Notice the not-so-subtle shift in nuance between “[was born for dying” and “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle.” The first was penned by Metallica co-founder James Hetfield in 1985; the second, appearing two decades later and attributed to Metallica as a whole, indicates a vast sea change in heavy-metal cosmogony. In the six-year hiatus prior to the release of their current album, St. Anger, the band experienced intense internal strife aggravated by personality riffs, substance abuse, the departure of their bass player, the inevitable fallout when amplified anarchy collides with domestic order, and all the other disruptions that occur when multiplatinum headbangers face the inescapable onset of middle age. In short, Metallica underwent a full-blown midlife crisis. As the band teetered on the brink of sell-destruction, fans feared they had heard their last power chord. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Brace Sinofsky were granted an all-access pass to this ordeal and have come up with Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the best group-therapy documentary of all time. The unlikely eye at the center of the self-help storm is Phil Towle, a 65-year-old psychotherapist-turned-performance-enhancement-coach with a taste for anachronistic Ozzie and Harriet-style pullovers. Though the film depicts an uneasy parting between Towle and the band, in reality things are not so cut-and-dried. A few weeks prior to the film’s premiere, the man some band members call “the health tornado” answered a few questions.
What is up with the sweaters?
Well, you know, I just have a lot of sweaters. I’ll have to analyze that at some point–or let someone else.
When I made a call to the film’s publicist, I was surprised to hear you were out on tour.
There were some awkward moments about that. [Pause] My clients dictate and drive the process. It’s only natural for me to see things as unfinished. They felt not so much that the job was done but that they wanted to take back the reins. I had no problem with that. Although that wasn’t exactly the way the film portrayed it. Is the band surprised the relationship is ongoing?
They don’t act surprised. Are you still on the Metallica payroll?
This is where it gets tricky. The band as a whole is not paying for me. Say no more. You just returned from Copenhagen. How is the tour going?
According to fans, management, and the guys themselves, it’s going extremely well. They’re having fun. In some people’s eyes, it’s incongruent for a heavy-metal band to have fun arm communicate angst.
How much of their current success can we attribute to you?
It’s impossible to measure, Imagine if you started your workday by sitting down with your co-workers and sharing your experiences. Imagine what that could do–to find ways to use the power of togetherness to achieve higher levels of performance individually and collectively. That’s my mission. I think it would be an honor to be Metallica’s shrink.
How did it happen?
Back in 1997 I made a cold call to Dick Vermeil, head coach of the St. Louis Rams. I’m his performance coach now. Dick’s son-in-‘law is Steve Barnett, vice president of Sony Records. One of his clients was Rage Against the Machine. I met Tom Morello, former guitarist for Rage and a huge Rams fan, in the Vermeil suite during a game. He called me a year or so later and told me his band was “imploding.” So I came along after they staffed raging against themselves. Rage was once managed by Q-Prime. They saw what I did and eventually said, “We’ve got this other band, it’s called Metallica, we’d like you to help.” Did you have any Metallica records?
No. But I had bad Metallica memories. When “Enter Sandman” came out they became commercial enough that someone like me could see a video. Their music was so depressing. I was probably 50 at the time, Nirvana was starting to happen; it was so depressing I stopped listening. But I could use the material, for example, in sessions with parents. You can’t get in touch with your kids unless you’re in touch with their music.
What did/do you have in your collection?
I was always a more traditional, classic-rock guy. I loved the Stones, and in teams of more modern–well, not more modern now–I liked different songs. “Final Countdown” by Europe, “That Was Yesterday” by Foreigner, and “The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA get me psyched up. Some people want the old Metallica back. They want a return to the band’s roots, back when they were nicknamed Alcoholica. They say things like, “James really needs to start drinking again.”
Fans are tremendous enablers of addiction and mental illness. We tend to use ‘artists and then spit them out. The fan base itself has to evolve. Fans who are stuck with what they want someone else to be are stuck in themselves. People who want people to remain the same are not unconditionally loving of that band or artist. How do you feel about your depiction in the movie? I feel you got the short end of the editorial stick.
I have the utmost respect for Joe and Bruce. They were part of a process that I do not want to detract from in any way.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Film Society of Lincoln Center
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group