Dave Mustaine: Superstar

The first thing I noticed during my conversation with Metallica founder and Megadeth front man Dave Mustaine is that it was impossible to tell whether or not he wanted to be on the phone with me. This made me appreciate him even more.

Dave Mustaine: Superstar
Dave Mustaine is a Warrior of Rock

In the eighties, I grew up with a brother 13 years older than me. In 1985, I was four and he was 17, complete with a dirtbag mustache and a 4-inch shock of bleached blonde hair that ran down the side of his mullet. He wore a Playboy bunny earring.

Point is, by the time I was four, I knew most of the lyrcis to Van Halen’s “1984” and was running around the house in my footy pajamas going berserk to “Led Zeppelin IV.” By the time I was 10, I was listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, and Megadeth, as I was already over Motley Crue and Poison. However, this was not a case for advancement, as I also equally liked Naughty by Nature, Salt-n-Pepa, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, and, of course, Onyx.

Anyway I’ve been listening to Megadeth for 19 years and had just finished Dave Mustaine’s self-titled best-selling memoir before I interviewed him. (He was doing press for “Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock,” a video game for which he composed a track “Sudden Death.”)

It could go both ways, I thought. He was either going to be the type of subject who has done so many interviews that he would perhaps be relatively easy to talk to and happy to expound upon his contributions to culture — like Michael Stipe or Dave Grohl. Or he could have been the type of interview subject who has done so many interviews that each one is treated with a “Why am I doing this?” vibe.

I still can’t figure it out.

I just wanted to preface the conversation by letting you know I grew up listening to Megadeth and am a huge fan.
Awesome, bro.

Megadeth has been around for four decades, you’ve been hugely influential, and you’re now an author. When you first started Megadeth, could you have imagined how everything would play out?
No. In my wildest dreams I probably wouldn’t have been able to come up with this. It would have been so far-fetched it would have been dreamlike.

Is it weird for people to be exposed to bands through video games, especially considering rock and roll’s visceral, counter-cultural roots?
I think that if somebody gets exposed to something that brings them happiness, it doesn’t really matter how they were exposed to it, as long as they find it. How often do people stumble across something that is really unique and fantastic in their life? Well, every day they do. But not often do they think back, Well, God, you know in the summer of ’73 when I was at a Dairy Queen and I heard Megadeth on the radio for the first time while getting a blow job — I probably shouldn’t have been vulgar with that explanation. But I don’t really care how people get exposed to us.

My first exposure to political satire was probably the “Rust in Peace” album cover art. In Megadeth, do the visuals come with the music, or does everything come piece by piece.
It does both. When Cliff Burton had died I’d written the song “My Darkest Hour” in one sitting. Other times, like on this last record, I was starting to experience writer’s block in some situations because I was trying to come up with some stuff — I knew that it was in there — but I couldn’t find it. But I found it now and we’re back on track. I’m pretty excited.

How prolific are you?
I’d like to think I was really good, but if you ask someone who really did it, they’d probably look at my skills and say, “He’s pretty terrible at that.” But I’m self taught, so no one should hold it against me that I can’t read music.

Your book has some jarring moments, even moreso against the backdrop of success. I mean this very simply: Did you have any fun in the eighties and nineties?
The drugs really made it complicated. There was so much internal stuff going on: No one was happy with our home lives. We all wanted to have people we could love and trust. During the eighties David [Ellefson, Megadeth bassist] and I had trouble finding a place to live. If the boys are homeless they probably weren’t having fun. We called the record label when we were on the road, and the guy said, “You should get day jobs.” We were like, What are you talking about? This is our profession.

The book — why now?
In case I get hit in the head by a meteor and I forget everything, I guess.

That’s a good answer.
Truthfully, I wanted to wait until it had a happy ending. I love the fans but I didn’t know how they would react to the book. I thought they could think, Well you’re being too honest, and we want you to be the mean guy that everybody hates. I don’t want to be that guy anymore. That wasn’t something that I chose, that was a survival skill I picked up as a 15-year-old kid living on my own. It took a while to shake it and as a 50-year-old man now, it just doesn’t work anymore.

“Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock” and “Mustaine” are available now.