Looking around in any bookstore and you’ll see a large number of biographies of rock and metal stars. Of course many rock stars never quite got the chance to write about their life, meeting their maker much sooner than many would have wanted.
Joel McIver’s book is no ordinary book of another dead rock star. ‘To Live Is To Die’ is a book about Metallica’s Cliff Burton documenting his early family life and love of music right up until his untimely death in 1986. Right from the beginning it’s clear that this book is very well researched with interviews quoted from people associated with Metallica right from the very beginning of their existence. McIver even took the time to interview many people himself which is why this is a highly reliable and faithful account of Metallica’s genius bassist.
The book details his influences and his drive and how his family life and tragic passing of his brother led to him taking up the bass with the full support from his parents. We’re treated to interviews with his early bass tutors and the shop owner who customised his Rickenbacker Bass guitar. It’s in these early chapters that we see many technical details that will certainly please bass enthusiasts whether they are Metallica fans or not.
We also learn of his previous musical experiences such as the band ‘Trauma’ which provided the platform for Cliff’s growth as a musician and showcased his talents to many who saw them live. There’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into with chapters dedicated to each of the three albums Cliff recorded and decent commentary on where you can listen out for particularly notable bass riffs and hooks. We learn a lot about Cliff’s personality from this book from the perspectives of his friends and family but also some of the things he said in interviews that have been quoted in this book. What interested me in particular was Cliff’s prediction of where Metallica’s sound was heading for future albums he never got to make.
The chapter on his death is not an easy read and the circumstances of his death are explained in great detail with information from the band, road crew, police and journalist sources. The book finishes with a chapter on his legacy and gives a chance for many people influenced by Cliff and Metallica to leave their thoughts about a very talented musician.
To Live is to Die is probably the best book that could ever be written about Cliff Burton. It’s compelling and engaging providing details of things I certainly never knew about him. The only drawback for me is that the book is so nice about him, you sometimes feel like the author has exaggerated or left particular character traits out. Let’s be honest, Cliff Burton was a fantastic bassist but he was also a human being. Everyone has flaws and I’m sure Cliff did too. I’m sure Cliff was just like us and it would have been nice for McIver to tone down the occasionally excessive portrayal of a man who could do no wrong and deliver a biography that doesn’t constantly sound like it’s written by a crazed fan. This is only a small criticism however, and McIver has done an otherwise great job. Highly recommended.