Houston Calling

Peace sells…but who’s buying?

June 7th, 2004 · No Comments

On the way to work the other day, I glanced in the rearview mirror and swear that Dave Mustaine from the band Megadeth was on a motorcycle behind me. But then I remembered that he lives somewhere in Arizona and probably wouldn’t have any reason to drive a motorcycle down a major thoroughfare in suburban Houston at 7:30 on a Tuesday morning. Or any other time, for that matter. I also recalled that I heard he somehow hurt his hand a couple of years back and that he had to have surgery and relearn the guitar. So that made me think he might not even be able to control a large motorcycle. But it got me thinking about Megadeth’s music. The mind works in mysterious ways.

I first heard of Megadeth after seeing an album at a record store in the mid-80’s. I would never have thought to buy a Megadeth album–I was too close-minded at the time to consider such a thing–but I always thought they had interesting album titles. Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying, Rust In Peace, etc.

They seemed to me to be a poor man’s Metallica, further reinforced when I heard that Mustaine was one of the original members of Metallica yet was given the boot due to problems with alcohol. Not that he drank any more than the other members, I’m sure, he just couldn’t control it as well.

Mustaine and Megadeth released albums thoughout the eighties, and had quite a following among the speed metal set. But the band always seemed to live in the shadow of Mustaine’s former band. I had heard Megadeth’s rendition of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy For The U.K.” and caught their video for “Hangar 18” on Headbanger’s Ball once, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Countdown To Extinction that the band caught my attention enough for me to buy one of their albums.

Metal reigned on MTV at the time and I was in college and was into all types of music. The Dead. Pink Floyd. Indie rock. Early 90’s Brit rock. Guns’n’Roses. Metallica. I saw the video for “Sweating Bullets” and thought it was great. Mustaine was smug, angry, and cocky–everything a rock musician should be. He didn’t wear makeup or spandex. He was drunk, he was angry, and he was loud. And so was his music. Mustaine sang of paranoia, loss of self, and the sad state of the political system. “Symphony of Destruction” was incredible. The drums were amazing, the guitars ear-crunching. Countdown to Extinction is probably my all-time favorite Megadeth album.

I came across another guy in college who liked them and was able to listen to their older stuff–the albums I had laughed at and ignored in high school. We’d turn on some Megadeth at parties and freak people out for the thirty seconds we had before someone came over and started using the CD as a coaster.

In 1994, Megadeth released Youthanasia and I bought it soon after it came out. “A Tout Le Monde” was an excellent (and beautiful) song. Mustaine sung part of it in French and it was quite possibly the closest thing Megadeth ever recorded to a ballad. The first half of Youthanasia was good enough to overshadow the banality of the rest of the album. The label foolishly released only two singles from Youthanasia–“Train Of Consequences” and “A Tout Le Monde,” the latter of which whose video was banned by MTV because of the suicidal overtones of the lyrics.

I found 1997’s Cryptic Writings to be about the same as Youthanasia–half great, half half-assed. But the good songs always more than made up for the bad ones, and Cryptic Writings still ranks near the top of my favorite Megadeth albums. This is where the ex-Metallica fans ran to after Load was released and James and Lars cut their hair. Songs like “Use the Man” and “The Disintegrators” were slamming diatribes on drug abuse and Mustaine’s usual fare, and songs like “Trust,” “A Secret Place,” and “Almost Honest” offered rare personal glimpses into Mustaine’s life. True, this album was more of a departure from their thrash-metal days of the eighties, but Megadeth still retained enough of its roots to appeal to the masses and long-time fans alike. The success of this album cemented Mustaine’s place in metal history.

Then in 1999, I was near the beach buying some sunscreen and saw that Megadeth had a new album out. By now, I was enough of a fan that I bought whatever the band puts out. The fact they were selling it at Target should have been my first indication, however–Risk was awful. Boring in every sense, and far too experimental for a metal band, it seemed like Mustaine’s steam had run out. Take my word for it–I have tried to like it and there’s no point.

But he rebounded in 2001 with the release of The World Needs A Hero, an album I expected to put Megadeth back in the ring. I think Mustaine had finally realized he wasn’t going to be able to compete with Metallica, that there ultimately was no point, and that he might as well stick to the old tried and true. This album was Megadeth’s return to the days of old–a true rocker. But then, tragedy struck.

In April of 2002, Mustaine released this press release:

During the first week of January, 2002, while Megadeth was on hiatus, in Texas, I suffered an injury which caused severe nerve damage to my left arm and hand. It was diagnosed as Radial Neuropathy–specifically, a “compressed radial nerve.” My doctors tell me it will take about a year to make as complete a recovery as I can, and even then, we don’t know how complete that is going to be. I am working hard with a great team of doctors and physical therapists daily, and God willing, someday I hope to play guitar again. In the meantime, while I work on rebuilding my arm, I will take this opportunity to reappraise my career and my future. For the time being I have decided to exit Megadeth, and explore other areas of the music business where I might make a contribution without being able to play my instrument. I have had a terrific time singing and playing for you while I was in Megadeth. I am truly grateful for all of the numerous Gold, Platinum, and Multi-Platinum Records I have been awarded, as well as the many International Record Awards. And I can never thank you, our fans past and present, enough for your loyalty and affection over the years. My immediate goals now are to do what I can to make something good come out of this terrible situation. First and foremost, I want to use this opportunity to devote more time, energy and attention to my wife Pam and my two children, Justis and Electra. Pam has done a wonderful job carrying the load while I was a long-distance husband and father in the studio or criss-crossing the world on tour, but in terms of being a Gold or Platinum parent, I have a long way to go, and I’m eager to get started. In closing I would like to depart with the beautiful French words I wrote on the record ‘Youthanasia’: “A tout le monde, a tous mes amis, Je vous aime, Je dois partir.” (To all the world, to all my friends. I love you, I have to leave).–Dave Mustaine, April 3rd, 2002

I recently read online that Mustaine has regained the use of his arm, can play his guitar again, and reformed Megadeth, which plans to release a new album this summer.

I’ll get it the day it comes out.

Now Playing in My iPOD: Velvet Revolver — Contraband

Tags: Music