Gallant can be heard on the video barking out instructions to make the big cat go away. “Get out of here.” “Bad kitty.” “Go on, get.” “I’ll fight you.”
But none of it worked so she pulled out the heavy artillery – the heavy metal version, at least.
“I quickly rifled through my iTunes and found Metallica ‘Don’t Tread On Me’,” she explained. “As soon as it started to play, he buggered off into the bush.
”I guess he didn’t want to eat anything that leaves a Metallica taste in his mouth,” Gallant joked.
I’m not sure if scolding an approaching cougar with “bad kitty!” is brave or oblivious, but never mind that. Reading this reminded me that “Don’t Tread On Me” was one of the filler songs on Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album,” which was released in August 1991, propelling them into the commercial stratosphere, where they still reside today. The lyrics were written about the Gadsden flag, which would become prominently associated with the Tea Party movement two decades later. When the album was first released, however, there was a bit of minor controversy around the song, as some Metallica fans assumed it was a jingoist anthem in support of the first Gulf War. Singer/guitarist James Hetfield angrily insisted that while he wasn’t, in fact, particularly opposed to the war, the lyrics had nothing to do with that; they were written in an objective, descriptive way about the flag itself, simply because he was interested in the origin and history of it.
This was a common assertion made by heavy metal bands of the time — mentioning something, or paying attention to something, was not the same as endorsing it. Bands like Slayer, for example, who wrote songs about gruesome topics like serial killers and the Holocaust, claimed to be doing a form of documentary history — not promoting, not denouncing, just observing and describing. Artists saw no moral obligation to editorialize about the subjects of their songs. Listeners were assumed to be mature enough to be capable of thinking and judging for themselves. A cynic could plausibly argue that the only thing the artists truly cared about was provoking controversy in order to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace and convert media attention into record sales, but nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that even a much-derided, lowest-common-denominator form of entertainment like metal music presumed a certain maturity among its audience. It was a more libertarian time.
But those sepia-tinted days are gone. We live in more patronizing times. Nowadays, it’s a given among professional thinkers that there is no such thing as true “objectivity.” It was only ever a fig leaf used to conceal the White Male Phallus of Power as it raped its way through history. To pose as a disinterested bystander is to abdicate one’s duty to line up on the Right Side of History alongside the oppressed, dispossessed and marginalized. If “Don’t Tread On Me” were written today or even covered by a young band, they might find themselves denounced and “cancelled,” even if the “backlash” consists of — literally — five anonymous obsessives on Twitter with nothing better to do. In fact, the only reason I knew about fans being angry about the song in 1991 was because Hetfield himself mentioned it in a magazine interview. He brought it up in order to dismiss it as ignorant nonsense, and his was the final word on the matter. Whatever became of those angry fans? Did they read Hetfield’s words, feel sheepish for a moment about jumping to conclusions, and go back to banging their heads to “Enter Sandman”? Did they trash all their Metallica CDs and t-shirts, complain to their friends, write a few angry letters to rock magazines that never got printed? Did they hold a grudge for a few years, making sure to loudly denounce Metallica as warmongering fascists whenever they heard the band mentioned, before eventually maturing and forgetting all about it? I don’t know, because, thankfully, there was no incentive then for media to shine a spotlight on such perpetually-aggrieved people, and there were no public platforms designed to cater to them and reward them for their histrionics. We didn’t know how good we had it.