Book Review: To Live Is To Die: The Life And Death Of Metallica’s Cliff Burton by Joel McIver

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By Keith Carman

To think that it took 23 years for someone to come up with this brilliant notion of paying respects to Cliff Burton, the true backbone of Metallica, by providing a biography of his life is quite shocking. Seeing as metallians around the world have been mourning his passing—and the requisite downward spiral of the quartet give or take a few late-’80s releases—ever since, it’s sad something so obvious has gone under the radar for this long. Hell, even bootleg-ish videocassette Cliff ‘Em All sold boatloads…why wouldn’t this?

Unfortunately, that answer comes rather quickly. While the idea seems great on (heh heh) paper, To Live Is To Die is rather mediocre in execution. Its 268 pages are a meagre novella by most rock biography standards. From photos to post-Burton statements on the band, select quotations, a discography and McIver’s personal sentiments/ speculations, it has clearly been fleshed-out to even reach such a page count.

While Burton is a woulda/shoulda/coulda metal god, fact is, he was only in the band for three-and-a-half years and died even younger than most legendary rockers—24 to be precise. That cuts another few years of potential trouble-making, personal development and those-who-knew-him discussions out of the process, rendering To Live Is To Die pretty short.

At that, every other sentence seems to be yet another of McIver’s two-cents, leading one to wonder if this is a finely-researched effort or his own collection and re-assemblage of statements garnered over years of interviewing those around Burton. Sure he’s quite honest and respectful of the legacy but intended or not, there’s an inescapable air of Coles Notes surrounding the book despite citing interviews with everyone from the band to childhood friends, girlfriends, family and colleagues.

Factor in that the meat of the tale, the incidents around his death, are one of the shortest pieces and this affair is modestly amusing if not somewhat lacklustre; it generates insight into Burton’s life and death but is minimal at best; about the same amount one could glean from the throngs of interviews and articles presently readily available.

(Jawbone Press)

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.