Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: Mustaine, A Heavy Metal Memoir

No matter what you may or may not think of Dave Mustaine, one thing’s for sure he’s one highly unique and viciously talented individual with a (tortured) mind all his own. You don’t have to get very far into the recently released and highly anticipated ‘Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir’ to realize he’s always marched to the beat of a different drum. Sure that drum has done little to drown out the multiple voices and personalities, but it’s made for some incredible music and experiences over the last thirty years.

From day one, nothing was ever going to be easy for David Scott Mustaine. We’re talking from day-fucking-one. Is he alone? No, not at all. There are hundreds of thousands of adolescents with less than stellar upbringings that don’t even come close to achieving what Mustaine has in his lifetime and you have to wonder, is that always such a bad thing?

Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir’ begins in La Mesa, California in 1961 and takes you on a journey of what it was like for Dave as a child and how his initial upbringing as well as those who played roles both in, as well as out of his life shaped his future. Most of it is (nowadays) somewhat typical, single parent and relatives assisting and bonds formed and subsequently broken as time goes on. This is worth noting as one of the reoccurring themes throughout the book is “so and so once was important to me at this juncture, however we’ve since drifted apart.” But the birth to early teen years for Mustaine were exercises in physical, mental as well spiritual stability that didn’t always work out to his advantage. But as we all know and didn’t need a book to tell us, he’s a survivor, he obviously made it through. 

Mid to late teens Dave Mustaine is all about the “big four,” smoking weed, listening to music, getting laid, and playing guitar. Woven in between these passions was trying to get a band together and more importantly, his idea of what a band should be. A key thing for him in every band or even jam session was the chemistry between members. He makes mention of it countless times and it’s a glimpse of his later headspace. These are some very interesting times chronicled as his developing attitude and ideals starting to flower at this time will later be responsible for his biggest dream as well as his worst nightmare combining into one huge reality. 

Obviously Dave hooking up with Lars Ulrich via an ad in the Recycler is the beginning of a few (of several) really epic chapters. Mustaine takes us through his initial phone call as well as meet up with Lars in the latter’s parent’s Newport Beach, CA. condo. Things move quickly from there but things also start to (very slowly) disintegrate as well. Once in Metallica there are the infamous James Hetfield/Dave Mustaine brawls, the Ron McGovney-ism’s, and just the basic human differences between the guys told from Mustaine’s POV. The pursuit and landing of Cliff Burton and the bond him and Dave shared, really revealing stuff and things I don’t think I’ve ever really read before. Where I mentioned Dave’s ideals, well Lars Ulrich also had his opinions of things like what a band should look like, what a band should sound like etc. So early clashes were bound to happen and they did but one thing’s for sure, and history has proven it, it definitely wasn’t musical differences that landed Dave Mustaine in the Greyhound Station in 1983.

So to back it up a bit, the chapters dealing with the embryonic stages of Metallica up until the fateful New York/New Jersey trip are extremely insightful and very cool to read a different viewpoint. Dave comes across as both extremely honest as well as extremely bitter when it comes to this era in his life, but like I said hearing another side of the oft-told story is definitely an eye opener. Dave fully admits he no idea of what was happening with Metallica when it came to the business of the band. In fact he said one day he woke up to the sound of a U-Haul being backed up to the Metallica Mansion, the same U-Haul that was going to get the band to NY to record ‘Kill Em All,’ yet he had no idea. He also comes clean in saying that is why he became such a control freak when it came to his own band just a few short years later. When he does end up at the bus terminal the images he paints with his words are just grim.

The chapters focusing on the formation of Megadeth are just brilliant! Dave had specific mental blue prints to what a Heavy Metal, no make that, HIS Heavy Metal band should sound like, look like and act like and it was his way or the highway. Reading about the union of Mustaine and David Ellefson at such a critical time in his life reaffirms Mustaine’s quest for the proper band chemistry and what he was looking for since his pre-Metallica days in Panic. He talks a bit about the Kerry King period of Megadeth and how members Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson complete this early vision but in “Junior” he found his partner-in-crime, his co-conspirator, his musical foundation and it was all up from there. 

Well, sort of. The trials and tribulations of Dave Mustaine and his main vehicle of inspiration, Megadeth saw more highs and lows (emphasis on the highs) than just about any other band in history. The lifestyle the band led in its early days definitely made some for some good reading, but the constant struggles, fights, turnover’s, mis-communication and eventual fall-outs seemed to be never ending. What’s amazing is the music created during these tumultuous times still sounds fresh and as current as anything being released today. 

Unbelievably as the years and albums progress, so does the band’s abuse of alcohol and drugs. Mustaine admits to some seventeen stints in rehab and not for a minute does it seem like he’s bullshitting. In fact, as mentioned earlier, he comes across as pretty honest. Some of the honesty actually shocked me as it seems to come from a very sincere place. His handling of the many changes in Mega-personnel as well as the many managers and managerial candidates is definitely enlightening to read here. Gaining access to Dave’s descriptions of the many people who have walked the Megadeth path? These are hilarious, honest, and at times absurd. The fine line he walks between bitterness and fact can sometimes blur quite a bit. He can be harsh as all hell and then turn on a dime to be complimentary. 

As the book evolves throughout the years, it’s interesting to read the way Dave revisits these times and the music created in them. The Howard Stern appearance is just a bizarre moment as are a lot of outside pressures taking some of the blame for lackluster albums and the story behind some of the individual tracks can be give and take affairs. As more time progresses the changes in Dave the person also come through loud and clear. For all the writing he does as Dave the CEO/CFO of Megadeth, Inc. I find the best writing here is from Dave Mustaine the Father. Now Mustaine has probably made 100,000 mistakes in his lifetime, but his words concerning his children and the struggles that face every parent are pretty potent. It’s during these pages you do almost feel for the guy but he’s made it very hard to be sympathetic towards him. 

The story of Dave and Megadeth is definitely one of interest. Exactly how much of it is 100% true? That’s hard to say. The bitterness of the Metallica situation has haunted the guy for so long it’s almost impossible to think it will ever subside. Dave’s spiritual awakening seems to have done wonders for certain things in his life yet does not appear to be strong enough to cure them all. The chip on his shoulder, the one he’s been hauling around for some twenty-seven + years never appears to get lighter, either. It’s a shame the book didn’t get a chance to cover both the return of “Junior” as well as the biggest event of his life. No, the book covered the birth of his children and his marriage, what I’m talking about the moment he’d been waiting for since April of 1983. That was hopefully the closure of the past that will guide him chip free into the future? Or will it? 

In closing, I enjoyed this book. I think it’s a historic piece of Metal history that needed and deserved to be told. There’s some great, and I mean GREAT photography in here that perfectly compliments the story being told. I also think the book should come packaged with more than a grain of salt as some of the stuff is just too out there to be true. I’m not talking about the drug abuse or certain numbers here and there. I’m talking about the way Dave takes multiple pot shots at people who either cannot defend themselves because they’re no longer with us or those who need not bother with it. Some times it’s just eye rolling material, others it’s pointless drivel. That withstanding Dave has accomplished quite a bit here, go forth and read!