David “Junior” Ellefson is a man in a unique position. As Megadeth’s bassist, not only has he experienced and witnessed first hand the birth, explosion and subsequent implosion of the thrash metal phenomenon, he’s been exposed to some of music’s biggest egos, been a fly on the wall during some of metal’s nastiest feuds, toured the world many times over, struggled with serious addictions and generally lived an extraordinary life. So you would expect his autobiography to be an insightful & possibly harrowing tale of redemption wouldn’t you? Yes you would.
The book tracks his journey from a child growing up on a farm in rural Minnesota to his misspent youth playing bass in local bands and experimenting with booze & pot through to his starry eyed sojourn to Los Angeles, hooking up with Dave Mustaine, forming Megadeth and becoming a full blown junkie within 6 months. From there, he gets clean, finds (or rather rediscovers) God, continues with Megadeth, gets married & has a couple of kids, works for Peavey amplification, has a nasty spat with Mustaine resulting in his ejection from the band, subsequently kisses and makes up, rejoins Megadeth and they all live happily ever after… or something like that.
The first quarter of the book reads interestingly enough. Fairly happy childhood, discovering music, generally being a teenage miscreant…. Then the move to LA and The creation of Megadeth. The recording of the band’s first three albums (great as they are) was plagued with problems stemming from the ubiquitous heroin addiction which afflicted the early lineups. After the first two albums Drummer Gar Samuelson and guitarist Chris Poland were fired (for selling the band’s equipment to buy smack) and were replaced with Chuck Behler and Jeff young respectively. That incarnation lasted one album before Nick Menza and Marty Friedman joined, and the band entered its most stable period. This lineup was responsible for the incredible Rust in Peace album. The record was written while Ellefson and Mustaine were still on heroin, but it was recorded after they got clean… and it shows.
Once you reach this point in the book (about a quarter of the way through) you realize you’ve read the most interesting part; the formative years, the classic albums, the addictions, the feuds (which are barely touched on)… and there’s still three quarters of the thing to go. What could possibly fill all those pages?
God fills those pages. God and touring, with the odd token mention of a recording session here and there. When faith is a big part of a man’s life, I would expect it to make an appearance in his biography. I would not expect it to dominate the latter three quarters of it. Ellefson is not just a Christian, he’s studying to become an Anglican pastor and leads the MegaLife! (ugh) clinic for recovering addicts. Fair enough, good on him. However he bangs on so prolifically about his rediscovery of God that it becomes utterly cringeworthy reading. He describes his son as being a “child of God” and believes many positive events in his life to be “acts of God”. Particularly annoying is his description of his resignation from Peavey Amplification (which occurred around the same time as his offer to rejoin Megadeth) after his failed lawsuit against Mustaine. This was an act of God apparently. Well Dave, one man’s divine intervention is another man’s coincidence. Even the aforementioned lawsuit was an act of God apparently as it was a lesson not to pursue such folly. Again, act of God… or learning a lesson the fucking hard way?
Though he claims he never forces his religious beliefs on anyone, the gratuitous religious fervour which clogs the bulk of the book, makes for exasperating and hypocritical reading. Even Christians will find this annoying: it’s as if much of the book isn’t even about him and he’s using it as a conduit to spruik his MegaLife! program and win over the heathen reader with the glory of the divine.
But that’s not the worst part. The most infuriating aspect is that he does not have a bad word to say about ANYBODY! The record company exec who duped him, Mustaine with whom he had a bitter falling out, the members of Metallica, Slayer’s Kerry King, the list goes on. Hey if he’s a forgiving lad, then great, but he doesn’t even describe how he felt at the time of those disagreements. For example when Nick Menza was fired from the band it was because “Dave (Mustaine) felt his playing was holding back the band”. Yeah well I don’t care what Mustaine felt! It’s your bio, what did YOU feel? Nothing apparently. It’s all part of God’s plan you see… Well I’m not buying it, he’s holding back. Call me callous, but his apparent meek obsequiousness comes across as a premeditated and disingenuous propagation of his image as a pure-hearted Christian and a crucifix-shaped middle finger to his fans who paid money for the book.
Sure, he had to play the role of mediator quite often in Megadeth’s countless internal squabbles, but if you’re gonna write your own bio, at least air your dirty laundry otherwise there’s little point. What we get here (besides the early drug use) is the censored version of Ellefson’s life. My PG life with ‘Deth.
Perhaps I’m desensitised after having just read Al Jourgenson’s biography, but at least Uncle Al called it as he saw it, even if he did exaggerate at times. “Person X did such & such, and that’s why I think they’re a fucking douche”. None of that for Dave, everything’s rosy and part of God’s great plan, so much so that the death of his former friend and bandmate Gar Samuelson in 1999 doesn’t even rate a mention.
I’m not God bashing or being discriminatory in any way, this book will read similarly no matter your spiritual alignment. Besides, it would be a reasonable understatement to say that many metalheads have a somewhat apathetic attitude to religion (at best) and portions of this book will shit them to tears.
If you’re a die hard Megadeth fan or a voracious consumer of rock bios then it’s worth a look I guess, but for the rest of you: read Megadeth’s Wikipedia page and the entirety of the New Testament.
Boring, preachy and reserved.