During a recent appearance on Icons, METALLICA guitarist Kirk Hammett reflects on the band’s final show with Cliff Buron before the bassist’s death in a bus crash on September 27, 1986.
“The last show that we played with Cliff was a spectacular show because it was the first show after maybe six or seven weeks that James [Hetfield] was finally back on guitar,” Kirk said. “He [James] had broken his arm during the Ozzy tour and his arm had healed enough so that he was actually able to play guitar. And it was the first show where we had James back, and it was the night that Cliff died.
“So everyone — Cliff, James, Lars [Ulrich], and myself we were just so happy that James is back, and to have changed his guitar, fueling everything again, rather than me and John Marshall sharing that duty. We played really, really well and it felt that we were back a hundred percent. Everyone was so inspired, and we played that show so well because we had not played like that in four or six weeks, or whatever.
“So yeah, that last show was one of the best shows we had played all year,” he continued. “And in retrospect, I’m glad that Cliff‘s last show was special in that regard. It really was in all respects one of the best shows we had played, and Cliff was very, very happy, knowing that this is just a good thing.
“Cliff and I used to share a room together, so we were super-close, we were like brothers, so we’d hang out, and like hang out — arms around each other. But literally, like 10 minutes later, we could be arguing and wrestling on the ground. That’s the kind of relationship we had — totally, 100% honest, emotions just out there all the time.
“Cliff would say this so much, he would say, ‘There’s power in the truth, there’s power in the truth, there’s power in the truth. You have to be honest all the time. You have problems with me, I want you to tell me,’ blah, blah, blah. And I would tell him, he would tell me, and then he’d suggest ridiculous things like, ‘OK, let’s wrestle, or fisticuffs, or the drinking contest, or you got to show me this lick, or whatever…’
“But there were two weeks [after Cliff‘s death] where it was just like a yo-yo, but Jan Burton, Cliff‘s mom, was there, and she was around us a lot, as was [Cliff‘s dad] Ray Burton. And they kept on insisting, insisting, insisting that we go on. And we’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah…’
“But it didn’t really, truly sink in until maybe about three weeks or so, and we were just kind of like looking at each other going, ‘Well, what’s going to happen now?… We have to keep going, we have to continue. Cliff would have wanted us to continue.’ And as a tribute to Cliff‘s memory, it was important for us to go on. And so those first two weeks it was up and down, we had no idea what was going on.
“I was, ‘What am I gonna do?’ I was thinking — guitar lessons, the old standby for musicians who can’t find any gigs or a band, you get guitar lessons. The old standby, that’s what I was actually thinking. But it was the insistence of Ray and Jan Burton that I think really just pushed us into the decision to keep on going. And then, when Jason [Newsted] came into the band, it was only like four or five weeks after the accident. I mean, we were still grieving.
“And we were all pretty young too, we’re in our mid-20s, and we didn’t really have — or at least I didn’t have — a lot of experience with grieving, and knowing how to deal with that, and knowing how to heal, and how to move on,” Kirk added.
“I hate to say it but Jason became the scapegoat for all those feelings that we just did not know how to process. And to this day I regret behaving like that and then taking that attitude but you didn’t really know better.
“As far as the grieving period is concerned, I think we’re all still kind of grieving ’cause I get emotional when I think about Cliff, and when we’re together I think about Cliff a lot. I know James and I get really, really emotional. I would say for me, there’s still some grief after all these years. After all these years I can still feel that pain.”