How James Hetfield’s Car Passion Powered Metallica’s ‘Fuel’
James Hetfield led the charge on that song, but he doesn’t talk about it much, perhaps because he’s never been at peace with the compromises he made to please Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett during that period.
In 1997 Hetfield mentioned the song when talking about the notable lack of speed metal guitars on Reload, pointing out that “it’s not exciting to us anymore. If I wrote it, then we’d use it. No one’s writing that stuff, and when you write, that’s really telling your story on how you feel. On ‘Fuel’ there's some pretty quick down-picking, just kind of moving around with root notes, but that's about it. It's a little more exciting for us now to figure out more fucked-up chords, things that grind, dissonant bits.”
We now know that wasn’t entirely true from his perspective. “I said, 'I'm going with Lars' and Kirk’s vision on this,” he recalled later. “You guys are extremely passionate about this, so I’ll jump on board because if the four of us are into it, it's going to be better.’”
Watch Metallica’s ‘Fuel’ Video
But when it came to the lyrics, Hetfield completely indulged himself in his main offstage passion: custom cars. In 2019 he wrote a book, Reclaimed Rust, on the subject and displayed some of his favorite pieces at an exhibition, including vehicles he bought as custom jobs or rebuilt himself: a purple Buick Skylark named Skyscraper, a Delahaye 165 Cabriolet called Aquarius and a Lincoln Zephyr that won him a Most Beautiful Custom award in 2014.
“Hetfield, a lifelong car enthusiast, has described seeing cars in the same way he sees music: as forms of freedom and expression that convey the passions of their creator,” his publisher noted in 2019. “At once classic and modern, Hetfield’s vehicles assert both a reverence for history and a disregard for convention, standing collectively as a testament to the musician’s distinctive personality and artistic energy.”
Hear Metallica’s ‘Fuel’ Demo Opening NASCAR TV Show
This is what he means when he opens “Fuel” with the line, “Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire.” The track reached No. 6 in the Mainstream Rock chart after being released on June 22, 1998, and was nominated for a Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy (but lost to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant).
A demo version of the song titled “Fuel for Fire” was the official NASCAR TV theme between 2001 and 2003, and the definitive version was used in a 2016 ad for Dodge performance cars. "Fuel" remains a regular appearance in Metallica's set lists.
Hear Metallica’s ‘Fuel’ in Dodge Commercial