Ronnie

Album: Load (1996)
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Songfacts®:

  • The story behind "Ronnie" has taken on a mythical status disproportionate to the popularity of the song itself. For years a story has floated around that it was based on an actual event, a 1995 school shooting in Washington State carried out by a fellow named Ronnie Brown. It's a fascinating bit of trivia, the only problem is, the shooting never actually happened. At least, not as far as Songfacts can tell, and we've invested quite a few hours digging into it.

    Going by the lyrics alone, the song is about a young outcast named Ronnie Long.

    I always said, something wrong
    With little strange Ronnie Long


    Ronnie, nicknamed Ronnie "Frown," goes on some kind of shooting rampage.

    Now we all know why
    Children called him Ronnie Frown
    When he pulled that gun from his pocket
    And they'd all fall down, down, down


    The natural assumption is that it's a school shooting, but that's not specified. All we really know for sure is that Ronnie leaves a lot of blood behind.

    He screamed, lost my way
    This bloody day
    Lost my way
    All things wash away
    But blood stained the sun red today


    In an issue of Musician published in August 1996, three months after the release of the Load album, journalist Mac Randall questioned if the song was about Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd. It's an interesting idea, as Van Zant did come from a small town, had a violent temper, and did leave his mark on history, but the song's lyrics clearly point elsewhere. Only in the most abstract sense can this really be about Skynyrd's former frontman, and the song just doesn't seem to have that kind of subtlety.

    The story told in "Ronnie" is obviously about a violent shooting. What's less obvious is whether or not the story is based on event.

    As with most urban legends, no one is sure where the '95 school shooting myth started. At this point, though, with so many newspapers accessible online to verify or disprove such a claim, it's pretty safe to assume that the school shooting story was an urban legend.
  • Written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Nick - Paramus, NJ
  • The setting in Washington State points to a possible intersection with "Jeremy," which Pearl Jam released in 1991 on their debut album, Ten. That song was based on two real school shootings, one from Texas and one from California, but Pearl Jam were synonymous with Seattle and Washington State, so there might have been some kind of convoluted connection in the zeitgeist that led to the legend of "Ronnie" being based on a Washington school shooting.

    Regardless, a shooting that happened in 1995 would almost certainly be chronicled somewhere on the internet today, but we haven't been able to dig anything up. No one named Ronnie Brown has shot up any schools anywhere in America.

    Like the mythical story of the Miami suicide behind "Heartbreak Hotel," this one probably didn't happen.
  • Referring back to Pearl Jam's "Jeremy," it's not inconceivable that Metallica drew their inspiration from it for "Ronnie," either consciously or unconsciously. We do know that another song on Load, "Until It Sleeps," drew direct inspiration from another grunge hit in "Fell On Black Days" by Soundgarden.

    Note that at the time in the mid-'90s, school shootings still were not a major topic debate. The Columbine High School massacre, which truly launched the tragic phenomenon into daily American consciousness, didn't happen until 1999.
  • Metallica's Load album caught a lot of flak from their faithful fans because it deviated from the balls-out thrash metal the band pioneered. With Load they transitioned to a different sound. They even cut their long '80s metal hair! While many of those fans derided that era and album, Metallica said they were simply trying something new - they just wanted to experiment. Part of that newness was looking at the grunge scene that was dominant in music in the '90s.
  • Metallica has never performed "Ronnie" live. It is one of four Load songs to share that distinction, along with "Cure", "The House Jack Built", and "Thorn Within."

Comments: 10

  • Dan Gillespy from Courtenay BcA good blues influenced Metallica song.
  • Angel from LondonCharlie Decker vs US reality.
    A song that makes this band one of the greatest, along with Fixxer and few more "non-Metallica" masterpieces.
  • Glen from Washington StateFeb 2nd 1996

    Frontier Junior High School, Moses Lake Washington

    Barry Loukitias
  • Shane from Melbourne, Australiatreat us all as equal coz thats what we are, nothing special about anyone!! each to there mother f--kin own!!
  • Camille from Semi, LaThe lyrics to "Ronnie" are actually based on a school shooting in 1995 in the state Washington. The shooter was Ron Brown (or: "Ronnie frown" in the lyrics).
    see when he says
    " Now we all know why
    The children called him Ronnie Frown
    When he pulled that gun from his pocket
    They all fall down, down, down "+

    and then Metallica cleverly refer to his real name when they say
    "Small town boy, big time frown"
  • Steven from Viking, CanadaThe guitar is a bit different then usual metallica, but i like it
  • Joseph from Marikina, Otherreminds me of the columbine shooting incident
  • Mark C from Saratoga Springs, NyThe guitar line is almost identical to "Woodstock" by Crosby, Stills & Nash.
  • Ian from Hamilton, CanadaI always loved this song. Sounds very Skynyrd-esque
  • Patrick from Bardstown, KyAn awesome song. One of my favorites. It goe sto show what happens when you traet otehr people like crap.
see more comments

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