Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir
Dave Mustaine with Joe Layden, HarperCollins, 2010
Everyone is familiar with both the brilliant music created by Dave Mustaine as a member of Megadeth and Metallica, and the seemingly never-ending controversies that he engenders. Mustaine is an extremely personal and insightful autobiography that doesn’t shy away from any topic, be it long-term drug and alcohol abuse, marital problems, band personnel changes, or the long-simmering feud with Metallica. Mustaine is well-known for his pointed opinions and that continues here, so what you get is an honest, sometimes raw, self-portrait of one of the most important metal musicians.
The book begins with Mustaine recounting the pinched nerve injury that nearly ended his career during a stint in rehab that ultimately led to him finding God. This internal reflection leads into him telling the early story of his childhood and events that shaped him. He grew up apart from his alcoholic father, living a nomadic-type existence as his family sought to escape him. This was a tough life that’s hard to imagine, and it’s inspiring to hear about how music provided a release from these hardships. This early lifestyle of music and drugs also was nearly his downfall. It’s hard not to feel some shred of sympathy at having grown up this way, and it puts Dave’s volatile personality in context.
A good deal of time is spent recounting his early friendship with Lars Ulrich, the earliest days of Metallica, and the events that led to his unceremonious departure. I imagine that there are parts of this history that some will disagree with, but remember that this is Mustain’s autobiography and he’s telling it the way he saw events transpire. By his account, this time (as well as much of Megadeth’s history) was fueled by massive amounts of alcohol and drug abuse by all parties, so everyone’s version of events will differ.
The underside of Megadeth’s history has been publicized in the press far less, and this is the part of the book that is most fascinating. What emerges is the tale of an individual that is so driven, so focused to succeed, that not even the most trying of personal and professional circumstances can hold him back. For as high of a profile as Megadeth has had since its early days, it astounded me to learn that many bands members were invited to join simply because they were in the right place at the right time. For instance, Chuck Beehler and Nick Menza were Megadeth drum technicians who happened to be available to step in at a moment’s notice. I also enjoyed Dave’s explanation for how Megadeth’s sound changed with the release of Cryptic Writings. He doesn’t offer any excuses or apologies, and he’s very forthright with the band’s goals at the time.
Throughout all this, Mustaine describes the toll that his career has had on his marriage, his kids, and his recurring struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. Near the end of the book, he is very clear about how finding God saved him, his marriage, and the band. Metal fans scoff at this, but once again, Mustaine isn’t afraid to speak his mind about this without sounding like a Bible-thumper. He also spends some time explaining his decision to not attend Metallica’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the resolution of his disputes with Metallica.
Minnesota is mentioned a couple times during Megadeth’s history. Bassist David Ellefson is from rural Minnesota, so when describing how he met Ellefson, Mustaine muses that “for some reason, I guess there was a small but thriving metal scene in the Upper Midwest.” Yes, California and New York weren’t the only places that had metal scenes! Ellefson had left Minnesota with guitarist Greg Handevidt, who also joined the first version of Megadeth. Mustaine notes that Handevidt remained friends with the band even after he left, eventually returning to Minnesota to form thrash band Kublai Khan. One early show in Minnesota (presumably Minneapolis or St. Paul) in the mid-80s is mentioned where Mustaine “had beaten up a fan in Minnesota after he rushed the stage.” Mustaine freely acknowledges poor stage behavior in the past, and this brought to mind an old Megadeth concert review from Minnesota. The following account of a Megadeth show in the Twin Cities published in 1987 was given by the late Earl Root in Jake Wisely’s Sheet Metal fanzine #1 (the exact date and place of the show isn’t noted):
"…the kids really dug Dave Mustaine’s drunken obnoxiousness, and when he got overly lippy, or just down right rude in a not-so-cool way, the kids grooved on it more. They completely overlooked his sloppy playing and poor guitar sound (which was almost nonexistent). Some guy said shit to him about being an asshole or something and Dave retaliated with quote: 'Just because your Mom gargles with my cum doesn’t mean you can call me asshole on my stage. Come on up here you skinhead creepy faggot and I’ll personally kick your ass.' There was more bickering and then a couple of goons with Mega-badges hauled him outside while Dave just sat there and smirked. This whole five minute ordeal was more entertaining than their whole fucking show. (My sentiments exactly, even though I left early –Ed.)"
Mustaine is a fascinating read from front to back, and only extreme fatigue kept me from absorbing this is one sitting. The editor missed a few minor errors in the e-book edition I have, such as misspelling producer Dave Jerden’s name and having a picture or two labeled with the wrong caption. It should be apparent that Mustaine is a must-read for any metal fan. Even if you aren’t a big fan of Megadeth or Metallica, this is a compelling life story about success, failures, addictions, and musical history that anyone will appreciate. It’s a rare, honest, personal account by one of metal’s greatest individuals.