In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Dave Mustaine, who’s celebrating 35 years fronting Megadeth
1: What did you write the first Megadeth lyrics on?
“The first lyric I ever wrote for Megadeth once I’d left Metallica was a song called ‘Megadeth’, which ended up called ‘Set The World Afire’. I’d gotten on the greyhound bus from New York after being kicked out of Metallica, and was travelling back to California. I found a handbill for a California senator which said: ‘The arsenal of Megadeth can’t be rid’, and started writing that down in a song on the back of a pastry tray – of Hostess Sno Balls cakes. I had nothing to write on, so grabbed a piece of trash.”
“Although some of the songs were written before Metallica when I was in a band called Panic so I could qualify it with two different answers.”
2: On the ‘System Has Failed’ album cover artwork, who is holding a briefcase labelled Plan B?
“Oh shit! I can’t picture it right now. Let me look it up real quick while we’re on the phone!”
WRONG. You can’t Google it, Dave! It was then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Oh, is that right? (Laughs) There was a lot of people on that cover so sorry I couldn’t remember the actual one!”
The cover shows politicians including the Clintons and George W Bush lined up to make shady deals with the band’s mascot Vic Rattlehead. Are any of them secret Megadeth fans?
“(Laughs) I don’t think they were after the artwork! If they were campaigning, they’d obviously be like: ‘Yeah, I listen to heavy metal’, like the dude in Spinal Tap saying: ‘We are such fans of your music and all of your records. I’m not speaking of yours personally….’. Fuuuucccck you!”
What do you make of politics at the moment?
“I’d rather not talk about that – I want to keep this upbeat!”
3: Which Megadeth song did Daniel Radcliffe listen to daily to get into character for the 2013 film Horns?
“The Harry Potter guy likes Megadeth? Get the fuck out! The song he listened to every day to get into character for what movie?”
For a film about a guy who grows devil-like horns…
“That could be any song of mine! (Laughs) Oh boy, it depends what era he got into the band. Surprise me. Tell me what song it is.”
WRONG. It’s ‘Sweating Bullets’.
“Ahhhh! That makes sense! It’s a little schizophrenic song, being able to do an out-of-body experience, a little roleplaying, right?”
Who’s been the most unusual person who’s said they like your music?
“One of the strangest is the prime minister of Indonesia [Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo]. I heard that Prince Harry had Megadeth on his playlist and thought ‘that’s cool’. And seen other big successful athletes and some of our top stars of different genres and hip-hop guys like Kanye wearing Megadeth stuff.”
4: Name the two Alice Cooper songs you covered.
“Okay, so Megadeth covered ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’. I appeared on ‘School’s Out’ with – God, I can’t remember who it was….”
CORRECT. You appeared on the 1999 album ‘Humanity Stew: A Tribute to Alice Cooper’ covering ‘School’s Out’, with Marty Friedman, Eric Singer, Bob Daisley, Paul Taylor and David Glen Eisley.
“I only count one of those as me covering – the other I just appeared on. Alice Cooper is one guy I really look up to in this business. He’s actually my godfather. We supported him on his 1987 ‘Constrictor’ tour. I was having terrible behaviour at the time. While we were on the road, we were living large. ‘Peace Sells…[but Who’s Buying?’] and ‘So Far, So Good… So What!’ both went platinum, and we were living above the law. Alice called me into his bus and talked to me about pacing yourself and said he was watching me. He showed he loved me by being willing to go out on a limb and say something to someone he doesn’t know and risk a bad outcome ‘cos he cared that much about me. It broke the hardness around my heart – I’d hardened myself against the world because when my mom moved out, it was just me and I was never going to let anybody hurt me. When Alice said that, I thought: ‘Oh God, there’s someone who genuinely cares and it’s not about what I can do for them’. “
“When ‘Rust In Peace’ came around, I reached out to him and asked for some advice because once again, I was in a bad spot and he came through for me. He ended up being my godfather and he’s one of my relatives that I love the most.”
5: Which pop star were you once set up on a disastrous date with?
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it a ‘date’, buddy. You’re talking about Belinda [Carlisle]?”
“Oh boy! I haven’t seen her in some time and I doubt she even remembers now. But I had such a crush on her. I thought she was just the cutest thing! But it was so bad. At that time, I was soooo out of control, smoking pot and doing other bad stuff. I’d just lit a joint – and it was pot, not tobacco or hash – and inhaled and someone knocked on the door. It was her. And I’m thinking: ‘Oh fuck, how do I get the smoke out of my lungs without her smelling it – because there’s no way you can say ‘It’s a cigarette, hun’. (Laughs) So I exhaled and my breath smells like a skunk’s ass, and she turned on her heels and walked out of my life forever. It was sad because there’s no telling what would have happened!”
6: At the start of your cover of ‘These Boots’, what snippet of a pop hit appears?
“‘Start Me Up’? (Sings the Rolling Stones song to a different tune) ‘If you start me up/If you start me up…’. What’s the name of that fucking song? (Laughs) I think it’s ‘I Want To Be A Hero’ or something like that.”
WRONG. It’s ‘Gloria’ by Laura Branigan.
“’Gloria’! See, I’m doin’ a mash-up of the Stones and this ‘Gloria’ song (Sings ‘Start Me Up’ to the tune of ‘Gloria’) ‘Start me up/Start Me Up, weeeooooowwww!’”
You removed the song from some later versions of the album ‘Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! after the song’s original writer Lee Hazelwood objected to your altered lyrics….
“I think they used me and Megadeth for publicity. My feeling was when the cheque started to get smaller because the record had been selling for years, they wanted to make some noise about it. They said I made a vile and offensive version. What’s vile and offensive is that they cashed the cheque for so long – and they didn’t send the money back. If they’re so proud up on that moral hilltop, send the money back! Because wouldn’t that be considered blood money if it’s so vile and offensive? Hey, I took the song off the album to honour your request – send the money back and I’ll donate it to charity. Let’s see how big you are. Let’s see if they do it – they won’t.”
7: Why did you end up leaving a gig in Antrim, Northern Ireland early in a bulletproof bus in 1988?
“(Laughs) Uh, I was hungry? I could blame the Guinness but it has to do with a few things: getting spit on, some bootlegging, some happy faces and Guinness foam, a guy with good aim throwing money up to the stage, peppermint schnapps behind the amps and one or two poorly-timed comments about something I knew very little of called ‘the cause’.”
CORRECT. He saw people selling bootleg Megadeth shirts with proceeds going to the IRA. During the show, a pound coin hit him onstage. He made a speech saying ‘Give Ireland back to the Irish’, before dedicating ‘Anarchy In The UK’ to ‘the cause’, not realising it involved the IRA. A riot ensued and he woke up hungover the next morning, unaware he’d been escorted from Northern Ireland in a bulletproof bus. It inspired the song ‘Holy Wars…The Punishment Due’.
“I mean, that’s metal as fuck! (Laughs) It doesn’t get more metal than that!”
Sex Pistol Steve Jones appears on your cover of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and, bizarrely, requested ‘suction’ as payment.
“What happened was Jonesy arrived on an old English bike with a cast on his broken arm, because somebody pulled in front of him in a car and he went flying over the hood. He starts tuning up, and I ask how he wants to get paid. He goes: ‘Give me $100 and get me some suction!’. For those who don’t know what that is, he’s a Sex Pistol – it’s not a plunger! I didn’t have any friends who would have blown a Sex Pistol, for Pete’s sake! What am I going to call someone up like: ‘Hey buddy, can you put your sister on the phone for second?…Is your mom home?…How ‘bout your grandma?!’ So I said: ‘Look I’m going to give you $1000 and the phonebook instead’.”
8: Who did you once pay to attend your court-ordered Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for you?
“Junior [bassist David Ellefson].”
“(Laughs) He wasn’t smart enough to know that it’s an anonymous meeting – he could have signed the paper ‘Joe Blow’ and no one would have known! I wouldn’t have even known! He should have come back and said: ‘Yeah man, I went to ten meetings in a row right now’…. ‘Really?! But you’ve only been gone an hour’…Yeah, well they were next to each other!’”
Ironically, they helped him get clean of drink and drugs. You accidentally twelve-stepped him…
“Yeah, and he acknowledges that. (Sighs) We had a colourful life prior to him getting sober – Dave was fun loaded, he was fun sober. When he would party, he wouldn’t turn into somebody else. We all did bad stuff when we were drinking or partying, but he was never one of those dudes that would break your heart by sleeping with your girlfriend or something where he crossed that cardinal rule between brothers. ‘Cos we were super close before the lawsuit, and after that went down, it was well-publicised that I forgave him. That was great for our fans to see that no matter how bad things get, you have the power to forgive and let people off the hook.”
9: Instead of money, how were paid for one of your final shows in your pre-Metallica band Panic at a biker bar?
“Oh shit, the magic mushrooms dude! We were paid in beer, chilli and magic mushrooms.”
“We were only supposed to play once and they paid us cash for that performance, but the bikers weren’t happy that we were leaving and they made it obvious that it was highly unlikely we’d leave safely! (Laughs) They said: ‘You’ve got a choice. You can join us for dinner and you’re eating magic mushrooms and play some more or you can try and find the road and see how far you get down it’. The other guys in the band got so out of their mind! I don’t like tripping so I didn’t take them. One grabbed a trash bag, filled it with beer and bit a hole off the end and drank out of it. Another two decided they would steal a keg of beer from the bikers. We’re in the woods, and they let go of the keg and it rolls down the hill, making a massive noise, before crashing into the water. The bikers find out and now it’s on! They’re going to kill us. So the guys who stole the keg suddenly decide they’re birds and climb the trees for the most of the night, whispering to each other and making bird-calls. I don’t know how the hell they survived that night!”
10: In 2005, which two bands did you refuse to play with in Greece and Israel?
(Sighs) See, this is not true. What happened was when I got out of treatment, I said: I’m shaky with my sobriety and can’t be around bands that have any members actively using heroin. I’m like a baby deer – I don’t have my legs under me yet. And the only other thing is I can’t be around satanic bands – just for now, because I’ve become Christian. Before, I was a Jehovah’s Witness and my mom had brainwashed me so I’d already got my grudge against religion. I never said I wouldn’t play with a black metal band ever.”
“I was excited about this festival show in Israel because I wanted to see what Megadeth looks like in Hebrew font. On the poster, there’s a band called Dissection. I look them up and their frontman [Jon Nödtveidt] says I’m his mortal enemy – and they’re a black metal band. So I told the promoter: ‘You knew I wasn’t going to play with black metal bands or anyone actively using hard drugs so I can protect myself from relapsing and maybe dying’. Remember in ’92, I had already overdosed and died once. Instead of being unfair, we said we were going to step off the tour. Then I find out they’d kicked the band off the festival – which is exactly what I didn’t want to happen – and I was really mad. Unfortunately, the damage was done – I didn’t get the chance to explain and the guy starts threatening me. It’s sad he committed suicide before he ever got to hear the true story.”
“The other band was another misunderstanding involving another satanic band [Rotting Christ]. I said: just for now, I’m not doing that. Since then, I’ve played with dark metal bands, but I wish I’d been afforded the same respect I have for others – to figure out what I believe. ‘Cos when my mom was alive and she was trying to get me to be a Jehovah’s Witness, she told me if I masturbated I’d go blind – and I can see you! They also said if you smoked pot, you’d grow boobs! If that was the case, there wouldn’t be any plastic surgeons! (Laughs).”
CORRECT. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever refused to do?
“We had the offer to do a commercial for depression for an enormous amount of money, but I’m not of those crooks that can pretend they’ve got the symptoms for money. The only disease I have is honestitis!”
The verdict: 7/10
“You were quizzing me?! You dawg! I didn’t know you were quizzing me! I would have tried harder!”
Megadeth’s 35th Anniversary 35-track box set, ‘Warheads On Foreheads’ is out now through UMC