Carpool Tunnel Syndrome

Jimmy Chen talks to former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted on why he really left the band.

My reasons for leaving Metallica, while conflicted, primarily rest on the events that occurred inside the Caldecott tunnel between 4:06 and 9:47 p.m. en route to a show at the Concord Pavilion during the Black Album tour. Our tour bus had broken down the day prior, so we got in James’s car — Lars, Kirk, James’s mother-in-law, and myself — and headed onto Highway 24 heading northeast towards the yellow hills of Contra Costa County. Lars was in the passenger seat; Kirk, James’s mother-in-law, and I were in the back seat.

We were un-ironically listening to the Black Album, specifically the third track “Holier than thou,” when James began his sardonic and somewhat cruel air-drums impersonation of Lars. James, a true craftsman, relinquished the steering wheel in order to execute such theatrics. To abandon physics is to have it catch up with you. We crashed into the left wall inside the Caldecott tunnel — causing a severe multi-crash backup whose tail end could be felt twenty miles back.

When your lead guitarist cries in your lap, it is one thing; when his tears soak through your pants, slightly lubricating your inner thighs, the experience can be, and was, met with a certain homophobic tinge. I respect Kirk a lot, and he’s probably one of the top ten guitarists alive, but he can be a real girl sometimes. (I’ll spare you details of his perm regiment.)  Lars had a massive welt on his head and was beating James on the arm in weird 6/8 time, shouting “James” and “fucker” simultaneously (“Ja-aue-cker”). The airbag, whose grand expulsion had broken James’s nose in four places, was covered in blood. Lars only stopped screaming to comment how it would make a great album cover.

I couldn’t feel or wiggle my left biggie toe, despite the freedom lavished upon it by my Teva “Bowen Coastal” leather flip-flops. The vision of a crushed or severed toe flashed through me as I frantically looked down; what I saw, I suppose, was fortunate for me, but not for James’s mother-in-law (who has requested to remain anonymous): my toe was lodged inside the only orifice which could both host such a digit and expel it with the force of gas. How this happened, specifically — how I punctured her pants, and how she wound up in that compromising position, remain a huge mystery. They say “shit happens,” and yes, it happened on my toe. I quickly removed myself from her and apologized profusely.

“It’s alright, ma (you’re only bleeding)” said James, who, as I confirmed with later, had no idea he was invoking the Bob Dylan song. (We are not in the business of folk music, and look to other resources for truth.) James’ mother-in-law has since forgiven me, but the awkward exchanges in the studio and various award ceremonies are too much to bear. Humiliated, she — in the subsequent three weeks since the accident — told her family of a “colonoscopy gone bad,” her limp-ridden gait strained at best.

Lars, in an ad infin adolescent streak, calls me “Big Toe,” giggling between the flickers of his tongue. James is either in denial about the digital violation or just depressed as usual; his palm-muting is less committed, his gaze vague and sullen. It’s all rather Freudian I guess: my thicker bass strings, thicker toe, thicker hair, etc. It is unclear whether I left, or was asked to leave. Truth often runs through an effects pedal, the distortion of our days rippling outwards in blunt circles. Kirk and I still talk, but I’ve stopped helping him on his hair. As for James’ mother-in-law, she has quite the sense of humor. I received a card from her the other day in which she asked me to come over and play “For Whom the Bell Toes,” with — and this is why she’s awesome — my toes. Time to start practicing.

Jimmy Chen lives in San Francisco and works at a large institution. He suffers from various undiagnosed personality disorders, and enjoys food. He can be found here.