I bought my first Megadeth album (“Killing is my business … and business is good!”) shortly after it was released, somewhere in the middle 1980s. While I can’t remember exactly why, I imagine I bought it because – like everyone who was a Metallica fan and read metal magazines back then – I knew Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine had been an early member of Metallica before getting booted in favor of Kirk Hammett.
I don’t own “Killing is my business” anymore, but I must have liked it, because I bought the band’s next two albums (the epic “Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying” and the uneven “So Far, So Good, So What?”). I skipped “Rust In Peace,” but I bought copies of the classic “Countdown to Extinction” and underrated “Cryptic Writings.” Since then, I’ve skipped everything but “Endgame,” which is without a doubt a very solid, well-played, shredding album. I’d even say “Endgame” was one of the best albums of 2009.
I still like Metallica better, though. Sue me.
So, being a fan with a familiarity with much of Dave Mustaine’s work, I was intrigued when I ran across Dave’s biography, aptly titled “Mustaine,” at the local library. Not knowing much of the band’s history, I was curious about the early days of Megadeth and how Mustaine had written classic albums like “Peace Sells …But Who’s Buying?” and “Countdown.”
Mustaine (along with co-writer Joe Layden) gives you some of that in “Mustaine.” But what he mostly does is chronicle the years/decades of drug addition suffered by him and his various band mates.
Now, decadence and depravity have been rock bio staples since Stephen Davis set the standard with the Led Zepplin bio “Hammer of the Gods.” Since then, every rock biographer has been trying to outdo Davis’ tales of smashed TVs, trashed hotel rooms, drug-addled mayhem and over-the-top sexuality. So when Mustaine writes of drugs ingested, tour pranks played and groupies plowed, well, it’s expected.
But what’s surprising about “Mustaine” is how honest the man is about the demons that sent him to rehab 17 times. Drunk, stoned and stupid may have sounded fun to a point in “Hammer of the Gods,” but Mustaine’s trip, as he describes it, is hardly glamorous. Instead, Mustaine describes himself and ex-bandmates Chris Poland, Gar Samuelson, Nick Menza and others as often too smashed to care about much of anything except the next fix. As a cautionary tale, “Mustaine” succeeds, because it’s hard to read his tales of cocaine and heroin addition and feel like it was fun. Mustaine’s descriptions make them sound more like living death.
Again, that’s great as a cautionary tale … but it’s not much gawddamm fun to read. Indeed, the litany of coke and smack-laden woe becomes difficult to take at points. Periodically, I felt myself wanting to reach into the book, grab Mustaine by his red locks and yell, “what do you mean you relapsed again? Get off the damn junk, already, idiot!”
Of course, Mustaine does recover when he finds Christianity … which is nice for him. Thankfully, Mustaine doesn’t spend the entire book trying to covert the reader to his beliefs. If I wanted evangelism, I’d go read the book by that guy who used to be in Korn.
Mustaine is honest about the dark side of his addictions, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he was being exactly truthful in his depictions of others, such as the members of Metallica. To hear Mustaine tell it, Lars Ulrich was a plotting little Caesar from the day he met the 17 year-old Ulrich at Ulrich’s parents’ house. James Hetfield doesn’t come across as any better; Mustaine describes him as a cowardly figure, letting Mustaine bail him out of fights while he’s stealing Mustaine’s music. Kirk Hammett, surprisingly, is hardly mentioned, except for a story about Mustaine bedding Hammett’s girlfriend sometime before Mustaine was booted from Metallica.
Lars looms large at times throughout the book, always as the boogeyman – ambushing Mustaine with cameras during an interview that ended up in the documentary “Some Kind of Monster,” criticizing Mustaine’s work with Megadeth, not letting Mustaine be on stage when Metallica entered the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, etc. Mustaine still holds a grudge.
The most Mustaine will say about his actions prior to being fired from Metallica is, essentially, “I was a mean drunk and Lars and James weren’t.” While Mustaine deserves credit for at least admitting that he was part of the problem, he comes back again and again in the book to how victimized he was when Metallica (mostly Lars, Mustaine writes) fired him. The hurt feelings, from a guy who has sold millions of albums with Megadeth, gets a bit old … and when Mustaine brings it up again during the book’s epilogue, you’ll want to roll your eyes.
(And, as an aside, Mustaine pretty much discounts anything Metallica created after he left the band and places all of the band’s success on the songs he wrote with them. Now, “The Mechanix” (aka “The Four Horsemen”) is a pretty good song … but is there anyone out there who thinks it compares to, say, “Blackened,” “Master of Puppets,” “Fade To Black,” “For Whom The Bell Tolls” or even “Nothing Else Matters”? For Mustaine to suggest Metallica would be nothing without him is a little disingenuous on Mustaine’s part. And somehow, I don’t think the fact that Megadeth and Metallica both used the “now I lay me down to sleep …” prayer in songs around the same time is evidence Metallica was still ripping Mustaine off … although, to be fair, Mustaine says he doesn’t know which song came first).
Would I recommend this book to you? Well, it’s exhausting, to be sure, and I found myself wanting to skip sections when Mustaine talked about relapsing into addiction again and again. And, if you’re a big fan of many past Megadeth members, you’ll be put off by how Mustaine describes his bandmates (greedy, drug-addled, unreliable, juvenile, bickering, etc.) . I read every word, but I find I’m not much better informed about Megadeth the musical unit. As far as Megadeth the drugged-out self-destruction machine, I now feel like I’m an expert.
Recommendation: For super-duper, hardcore, Megadeth fans only.
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