Metallica’s James Hetfield on the guitarist who “blows my mind”

Rock and roll is perceived to be a young person’s game. At one stage, anyone beyond 30 was deemed over the hill, a theory that has been proven wrong countless times. While the members of Metallica are now more than four decades into their journey, plenty of chapters remain left to unravel.

When the band formed in 1981, groups such as The Rolling Stones were viewed as veterans despite not reaching middle age, and over 40 years later, they are still going strong. Rock music was simply too early in its infancy to allow for the birth of the ageing rocker. In contrast, numerous octogenarian artists are now proving that age is just a number.

Quality is the only sell-by-date that should matter; no other metric should be brought into the equation when disregarding an artist. Although many artists naturally mature their sound as they grow older, there are exceptions to the rule that defy convention and keep on playing with the same intensity as they did as fresh-faced upstarts.

Naturally, as a person in his late 50s, Hetfield does worry about whether he’s still at the peak of his powers as a performer. In 2023, during a show in Brazil, he confessed to the crowd: “I’ve gotta tell you I wasn’t feeling very good before I came out here. (I was) feeling a little bit insecure, like I’m an old guy, (I) can’t play anymore — all this bullshit that I tell myself in my head.”

Nevertheless, there are countless examples that Hetfield can look toward for inspiration during these moments of crippling self-doubt, and nobody fails to amaze him on a more consistent basis than AC/DC guitarist Angus Young.

Hetfield told Billboard in 2016: “Everybody mentions The Rolling Stones. They could probably play until they’re 120. Lemmy gave it all he had until the last breath. Bruce Springsteen, another guy I admire for his endurance. But Angus Young, that guy blows my mind. That guy sweats so much every night. I can’t believe his head is still on his body.”

Despite edging towards 70, Young is still at the beating heart of AC/DC and parades around the stage with the stamina of an athlete. If he failed to bring the same vibrant energy that fans have demanded for almost half a century, the band’s live show would be a sorrowful sight. However, there’s a good reason why the group still sells out stadiums worldwide.

Admittedly, Young’s face wears the battle wounds from life that every person his age has gathered, which juxtaposes with the customary school uniform he dons during shows; none of that matters when he gets into his groove. When he steps on stage, the Australian gives every fibre of his being to the cause he has devoted his life, and unlike many of his peers, Young will never retire.

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