There aren’t many compelling examples in rock history of awesome musicians finding religion and then continuing to be awesome. Bob Dylan was Born Again in the late 70s and almost immediately became a sanctimonious douche. Brian “Head” Welch quit Korn to start making Christian rock that nobody listens to, unless you’re into fun party music like “Bury Me, Resurrected.” Alice Cooper is a borderline tolerable Christian, when he’s not making untenable claims like “Sarah Palin is a breath of fresh air.” Probably the closest thing to a rock star who started going to church and managed not to alienate his fan base is Dave Mustaine. The Megadeth frontman converted to Christianity in 2003, and didn’t immediately try to destroy his legacy with religious claptrap. He’s admitted to praying with his band before shows, Madonna-in-Truth-or-Dare-style, and he once refused to play on the same bill as overtly anti-Christian bands like Rotting Christ and Dissection. But none of that qualifies as insane behavior. His just released Rock Prodigy interactive app offers lessons in guitar shredding, not scripture. And his just released Megadeth album, Th1rt3en, doesn’t even have hints of his Born Again beliefs. Okay sure, he went on ABC News in July and made some crazy claims about Satan. “He could be in this room right now,” Mustaine said with a spooky gravitas that wouldn’t have been embarrassing if he was a camp counselor trying to freak out teenage campers. And then he told SPIN magazine last month that he cured a Megadeth fan in Kentucky of throat cancer, which would’ve been funny coming from somebody who doesn’t also believe that a guy named Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead. But Mustaine’s music remains, for the most part, thank the sweet Lord, relatively non-pious.
I called Mustaine to talk about Th1rt3en, but really, I wanted to ask him about heaven and hell and Rick Perry.
Was there some significance to naming the new album Th1rt3en? Or did you just pick it cause it sounds badass?
Well, one would think the latter. But there’s actually a deeper meaning to the number thirteen for me. There’ve been a lot of thirteens in my life. I was born on the 13th of September. I started playing guitar when I was thirteen. And this is Megadeth’s thirteenth record.
Do you think theories that thirteen is an unlucky number are just superstitious hogwash?
It hasn’t been unlucky for me, that’s all I know. It was definitely unlucky for the Knights Templar, because they all got burned at the stake on Friday the 13th. I think that’s where all the superstition about thirteen being a bad number came from. But for me, it’s always been lucky.
I read somewhere that Taylor Swift loves the number thirteen and writes it on her hand before concerts.
Yep, that’s where I got it from. You busted me, dude.
Did I just ruin thirteen for you?
No, it’s fine. What Taylor Swift believes or doesn’t believe really doesn’t bother me one way or the other.
Do you consider yourself an optimist? Are you looking ahead to 2012 and thinking, “This year’s gonna rock?”
I think 2012 is going to be fine for me in some circumstances, but I think it’s going to be really horrible for our country.
Everything is pretty shitty right now, with the eradication of the middle class, and we’ve got an attorney general who won’t come clean about the Fast and Furious stuff. I think that we’re headed for a lot of trouble. We’ve got an incredible debt, which is just continuing to get higher and higher. We need jobs right now, man. We don’t need any more Washington deals, we need jobs. There are so many things wrong with this current administration.
If you could give one piece of advice to Obama, what would it be?
To me, a president should be the one who steps up to the plate and says “Knock it off.”
Maybe he should consider using that as his election slogan instead of “Yes We Can.”
That’s not a bad idea.
Obama in 2012: “Knock It Off!”
Yeah, I still don’t think I’d believe him. I always thought Colin Powell would make a great president, but he doesn’t want anything to do with politics anymore. I can’t say I blame him. Given our choices for president, I think next year is going to be just terrible.
Even more so if the Mayans are right and we’re all doomed.
Yeah, but nobody seriously buys into that crap. It’s just a lot of fear-mongering.
Do you believe in the apocalypse?
“I did two hexes. One was on a guy who punched me in the back of the head when I wasn’t looking, and the other was on a girl that I wanted to seduce.”
Based on the Mayan Calendar?
Doesn’t have to be on their timetable. Do you believe in End Times at all? Are you braced for the Rapture?
Well … [Long pause.]
I just thought, you know, as a Christian who believes in the bible as a literal document, isn’t an apocalypse part of the deal?
Well, I’m a Christian, so I kinda do believe that things will end in a certain kind of way. But I don’t force my beliefs on anybody. I never have. My mom was a Jehovah’s Witness and to me that’s what people should be afraid of, not me sitting at home listening to my bible tapes.
How do you think the world will end?
I think it’s going to be restored back to what it once was. But who knows when that’ll happen. It won’t be in 2012, I don’t think.
Rick Perry claimed in a recent campaign ad that there’s a war on Christianity. As an intelligent, seemingly non-crazy Christian, do you agree with him?
I think there’s enough evidence that shows there is some effort being made toward controlling religion.
Could you give me an example?
It’s pretty clear that they’re taking prayer out of school. It’s been happening for a very long time. The very first schoolbook that was written had God all over it. I collect books and I have some really, really old schoolbooks, and God is mentioned on every single page. They’re taking God out of the schools to dumb us down.
I’m almost positive they’re trying to have the opposite effect.
It’s not just in the schools. There are a lot of people being persecuted for what they believe in. There was that girl who was fired from a Macy’s in Texas because she didn’t let some cross-dressing dude into the woman’s dressing room. Come on! Are you out of your mind, Macy’s?
I think she was transgender, not a cross-dresser.
That’s not my point.
There’s a pretty big difference. And if we want to talk about persecution …
All I know is, if my wife walked in there and some transgender dude in a dress walked out, I would beat his ass.
You mean her ass.
The dude in the dress?
Never mind, let’s awkwardly change the subject. You have firm religious convictions that I assume include a belief in heaven and hell, right?
If a Christian hell exists, isn’t it likely that Elvis Presley is down there?
[Pause.] You’re asking if I think Elvis is in hell?
Or any rock legend. Jim Morrison is probably in hell, right? John Bonham’s in hell. John Lennon, hell. Jimi Hendrix, hell. Dimebag Darrell, hell. Bon Scott is definitely in hell. Doesn’t that depress you a little?
Well, I don’t know where any of those dudes are, because I don’t really know where they were at before they died.
Where they were at spiritually?
Yeah. I know that Jimi Hendrix became a Christian because a friend of mine that recently passed away had known Jimi really well and owned almost every piece of memorabilia you can imagine. He had the psychedelic V and a couple of his strats. He had Hendrix’s prayer mat.
A prayer mat? Like to cushion your knees while you pray?
Yeah. Hendrix used to kneel on it and pray before he went onstage. Towards the end, before he died, he became a Christian. I had no idea.
Before you became a Christian, you dabbled in witchcraft. Or maybe dabbled isn’t the right word.
No, there was no dabbling. I definitely practiced it full-on.
Did you cast any hexes?
Of course. [Laughs.] If you’re not casting hexes, you’re not really doing witchcraft. You’re just reading about it.
Did you have any favorite hexes? Or any hexes that actually worked?
It’s been so long. The whole subject is kind of boring to me.
That’s weird. As somebody with exactly zero experience in hexes, I can’t think of anything less boring.
I did two hexes. One was on a guy who punched me in the back of the head when I wasn’t looking, and the other was on a girl that I wanted to seduce.
And they both worked?
They did. And that’s why I don’t do hexes anymore. And it’s why I don’t do Megadeth songs like “The Conjuring” anymore. The lyrics are basically just a list of instructions from some of the hexes I’ve done.
You’re worried about copycats?
Yeah, I am. I could play the music, it wouldn’t bother me at all. But the lyrics, I don’t know. When I wrote it, I thought it was really cool to put that stuff in there. I didn’t think beyond the end of my nose that other kids were going to hear it and probably take it to heart.
I just Googled the lyrics to “The Conjuring,” and I guess you’re right, it is like a recipe for a hex. I apparently need a candle and a piece of parchment and an eyelash from a black cat and the straw of a broom. This is all accurate?
It is, yeah.
Where do you even go to find the eyelash from a black cat? Amazon, maybe?
I have no clue. I’m not saying everybody would listen to that song and decide to try doing a hex. Maybe out of 100 people, 99 will think it’s stupid, or 99 will think it’s cool but would never do it. But there’s always that one. You know what I mean? I don’t want to be responsible for misleading anyone. It’s hard enough to survive in this world without getting bad ideas from a metal song.
Th1rt3en is out now on Roadrunner Records.