I promised not to write so much about writing this year. But music books keep coming, and music books are all I got for Xmas. More than one post will be required to work through Santa’s grace.
First will be Dave Mustaine’s autobiography that’s now out in paperback. I was going to review it together with Enter Night about METALLICA, but I hate to put them in the same review, so I’ll buck tradition and do Dave first.
Mustaine might be where big Dave renders METALLICA into a mere footnote. I don’t see how any member of that corporation could write a book this good.
In truth, I didn’t know much about Mustaine beyond the hype, so I was interested in learning. Either Dave or his co-writer know how to put together a story; and either or both are equipped with hefty vocabularies.
Like the Cliff Burton emerging from To Live Is To Die, Mustaine is in a lot of ways the classic California confused misfit child of the 70’s. Smokes a lot of weed, spends time alone, and possesses talents that go largely unrecognized by his ex-hippy school teachers and that push him along an unconventional path. Mustaine essentially raised himself, so he looks to religion, “Satanism,” martial arts, surfing, riding his moped, playing guitar and dealing pot as ways to cope with the world. All of this was unremarkable in California at the turn of the 80’s. Those in charge were clueless, living in their own nostalgia while “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” played out in dozens of suburbs and hundreds of high schools. I wish the book went a little more on his playing and practicing guitar as a kid, but that’s ok.
The early METALLICA days are fascinating. Mustaine’s first meeting with Lars Ulrich (a couple guys getting together to smoke weed, listen to records and talk vaguely about the band they wanted to form – how many thousands of times did that play out in 80’s bedrooms?) is hilarious. Later, one wonders how someone as strong as Mustaine could have followed his band members to the Bay Area, and it’s clear why he needed to numb himself into oblivion. With his musical talent and penchant for anger, problems inevitably arise with the less musical but politically gifted Ulrich. (Meanwhile Hetfield grows like a fungus in the closet, kept out of the light and ignorant of his own powers of regeneration until it’s too late, and he takes over the planet.)
Mustaine’s story of getting kicked out of the band is enlightening. We all know what happened when METALLICA were in NY to record their first record, and violent Mustaine was sacked for gun shy Kirk Hammett. But Mustaine relates the days following the ouster, and if you’ve ever been in a Greyhound terminal in a major city, you know he is telling the truth. It’s shocking that a band of guys talented and sensitive enough to create such seminal music could somehow decide it was a good idea to put one of their own on a bus ride across the United States with no money. Only in rock n roll is that sort of self-centered lame-o-tude allowed.
As the book gets into MEGADETH, it’s surprising how ad hoc it all was. As a kid, you think that a big important guy like Dave Mustaine is meticulously picking and grooming members. In fact, one guy was a member until he admitted he needed to call his guitar teacher to master the solos, then his guitar teacher was a member later that day. Mustaine picks up drummers who used to be roadies for his current drummers. No wonder Megadeth’s had more members than Ginger Lynn.
The most amazing thing is that Mustaine was somehow able to play technically difficult, heavy music while apparently only caring about scoring smack and coke. In the early days, the pathetic MEGADETH touring M.O. was to roll into a new town, start asking where the hookers are, then start asking the hookers where the smack can be found, then score the smack. Oh ya, then go back and play jazz-inflected thrash metal flawlessly. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Later Mustaine cleans up and becomes a Christian. Obviously those are supposed to be the big life lessons of the book, but, you know what…the revelation of humility and the Christ child work for megalomaniacs like Mustaine, but for me because, well, it ain’t my bitch. Self-esteem flooding the dam isn’t my problem. I can recognize Mustaine’s important realizations, but I wouldn’t have the same ones if I was to somehow become a millionaire and could hire lots of outside help.
Here’s the thing though: In “Mustaine,” Dave Mustaine tries to be as honest as he can. I’m a firm believer that life basically boils down to the same set of issues for everyone, but somewhere along the way we diverge a bit on how we deal with them. To put it mildly, Mustaine and I don’t have the same strategies. Unless you happen to be in a platinum selling thrash band, you won’t have the same problems either. Yet the Mustaine that arises in these pages is a humble, flawed and open metal head. Note: Mustaine hasn’t cut his hair. He still plays a Flying V once in awhile. He still talks about whether someone is “metal.”
In short, this is a good read. And nobody from METALLICA will ever write a book this good.