I was lollygaggin' on the internet the other day and I stumbled across a website called the "Best Heavy Metal Albums of 1983".
It's nothing really that special, researched, or informative, but man it hit me like a ton of bricks that A) DANG, I'm young! And B) Holy crap, that means these albums are 30 FREAKIN' YEARS OLD!!?? Not sure why this was so shocking to me. I'm actually ok with getting old, and my back hurting, my neck hurting, my butt cellulite, losing my eyesight, sharts, and having so many god damn skin-tags on my body that I look like the sale rack at TJ Maxx! No really, I'm fine with getting old.
But "Kill 'Em All" CANNOT be 30 freakin’ years old!! That's just not possible!!?? "Melissa", "Shout At The Devil", "Show No Mercy", “Balls To The Wall", and "Holy Diver" cannot be 30 years old! No way! The self-titled Suicidal Tendencies album, U2’s “WAR,” and Minor Threat’s “Out Of Step” cannot be... that's fuckin'... which would make me... did I mention my shoulder?
As I began thinking of this, my thoughts took me back to my high school days, when I got into underground metal/punk/hip-hop, the shows I went to, the "records" and "cassettes" of demos and live bootlegs I listened to. This was in the pre-internet/pre-iPhone…shit, practically “pre-everything” we rely on these days.
It somehow led my train of thought to Cliff Burton. I pull up his Wiki page and low and behold, his birthday is this coming Sunday, Feb. 10th. If my math is correct, Cliff would have been 51 this year. It's amazing to think how the music world may (or may not) have been different had the tragic bus accident not taken his life. It also got me thinking about the few times that I was able to see Cliff perform when I actually WAS a young whippersnapper.
My friend Jim Pittman was an obsessive, underground tape-trader. Our bond began in high school art class and soon after we started our first band together (Inquisitor, later-Forbidden Evil), and I basically credit him for pushing me to play guitar, sing, and for taking me through Sabbath, into underground music. His passion for metal and punk was so overwhelming and pure that he fueled and inspired my own love for it. The first time I ever officially got drunk was with Jim, he and I drank a 12-pack of beer his older brother bought for us. We spent the night walking all over Fremont, CA. “blasting” my Radio Shack portable tape player with a live bootleg of Metallica from The Stone in S.F. "Kill 'Em All" wasn't even released yet. We'd never heard anything like it. We gleefully stumbled around the running track behind American High School for hours and probably played "Whiplash" fifty times in a row, headbanging wildly the whole time.
What a great memory.
Still blasting the bootleg, we stumbled back to my house where my parents were gone, we vowed to jam more and to get better at our own band... and to see Metallica the next time they played. The show wouldn’t be that far away but with no car we talked about taking BART, or I might even be able to get my dad to drop us off. Both of the above just HAD to happen.
We didn't have to wait that long, "Kill 'Em All" was released soon after and they were coming through on the "Kill 'Em All For One Tour" with Raven headlining. The closest show to us was at the Berkeley Keystone and as luck would have it another favorite of ours, Exodus (whose "Whipping Queen" demo was currently blowing our minds) were opening the show. Yes!!
So I begged my dad to drop us off. He and my mom had recently split up and though he had to start work at the Lake Merritt Bakery in Oakland at 3am, he agreed to drop us off at the Berkeley Keystone and would even pick us up. Of course, I made him drop us off two blocks away from the Keystone so that the other "thrashers" didn't actually SEE my dad dropping us off! I mean c'mon!? Unfortunately our pick-up happened before Raven would finish, but looking back it was such a big deal to have even gotten the ride in the first place.
I remember the excitement of being there, even waiting in line was “exciting". Jim and I saw Exodus vocalist Paul Baloff pass by and we totally went all "Beiber-fan" on him! Baloff looked at us like we were dorks. He was probably right! Being at the show seemed so dangerous and thinking back, it was. There were A LOT of fights. Punks and Metalheads in the same room back then? NOTHING like it is today, there was an underlying rage both factions felt, it would be a few years before it was common ground.
I can remember the stage, it was tiny and Exodus drummer Tom Hunting had to have fans in the front row hold his cymbal stands up as only part of the stage would fit them all. Exodus CRUSHED! Gary Holt was a god to us. If memory serves me, they debuted "No Love" that night… it was B-R-U-T-A-L.
Hetfield was in the audience hanging out and signing autographs before they went on. Jim and I both got autographs (on Jim's autograph Hetfield wrote his signature and added a "Fuck yeah"... BOY was I jealous!... "Man, your autograph is WAY better than mine", LOL!). But once Metallica came on the whole mood changed. Exodus were and remain the real deal, but a level of seriousness came over as the intro tape rolled. When Metallica took the stage, the world came alive. The circle pit, the headbanging, the electricity, the screaming-along, NEVER had I seen a band like this! I was stone-cold sober but I was drunk on music. Jim and I headbanged as if our lives depended on it.
When it came time for Cliff's "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth" bass solo, I just remember being mesmerized. I’d had so many Metal Debates with Jim and other friends that there's no way that was a "bass" solo. It was a "guitar" solo. Fact. End-of-story.
My mind was blown. The bass is making that sound? What the fuck? It was heavy, it was dark, and it was other-worldly. The whole time he was playing he was headbanging with a maniacal grin on his face.
Cliff, shirtless in a Levi's jacket, big bells, looking like every stupid YES fan at my high school, was absolutely shredding my face off. Next up "Whiplash", and forget it! Hetfield was up there screaming his head off with his "Ronald - 6 Wilson - 6 Reagan - 6" shirt (get it?), whipping us all into a frenzy! He could have easily said "punch your best friend in the face" and I would have dutifully complied (sorry Jim!). I was hooked, addicted, enamored, overwhelmed, obsessed; it was a life-changing moment.
I saw Cliff again at the Kabuki in the Japantown area of San Francisco both nights. I then saw them at the Day On The Green, Oakland Coliseum (though I missed the end, as I'd passed out from heat exhaustion, and uh... drinking beer all night and doing a quarter of crank in one snort right before they went on... but that's a whole other story *ahem!*). They played 3rd on the bill, over America, and Yngwie's Rising Force, and under Ratt and Y&T (who up-till-then were heavy, but had jumped the shark with "Summertime Girls"). Scorpions headlined.
The last time I saw Cliff was at the Bill Graham Civic on New Year’s Eve with Exodus, Megadeth and Metal Church. Again I was drunk and high, and truth be told, I was losing interest in Metallica. They played fine, but they weren't "mine" anymore. They were quickly becoming "everyone else's"... I didn't like that. They debuted "Master Of Puppets" for the first time and “Disposable Heroes”. I wasn't feeling it. When "Master" first dropped my knee-jerk reaction was, “this sucks, too slow”.
Those words are just hilarious to read right now, but those were my feelings in that moment.
And oh, how soon those feelings changed.
“Master Of Puppets” would come to define an entire chapter in my life. It's an album I've gone back to time and time again for 27 years, as to me, it’s a how-to manual. How-to-do-it… right. One of those timeless albums from that era (and there were only a handful) made without a map. No strategy, no plan, no marketing pow-wow from the record company with stupid catch phrases and “selling points”. Just pure.
Man, the freakin' lyrics...
"Chop your breakfast on a mirror"?
I lived those words like were ORDERS.
"Just leave me alone"?
YES, leave me the FUCK alone!
"Fuck it all and fucking no regrets"?!
God damn fucking right!!
And all the while the basslines were hypnotizing me ever-so-subtly to the point where even now, I know every bassline on those albums like it's part of my DNA. Go and listen to our song "Now I Lay Thee Down"; the triad bassline in the chorus? That’s just one of my tributes to Cliff. The three-part lead section in the middle... I wrote that with Cliff looking over me. Hell, I called it "the Cliff part".
Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? Maybe you weren't even born?
I was at a kegger party in Cliff's hometown, Castro Valley, wired and drunk, when "the news" came. 10pm, someone I didn't know came running into the backyard and yelled "Cliff's dead, Cliff from Metallica is dead!" It was like, "Huh? Get the fuck outta here!" But all the dude could say was "NO, listen!" We turned up the local radio station KSJO and the DJ was talking about it. It was real.
It was unreal. A stunned silence took over the party. They were "our" band, this didn't happen to "us".
I've read the story behind the classic rock song "The Day The Music Died" several times. Well... for us... maybe not died... but... changed. We played Metallica all night, got wasted, forgot, or at least tried to.
I'll leave you with this. When we toured with Metallica in 2008/2009, I read Joel McIver's then-just-released Cliff Burton biography "To Live Is To Die" (if you haven't, do yourself a favor, and pick up one of the best biographies you'll ever read). I never mentioned I was reading it to Metallica, it seemed, well... weird. In the book it talks about how some die-hard Metallica fans made a memorial to Cliff at the site where the bus accident happened in Ljungby, Sweden. I looked at a map and noticed at some point very soon we would actually drive that same road, thru Sweden to Denmark (Arrhus actually, for an off-date at Train). We unknowingly had driven that road many, many times while touring, it's the only way to get to and from those countries; we would be passing the memorial. I asked the bus driver to stop when we got there, it would be about 6am… just wake me up.
We pulled up just as the sun was breaking the horizon. It was cold and misting. It was a bit surreal. It was beautiful.
Adam, Fiaz our videographer, and I… we knelt in front of the memorial. We looked down the road where... we were silent. Phil came over for a minute, nothing was said. We paid our respects. I placed a guitar pick alongside the letters, beer bottles, and mementos his fans had left.
I never told the Metallica dudes we did that. It seemed inappropriate, it seemed wrong for some reason, uncouth.
As this Sunday comes to pass, I'm sure in our own way, some of us will pay tribute to a man whose attitude, demeanor, vibe, genuine love of music, and unequaled talent affected us.
I know I will.
Happy birthday Cliff Burton, Rest In Peace.
Site of the Cliff memorial in Sweden
Cool write up about the New Years Eve show
Photos from the memorial site:
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