Get Lit: To Live Is to Die - The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton by Joel McIver

[Ed. note: Sunday was the 23rd anniversary of the fatal bus accident that claimed Cliff Burton's life.]

Cliff Burton's When the mighty Metallica was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, some were curious about the appearance of a small, grey-haired man who joined the band at the podium. It was Ray Burton, father of former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, who died in 1986 at the age of 24 after a freak bus accident while the band was on tour in Sweden.

And though he never lived to see his group become the massive worldwide success it would, his influence on thrash metal and his former bandmates remains formidable. Indeed, the three records on which his bass thumping appears - Kill 'em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets - are often noted by Metallimaniacs as the group's best. In fact, up to half of their recent set lists drew from this titanic trilogy.

Combining original interviews along with previously published comments and Burton's own words, McIver's engaging and informative book brings to life a player who at this point is more myth than real.

As a punk fan who studied music theory, he helped to bring more to the songwriting table than James and Lars' early preferred smash-and-bash sound. Burton was just as likely to name-check jazz fusion players Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius as Geezer Butler and Steve Harris as bass influences. He was also a pot-smoking reader in a band of raging hotel-room destroying alkies, and even professed a fondness for R.E.M.

Like other gone-too-soon artists from Buddy Holly and Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain, it's tempting to pontificate what impact Burton and music might have had on Metallica and beyond had he lived (i.e. "Cliff would have never put out the shit that was Load and Reload"), but it's all supposition and speculation.

What fans do have with To Live is to Die is an indispensable look at Metallica's formative years and the headbanging bassist with a penchant for bell bottom jeans who helped create an entire genre of music.

Jaw Bone Press, 272 pp., $19.95.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero