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This song is about a soldier fighting in a war and a mortar blows off in his face. He can't hear, see, smell, taste and he doesn't have arms or legs. He comes out of a coma in a hospital. During the time he is in the hospital he reflects on his life and things his father told him. Eventually the doctors get worried because he's having spasms all the time, but he doesn't seem to be dying. They call in the general and he can't figure it out either but the soldier with the general recognizes it. "Its Morse code," he says. The general asks what he is saying and the soldier looks for a minute and then says, "He is saying K-I-L-L- M-E over and over again. (thanks, Paul - Anacortes, WA)
The lyrics are based on the novel Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, which is about World War I. A specific passage that inspired the song is: "How could a man lose as much of himself as I have and still live? When a man buys a lottery ticket you never expect him to win because it's a million to one shot. But if he does win, you'll believe it because one in a million still leaves one. If I'd read about a guy like me in the paper I wouldn't believe it, cos it's a million to one. But a million to ONE always leaves one. I'd never expect it to happen to me because the odds of it happening are a million to one. But a million to one always leaves one. One."
James Hetfield was introduced to the book by his older half brother, David Hale, who was also in a band. (thanks Vesa - Tampere, Finland and Bertrand - Paris, France)
In 1971, Johnny Got His Gun was made into a movie which was directed by Trumbo. The video for the song uses images and monologues from that movie.
This was the first single released by the band to feature bassist Jason Newsted. He continued playing with Metallica until 2001.
Metallica performed this at the Grammy awards in 1989. This was the first year a Grammy was awarded for Hard Rock/Metal Performance, and it went to Jethro Tull. This was a bit of a joke, since few people consider Jethro Tull to be Hard Rock or Heavy Metal. The next year, this won the award for Best Metal Performance and the year after, Metallica won again for "Stone Cold Crazy."
Metallica guitarist James Hetfield wrote this with drummer Lars Ulrich. It is a fixture at their live shows.
This was included on the 1999 live album S&M, which they recorded with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
KoRn performed this on MTV Icon in 2003. (thanks, Nick - Paramus, NJ, for above 3)
The name of the statue with the scales on the album cover is "Doris." (thanks, Ali Sadeghi - Scottsdale, AZ)
Hetfield has said he lifted the intro from Venom's "Buried Alive," a song about being trapped in a casket while being buried alive, similar to the predicament of the character in this song. (thanks, Michael - North Adams, MA)
This was the first video Metallica made, and it expanded their fan base by giving them a presence on MTV. Many fans got mad at Metallica for selling out, but the band said it felt right. (thanks, Josh - East Longmeadow, MA)
Hammett told Kerrang!
September 13, 2008 that this track has one of his favorite Metallica guitar solos. He explained: "Specifically, this is the middle solo of the song. Much like 'Enter Sandman
' it's a solo that everybody can pretty much sing along to, and it definitely gives me a really good feeling every time I play it."
This song is featured in the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and is considered the second hardest song on the game. (thanks, matt - Langhorne, PA)
When Metallica appeared on The Howard Stern Show in September, 2013, James Hetfield explained that this was not so much an anti-war song as an observation. "War is a part of man," he explained. "We're just writing about it. It's not good or bad, it's just a thing."
Hetfield also revealed that he could relate to the character in the song because of his difficult childhood. He said that he often felt like a "prisoner in his own body," with no means to escape. His father left when he was 13, and his mother died a few years later.
Al Jourgensen of Ministry
In the name of song explanation, Al talks about scoring heroin for William Burroughs, and that's not even the most shocking story in this one.
Kerry Livgren of Kansas
In this talk from the '80s, the Kansas frontman talks turning to God and writing "Dust In The Wind."