Book Report: Dave Ellefson’s ‘My Life With Deth’
In 2010, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine released his memoirs: Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir told the story of the band from the perspective of the one guy who had been in every lineup of the band. But a few months back, Megadeth’s long-time bassist Dave Ellefson shared his perspective on his life in and out of the band in My Life With Deth: Discovering Meaning In A Life Of Rock And Roll.
Ellefson was the original bass player in the band, joining Mustaine (who’d just been kicked out of Metallica) in 1983, and staying through the band’s split in 2002. Two years later, Mustaine reactivated the band sans Ellefson, but he’d eventually rejoin in 2010, and is still with the band today. Ellefson is also a committed Christian: having been raised in a Lutheran home in Minnesota, he strayed a bit (as one does, when one leaves home, goes to L.A. and joins a pioneering speed-metal band). But his faith helped him to kick drugs, and today he’s training to become a Lutheran pastor.
My Life With Deth is certainly of interest to fans of Megadeth, or of ’80s/’90s metal in general, but the book transcends the genre; like the best books and documentaries about music, the story works whether or not you’re a fan of the artist telling it. Here’s some of our favorite moments:
Dave Mustaine has always been friendly: Kidding! Megadeth’s leader has always been a bit, let’s say… intimidating. Ellefson learned this early on, when he first moved to L.A. He was playing the baseline to Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With The Devil” in his apartment, when he heard someone from upstairs yelling “Shut up!” Then a ceramic flowerpot shattered on their window air conditioning unit. The next day, Ellefson and his roommates went upstairs to introduce themselves, and Mustaine slammed the door in their faces. Things would soon get a bit better: they kept knocking and asked where they could buy beer, and Mustaine ended up letting them into his abode.
It’s not just an adventure, it’s a job: Early on, Ellefson realized “Making Megadeth work professionally was a job: you showed up on time, you put on a uniform, and you obeyed the rules, as a good employee should. I was starting to get my Megadeth act together on every level: how I talked, how I played, even what I thought.”
Do what you love and the money will follow: Of Mustaine’s decisions over the years, Ellefson says, “To Dave’s credit… he’s never considered the money first in any decisions he’s made for the band. In fact, he has always made the music and the execution of the band our top priorities, which in turn has helped to keep the money flowing.” He notes that the band’s controversial 1999 album Risk, which was seen as a more mainstream album for the band, “may have been a lesson to all of us that when you put the attraction of success before the actual success comes, you have placed the cart before the horse.”
Sometimes, leaving the rat race can be a good thing…: On February 4, 2002, Dave Mustaine disbanded Megadeth. Ellefson wrote of that, “My first thought was, ‘Now what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?’ followed by a huge sigh of relief that it was over.”
…Except when it’s not: Not being in Megadeth meant also meant not making the money he made while he was in Megadeth: “Our marriage was put under some strain, because there were now financial issues and because my whole identity was different… I was basically a guy who had lost a really good, high-paying corporate job.”And then there was this part: “Previously, any time a kid in a heavy metal T-shirt came up to me and asked for an autograph, I’d go into rock star mode.. Now I wasn’t a star anymore, and had to work like everybody else. It was tough for my ego.”
Think twice before you sue: In 2003, Dave Mustaine was ready to reactivate Megadeth, and approached Ellefson to rejoin the band… but with a new arrangement that would see him making less money. Ellefson declined and launched a lawsuit; while he intended for the suit to simply drive both parties back to the negotiating table, Ellefson writes, “It was mishandled and in many ways not something I really wanted to do… what I learned from it was that you can win a battle and ultimately lose the war.” Unsurprisingly, it strained his relationship with Mustaine. “If I had to do it all over again, I would never have filed the suit.” A few years later, he apologized to his once and future bandmate: “I told him that I’d been reading the Bible and that 1 Corinthians 6 talks about not bringing lawsuit against your fellow Christian believers.” A few years later, he was back in the band, where he remains today.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com