Susan’s Book Talk: To Live is to Die


Most of my readers know I consider myself to be a self-respecting metalhead. To that degree, I’ve seen author Joel McIver’s name around. I had yet to pick up one of his books — professional jealousy, don’tcha know — but when my friend Mary at BookHounds turned me on to To Live is To Die: The Life and Death of Metallica’s Cliff Burton, I knew it was time to stop being green with envy and take the plunge.
I got a copy from the good folk at Jawbone Press, and was off and reading.

The first thing that struck me was the energy in the narrative. That’s the best word for it: energy. There are other words that work well, too: enthusiasm, passion, depth of knowledge. McIver is more than a fan of this heavy metal world we both adore. It’s his life, and it shows.

And you ask why I’m jealous of the man?

If I have any complaint with the book, it’s that we really don’t get to know Cliff all that well. There are two reasons for this, of course: he was a very private person who didn’t let people in very easily (if at all) and, well, he’s a little hard to reach with in-depth questions. The guy is, after all, rather deceased.

Which truly sucks. I’m intrigued by Cliff Burton. By a guy who wore bell-bottoms when no one else would. By someone who had enough money to move out but stayed living in his parents’ small apartment. By a musical genius whose presence, all these years later, still hovers over the band he found success with.

I may not entirely agree with all of McIver’s statements about the twists and turns the Metallica musical catalog has taken since Cliff so rudely left the guys, but McIver makes me understand where he’s coming from. I can respect that, especially when it’s put forth with such enthusiasm and energy.

Best of all, McIver breaks down Cliff’s parts in each of the three albums of songs he contributed to. As a non-musician, at first I thought I wouldn’t care about all that gobbeldy-gook. More kudos need to head McIver’s way, however, because not only was it completely intelligible (and, to be fair, I did have a number of years of piano lessons and the high school drumline, so it wasn’t entirely a foreign language to me), but I found myself reaching for my iPod, pushing my headphones more securely into my ears, and listening hard for Cliff’s parts. Lo and behold, I could hear them. I got it in a way I never have before.

Needless to say, that led to a marathon of music listening, sometimes with the book open so I could follow along and sometimes (Yes, I’m going to admit this) on an exercise bike at the Hoity Toity Health Club. Hey, sometimes you do what you have to do and with the entire Metallica catalog on my iPod, how could I resist? Besides, people tend to leave you alone when you’re bicycling furiously, hands plastered to your ears and that distant look of concentration in your eyes.

While I’d been hoping for more details that would flesh out who Cliff really was, what I brought away To Live is to Die wasn’t so much about the man, himself, as opposed to the man’s music. And for someone who always focused more on the music than on the men (and women) who make it, that suits me just fine.

So I’m over my professional jealousy of Joel McIver. Mostly. Sort of.

Okay, I’m not even close to it. But I’ll certainly find a comfortable spot on his bandwagon and devour the rest of what he’s written.


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