Review: Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir

This book really took me back to my heavy metal roots. I was a fan in high-school and college, saw a lot of head-banging bands play live, and still have the hard rock/alternative stations programmed in the car radio. Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir is a look behind the scenes at how a scrawny kid from La Mesa, California became a rock and roll god. It’s full of great backstage stories and plenty of gritty truth about how Dave Mustaine got to where he is today. It’s a must-read for heavy metals fans.

Dave Mustaine

The book is well-written and easy to follow. There is a ghostwriter involved, Joe Layden, and my guess is that Joe is responsible for a lot of the polish on this prose, but Mustaine’s ego and personality are evident throughout. There’s a lot of interesting history: he was raised by Jehovah’s Witnesses, began selling pot at a really young age and kept selling it to make ends meet when his mom moved out, leaving him with the rent and bills to pay. They cover his early bands, his musical influences, and how he came to really love music:

“When I held a guitar in my hands, I felt good about myself. When I played music, I felt a sense of comfort and accomplishment that I’d never known as a child. When I replicated the songs I loved, I felt an attachment to the musicians who had composed them. And when I started writing songs of my own, I felt like an artist, able to express myself for the very first time.”

Of course, it was also about “strutting and getting laid and trying to become famous.” There’s a lot of sex and drugs and rock and roll in this book and not all of it is pretty. It’s amazing to me that someone could function at all, let alone at such a high level (at least when it came to music), doing the amount of drugs Dave and his bandmates were doing. After all, this is a guy who got kicked out of Metallica because of his drug use and volatile behavior. That’s really saying something.

Dave covers his contributions to Metallica, his abrupt dismissal and the grudge he has held ever since in great detail. It has to be a little embarrassing to admit that one of the driving forces behind your career was the desire to show up the guys who kicked you out of their band. No doubt there was fault on all sides, but you can’t help but have some sympathy for him. He paints a pretty balanced picture of Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, in my opinion, telling the good and the bad, and over the years he seems to have mellowed a bit on the topic.

He also talks candidly about the drugs. The drugs – holy cow, the drugs. Pot and quaaludes, coke, heroin, crystal meth, mushrooms. It’s amazing a body could survive all that. He talks about multiple stints in rehab and how little good it did sometimes:

“You see, I’ve learned more about getting loaded, more about how to get drugs, more about mixing drinks, and more about how to bed the opposite sex in Alcoholics Anonymous than anywhere else on earth.”

I didn’t realize until I read the book that Dave had found his way back to God in recent years, but he talks about his faith and how he practices it. He’s a devoted family man, he wants to teach, do some solo albums, spend time with his wife and kids. At the end of a long, bumpy, drug-addled journey, he sounds like he’s doing okay. I found it fascinating to read the story of how he made it.

My copy of Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir is one I bought for myself. I stood in line for about 2 hours, on a day that Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cleveland was full of a lot more black t-shirts and long hair than ever before. I was excited to meet a legend – you simply cannot be a fan and be cool about something like that. I’ve seen the man play live and been absolutely blown away, but I never expected to see him on the New York Times Best-Seller List.

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