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The Cliff Burton Museum has officially opened – and we were there to see it

Cliff Burton and the Cliff Burton Museum
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Icon and Image/Getty Images / Tom Johansson, Aelfredo LeRoux)

You couldn’t pick a less likely spot to celebrate a fallen thrash metal icon than Laganland, a gathering of buildings by a remote country road in rural Sweden. Drive right in, though, and you’ll see a hotel, a petrol station, a hunting store, a moose reserve (really) and now the Cliff Burton Museum, dedicated to the Metallica bassist who lost his life in a nearby coach crash on September 27, 1986.

There’s quite a back story here. The memorial stone – installed nearby in 2006, 20 years after the accident – was the initiative of a group of Swedish fans called Cliff In Our Minds, primarily Mattias Ekberg, Tony Asplund, Erik Lysén and Johan Mörling, together with the owners of a nearby pub, Gyllene Rasten. The funds to create the stone were raised privately.

Sixteen years later, the Cliff Burton Museum has been created as a meeting-place for the fans who visit the memorial stone. The project initiated at the local tourism department – in Swedish, föreningen Bergabygdens Kultur och Turism – and primarily their associates Krister Ljungberg, Anna-Lena Ljungberg and Magnus Strömberg. Funding for the museum installation came from the Swedish National Heritage Board, which assisted the Museum with a grant of SEK 300,000 (around $30,000).

Krister Ljungberg tells us that the museum’s main purpose, as well as caring for and preserving the memorial stone, is to continue the work begun by the fans when they began raising funds for the stone. “The museum’s board has had a fantastic collaboration with members of Cliff In Our Minds, and also members of the Mextallica chapter, Aelfredo LeRoux and Terry Rodriguez,” he says, adding “The Burton family will also contribute items to the exhibition.”

The fact that these groups of devoted fans have pulled it off so successfully – with no assistance other than the moral support of Cliff’s family, who shared details of the museum launch at their social media – is miraculous.

In a speech that I gave at the event, I made a point of congratulating these fans on their hard work: there’s no equivalent monument to any other prematurely fallen musician that I can think of, whether to Marc Bolan, Randy Rhoads or any of hundreds of others.  

At the launch event today, the idea is to celebrate Cliff’s legacy and the final days of his life, spent not in his hometown of San Francisco but here, half a planet away. As his death in the coach crash has never really been explained – the driver claimed black ice was the cause, although this seems to have been unlikely – there’s never been closure for Burton fans, on this continent or elsewhere.

It’s still surreal that he died so young and so unnecessarily, and to be here today, knowing that we’re minutes away from the place where he died, is to experience a wave of mixed emotions. 

As the visitors, a trickle at first but a loud and enthusiastic crowd of hundreds by mid-afternoon, peruse the exhibits, some are deep in thought, others are tearful, and still others are in full metal mode, slamming beers and throwing the horns.

Cliff’s story, as told through documents, diaries, book excerpts, films and memorabilia collected by Scandinavian and Mexican fans, is totally compelling: it’s almost like he’s with us as we watch a tribute band, Metaholica, power through their set. 

Cliff Burton Museum in Laganland, Sweden.

Mexican fanclub president Aelfredo LeRoux donated this replica of Lars Ulrich’s 1986 drum kit to the Museum, and even flew it over for the event – presumably not as hand luggage. Kello Gonzalez brought along this 1979 Burgundyglo Rickenbacker 4001 bass, modded to Cliff’s specifications with three replacement pickups: a Gibson EB, a Seymour Duncan stacked Jazz, and a Duncan Stratocaster pickup under the bridge for extra top-end. (Image credit: Tom Johansson, Aelfredo LeRoux)

Cliff’s friend Frank Bello of Anthrax – who opened for Metallica on that final tour – dials in on Zoom to pay a heartfelt tribute to his fallen comrade, to the loud appreciation of the crowd.

We’re treated to a rendition of Cliff’s famous solo (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth by YouTube sensation Kello Gonzalez and LeRoux on drums, and as evening comes, visitors begin to drift away, evidently affected by what they’ve experienced.

We’re not done, though, and after paying our respects at the memorial stone, we transfer to Hotel Terraza in Ljungby – the same hotel where the shellshocked members of Metallica stayed after the crash. We watch Metaholica deliver another pulverising set, and there’s a lot of drinking... and also quite a few tears, as you might imagine. Cliff definitely would have appreciated it.

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Joel McIver is the Editor of Bass Player magazine. A journalist with 25 years' experience in the music field, he's also the author of 35 books, a couple of bestsellers among them. He regularly appears on podcasts, radio and TV and occasionally teaches at BIMM.