METALLICA guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield was inducted into the Downey High School 2011 Hall Of Fame this past Friday, May 27. He received a special induction for attending Downey High in Downey, California his freshman and sophomore years.
Video footage of Hetfield‘s induction speech can be viewed below.
Said the METALLICA frontman: “The one thing that comes to mind is extreme gratitude to be honored here at the school that I was hiding in for most of the time I was here.
“I hated my school — literally. I was a misfit, I didn’t fit in, didn’t wanna fit in. I hid as much as possible in my music and listening to music. Yes, I did have to show up in classes and get credits and things, just to make it through, but I really did not feel like I identified with anyone. [So] to be back here, being included in the Hall Of Fame, is completely surreal and it is a testament to people’s drums and — as the last inductee put it — the people in the ‘misfit’ category, they are able to apply themselves and [achieve] their dreams, just in a different way.
“Tough times for me in high school — very tough. I came to Downey High. I lived very nearby here. I still tell my kids my story the story of trying to cross the main street over here and getting hit by a car. And they [go], ‘Tell that one again.’
“I’m here to talk about the tough times that I made it through. My father left when I was 13 and my mother passed away when I was 16. I didn’t get to finish high school here, which was very unfortunate, ’cause I did have a lot of friends here, and I ended up moving to a new school and having to live with my older brother. So high school was not the best time for me. But music was a savior — a very big savior in my life — and I was able to climb into other people’s heads and their records and get involved in music and, basically, instead of hanging out at school, I went home and practiced guitar, and that was what I did.
“It’s great to see young people up here singing. Jazz band was the thing that was offered here when I went to school. I thought I had no connection to jazz whatsoever, but to hear these people put modern songs into jazz version is inspired — it’s very cool — and to have them come up here and stand behind what they’re doing and be proud of what they’re doing, it brings a tear to my eye.
“My first guitar that I bought that my mom had me work off in the year quite a bit, it was from the guitar player in a jazz band; it was an SG and I went on to eventually trade that in and get a PA system. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a guitar player or a singer, and I actually ended up doing both.
“The other thing I wanna say is that it was a very pivotal time and I did not know until now. A lot of things happened in our lives and they happened for a reason. The thing that happened to me I was on a football team as a freshman, I came back the next year to be on the sophomore team, and Coach Cummings was his name, he says, ‘You’re gonna have to get a haircut. Your hair is way too long; it’s past the ear.’ And I look at football players and I say, ‘Well… You have to have big hair to be a good football player.’ But at that point he said, ‘You’ve gotta cut your hair or you’re off the team.’ And at that point it was a very major decision. ‘Do I wanna be a rocker? Or do I wanna be a football player’ ‘Cause my whole life growing up, I wanted to be on the Oakland Raiders; that was it. And the other dream was I wanted to be the guy on the poster — the AEROSMITH poster I had in my room. So at that point I made a decision, so I handed in my gear and I just concentrated on music. So thank you to him for making [me choose]. [He was[ very distinct, very distinct, and he stood his ground and so did I. So I’m very, very glad that that happened at this school.”
“I just wanna say thank you to the Hall Of Fame for inducting this misfit. And to all the people that are here today and all the young kids that I see here that love music and are inspired by it and it drives them in their lives. You get your inspiration from wherever you can and live your dream to the fullest, ’cause it can happen.”
According to PressTelegram.com, Downey Assistant Principal Lisa Lucke said the plan to induct Hetfield into the Hall of Fame has been in the works for years.
“He’s a very private person, and he’s usually on tour this time of year so it was really just about trying to align schedules,” she said.
She said Hetfield, 47, sent his former high school a signed guitar one year.
“He said we could auction it off but we haven’t had the heart to do anything with it yet,” she said.
One of the most influential figures in hard rock and heavy metal of the past 25 years, Hetfield was born in Los Angeles, California to parents who were devout Christian Scientists. A strict religious upbringing, which included seeing his mother die of cancer because their religion forbade medical treatment, fueled the lyrics of many METALLICA songs, including “Until It Sleeps”, “The God That Failed” and “Fade to Black”.
Hetfield learned to play piano and drums before picking up a guitar at the age of 14. His early bands during his high school years included OBSESSION, PHANTOM LORD and LEATHER CHARM. When LEATHER CHARM‘s drummer left, an ad that Hetfield placed in a local paper for a new drummer led him to meet Danish-born Lars Ulrich. The pair formed METALLICA in 1981 and remain its two original members. The group has since become one of the biggest rock bands in history, selling 59 million records in the U.S. and over 100 million worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past April along with JEFF BECK, RUN-DMC and others.
Hetfield battled for years with addictions to alcohol and drugs, finally entering rehab in 2001 during the turbulent sessions for the band’s “St. Anger” album. He emerged clean and sober and remains so to this day.
Hetfield‘s struggle and the band’s near-demise during that period was chronicled in the 2004 documentary “Some Kind of Monster”.
Hetfield has been married to Francesca since 1997. They have three children, Cali, Castor and Marcella.
His hobbies include skateboarding, hunting, water sports, snowboarding, collecting guitars and customizing classic automobiles.
Hetfield has listed some of his main musical influences as BLACK SABBATH, THIN LIZZY, AEROSMITH, MOTÖRHEAD, QUEEN and LED ZEPPELIN.
METALLICA‘s ninth studio effort, “Death Magnetic”, came out in September 2008.
Photo courtesy of Metallica.com