Wednesday, June 1, 2011

'DAVE MUSTAINE: A Heavy Metal Memoir'
(file under 'Hidden Treasures')

I've been catching up on long-overdue reading lately, and took advantage of the Memorial Day weekend to read Megadeth mastermind Dave Mustaine's aptly titled autobiography Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir. I loved the book, and mentioned on Twitter yesterday that it was the best rock bio I've ever read, and a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in mainstream metal.

A friend of mine - a New York Times bestselling author in his own right - asked me what made it my favorite rock bio, and I told him my answer was too long for a text message. Here's my response...

Truth be told, rock bios aren't my favorite books to read, typically because I fear for the impact they may have on my relationship with an artist's art. Sound confusing? I can explain.

I love music because of the way it makes me feel, not because of the way the artists that perform it make me feel. When I was introduced to Megadeth, it wasn't Dave Mustaine that I developed a relationship with, it was his band's music. Maybe I felt a connection to a lyric. Maybe I was driven by the energy of the song. Maybe it was a combination of both, or maybe it was something altogether different. But it was the music that moved me, and it was my interpretation and response to that music that was (and remains) alive inside me.

Yes, I understand that by getting closer to the artist, you can get closer to their art - but after two decades of interviewing artists for a living, I have found that quite often the opposite proves true. The more I learn about an artist, the more distant I sometimes start to feel from their music - their music becomes more about their story, and less about my story with the music. And that is why I tend to not appreciate rock bios as much as other fans might...

Which brings us to this memoir.

My two favorite metal bands are Anthrax and Megadeth (consider them tied, I do), and my favorite metal personality is Dave Mustaine. Yes, he's a rock star, but I also see a lot of similarities between our personalities - from hearty cynicism and a dry sense of humor, to an outspoken personality and oft-misunderstood private nature.

I've interviewed Mustaine countless times, and being asked to appear in the Megadeth Behind the Music and on the band's Rude Awakening DVD are career highlights for me. After twenty years, I'd safely consider us friendly... friends, but not particularly close.

So it is with both thirst and trepidation that I picked up this book. I honor Mustaine's mystique as much as anyone's in metal, and while I'd love the opportunity to better understand him, the last thing I would ever want is for that understanding to sour one of my favorite bands, and favorite frontman.

But this book was remarkable. Mustaine's personality and spirit echo throughout, only enhancing what just may be the most fascinating story in heavy metal history. The underbelly of the book is Mustaine's place as an original member and principal songwriter of Metallica. Yes, this is only his side of the much-publicized rift between him and his former bandmates, but if you've seen Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster, you know that there aren't many, if any, discrepancies.

From a heavy metal perspective, that alone makes the book required reading. Even if taken with a grain of salt, you can't help but raise an eyebrow at the history Mega-Dave and Metallica shared.

From there, Mustaine's inner turmoil is the backbone of the book, and Megadeth is the spinal fluid that fills it - what I found most compelling about both is that Mustaine never points a finger at anyone without similarly pointing one at himself. The book doesn't mince words, and the book doesn't tread lightly. It hits hard, and takes as many punches as it lands.

But the best part isn't the grit. The best part is the way that the grit sands Mustaine's character throughout, shaping him into a different person by the book's end. This isn't the story of drug use and rehabilitation, it's the story of standing toe to toe with one's demons and knowing that even if you can't win every battle, life is a war worth fighting.

While I can't relate to Dave Mustaine's lifetime of drug use, I can relate to the spiritual core that he discovers more than 300 pages later, and that is the type of revelation that makes this book a triumph to read - and Megadeth's music twice as triumphant to listen to after you've turned the final page.

Why is Dave Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir my favorite rock bio? Because it did what I wish every rock bio could do - it offered me a profound insight into music I love, made me feel a heightened kinship with the artist behind the music, and it made me appreciate one of my favorite bands even more.

TWITTER: Dave Mustaine
TWITTER: Megadeth
TWITTER: Paul Gargano

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