Friday, 11 December 2009

Mission Accomplished

It's over a year since we went to the special Metallica show at the 02 in September 08. The day, well, night, the seeds of the Mission to Lars project were sewn. Tom was there, we went through murders coaxing him there, and it took him hours to be brave enough to even enter the box high up miles away from the stage. But the deep deep joy he got once he was watching the show will be etched on my memory forever.

At that show, Will, Amy and her husband Rich, Tom, Georgie, Me, and Will's business partner, and co-director on this project, James Moore. Also Frank, an American guy who owns a box at the 02, who generously hosted our entire family (minus Ben) plus friends to create a safe safe place for Tom to gingerly approach seeing his favourite band live. If Frank hadn't done that, there's no way Tom would have stepped down into the main arena.

Crowds and noise and the unknown are three things Tom really hates; the nature of Fragile X syndrome's effect on his sensory perceptions means that he is hypersensitive to these things. One doctor explained it to us as what we see, but ten times more intense, and with no real ability to process and order what you are experiencing. I haven't explained this too well, but suffice to say, going to a Metallica gig is very challenging for our brother, Tom.

Which makes what happened last night all the more intense.

Tom was really quiet as we drove from Bear Mountain to Anaheim, he kept saying he didn't feel good, asking me to touch his forehead, when we finally got to the Orangeland RV Park, 'The Best RV Park in America' apparently, we were all pretty nervous. Tonight, at the Honda Arena, we were going to meet Lars Ulrich, drummer and founder of Metallica, hopefully, nothing ever seems to set in stone with big stars does it. And this was going to be the croix of the film. But there was Tom, saying he was tired, he was ill, that he wouldn't go...his face was pinched and tight, a sure expression that he was really really stressed. I felt bad. We'd talked to Mum on Skype that morning and she'd said that it was sad our trip had been so manic because Tom had been expecting a holiday in America. Mission to Lars was no holiday.

Anyway, we all went for a decent meal before we set off, decent meals have been few and far between since we hit the road in the UK, hitting the road in the US was really only going to see that situation get even more fucked up. All the crew were there, me, Will, James, Ben and Leigh...and Tom.

We talked up that we were a team, and that we were working. That we had a project to do, and this was the last hard day. Tom had been using a Zoom, which is like a handheld recording device, at the Sacramento show. This meant a) he felt useful and not like a specimen in the lab and b) he could wear headphones that would order the auditory chaos somewhat and give him a sense of calm in a storm.

Despite his pinched grey face, he sort of seemed ready to go, reluctantly.

We got in a cab and headed off to the venue, the two crews splitting up. As soon as we were there Tom was very alive, very curious. We entered the venue through the loading bay, surrounded by the beautiful red Peterbilt trucks Metallica use. we farted about trying to sort out our passes and then were in. Immediately we were herded to a catering room and told to wait the hour or so til we were scheduled to meet the Man.

There was a notional sense of 'fob off' at this point, but I think that was because we really didn't know what was happening and what to expect. We immediately left the catering room and started bumbling about backstage talking to people, some of whom were very cold and dismissive, others were friendly. I felt pretty embarassed, Tom was on fire though. He was sticking his zoom in everyone's faces and asking questions about everything. I've never seen Tom so animated, confident and curious. How much does this weight what does it do how many of them are there what goes in there where do you live. Incredible. At one point we were talking to Lars' drum tech, and Tom asked something I couldn't understand, I was frustrated because I haven't not understood what Tom is saying for ages. With hindsight, I realise it was because Tom was asking really complex questions, for him. This happened more than once. Most of Metallica's crew were really very cool with us; there was a fair bit of attitude, their head of security Tom, who our Tom was absolutely entranced and fascinated by, had no interest in meeting us at all and we kept being told he was busy or wotnot, but I know for a fact he just didn't want to talk to us. That's fine. Whatever. They're a metal band not a the Citizen's Advice Bureau.

Warren, their radio plugger, was in charge of us. He seemed to quite hate us a lot of the time, then at others he chilled. You probably don't want a 6 strong film crew blundering round your backstage area at one of your hometown gigs, particularly when you don't really understand what it is they are up to.

But someone had told everyone backstage to expect us to be there, and every now and again someone would say to us, 'I've read about you'. I guess because we were in their show itinerarys. You forget how moumentally organised a big operation like Metallica has to be. Like, those hundreds of black Metallica balls that drop at the end of the show, someone has to blow them up. Right?

Eventually we were herded into a closed off bit of dingy corridor and we sat there for nearly an hour. We were laughing in the end, thinking, this might not happen. Tom was joining in, saying the odd, "Where is he? I'm going to go in a minute", which was funny.

I've got journalist friends who have waited three days for interviews with musicians and actors, so, you know. A wait is to be expected.

Then, boom, he walks in the door. five foot seven, bundle of friendly energy, skinny jeans, little white hipster jacket.

You gotta see the film to hear some of the banter, but he was a very cool dude. Very relaxed and giving with Tom, funny, interacting with the whole crew, who Tom introduced them all to. Tom and I had been cribbing a few questions to ask him, and Tom buckled a bit under the pressure of that. What's your first question Tom, I said, he froze a bit then said, "Are you married?" Well, Tom has known that Lars' girlfriend is called Connie for some time, and our first question was, "How's Connie", this was the one question he was adamant he wanted to ask.

Oh well.

Metallica had a bass player in their early days called Cliff Burton who was killed in a bus crash while they were on the road in 86. Tom often talks about Cliff, saying, 'he died', but I wasn't expecting him to bring it up with Lars. That moment was a little awkward. He also talked about James Hetfield a bit, which I felt was a bit inappropriate as the night went on because I realised that the rest of the band weren't terribly interested in Tom. I dunno, why should they be.

Tom's face was a rictus of joy through the time we spent with Lars in the corridor. And Lars was good with him. Then he offered Tom a chance to play the drums and we went to the mythical Metallica Tuning Room. The Tuning and Attitude Room as the sign outside said, is where the band go to jam for an hour before their shows, they don't do soundchecks, just this T&A room. We went in and I think Lars didn't want us all in there, but Tom insisted all five of us traipse in and be with him, so traipse in we did.

Lars played Tom the opening bars of Enter the Sandman, Tom's favourite Metallica tune, then offered the sticks to him. Tom shook his head, too much, too scary, too challenging, too much opportunity to be shown up and look stupid, I knew where he was coming from.

Go on Tom, several of us said, including Lars.

And he did, he got up there, and very softly hit a few drums.

Leigh, the cameraman, said he choked up at this point, having been on the road with Tom in UK and US, he knew how poignant this was on many levels.

There is more to this story, but I have to go now. I've been keeping the boys from our celebratory dinner, and they're forcing me into a cab

...more to come...

It was an odd feeling. But interesting.

No comments: