“Hello, me—meet the real me, and my misfit’s way of life,” sang Megadeth front man Dave Mustaine (on “Sweating Bullets,” from 1992’s Countdown to Extinction).
Perhaps no Megadeth lyric summarizes Mustaine’s life story more. After all, the singer with the sinister snarl spent most of his thirty-five years in the music business living angrily in the shadow of Metallica, poisoning himself with drugs to numb his inner anguish.
Although he earned eight Grammy nominations and six platinum album certifications with his own thrash group, Mustaine’s accomplishments were always eclipsed by the successes of his former band. At least in his mind. Issued in 1990, Rust in Peace was a landmark recording in the genre—but Metallica’s eponymous black album bulldozed the masterwork from headlines less than a year later, much to Mustaine’s chagrin.
It’s a phenomenon that followed him ever since his “Alcoholica” cohorts unceremoniously served his walking papers in 1983. But the guitar shredder with the leonine mane, menacing sneer, and cartoonish (but undeniably distinct) voice has learned to get past it. In his autobiography, Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir, he jokes that he wouldn’t mind having Megadeth classic “A Tout Le Monde” played at his funeral—but his mourners will probably find a Metallica disc already queued in the CD player.
Now available in paperback for less than ten bucks, Mustaine (Harper Collins / IT Books, 400 pages), the Megadeth memoirs is an intimate journey into the heart and mind of the man widely regarded as the founding father of modern thrash. Mustaine’s been vilified by his peers, has estranged managers and record labels, and worked his way through a revolving door lineup of co-guitarists and drummers since releasing Killing Is My Business…and Business is Good! almost thirty years ago. He’s known as much for his acerbic wit and quick temper as his sturdy guitar prowess. And he only invited further criticism by embracing alcohol and drugs as his fortunes multiplied.
Remarkably—or perhaps not—Mustaine owns his bad behavior in this pseudo-autobiography. The once-untamed thrasher converted to Christianity after a hand injury nearly ruined his career. But Mustaine reassembled the broken puzzle pieces of both his personal and professional lives to emerge a stronger, decidedly more likeable (admirable, even) person.
“What have I got to lose?” he writes of his spiritual epiphany, occurring during the last of seventeen stints in rehab.
Written with New York Times bestselling author Joe Layden (There and Back Again, The Rock Says…), Mustaine ventures all the way back to the guitarist’s tumultuous, transient childhood in La Mesa, California, where he was subject to religious oppression and bullying. Dave and his sisters were raised primarily by their maid / caterer mother, whose income was supplemented by food stamps after her alcoholic husband flew the coup. A talented little league hitter, Mustaine dealt with his abandonment issues by working a paper route and noodling on a cheap acoustic guitar he’d received after graduating elementary school. He recalls learning “Panic in Detroit” by David Bowie and “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople on guitar—but it was Ace Frehley of KISS who got Mustaine hooked on the six string.
Mustaine acknowledges his juvenile delinquency, humorously detailing his first misadventures with drugs and alcohol (he fashioned a marijuana bong out of a Pringles can). By age fifteen, he was an emancipated minor dealing drugs to support himself. He took S’horin-rye karate lessons and formed his first group—Panic—while living with his sister and her bullheaded husband in Idaho. Baptized Lutheran, Mustaine was nevertheless held to the rigid standards of his Jehovah’s Witness aunts and uncles, who often beat him for violating obscure rules. He responded by dallying in black magic—a hobby his older sister favored at the time. Mustaine wouldn’t realize the profound impact of this religious turmoil until much later in life.
Many of the stories recounted in Mustaine will come as familiar to Megadeth and Metallica fans. Dave vividly remembers calling drummer Lars Ulrich in response to an ad placed in Recycler magazine. A mutual interest in obscure Welsh metal band Budgie cemented their friendship (although Mustaine was suspect of the diminutive drummer’s stash of Danish porn). Before too long, Mustaine was ripping furious leads alongside James Hetfield on the now-legendary Metal Massacre compilation and No Life Till Leather demo. The ejection of bassist Ron McGovney allowed for Trauma’s Cliff Burton to assume four-string duties in the nascent Metallica—and for the guys’ relocation to San Francisco. Mustaine loved the camaraderie of living and playing with his on-again-off-again friends. Conversely, his distaste over the handling of his abrupt termination from the group is transparent. Dave accepts responsibility for his unpredictable, pugnacious behavior early on—but still can’t understand why he wasn’t given a second chance when his peers were fueled by alcohol as much as he.
Mustaine was inspired on the long bus ride home after reading a political tract warning of nuclear proliferation and its concomitant “megadeath.” A friend would later suggest the term be employed not only as a song topic, but as a band name. Under this moniker, Mustaine would assemble his own conclave of musicians—whose goal became to be out-metal than their rivals in Metallica. Adding to the guitarist’s vitriol was the fact that Metallica’s first full-lengther, Kill ‘em All, featured four or five songs he’d written (including “Jump in the Fire,” “Metal Militia,” and “Phantom Lord”).
It took some time (and several auditions) for Mustaine to settle on a lineup for his new project—which would exhaust several drummers and guitarists over the course of a dozen albums (only Mustaine’s visits to drug rehabs like La Hacienda and Steps number more than Megadeth alumni). But Dave walks readers through each lineup, noting the importance of cohort David “Junior” Ellefson (bass) along the way. He concedes that image was very important at the time, and that prospective players had to dress the part; guitarist Jeff Young was given a rock and roll wardrobe makeover and endured an overhaul of his preppy clothing and hairstyle.
The infidelities and moral indiscretions of life in studio and on the road are enumerated, with Mustaine’s drug habit (cocaine and heroin) and near-paranoid control fetish worsening along the way, adulterating his relationships and souring his outlook in general. Arguments—even fistfights—with guitarist Chris Poland and drummers Gar Samuelson and Nick Menza occurred with regularity (and, looking back, with hilarity); you’ll never look at A-1 steak sauce the same way again. Those looking for note-by-note tours through the writing and recording of every album since Killing Is My Business…. won’t have their craving for technical details sated. Mustaine does, however, provide some background for each album and elaborates on his frame of mind (and physical condition) during each. To that end, we discover just how drug and booze-addled Dave was (or wasn’t) for Youthanasia, Risk, and other discs—and how he wore a Freddie Krueger-like gauntlet on his left (fretting) hand to strengthen his fingers following a grievous nerve injury in 2001.
The epilogue finds a repentant Mustaine finally at peace with himself, looking after the Megadeth catalog without forsaking his family. He’s clean, sober, and Christian—but still jamming furiously with James Lomenzo (bass) and brothers Shawn (drums) and Glen Drover (guitar).
However, the paperback also includes a new chapter—Epilogue, Part II: The Aftermath—during which Mustaine summarizes the events of the past twelve months since the book’s original publication. For those who’ve had their heads buried in the sand during that time, Megadeth dropped Endgame (featuring the hit “Headcrusher”), and embarked on a mini-tour featuring heavy metal’s “Big Four:” Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax. Coming off a success road trip with Slayer (Canadian Carnage Tour), Mustaine enjoyed a string of unprecedented shows, which allowed for a therapeutic mending of old wounds with former rivals Kerry King (Slayer), James Hetfield, and Lars Ulrich (Metallica). The show in Bulgaria was recorded for release on DVD—but the stop in Warsaw also stuck out for Mustaine, whose long-coming reconciliation with his ex-Metallica mates was achieved. Bassist Robert Trujillo welcomed Mustaine with a hug, and Hetfield and Ulrich even asked Dave about the new book, a copy of which they spotted on a table while hanging backstage.
“So, you gonna sign one of these for me?” asked Hetfield.
Prodigal son Dave Ellefson has also returned, and guitarist Chris Broderick has since taken over for the younger Drover. Yet another CD is forthcoming—the aptly-titled Thirteen—whose production commenced too late to be divulged in the updated text.
Several black and white images are sprinkled liberally throughout the chapters. The book also includes an insert gallery of glossies taken throughout Mustaine’s life and career. Here we see the head-banging guitar hero as a tot, grade school student, rebellious teen, happy husband, and doting father. Mustaine is easy to digest, and while Rattleheads probably knew some of this stuff already (like the concept behind “Vic,” the band’s hear no evil / see no evil / speak no evil mascot), you’ll be privy to minutia you didn’t (like the real meaning behind “A Tout Le Monde,” the inception of the MD45 side project, or why Megadeth received no royalties from MTV for use of Ellefson’s “Peace Sells” bass line). Most importantly, it’s an engaging first-person account of the reformation of one of rock’s most ambitious (and reckless) bad boys that doesn’t smooth over the pock marks or sidestep any turds. Mustaine’s biggest critic is himself; he realizes when he’s let down his followers (getting a little too commercial with Cyptic Writings and Risk) and his family (missing too many of son Justus’ birthdays, etc.). Moreover, he writes with awareness that his embrace of religion, A.A. and all things holistic may seem hypocritical given his former hell-bent for leather lifestyle. It’s precisely this willingness to take responsibility in prose that renders the book such a refreshing read. While the quote on the book jacket by the Washington Post may border on hyperbole (“Entirely awesome”), it’s not inaccurate, either. The book is an interesting glimpse at the “real me” behind Dave Mustaine.