Megadeth-- heroes for a new age
By Naughty Mickie   
Photos by Keith Durflinger 

Megadeth's latest lineup, Dave Mustaine, vocals/guitar, Al Pitrelli, guitar, David Ellefson, bass, and Jimmy Degrasso, drums, has been hitting the road in support of their latest release, "The World Needs a Hero." Old fans are thrilled that they're touring and a new generation is welcoming them with open arms. Megadeth is one of the true metal heroes, a group that has stayed true to themselves, their music and their audience.

Mustaine has been notorious for angering journalists and critics alike with his biting honesty, which I found refreshing. He's also quite intelligent and has a charming sense of humor. But then, I may be revealing too much, so I'll let the story tell itself.

I was a little nervous asking Mustaine about how Megadeth came about, knowing that his rift with Metallica would invariably come up. But I decided to forge ahead.

"Getting fired had something to do with it,'' Mustaine laughs, instantly putting me at ease. "What happened was, basically, we met and David Ellefson was playing 'Running with the Devil' on bass guitar underneath my apartment and that's got to be the absolute worst song you can possibly ever listen to if you're hung over. And all I'm hearing is kabong, bong, bong and I thought, 'I'm going to kill this guy.' So I let him live, but I opened a window and I threw a flowerpot down at his window and it exploded. And he and some other big dude comes up and I guess they thought they were going to get rough with me and I opened up the door and they thought twice and said, 'Hey, wanna getting some cigarettes?' And I said, 'At the liquor store' and slammed the door. Then they knocked again and said, 'Hey, you wanna buy some alcohol?' And I said, 'Now you're talking.' And the rest is history." He pauses to reflect, "It's very interesting fodder.''

"Did you grow up with music?" I ask.

"My sister played piano," Mustaine responds. "I guess you would say that my mom wanted kinda wanted to save money by having both of us play piano. And there was a piano teacher that we had and I went over to take lessons from her. I didn't really want to play the piano as much as I wanted to play her. The novelty wore off as soon as I found out she was a Jehovah's Witness and she wasn't interested in having sex with a seven year old boy. I decided that was it for my musical career.''

Mustaine walked away from his future, only to be called back by the music muse for a very bacanalic reason.

"I'd gone to a keg party one time and I noticed that even the ugliest of dudes could get laid if they played guitar," he smirks. "I'm in, where do I sign up? Sadly, it's kind of disappointing to talk like that, but that's how it was. You can take a guy who looks like the south end of a northbound mule and give him a guitar and he's in. I couldn't figure it out for myself so I figured what the hell, I'll try it. And it worked! Lo and behold! Here I was the strawberry kid and I had girls coming over to me all the time. I was very scrawny if I stood sideways and stuck my tongue out as a kid I would've looked like a zipper.''

"Were you athletic?" I venture.

"I was pretty athletic, I did a lot of bending of my elbow with beer bottles and bong tokes,'' Mustaine teases.

We talk about school and I learn that he attended Golden West Junior College in Huntington Beach, California. 

"I enjoyed going there, but there wasn't really much they could teach me," Mustaine states. "I went in there and the guy said, 'You already know music theory, why don't you let someone who needs this class take this class?' I said to him, 'I need this class, stupid. I may be able to play guitar, but I don't know what the heck I'm doing.' So that was the end of my college years.''

Mustaine's decision to leave college may have been a blessing in disguise, as it allowed him the time to devote himself to what was to become his livelihood.

I was curious to find out what someone who has watched the music industry change so much during their career thinks of today's scene.

"I think it's interesting, I don't think it's particularly great," says Mustaine. "I think that there was some really good music a long time ago, but people have gotten away from what's good and most record companies guys are morons and they're just signing bands for the sake of signing bands and there's no real talent left anymore.''

"Do you ever get to see new bands coming out, such as in the local scene?" I counter.

"Not really any need to. If it's a band that I like, I'll find them. If it's a band I don't like, hell, I ain't going out to listen to somebody else's noise,'' Mustaine says curtly.

Having visited Megadeth's fan-friendly Web site, I ask him about the Internet.

"I think that the Internet is something that's pretty important," states Mustaine. "It's a portal for your fans to find out what's going on with your band. And it's either something that you're going to be afraid of or that you're going to be knowledgeable about. A lot of guys that are in groups are pretty stupid, they don't realize what a wonderful tool the Internet is. I'm not one of those guys to shy away from technology, I think that it's really awesome. But there's a lot of people who are afraid.

"We do online chats, we do posting of MP3s; posting of videos. We've done posting of all kinds of stuff, you know, where we've let fans ask us personal questions. We have moderated discussion groups where we let people come in and basically ask certain things where they can e-mail me directly through the use of our advents and get their questions asked. Sometimes it's drivel, 'Hi dude! How'd you do that fast run at the end of so-and-so?' It's because I'm a smoking guitar player and you're not. You'll never be able to do it unless you practice, okay?" Mustaine boasts with a grin.

"I've been involved in it since 1994, when 'Youthanasia' first came out," he continues. "A lot of people are afraid of it. They're afraid that someone's going to come in and 'Oh my God, they're going to get a hold of my credit card.' Yeah, I can just see it right now, some professional hacker is really interested in getting your $300 on your credit card.''

Being a musician myself, I return to the subject of music and how Megadeth writes.

"I have certain people in my life that I look to that are beautiful, that inspire me, that make me feel real lucky to be alive," says Mustaine warmly. "I write about the times that I share with them. There's other people that are in my life that I think are just a life support system for a butthole and I can't wait for them to die and I write about that.''

I begin to ask him whether they start with the music or the lyrics, but am interrupted by a tiny voice in the background.

"Yeah, I can help you do this thing," Mustaine replies and explains. "I have to button up a little crooked shirt. Lyrics and music come at different times. Oh, don't play with that, that will explode and blow your arm off," he says in a calm even tone. "No, it's a mouse for a computer, but it will blow up and take your arm off. You need to go ask mommy for this, 'cause daddy's busy working right now, okay? Go on. You were saying?''

"Your kids are keeping you busy," I tease.

"I'm not sure if it's my kid," Mustaine says in true parent fashion.

We backtrack to writing lyrics and music.

"Sometimes they'll come in a situation where you want to write something that's pertinent to you and, you know, it's really hard to always write something that someone else is going to relate to because everyone can't relate to your music," Mustaine explains. "It's kind of like that really horrible French movie, 'Floraine,' where he says 'No one understands your music, but yourself.' I mean I dig with that because there's been a lot of times where I've written music and I'm thinking, 'Why can't you understand that I'm bludgeoning and slaughtering somebody and their organs are stomping under your feet?'''

The interaction between Mustaine and his toddler shows me a different part of this rash guitarist. He and his wife have two children, a son, Justis, who was born in 1992, and daughter, Electra, who was born in 1998. I wonder if Mustaine still skydives.

"No, I stopped. I made a deal with the old lady that once we had kids I would hang up my chute," he says without a sign of remorse. "It was probably a noble thing to do.''

"So what do you do now?" I ask.

"There's a lot of different things that I enjoy doing; there's a lot of things that I am forced to do," Mustaine responds. "My son plays hockey, I love watching him play hockey. He's really good at it too. There's certain things, you know, that you go and you do and you're like, 'God, will this ever end?' Some of the functions we go to as parents, it's like you wonder, some of these people just like to hear themselves talk.

"I like watching hockey," he goes on. "I play a little bit of golf. I enjoy spending time alone with my wife, 'cause we don't really have enough time alone. I really like traveling. Traveling can be fun if you do it with the right person, but if it ain't the right person, it sucks.''

I comment that from listening to his lyrics, I gather that he likes to read. I ask him about his favorite subjects.

"It depends, sometimes it's something like a biography and sometimes it's something that's going to be educational," Mustaine says. "I like a lot of historical stuff. For me, history is something that is really exciting. There's a lot of people that are missing out on some really terrific things that have happened in our lifetime. I don't really enjoy reading fiction, I think if you're going to read about someone else's nonsense, you're going to find out about that in the newspaper where they've done something dumb, like robbed a bank or killed someone and get away with it.''

"What does the future hold for Megadeth," I query.

Mustaine answers with brutal honesty, "Right now we have a very small tour that's going on in the United States. They're going, 'Oh, they're playing small places because they can't sell out big places.' Hey, guess what? You're right. We're not playing big places anymore because we can't sell out big places anymore because there's too many goddamn bands out there and it's really hurt the market place. So other than trying to do something like a band, like I hope remains nameless and I hope you don't know who I'm talking about, but just went out and played a 13,000 seat venue in New York someplace and sold 900 tickets. I'd probably be tasting gun metal right now after blowing my head off. I think about stuff like that, I'm like, 'God, man, if that ain't the writing on the wall to hang it up, I don't know what is.'''

"We're already working on our next record right now," he continues. "But it's not something we want to take the focus off what our priority is. Our priority is make this record, 'The World Needs a Hero,' and make it a success.''

"What are you doing differently on this album than previous ones?" I say.

"I think that music is something that you could say is a form of expression within yourself and you can't hide behind it," says Mustaine. "If there's something that needs to be in, put in it there, if there's something that doesn't, then take it out. There's no reason to have something in just for the pure fact that you're trying to look cool because there's nothing worse than putting something in there that doesn't belong in there because you end up looking like an ass. I know a lot of guys that make records that put stuff in there that doesn't belong in there.

"We made a record with a guy named Dave Jerden one time and, actually we started with this guy, and I go into the control room and Dave's eating a chili dog and smoking a cigarette in there and it reminded me of inside the belly of Tommy Lasorda. And I thought, 'You're outta here.'" Mustaine goes on, "So we went forward with Mike Clink. Dave wanted to have this guy remix one of our records, he remixed 'Insomnia' off of 'Risk' which I think was responsible for killing that song. I said, 'I don't want Jerden to work on this record.' They went against my wishes and used him and killed the song and it's because the guy did something that didn't need to be done to the song. When you go take a song that doesn't need anything done to it and you go mix it in or out, leave it like it is. For me, when I hear a song that I like and it doesn't need any stuff on it, just leave it alone, just leave it alone. We watched a beautiful song get killed.''

I know that my time with Mustaine is coming to an end, so I ask him if there's anything we haven't discussed that we should.

"You haven't mentioned anything about the Metallica-Megadeth controversy that's going on at our Web site," Mustaine says. "Somebody had said something about Metallica on our site and bashed them on our site and I finally got tired of it and said, 'You know, I gotta tell you something, I respect your opinion, but you're slamming Metallica. I'm still a big part of them and they're still a part of me. And you've been saying something about a guy who you're supposedly a fan of, it's like saying "Anna Quanico is totally hot, but her left ankle sucks dick.'' It's pretty ridiculous isn't it? Even though I was jettisoned from that camp, I'm still a fan and you're saddening me.' Someone posted that on the Metallica site and they freaked. They started coming over to our site in droves.

"I went over to their site and posted, their Web master sent me his user name and password so I could get in there, and put this feud behind us," Mustaine goes on. "I said, 'I would love nothing more than a Metallica/Megadeth tour and I think even cooler would be if we made something like the official 'Four Horsemen' record, David Ellefson, me and James Hetfeld and Lars Ulrich making a record one time out. Us doing Metallica songs with me singing; us doing Megadeth songs with James singing and a few new original songs. Just like when I was in the band in the early '80s and we knocked the world on it's ass, we can do it again. I want to direct some people over there and tell them about the truce."

I begin to thank Mustaine for his time, but, to my surprise, he isn't finished with me.

"I would love to meet you and talk a little bit more. I make a hell of a cup of Starbucks. I don't know if you're going to want to drink it though because you'll have lightening bolts shooting out of your ass if you drink it,'' Mustaine chuckles.

"That's the best kind,'' I laugh.

"I'm down if you are," Mustaine invites. "Come out and say, 'Hello.'''

As regular readers know, I attended the Megadeth show at the House of Blues in Anaheim in September, you can read the review in the archives. And true to his words, I was able to meet with Mustaine.

When he came out of the dressing room, I was waiting for him with a gift-- a bag of heavy duty Starbucks coffee. Mustaine gave me a hug and asked me to wait while he met with his fans.

"I hope you'll read my story," I said to Mustaine when he returned.

"I don't usually read what people write because it's usually mean," he answered.

"Was I mean on the phone?" I give him a grin.

"No," he shakes his head.

"Well, what about that cup of coffee?" I ask waving the bag of Starbucks.

"You shouldn't have," Mustaine breaks into a big smile.

"And, if that's not enough," I giggle as I pull a package of chocolate-coated espresso beans out of my backpack.

"Wow! Thank you. What can I do for you?" he asks.

"Nothing, just keep playing," I say. "Oh, and take a photo with me?"

"Sure," Mustaine puts his arm around me and we pose.

Unfortunately, he didn't have time for the coffee, as the band wanted to hit the road so they could rest up for the next night's show.

When we parted, I wished Mustaine and his family the best. He now rates among my best interviews and is one of the nicest people I have ever met.  Besides, Mustaine had made time for me and his fans and what more could you ask for from a hero?

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