McIver, Joel – To Live Is to Die (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: July 2012
Released: 2009, Jawbone Press
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: JP


The ultimate guide to the life and death of Metallica\’s Cliff Burton.

For about 20 years (1988-2008) I had pretty much given up on Metallica. After …AND JUSTICE FOR ALL I felt they got bogged down in arena rock, covers albums, symphonic albums, self-indulgent grunge albums and poorly produced garage rock albums. Of course, my opinion is in the extreme minority as the band catapulted to the stratosphere to become one of the most influential, most popular, best-selling bands of all time. With the resultant fame there came all the peripheral products: DVD’s, a movie and of course books. Lots of books. There are photo books, academic books, historical books and several biographies. I felt it was high time that we got caught up on some of the many Metallica books that have been published in the past decade or so. This month I am featuring and reviewing six titles about Metallica and a bonus book about the origins of Bay-area thrash. They are (listed by authors last name)

-Daniels: Metallica-The Early Years (2012)
-Halfin: Metallica (2006)
-Irwin (ed.) Metallica And Philosophy (2007)
-McIver: And Justice For All (2004/2009)
-McIver: To Live Is To Die (2009)
-McPadden: If You Like Metallica (2012)
and the bonus book, Oimoen/Lew: Murder In The Front Row (2012)

Please feel free to read and enjoy all the book reviews for Metallica Month. This list is by no means comprehensive there are many more books about Metallica for you to enjoy.

I’ve never fully understood the cult of personality surrounding Cliff Burton. Newsted was in the band longer and played on more albums that sold more. Trujillo is cooler and a better player IMO of course. Cliff had this dirty-hippy thing going that never really matched the thrash image/style of the band. I feel Cliff’s legend is bolstered by the fact that he died young and tragically. I don’t want to slag Cliff, by all accounts he was an all-round nice guy but I just don’t get it. However, having said that, the only three Metallica albums that are near and dear to me are the Cliff albums and many people have said he was the soul of the band. Was it coincidence that I stopped enjoying Metallica when he died? I know it certainly wasn’t just because he died that I stopped listening to the band, they just went in a different direction. With all these thoughts running through my head I wondered if Cliff really deserved his own book. He was only in the band for four years. I can think of a dozen Metal bassists I’d rather read about that are just as worthy, (Cronos, Schmier, Angelripper, Gallagher, Sheehan, Ellefson, Harris to name a few) so it was with some trepidation I approached this book.

McIver was pretty much the perfect guy to write this story. As author of one of the most (if not the most) definitive and well-respected biographies about Metallica (JUSTICE FOR ALL), he had the connections as well as the confidence the sources to do a good job. Not only a good job, McIver has done a superb job writing TO LIVE IS TO DIE-THE LIFE AND DEATH OF METALLICA’S CLIFF BURTON. This gorgeous 272 page book was first published by Jawbone back in 2009. It’s fully loaded with special features such as a collection of quotes about Cliff from fellow musicians, a handful of useful lists, a good index, a handy map of his stomping ground, a couple dozen great photos of Cliff and a foreword by Kirk Hammet, which is no mean feat. I’m not sure that his estate officially endorses this book, (not that it matters) but with the enthusiastic participation of everyone in Burton’s world, this is as close as you are going to get. The whole book is packed with Burton related goodies.

The bulk of the book is broken down into a simple chronological time-line. In terms of a biography, it is conventional, interviews with old family and friends, and so on. It is quite meticulously researched talking about his schools, girl-friends, music teachers and as it really wasn’t very long before I was drawn into his life-story. There is much to cover and McIver covers it all, Burtons time in Trauma, Spastik Children, the goofing around, the jamming, smoking, drinking and generally doing what young musicians do. McIver also injects a fair degree of technical analysis of Burton’s unique and special style that endeared him to so many fans and players alike. A huge chunk of the book (150 pages or so) is what the real Metallica fans will want to read, namely the years mid-1980 until mid-1986 and those years are covered in explicit, yet reverential detail. No stone is left unturned, no tooth unpulled! Ultimately, while reading TO LIVE IS TO DIE, I was won over and converted to the Cult of Cliff.

Chapter 12 and 13 were particularly heart-wrenching as they covered in enormous detail the day of Burton’s death and the immediate fall-out, not only in the band and family but around the industry and soon enough around the world. It struck me as odd that the police files held in the Swedish police station regarding the death of Cliff are ‘missing’. I certainly hope that some jerk does not end up putting them on E-bay or some such other horrible decision to profit from his celebrity and untimely demise.

Chapter 14 wraps it all up with a brief overview of what happened to Metallica. Covering almost 25 years in 25 pages is almost an impossible task but McIver summarizes the post-Burtons years concisely and with clarity. In his introduction McIver states that with this book he is …laying his own tribute on the Burton altar.’ He succeeds admirably.

Track Listing:

Technical Details:
Format Reviewed:
Publisher: Jawbone Press
Pages: 272