Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Sung Heroes: Cliff Burton

The last time I posted one of these it was to prop up a bass player from a great ‘80s rock band. And now it’s time to prop up another bass player from an ‘80s metal band—perhaps THE ‘80s metal band: Metallica. Now I know that James, Lars, and Kirk have pretty much rubbed their asses all over the name Metallica in almost every record since the Black Album, and though I don’t give a fig about the Black Album, and never, ever want to hear “Enter Sandman” again, I will admit that it was maybe the last time Metallica made anything worthwhile. I’m not a huge …And Justice for All fan either, though there are some quality moments on the otherwise bloated double record. Really, the only material with Newstead on it that I endorse is the killer Garage Days Re-Revisited ep, which still ranks as my favorite Metallica record. And none of it is original material!

So this last week I have been playing Master of Puppets repeatedly. Why? It was the soundtrack to much of my high school years and the opening acoustic strumming of “Battery” was how I began many a day at St. Lawrence (someone in the cafeteria or in the parking lot was always playing it on their shitty boom box). Listening to it 20 plus years after it was made, the thing still sounds pretty fresh and a whole lot better than the pro-tools, Bob Rock produced crap the band shat out in the '90s. The songs are better, the playing is faster, tighter, and the whole thing just sounds awesome. I credit a lot of this to the man on the 4-string: Cliff Burton.

In the unintentionally hilarious documentary, Some Kind of Monster, the fragments of Metallica audition their latest bass player, Rob Trujillo, and, of course, comparisons to Burton arise. I dare say it was inevitable. Burton was a unique player. He never used a pick, loved the wah-wah pedal, and played chromatic leads that threatened to shove the actual lead guitarist aside. And he was tall, long-haired, dirty looking, fond of denim jackets, had a Misfits tattoo, and, well, looked like a dirt-head. That is how I like my Metallica: looking like a bunch of dirt-heads. Not in suits, not drinking martinis, not shelling out absurd amounts of money to goofy therapists in ugly sweaters, not suing Napster. Oh they grew up, I know, and that’s fine by me, but I tuned out by the time they dubbed thee unforgiven. It just wasn’t the same anymore. Or maybe I grew up? No, that’s can’t be, because I still think “Leper Messiah” is the shit and get all excited when singing along to “stinking drunk with power!”

I once said, very unfeelingly, that the three members of Metallica who survived the bus accident actually conspired to murder Cliff Burton. Burton knew they would stop making interesting, fast, crazed metal and go on to make mainstream shitty imitations, netting them cash and losing them cred. So they pushed him out the window, as he was the one holding them back while, ironically, aiding in their best material. Obviously this is nonsense, but it seems a bit coincidental that the band’s output began drifting toward suckville after Burton’s early demise. I can’t help but wonder what Burton would be up to now. Would he too be clean and sober? Would he have cut his long hair and stuck with the band even as they made, ugh, “Unforgiven Too”? Maybe it’s best he went out when he did.

Well, there’s so much I could say about his playing, but I’ll let that speak for itself. Dust off Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets, or better yet, peep this video and watch Burton shred on that bass. Case closed.