Megadeth bassist David Ellefson has always seemed like a pretty nice guy. He’s perpetually kept a low profile and stayed in the very long shadow of band leader Dave Mustaine, who frequently made headlines criticizing the U.S. government, trashing his former bandmates in Metallica, and getting busted for drugs. And indeed, Ellefson really is a laid back, affable dude, as evidenced by his autobiography, 'My Life with Deth: Discovering Meaning in a Life of Rock & Roll' (co-written by Joel McIver). Yet, as we learn in these pages, he had plenty of demons that he kept hidden until now.
Ever since Mötley Crüe’s 'The Dirt' spent ten weeks in The New York Times Best Seller List’s top ten in 2001, rock star autobiographies have been as ubiquitous as selfies on social media. If you read enough of them, they start to blur together because almost all of them follow the same template: rock star grows up in abject poverty, joins a succession of bands until one gets signed, attains phenomenal success only to plunge into an abyss of drug addiction, gets life back together and enjoys a second round of success. While Ellefson’s life story does indeed include many of those phases, his history – and consequently his book – include enough unique elements to make 'My Life with Deth' well worth your time, no matter how many books of this type you’ve read.
Take, for instance, the fact that Ellefson became clean and sober at the tender age of 25, while the band was still a few years from peaking. He remained substance-free when Megadeth and later his own career ultimately did hit rock bottom. That is practically unheard of. The bassist also spent eight years working a desk job in the corporate world, founded a worship service (with the groan-inducing moniker MEGA Life! Ministries) and is currently studying to become a pastor in the Lutheran Church. He has definitely got to be the only rock star to have travelled down this road.
Ellefson realizes that most of the people who will read his book are hardcore Megadeth fans (affectionately called droogies), so the bulk of the narrative is devoted to his tenures in the band. Those portions of the autobiography are liberally peppered with fascinatingly obscure trivia about the metal legends, from their original name to how a single fan letter that referenced Metallica’s 'Kill ‘Em All' motivated Mustaine to make his band’s music even faster. Ellefson even briefly discusses the Holy Grail of Megadeth recordings: the second cover version of “These Boots are Made for Walking” (which Megadeth simply titled “These Boots”) which was recorded for the soundtrack of the obscure 1988 film 'Dudes.' Ellefson is as humble in print as he is in person too: he readily admits that Mustaine came up with the immortal bass line in “Peace Sells” and he also doesn’t hold back in condemning the 1999 album 'Risk' as a catastrophic, embarrassing mistake.
Those expecting graphic, wild stories of drug-fueled shenanigans will be sorely disappointed though. Ellefson merely says that he spent approximately a decade addicted to heroin, cocaine and alcohol, without getting into too much detail. He does mention that he was at the party where Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx overdosed and was technically dead for a few minutes. Ellefson also doesn’t dwell on his much-publicized $18.5 million lawsuit against Mustaine in the early 2000s, which is understandable given that they have since made amends.
To be fair though, Ellefson also does not subject the readers to protracted descriptions of growing up in a religious, financially comfortable household in rural Minnesota, despite that being a very atypical metal star childhood. Nor does he force his Christian beliefs down the reader’s throat. “Will I try to sell you the idea that you must have faith?” he asks. “No…in reality, my belief is more ‘live and let live.’ I live my life my way and I let you live yours your way, without needing to make you see everything the way I see it.” That is an extremely refreshing philosophy, one that both Bible thumpers and holier-than-thou atheists (no pun intended) could learn from. Ellefson even admits that he sometimes finds religious issues confusing and still has doubts about religion. It’s hard to fault him for his faith though: he certainly does seem to have lived a charmed life that’s been guided by external forces.
Each chapter concludes with a bit of advice from the author, on a broad range of topics, including money, following your gut, faith, etc. The book is also jam-packed with comments from his friends, old and new, and several musicians that know him, including Kerry King, Scott Ian, Max Cavalera (who offered Ellefson the bassist spot in Soulfly) and Randy Blythe. He even got former Megadeth members Chris Poland and Marty Friedman to contribute. Fellow Christian rocker – and Mustaine’s godfather Alice Cooper penned a foreword as well.
Ellefson’s book may not be as entertaining as Mustaine’s (unlike the other Dave, Ellefson never broke anyone’s leg with a karate kick or got arrested while driving while under the influence of seven or more drugs), but that’s not the point of this book. Ellefson’s job here is to instruct by example. If a drug-addict who coasted through high school and had zero street smarts can live a successful, meaningful life, then so can anybody. No matter what your opinions are regarding the divine, Ellefson’s story is an exceptionally inspiring one.