photo & text by nacrowe
internal band dynamics are always a tricky thing. there are tons of examples of bands that from the outside looking in seem like a consolidated front made of co-equal partners yet such is far from the case. probably no modern METAL musician is more defined by this in the popular consciousness than former METALLICA guitarist and MEGADETH frontman DAVE MUSTAINE.
his memoir MUSTAINE (IT BOOKS, 2010) written with veteran scribe JOE LAYDEN is very much defined the the shifting internal dynamics of not one, but two iconic THRASH METAL bands and provides a much-needed counterpoint to the popular narrative of this influential yet highly CONTROVERSIAL musician. i'll admit right at the beginning that i am not the biggest fan of MUSTAINE. in interviews he always comes across as a condescending BRAGGART and an unrepentant EGOIST, and that was before his conversion to CHRISTIANITY and conservative politics. his voice and his attitude towards his peers has always been GRATING, but i will say that the dude is supremely gifted as a guitarist and a songwriter. it was no doubt his sense of abandon on his instrument and his reckless behavior that initially lifted METALLICA from obscurity and helped establish the nascent THRASH METAL scene in the 1980s. MUSTAINE as a historical figure is absolutely instrumental in the evolution of METAL music. period.
its interesting how much ink in this memoir is dedicated to the internal strifes of both bands. METALLICA was a band of alcoholics that discarded one of their members, MUSTAINE, in essence for being a mean drunk. that is popular story, but its interesting that MUSTAINE points to his substantial songwriting credits during his period with the band to suggest that it may have been more about artistic control. in essence METALLICA had three main songwriters in JAMES HETFIELD, LARS ULRICH and MUSTAINE. one theme that is carried throughout this memoir is MUSTAINE's sense of being an underdog, which is rooted in his growing up very POOR, without a father figure and with a mother whose identity got taken over by the JEHOVAH's WITNESS community. HETFIELD had similar circumstances with his deadbeat father and a mother that passed on after being taken advantage of by the beliefs of her CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST community. he is portrayed as being psychologically WEAK, UNASSERTIVE and essentially a patsy to ULRICH, who in turn is portrayed as privileged, wealthy son of a bohemian DANISH TENNIS professional. ULRICH is effectively presented as being a duplicitous MACHIAVELLIAN figure (which is probably pretty accurate). METALLICA was very much a surrogate family for MUSTAINE and his dismissal echoed the rejection of his father towards his family. no doubt it was a traumatic effect and was a primal event in his career and personal relationship trajectory thereafter.
but what i found more interesting was his reaction to this dismissal, fair or not. he created a new family in MEGADETH of which he was the sole leader, whose only other longtime member (absent two breaks of which we are now living in the second) is DAVID ELLEFSON whom he deems as dismissively as "junior." the rest of the band throughout is made of a revolving cast of opportunists, scabs, legends and METAL lifers. what struck me in particular is how MUSTAINE never questions his own motives, paving over bad decisions during his many drug-addled years as MISGUIDED or MISINFORMED but not ill-intentioned. he comes across as incredibly naive and largely absent-minded or uninterested in the financial and emotional needs of his bandmates. throughout the memoir he is his absentee father. he wants the leadership and the acclaim but none of the responsibility that comes with it. its interesting that he, more than any other METAL figure, should have been aware of the trauma that comes with bad leadership in a band setting. yet he just kept the cycle going.
the biggest bummer is the whole born again CHRISTIAN nonsense at the conclusion of the book in which he considers whether it is ethical or not to play with "satanic" bands. that is just so beyond LAME. he is an artistic leader who can tour with whomever he wants, but it just feels antithetical to ROCK N ROLL in some basic core manner. it also presumes his own purity as a CHRISTIAN which is beyond DISAPPOINTING and, again, just LAME.
thats my reaction to this memoir basically. MUSTAINE is a supremely gifted musician who deserves credit for his achievements and contributions to THRASH METAL, but as a person he just comes across as an ass. even in his own memoir in which he is trying to counteract the popular opinion of him being an ass. its beyond CONFOUNDING. go figure.