Throughout his lengthy metal career, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine has battled the excesses of his destructive, younger years with an abundance of raw virtuosity and astuteness. (Heck, he mopped the floor with George Clinton and Moon Zappa on Rock 'n' Roll Jeopardy a few years ago.) Now 50 years young, the perpetually strawberry-blond rocker deserves a hat tip for surviving and thriving in spite of many enemies hatched along the way.
Wielding his signature Jackson King V -- with two extra shark-toothed frets added for even higher squeals -- Mustaine cut through nearly everything that stood in his path and landed Megadeth among the "Big Four" of metal along with his ex-bandmates in Metallica, as well as Slayer and Anthrax. Often placed at the number-one spot in polls ranking the best metal guitarists of all time, Mustaine is known for riffs blending speed with aggression. Plus, dude has a voice perfect to express his general indignation for everything under the sun.
Here are a few of the trademark aspects of Mr. Mustaine as we celebrate his entry into the half-century club.
Dave Mustaine isn't interested in the status quo. There are too many stories of his anachronistic songwriting and behavior to list, but he definitely wedged some burrs into Lee Hazlewood's well-trimmed mustache by reworking "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (written for Nancy Sinatra) into a speed-metal jam and adding a few "vile and offensive" sexual references that had no wink to the listener whatsoever. The song was eventually removed from new pressings of Megadeth's debut album, Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good!, but not until after Hazlewood had racked up a decade's worth of royalties.
Dave Mustaine was a big part of what was good about MTV. "Peace Sells" was Megadeth's 1986 entry into the music video world, and it's a high-concept rant perfect for a music video. Shots of political upheaval from the around the world and close-ups on Mustaine's angry mouth dot the clip as he calls out metal haters galore: "Whaddya mean I'm not kind? Just not your kind." At the 2:20 mark, a kid who is ostensibly "watching" the video right along with us is interrupted by his father. "What is this garbage you're watching? I wanna watch the news!" Dad screams while changing the channel. "This is the news," his wise son replies. In a not-so-coincidental move, the song's bouncy bass-line intro got prime play later as a bumper for MTV News, and Mustaine was enlisted to cover the Democratic National Convention for them in the early '90s.
Dave Mustaine digs deep lyrically. Again, there are abundant examples of Megadeth tracks that aren't just some unintelligible wail between wank-off solos. Get familiar with 1990's "Holy Wars... the Punishment Due" inspired by the Northern Ireland conflict: "Fools like me, who cross the sea/And come to foreign lands/Ask the sheep, for their beliefs/Do you kill on God's command?"
Dave Mustaine knows he's crazy, but he's not mad about it. "Sweating Bullets" is a fascinating descent into a man's madness -- complete with Mustaine talking to himself using his hands (or an extra self) in the video -- set to a serious riff barrage. This song actually came after he started getting away from the copious amounts of drugs, drink, and violent behavior that first got him booted from Metallica a decade earlier and led to feuds with countless band members. If Alice Cooper's telling you to slow down, it's time to listen.
Dave Mustaine made the most of his pop moment. "Symphony of Destruction" is the best-known moment of Megadeth's career outside of the ring of dedicated metal fans. And yet, aside from the supposedly "accessible" aspects of the melody here, nothing has sweetened the vinegar in his voice as he criticizes the lack of political dissent in the U.S.
Dave Mustaine has done plenty to distinguish himself while not enough to extinguish himself (or that magnificent reddish hair). Be it stoic guitar snobs -- or Mario Paint composers -- leaning on his every note for inspirations or the flocks of us who just want to bang our heads, he's one of the brashest and best we'll ever have. (Thanks, Maura and Kory.)