Thrash Hits

May 1st, 2009

Behind The Hits 003: Joel McIver (again)

Thrash Hits has always been fond of an existential paradox (who isn’t?), so we asked the renowned author Joel McIver to interview himself about his two new books on Tool and Metallica’s late bassist Cliff Burton…

Joel McIver Thrash Hits Kerry King Mick Thompson Metal Heavy

So, Mr McIver. Weren’t you called “the world’s premiere heavy metal journalist” by an American magazine last year?

I was, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true, and I write about lots of other kinds of music too. Still, it looks good on the business card.

Why would they call you that? Was it because of that Metallica book you wrote in 2004 which has sold 40,000 copies in nine languages?

Stop it, you’re embarrassing me. Can we talk about my new stuff now?

If we have to.

Well, I have two books coming out this month. The first is a biography of Tool called Unleashed. Why is it called that? Well, the first person to email me with the right answer gets a signed copy. It covers the whole of their career, from the weird stuff they did back in the ’80s with their various early bands, via the first couple of alt-metal albums, all the way through to the current prog epics that they do in stadiums. It’s a crazy story. I’ve never written about a band as experimental as Tool, and some of the nutty nature of their music seeped into the writing. After one or two particularly heavy days of writing, it I felt like I’d taken acid.

Good… (looks at watch) and the other book?

The second one is completely different. It’s the first book about Cliff Burton, who as you no doubt know was Metallica’s bass player from 1983 to ’86, when he died in a coach crash in Sweden. For years I was mystified that no-one had done a book on him, but I later realised that most publishers, even those that specialise in music, tend not to understand how huge heavy metal has always been and how big Metallica’s fanbase is, let alone how much of a tragedy Cliff’s death was. Anyway, the pressure was on me to try and deliver a book that matched up to Cliff’s own standards: he was a no-nonsense kind of guy who never, ever compromised, and I wanted if possible to do him justice. The only way to do this in his permanent absence was to pull in as many people who knew him as possible.

joel mciver tool cliff burton books thrash hits cover

Yeah, like who?

This lot: Cliff’s bass teacher Steve Doherty; reporter and photographer Brian Lew; Harald Oimoen, the subject of ‘The Ballad Of Harald O’ by Spastik Children, in which Cliff played; that band’s frontman Fred Cotton; Exodus founder Gary Holt; the Metal Blade label founder Brian Slagel; photographer Ross Halfin; Cliff’s first guitar tech Chuck Martin; Metallica’s first fanclub manager KJ Doughton; producer Flemming Rasmussen; the last reporter to interview Cliff, Jorgen Holmstedt; John Marshall, who was in the bus crash which killed Burton; Lennart Wennberg, the photographer at the scene of the crash; Cliff’s girlfriend for the last year of his life, Corinne Lynn; and a bunch of other musos including Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse, Alex Skolnick of Testament and Dave Ellefson, ex of Megadeth.

What about Metallica? Bet they weren’t interested in your poxy book.

Actually Kirk Hammett wrote the foreword, so fuck you.

Blimey. How did that happen?

Ross Halfin rather kindly asked Kirk on my behalf and he said yes. I couldn’t believe it.

Did anybody decline to be interviewed?

Yes, but only two: Bill Gould and Jim Martin of Faith No More, for their own reasons. I totally understand: they were Cliff’s best friends and justifiably protective of his memory, especially as they don’t know me. I could be just some hack, for all they know.

You are just some hack. Did you speak to Cliff’s dad Ray?

No. I thought about it, but decided that it would be disrespectful to chase him down for an interview at his age, and after what he’s been through.

So where can people get these books?

Book shops, dumbass, and at Amazon. I’m at if people want to say hello or, as is more usually the case, leave abuse in the guestbook.

Well, bye then.

See ya.


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