my six years as the director of integrated media at PEM, I have worked on some amazing projects and have had the privilege of creating some pretty interesting content. However, I could never have imagined that my work would bring me the opportunity to shoot an interview with Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist of Metallica, for the exhibition It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection.


Kirk Hammett with Curator Dan Finamore. Photography by Bob Packert | PEM.

This interview closes a full circle loop that started 24 years ago. In the second semester of my senior year of college, I decided to take five art history courses and become a political science/art history double major. One of those final classes was a seminar called Art of the Senses. My final presentation for that class was titled Art and the Music Video … this was in the early 1990s and music videos were actually a pretty big deal back then. My talk featured clips from Pearl Jam’s Jeremy, REM’s Losing My Religion, Madonna’s Like a Prayer and a collection of short films by 10 different directors called Aria.

Most importantly, I included Metallica’s One in that presentation.

The song was inspired by Dalton Trumbo’s haunting book, Johnny Got His Gun and the music video features clips from the film of the same name. It is about a young American WWI soldier named Joe Bonham who has his arms, legs, and face blown off. He is lying in a hospital and is fully conscious, but he cannot communicate with the outside world. The song is filled with references to the sounds of war and it fully expresses the angst of being trapped inside one’s own body. It features a searing Hammett guitar solo, often listed among the best rock solos of all time, that still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I cannot disconnect the solo from the visceral emotions of reading that book and watching the film. At one point during my presentation, I paused and in order to hammer the point of my emotional connection to the music, I started banging out the drum beat from the song on the conference room table and sang out the lyrics:


Imprisoning me

All that I see

Absolute horror

I cannot live

I cannot die

Trapped in myself

Body my holding cell


Has taken my sight

Taken my speech

Taken my hearing

Taken my arms

Taken my legs

Taken my soul

Left me with life in hell.

A few months before the interview with Kirk, I found myself in my office watching this video and many horror film clips over and over again in preparation for It’s Alive. I have since learned that Hammett’s collection of horror movie posters serves as the inspiration to much of his music and creative output. He sits in his living room full of posters noodling on his guitar and channels the energy from the artwork and his memory of the films. You can feel it in his music, you can see it in Metallica videos … the angst, the tension, the pure shock and horror are all there. It is palpable.

So on May 18, almost 24 years to the day, I found myself in the surreal situation of being alone with Hammett, walking toward a green room that we set up for him. I said something like “Kirk, I am sure you hear a lot of stories about how your music has inspired people and how you have touched their lives in some way, but I am going to guess that you have never heard this one before.” I went on to very briefly explain the seminar I described above and my emotional connection to the music. He paused for a second and turned toward me and with excitement and a huge grin on his face said “Dude, Metallica, art history, that is so #*@-ing high brow!” As I said, I have done some pretty cool things in my museum career, but it is going to be pretty hard to top that.

Kirk showing me how he makes his yerba mate tea during a break.

Kirk showing me how he makes his yerba mate tea during a break. Photography by Bob Packert | PEM.

Meeting Kirk
Photography by Bob Packert | PEM.
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