Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rock Star Encounters - vol I: Dave Mustaine

Among all of the great band feuds over time, Metallica vs. Megadeth will always be my favorite.

During my formative years loving metal (87-91), this was *the* feud. Beatles vs. Stones? Simon vs. Garfunkel? Ike vs. Tina? Forget it - that was for the history books. Oasis vs. Blur was ten years into the future. But Metallica vs. Megadeth was happening in the now, and it was real.

Barrages of episodes of "Behind the Music" and awkward feature documentaries have since shed light of nearly all corners of the vendetta between Metallica and Megadeth, but back in the day, this was very much a cult war, spilled out on the pages of low-brow magazines like Hit Parader, Circus, and the perennial bottom-feeder, Metal Edge.

I never exactly picked a side, though I always knew that I liked Metallica more; at that point in time, their albums were more epic, their songs were smarter, and their entire presentation was always more confident than Megadeth's.

That said, Megadeth spoke to me in their own way. They were angry; Mustaine was emotional to the core, and his lyrics were spiteful in a way that resonated to a 15 year old like myself.

Metallica was Michael Jordan: focused, visionary, intense, intelligent, artistic, and above all else, supremely talented.

Megadeth was Isaiah Thomas: calculating, bitter, hungry, disrespectful, a little bit evil, and above all else, vengeful.

The NBA was better for having both stars, just as metal thrived under each band.

Now, the common thinking is that Metallica won that feud, based on their obvious superstar status growing from the Black Album.

Artistically, however, the question becomes more subjective: Starting in the the mid-to-late-90's, Metallica stumbled repeatedly; some (including myself) don't think they've stopped just yet - though I hope that we can all agree that they should never fall any lower than they did on St. Anger.

Meanwhile, Megadeth "quietly" produced a long list of albums that - aside from a relatively engaging foray into pop-rooted song structures - held much more true to the core tenants of thrash and metal. The result seems to be a career that has been less successful, but more principled.

Another difference between the two bands? I met one of them.

Sort of.

Back in the late 80's, the music retail gods smiled upon my hometown of Rockville, MD, and delivered upon us our very own Tower Records. The significance of this should not be understated: Tower was a West Coast chain, known at that time for being highly selective of what East Coast towns they would expand to. A flagship store did exist in Washington, D.C., but it was tucked away and somewhat hidden in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. As for suburban locations, you could forget about it. Tower was way too cool for that.

But this new location was a game changer. Located two miles from home, it promised easy, relatively affordable access to just about anything and everything I could ever want: tapes, CDs, cassingles, music magazines, videos. I actually kind of credit the place for keeping me out of trouble as a teenager: Tower was close enough to home, open late enough, and central to enough fast food joints and movie theatres to make it a relatively obvious alternative to getting drunk in empty parking lots, like most bored teenagers do.

And it also gave me the chance to meet Megadeth.

I do not remember the year, the record they were supporting, or, how, exactly, that I'd learned Megadeth was doing a signing at the Rockville Tower Records. But I remember that I was freaked out that rock stars would be in my hometown, and I made sure that Fran the Man would drive my car-less ass out to the event that Sunday afternoon.

As always, he would, so we trucked on up to Tower to meet Megadeth, arriving ten minutes early, just to be safe.

Much to our chagrin, upon arriving we witnessed a line of at least 100 metalheads out the door of Tower, streaming down the sidewalk, past store front after store front of the Congressional Shopping Center.

This was a bummer. I'd been looking forward to this event for days and days, but it had never occurred to me that I'd actually have to wait in line.

Fran the Man, who didn't even like metal, had a disapproving look on his face. "This'll take hours," he told me. "Let's go."

I looked at him with disappointment. True, Fran the Man was always up for adventure, but he liked his adventures to be at least somewhat practical. It was hard to look at the situation and not see anything more than a gigantic waste of the afternoon, with no guarantee of meeting the band.

But giving up just seemed so half-assed.

"Let's just go in the store," I told him. "We'll watch."

Fran the Man was agreeable to that, so we walked through the front door of the store, to be immediately confronted by the store manager - an older guy with glasses and a golf shirt tucked into khakis. He bore a slight resemblance to a dorkier Stephen King. (Apparently, Tower had called in the regional brass for this event).

"You gotta be here to shop....no loitering," the Manager of the Macabre preemptively told us, his tone mimicking that of a high school vice principal.

"We're just here to shop," Fran the Man and I said (...in wholly unconvincing unison). In an attempt to recover, I put my best quizzical expression on my face and asked, "What's going on here anyway?"

The manager ignored that last part and told us to come on in, and that we'd "better buy something."

There we stood, taking in everything - the sections of the store that had been roped off, the signing table, the merch, the angry metalheads at the front of the line who clearly knew what we were doing. Trying to act natural, we worked the aisles, picking up random Aerosmith and Rolling Stones discs, and eying the doors at all times.

Truth be told, I was always an excitable kid when it came to music, and I was just about out of my skull in anticipation of seeing Megadeth. Would they play a song for us? Would they give a speech? Would girls take their tops off and ask Dave to sign their tits? This was going to be awesome, even if waiting in line for a personal audience had been vetoed.

So, there I was in the back of the store, when the storage room door swiftly opened and a beefy security guy waddled through, followed by none other than Dave Mustaine and the rest of the guys in the band. He was dressed in a black tank top, blue jeans and sneakers, his tangled shock of strawberry blond hair piled high enough to make him look even shorter than his slight frame (I was a little taken aback by how little the guy seemed - I would over time learn that this is a pretty common reaction to meeting celebs...especially when you happen to be 6'3").

It was a strange moment - here was one of the biggest guys in metal, maybe 15 feet from me, and none of the tough, dumb-looking meatheads in the store had even noticed. So, I took it upon myself to be the first one to make noise.

Raising my puny arm and making a fist, I shouted "DAAAAVE!" to him.

Immediately, I regretted it: My voice sounded totally fucking weak. The word "Dave" ended up coming out in two syllables - an over-excited and extremely loud "DAAY", followed by a self-conscious and much quieter "Aaaaavvve", which I had hoped would sound at least a little bit cooler and more familiar.

It sounded neither. I mean, my voice might as well have cracked. I sounded like a tool.

For a moment, I thought the guy was just going to walk on by and ignore me. Shit, upon hearing my own stupid voice, I half wished that he would. By this time, everyone in the whole store had heard me, and they were all yelling for him.

Never breaking his workman's trudge towards the signing table, Mustaine instead turned his head to me, lifted his chin and nodded at me. He did not speak. He did not smile. In fact, he kind of scowled, which is basically the expression Dave wore through much of the 80s.

And then the moment was gone. The store went bananas. People were screaming and yelling for his attention, cameras were going off, and the manager was doing his damnedest to keep order. The band took their place at the signing table, and we looked on for a moment, quickly realizing that a record store signing is not, in fact, a worthwhile spectator event.

"Let's go," Fran the Man said, for the second time that day.


Strangely enough, I never did get around to seeing Megadeth live. I have no idea why; by the time I had become a more critical consumer of music, it was very much becoming clear that Megadeth had more integrity as a metal act that Metallica did. Yet, it regrettably never happened.

There's still time to change that: Tower Records may be dead, but Megadeth marches on. In the meantime, I've got YouTube.

My Last Words

if you're tight on time, just FFW to the 4:00 minute mark to truly appreciate all that Metallica gave up in sacking Mr. Mustaine.....