- Leslie Gray Streeter Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
“This is my place. This is my island.”
There is a chance, if you live in Jupiter, that every once in a while you walk past, shop near, or enjoy an expertly prepared local fish next to a rock star, a genuine member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Whether or not you’ve noticed likely depends on where you are at the time.
“It happens if I’m in a record store, looking at instruments. Anything to do with music, ” says Jason Newsted, former bassist of the legendary Metallica, and a 20-plus-year resident of a quiet corner of Jupiter. “In other places, probably not.”
Now, the 54-year-old, who plays with his own Chophouse Band, is introducing his Palm Beach County neighbors to yet another facet of his art- the kind that hangs on your wall instead of ringing in your ears. Newsted, a lifelong visual artist, is having his first solo show, “RaWk: The Art of Jason Newsted,” at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County’s Lake Worth gallery through January.
A portion of the proceeds of the exhibit will benefit the Cultural Council, and national music education organization Little Kids Rock, which is establishing a chapter in Palm Beach County. It also benefits the Perry J. Cohen Foundation, which promotes arts, environmental concerns, boating safety and teenager entrepreneurship and is named for the late teen lost at sea with his friend Austin Stephanos in 2015, after leaving from the Jupiter Inlet.
“Jason is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met,” Nick Korniloff, Perry’s stepfather, explained at a preview of the “RAWK” exhibit. “Jason and Perry would have been the best of friends, and I’d have been left in the dust.”
“RAWK,” of course, is meant to be pronounced at the highest, metal-shriek point of one’s voice, preferably with an intense rock grimace and accompanying pointed devil fingers. And it fits: Newsted’s canvases are colorful and almost auditory - some are kinetic-looking paint splatter compositions, while others are wild murals that invite the viewer to get close and lap up every last detail, every face, every word.
In person, Newsted is wiry and youthful, with the effortless chill of a guy who can unironically refer to another guy as “this cat” and still sound cool. He’s also incredibly funny, and, as befitting of a guy who toured stadiums with the world’s biggest metal band of the 1980s and 1990s, tells a heck of a good story.
Newsted is not the only famous musician seen on gallery walls — Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin’s works have also been featured at the Cultural Council. Newsted says artistic talent — be it music or painting — “comes from the same heart, the same brain.”
He usually works to music, “or with a video loop with no sound, like ‘Reefer Madness,’ black and white stuff,” at whatever hour the muse strikes. “I got four hours of sleep last night,” he says cheerfully.
His creative soundtrack features “bass-dominated” music like the funk of the Ohio Players, or jazz like Sade, John Coltrane or Billie Holiday, or, “when it goes deeper,” guitar-heavy rock like Sepulcher, Slayer and Mush.
“I do not know what’s going to take place when I start,” he says. “It becomes what it becomes.”
Like those kids his show will benefit, Newsted discovered art, both musical and visual, at a young age as a farm kid in Battle Creek, Michigan. He started dabbling in painting with acrylics, but “for my 14th birthday, my dad got me a used Gibson for like, $160, $180? It was all the money in the world, but my dad still got it for me.”
Newsted’s musical education took shape “stealing KISS records from my older brothers. Before there was Pro Tools, there were pros,” he notes. Years later, he’d be touring with KISS, but at the time, he was just another kid playing his heart out. From the time he joined his “first real band” in his late teens, he never stopped. He played with the band Flotsam and Jetsam, and then joined Metallica in 1986 following the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton.
He spent nearly 20 years in that band, leaving in 2001 but reuniting with them in 2009 for their Rock Hall induction and then in 2011 for several 30th anniversary shows. They weren’t the only loud, hard band on the road during that era, but their authenticity, and their understanding of themselves as just one cog in the rock n’ roll wheel kept them on top, he says.
“The band was the real deal. There were no weak links,” Newsted says of former bandmates Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett. “We were four people, who were the faces of (the band), but there were 4,000 people who helped us do that show, from the crew, to the venues, to a guy in Timbuktu selling posters. We took it seriously. If we were supposed to go on at 8:01, we were there at 8:01.”
For a farm kid traveling the world, touring was a revelation and an education. “Lars Ulrich had traveled around and knew about Europe. I was like ‘I know where Kansas is!” he says, laughing. “We would play these places where like UB40 and Diana Ross had played, and there were these kids who knew you from a copy of a copy of a cassette, in a Metallica T-shirt that cost 6 weeks wages.”
During his years on the road, he fell in love with Jupiter, in the most rock-n-roll way imaginable - “I met a girl,” Newsted says, “and I chased her down here.”
He’d been visiting his grandfather in Zephyrhills, on the west coast, and then traveled to Palm Beach County, where the young lady in question’s mother was a real estate agent. From the time “I saw high tide at the inlet,” he was in love — but with the town.
In about 20 years, Newsted’s owned five different places here, drawn “to the solace. I have great neighbors,” he says. “It’s just a special little enclave, a very special place.”
After leaving Metallica in 2001, Newsted’s musical projects ranged from playing with the band Voivod and as a replacement in the band of legend Ozzy Osbourne, to taking part in “Rock Star Supernova,” CBS’ competition looking for a lead singer for an all-star band featuring him, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee and Guns N’ Roses’ Gilby Clarke. But a serious shoulder injury, suffered while trying to catch a falling bass amp, temporarily halted his music career and led him back to art.
On one particular night, Newsted found himself alone at his ranch in Montana, while wife Nicole, an oil painter, was out. “I was on pain medication, and my right arm was in a sling, and I had a self-pity party,’ he remembers. That night he started “slinging paint” with his good arm onto canvases. His wife returned home to find paint “all around the side of the cabin, and was like ‘What the?’ She just pointed to the barn, like ‘Go.’”
It may have been messy, but there was something there. Newsted, who cites artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jackson Pollack as influences, “kept chasing art,” even after successful surgery that allowed him to use both of his hands. His canvases reference everything from symbols used by hobos traveling the United States to Heath Ledger as The Joker from “The Dark Knight.”
His first art show was in 2010 in San Francisco, but even as he kept painting, he felt the call of music again, forming the self-named band Newsted and the current Jason Newsted and the Chophouse Band, an acoustic group that will play during the Cultural Council exhibit.
During the latter period of his musical career, Newsted marvels at how “it’s come full-circle,” having played with the band Newsted in some of the same places he went with Metallica, where younger bands looked up to him like he looked up to bands like KISS.
“I became the hero,” he says, shaking his head, and it’s clear that the Michigan farm kid is still gobsmacked by this. “I think the respect that was shown from the next generation is the respect we showed to the music.”
And it’s with that next generation in mind that Newsted supports Little Kids Rock, hoping that some other wide-eyed kid with an earful of their brother or sister’s records discovers that indescribable “feeling you get when you’re learning a song. I chase that every day. I want everyone to get a chance to feel it.”