Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Cliff Burton’s death. Metallica were traveling through Sweden on the Damage Inc. tour in support of Master of Puppets, when the band’s bus crashed just outside Ljungby, killing Burton. He was 24.
Sometimes it’s easy—perfectly natural, too—to over-egg it and go nuts when evaluating the dead’s music or art. But, fuck, Cliff Burton was pretty damned gnarly. Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets are sacrosanct metal records, totally unfuckwithable. Cliff’s bass was the spine of it all, a whole rhythm section to itself.
He did shit like this
There were a couple of things about Cliff Burton that were unconventional and that just made him seem that bit cooler. Like, he wore bell-bottoms, and performed bass solos. Who takes a bass solo? And who gets to put one on an album, as he did with “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)”? And who gets away with wearing bell-bottoms? Someone fucking gnarly, that’s who. It was clear that despite James Hetfield being the voice of the band, Lars Ulrich the spokesman, it was Cliff who was C.E.O. and president of matters artistic. He was the flavor. Metallica would reminisce about Cliff’s total control of his van’s stereo, and talked about how he listened to the Eagles with the same sort of open-mouthed amazement as someone who’s just seen their dog lay an egg. He made Metallica great, but he made them interesting, too.
Some cool footage of Metallica clowning around, complete with idiots in a parking lot and Lars Ulrich’s awesome bangs.
It’s one of those what-ifs that folk indulge themselves with—what if the crash didn’t happen? But unless you’re Walter Bishop and have opened a door into an alternate universe, there’s no way to answer the question. Metallica themselves said that they would have probably made the Black Album (or Metallica, as it’s known to the authorities, viz-a-viz Discogs and Amazon) earlier, but I dunno… What’s certain is that Metallica’s recorded output became noticeably less rad to awful. The Hall of Fame listed …And Justice for All, on which J. Bennett blew his beans and declaring it, “Metallica’s finest hour”, planting the crux of his argument on the album’s lack of bass Vs its awesomeness. He makes a pretty convincing case. But maybe Justice just seems more awesome ‘cos it’s so impenetrable and harsh, or that simply it gets spun less. Truth is, if Cliff was alive, our esteemed editorial overlord would probably have went with Puppets, Ride… or Kill ‘Em All.
He went way too early but not before committing enough evidence to tape that he was metal’s best bassist, ever, and was the Metallica’s heart and soul when they were… Well, the best band, ever. And he was only 24.
February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986