"When a man lies he murders some part of the world
These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives
All this i cannot bear to witness any longer
Cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home"
- Cliff Burton: "To Live Is To Die" -
Nine years ago today, Cliff Burton was killed in a tragic, freak bus accident.
I was lucky enough to have seen and met him once in 1986. It was June 5, 1986 and Metallica was playing small shows in between breaks from the Ozzy tour. They played a small venue called The Villa Real in McAllen Texas to about 4500 people. The opening band was The Godz. In those days, the band was not huge like they are today, so the band members were able to walk around in the venue....I even ran into James Hetfield ( before he signed his name Jaymz ) in the bathroom.
The show itself was great. The stage was about 6 feet tall and the tiny barricade was about 3 feet from the stage. It was intense.
Afterwards, I hung out by the tour bus and Cliff came out and chatted with a few of us and signed autographs. He then said that he would be right back, and he went back into the bus and got the rest of the guys to come out and sign autographs too. After a while, they had to leave, but I remember that Cliff thanked us repeatedly and said, "See you next year."
About 3 and a half months later, I heard that Cliff was dead. I could not believe it.
The Metallica of today has many new fans who did not even get to know Cliff or get to see him play live in concert. Often referred to as the "soul of Metallica," he was an integral part of their innovative sound and approach during a particularly important period in their development.
He was more than just the second bass player in the band. He was about an attitude. He was such a special person, that even today, his name comes up repeatedly...and his name always will.
He is unforgettable. His untimely death remains one of the most regrettable tragedies in rock.
Even today, nine years after Cliff's death, Jason Newsted is considered "Cliff's replacement." Sadly for him, he will never truly be accepted by those who knew the band when Cliff was around.
As a tribute to Cliff, I've put together a collection of interviews, articles and quotes that some of you might find interesting. I didn't write most of this.....I just put it together..so I take no credit.
"Cliff was so completely honest to himself and the people around
him. He hated all this being-put-on-a-pedestal bullshit."
Lars Ulrich, 1986
"To this day, I think of him every day."
Kirk Hammett, 1988
"He was a great and very special talent.....Cliff's solos were
Jason Newsted, 1988
"He was a wild, hippie-ish, acid-taking, bell-bottom-wearing guy.
He meant business, and you couldn't fuck around with him. I wanted to
get that respect that he had. We gave him shit about his bell-bottoms
everyday. He didn't care. "This is what I wear. Fuck you." He loved
music. He was really intellectual but very to the point. He taught me
alot about attitude."
James Hetfield, 1993
Back in late 1982, it was decided that bassist Ron McGovney wasn't really pulling his weight in Metallica. One of Metallica's peer bands up north making the rounds about this time was Trauma. In addition to being a favorite Bay-area club circuit draw, the band was gaining recognition through their one-song demo, featuring "Such a Shame," that eventually was transferred to vinyl on Metal Massacre II. More noteworthy, however, Trauma possessed within its ranks "the most headbanging bassist" Lars and James had ever seen - Cliff Burton. They initially spotted him during a live Trauma show at LA's Troubador.
"We heard this wild solo going on and thought, 'I don't see any guitar
player up there.' It turned out it was the bass player, Cliff, with
a wah wah pedal and this mop of hair. He didn't care whether people
were there. He was looking down at his bass playing."
Burton, who grew up with Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin near San Francisco, was a cross between Clint Eastwood and E.F. Hutton: Didn't say much, but when he did, people listened. Especially Hetfield and Ulrich, who were puppies with peach fuzz and acne when they relocated Metallica to the Bay Area in 1983 to be closer to Cliff. Cliff Burton had flavor: he wore bell-bottoms, read H.P. Lovecraft, studied piano, and even went to junior college. He drove a 1972 VW stationwagon. He was the son of Jan and Ray Burton, two San Francisco hippies and he still had those hippie ideals; he liked his beer, liked his pot or whatever, liked to chill out, and he was really laid-back, relaxed and happy.
He lived with his family in San Francisco, and for three and a half years he worked hard to take Metallica to the top. After replacing Ron McGovney in late 1982, Cliff instantly made a name for himself with his classic "wind- mill" style of of thrashing on stage, with his hair flying out in all directions, and with his outdated, completely "unfashionable" image. With his hair hanging straight down from him head, he seemed eternally clad in a pair of bell-bottom jeans and a faded denim jacket. If it was cold, he wore a flannel shirt underneath.
Offstage, he was the ultimate laid-back Californian, a total opposite from his wild, aggressive onstage attack. His sense of humor was great, as were his bass solos and everything about his stage presence. He was the most visual of all the band onstage, he would just go wild. The best example of how cool and unflappable Cliff was happened in the summer of 1985 at their Castle Donnington Festival appearance (August 17, 1985). Having ducked beneath a flying pear which ended up embedding itself in his bass bin, Burton coolly sauntered over to his stack, picked up the pear, took two bites out of it and hurled it back into the crowd.
For a while there it really looked as if 1986 was gonna be Metallica's year. After all, their third LP,_Master of Puppets_, had literally taken the music world by storm and, in doing so, had made the band virtual mega-stars in the eyes of the metal-doting public. Metallica had finally "made it", and it seemed that nothing could halt their inexorable rise to even greater glory. Then, during the European leg of the group's phenomenally successful Master of Puppets world tour, something went wrong - catastrophically wrong.
Fresh from their triumphant UK tour, Metallica had headed once more for Scandinavia where they'd played three shows at the Olympen in Lund (September 24, 1986), the Skedsmohallen (September 25,1986) in Oslo and at the Sonahallen in Stockholm (September 26, 1986).
It was approaching dawn on Saturday, the 27th of September 1986, and Metallica's two tour buses were making their way along a godforsaken road that lies somewhere between the Scandinavian cities of Stockholm and Copenhagen. Apart from these vehicles, the route was deserted- there was noone else traveling at that unearthly hour of the morning. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, just before 6:15 a. m., one of the coaches swerved violently to its right and started careening wildly down the wrong side of the road. It was out of control, and a crash was inevitable.
The bus's brief but horrific excursion came to a halt some 60 feet further up the tarmac. By this time, though, the vehicle was on its side and lying in a ditch by the side of the road near the small Swedish town of Ljungby.
During the unavoidable confusion that followed, the vast majority of the overturned bus's passengers managed to scramble free of the wreckage. Those that emerged included three of the four members of the band. In truth, the survivors had been extremely lucky, as they'd all somehow managed to escape with little more than minor injuries and shock.
Swedish police arriving on the scene of the crash immediately arrested the driver as a matter of routine, but later released him without charging him after further investigation revealed that the cause of the crash was black ice on a nasty bend in the road.
Unfortunately, however, there had been one fatality in the accident...... what is more, the deceased individual turned out to be one of the group. So, tragically, in the short space of those few dreadful seconds on that lonely Swedish road, Metallica's dreamlike existence was suddenly transformed into a hellish nightmare..their 24 year-old bass player, Cliff Burton, was dead.
"I saw the bus lying right on him. I saw his legs sticking out. I freaked.
The bus driver, I recall, was trying to yank the blanket out from under
him to use for other people. I just went, 'Don't fucking do that!' I
already wanted to kill the guy. I don't know if he was drunk or if he
hit some ice. All I knew was, he was driving and Cliff wasn't alive
James Hetfield -1993
The dazed group dealt with their anxiety in the manner they were most familiar with: drinking. James broke two hotel windows and screamed, venting his rage. Kirk and his guitar tech, John Marshall, were so shaken that they left the light on in their room that night. On September 29th, James, Lars and Kirk returned to the United States.
"I wasn't too angry in the beginning. I was obviously grieving, but the
anger started setting in when I realized that it's not new that people in
rock-n-roll die, but usually it's self-inflicted in terms of excessive
drink or drug abuse. He had nothing to do with it. It's so useless.
Lars Ulrich, January 1987
The gap left by Cliff's death yawned across the pages of tributes run by the music press the week after the tragedy. In Kerrang!, for example, advertisements were taken by friends and fans alike; a bleak, black double- page spread ran messages from the Zazulas ("The Ultimate Musician, The Ultimate Headbanger, The Ultimate Loss, A Friend Forever"), and Anthrax ("Bell-Bottoms Rule!! Laugh it up, We Miss You"), while Music For Nations also took out a page ad which simply read: "Cliff Burton 1962 - 1986." The pain ran deep.
His family and friends remembered him as a "world class local boy" with a love for Johann Sebastian Bach, Mexican food and his hometown. His parents said he was "an appreciative and thoughtful son. Because of his performing, he'd sleep all day and stay up all night and never wake us up. Once, a little boy came up to the door, early in the morning and wanted Cliff to sign his shirt. So Cliff staggered to the door - and said "Sure, of course I'll sign it."
" I once called him up and said 'How do you like being a rock star?', and he was furious. He asked me never to refer to him that way again," said his sister, Connie.
At the conclusion of his memorial service (October 7, 1986), "Orion," from the band's _Master of Puppets_ album, was played. The elaborate instrumental made a fitting tribute for the young bassist, since, as James Hetfield recalled, Burton was Metallica's most educated musician and "Orion" was largely his composition.
Cliff was also responsible for expanding the scope of Metallica's lyrical themes. Along with Kirk, he admired the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Now, I know that it has been nine years since Cliff's death and I know that there's an old aphorism that is frequently uttered following such tragic bereavements, and it is this: time heals. Simple, but in most cases true. It goes without saying that time should never be allowed to diminish or erase the happy memories we share of someone who is no longer with us. Unfortunately, though, we are often guilty of letting this happen. For this reason, I'm sure that you won't mind joining me in a brief moment of remembrance for one of the rock world's most tragic losses ever.
I'm going to kick off by stating a simple but startlingly chilling truth... Cliff Burton died young....much too young. There is nothing that we can do or say that will ever alter this totally wretched fact. I guess I could resort to the old saying :" Only the good die young," but I won't, because it's such a stupid, empty and totally faceless adage. It says, and means, absolutely nothing, and certainly doesn't make it any easier to accept the dreadful fact that a life has been cut unneccessarily short. Cliff was in his prime, a fine bassist in one of the world's most popular heavy metal bands.Cliff possessed a truly great talent, and there is no doubt in my mind that he was the foremost bassist in his particular genre of music. Musically, his presence was felt in his aggressive playing, either doubling the guitar lines or adding syncopated counterlines. Maintaining a heavy, relentless bottom-end pulse as a component of the rhythm section as well as a strong intuitive sense of embellishment in melodic fills, Cliff represented the ultimate thrash bassist. He was the perfect foil for the energetic and propulsive drum bombast of Lars and the pulverizing crunch-chording of James and Kirk.
"The only person who was able to figure out a time and write it on
a piece of paper was Cliff. He had an immense knowledge of timing,
musical harmonies and music theory in general."
Kirk - 1987
"Cliff's taken classes in school on music theory, things like mixing
harmonies together. I think he took a junior college course. "
James - 1986
Cliff was also a fine and inventive soloist, and his clever use of distortion and wah-wah in his "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth" showpiece made it one of the highlights of the band's live set. More importantly, Cliff was one hell of a nice guy and a much-loved figure in the Metallica camp. He always went out of his way to talk to the band's fans- no matter how tired he was. He was certainly the most unanimously appreciated by the band members as well as by the public.
Although he is no longer with us, his memory and his music will live on forever. As a personal tribute, I always listen to his music on this day and think about what happened and I just wonder why it had to happen.
"You don't burn out from going too fast. You burn out from going too
slow and getting bored."
The late Cliff Burton
Question: What would you say to a band that's just starting
out on the rock scene today?
Cliff : Quit!