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Ride the Lightning

I met Metallica once.

It wasn’t much to brag about – it was a festival meet-and-greet that I didn’t earn or really appreciate – but it’s a card I sometimes pull out to fast-track connection with a certain demographic of acquaintance.

I was maybe fifteen and, though I was only really familiar with them by virtue of briefly aforementioned music video TV channels, I did possess a lot of merch. Enough that I pared it back on meet-and-greet day, and they still complimented multiple items upon my person.

Every member of the band was a consummate professional as they made their way along the line: kind, engaging, and practiced. I was impressed, and also sort of disappointed. They were providing a service, and nothing I had in my arsenal would cut through the veil between us.

I had absolutely nothing of substance to say to them.

Especially when receiving a service, my default mode is ‘polite reticence’. It overrides all intelligent thought that wasn’t already placed front of mind.

Plus, I was still busy cringing from the fact my mother had minutes earlier LEFT THE LINE to go chase after Good Charlotte.

They most definitely forgot me immediately.

Looking back on it now, I commend my mother for chasing after her pop-punk heroes – it was probably a much more meaningful interaction than the one I had with the Gods of Metal. Who knows, it might have even been worth my superficial teenage mortification.

When I was younger, I’d hear others fantasise about what they’d do if they met their idols, and I always kind of felt I didn’t want to. I didn’t have anything I wanted to say, or rather needed to say, enough that it would supplant my social anxiety. My connection with their work was usually something beyond articulation.

Though I certainly had crushes of many varieties, particularly on musicians…I never felt like what I might have to say to them was really worth saying. They surely heard it day in day out already, and I wasn’t anyone whose opinion they should care about. They might as well meet somebody else.

My perspective changed over time.

I think I started recognising the humanity of the people I admired. I started wanting to tell them. So I wrote fan letters, or stayed back after shows. But I think I was also hoping they’d tell me, in return, that I ‘mattered’ too. Because I’d started to think that was possible, but I didn’t yet believe it.

In my early twenties, I sold all my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the US, because I found out Buck Brannaman was leading a horsemanship festival in Texas.

I’d studied him diligently from afar for years, having fallen in love with the way he trained horses within seconds of seeing him in action. He was an unknowing mentor in my life, who I also deeply identified with. I would have signed up for anything with his name on it.

After 5 days of incredibly budget travel, through massive lightning storms and blizzards, I walked into the festival grounds and immediately into the path of Buck Brannaman.

Here was the man I’d come all this way to see. A man who meant a lot to me. And I stood to watch him pass. He didn’t even look my way.

I’m still not sure how I feel about that one.

But I think my brain knew I’d be reaching, and it wouldn’t permit it.

I didn’t just want to tell him I’d come 6000 miles, in a most unglamorous fashion, because his work had so inspired me. I wanted to convince him to hire me, or train me, or change my life somehow. To make me worthy. I didn’t deserve to ask that, but everything about my energy would reek of it. I didn’t want him to feel that. So, I opted out.

I needed to get to a place where I could admire some things about myself before I could stand eye to eye with someone else I admired.

These days, there are public figures I would welcome an encounter with. There are some I wouldn’t think twice about approaching if I saw them in the street. And there are some I think my hand would be reaching out for before I even knew what I was doing (perhaps in the style of Mother Smith frantically tailing Good Charlotte at a Metallica meet-and-greet).

I have things to say to those people that I think are worth saying. I can articulate the connection I feel to them. I can see them as the humans they are. And I’d simply like to chat with them.

Maybe other people always had that. I seem to have picked it up along the way.

And if I ever meet Metallica again, I’ll probably have more to say.

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