Opinion: Did Dave Ellefson Really Deserve to Get Fired from Megadeth?

Yesterday, it was revealed that Dave Ellefson, founding bassist of thrash metal titans Megadeth, was dropped from the band following a pretty lurid scandal. A series of sexual text messages surfaced involving Ellefson and a woman who is not his wife, and with them came an explicit video of Dave masturbating onscreen. While rumors that the woman in question was underage or being “groomed” by Ellefson were quickly put to rest by the woman herself, Megadeth said in their statement yesterday that “with an already strained relationship, what has already been revealed now is enough to make working together impossible moving forward.”

While Megadeth may know more than we do, as of now this feels absurd. Ellefson might not be a good man, but nothing he did was worth firing him over, especially in the eyes of Megadeth’s fanbase, who made no attempt to publicly trash or ‘cancel’ him. Unless there’s a significant amount of information we do not currently know, Ellefson’s firing feels unfair and over the top.

Megadeth, 2018, with Dave Ellefson second from the left.

Nobody’s saying that Ellefson’s interactions with this woman were appropriate or moral. Any relationship is about trust and honesty, and it’s clear via the public statements he’s made that Ellefson is aware that he betrayed those values in his marriage. On top of that, having a video of yourself masturbating on screen go public…well, let’s just say it’s never a good look, especially if you’re an older gentleman. That behavior led to The New Yorker suspending reporter Jeffery Toobin earlier this year when he began masturbating during a Zoom meeting without realizing his computer’s camera was still on. It’s what plenty of industry folks would call a PR nightmare.

Except Megadeth isn’t The New Yorker, they’re a thrash metal band. Nobody’s looking to them for moral or intellectual guidance, and no one showed up to their concerts to hear Dave Ellefson’s advice on a happy marriage. Their name is Megadeth, for crying out loud. And if anything, being sexually explicit is a vital part of metal culture; those husky dudes haven’t been sticking their tongues out in bondage gear all this time for no reason. But even then, it appears that Dave never actually had sex with this woman, he just had an inappropriate interaction with her. That’s not to say that Ellefson’s actions were totally justified, only that they don’t seem like the kind of thing for which one should be fired from a thrash band.

The public didn’t even seem to care. When we first published the news of Dave’s departure yesterday, commenters rushed in decrying ‘cancel culture’ and ‘the social media mob’ or whatever. But the rumors of underage grooming in Ellefson’s situation were almost immediately put to rest by the woman with whom he had this online affair. No one tried to ‘cancel’ Dave Ellefson, because, in all honesty, no one seemed to care enough to ‘cancel’ him. Ellefson is the bassist of a classic metal band, and he didn’t do anything racist or violently misogynistic. The court of public opinion didn’t even really convene for this case.

So if Dave Ellefson didn’t harm Megadeth’s public image, and the public at large didn’t call for his firing, why’d he get fired? The band’s line about a “strained relationship” in their statement seems to be the biggest hint. Megadeth rontman and band leader Dave Mustaine is not known for being very egalitarian, and is a devout Christian whose faith has in the past informed his professional choices. So one wonders if Ellefson’s violation of his marriage vows led Mustaine to think it looked bad for the band, or didn’t vibe with his own public image. But this paints Mustaine as an ogre, and maybe it was a lot simpler than that: maybe Mustaine is a friend of Ellefson’s wife and family. Maybe he was angry at Ellefson for hurting those he loved. If you became close with your buddy’s wife, and it was revealed he was cheating on her, wouldn’t you be pissed?

To break the fourth wall for a second, the reason I’m giving Mustaine the benefit of the doubt here is simple: I don’t like him. I am as vocal a critic of Dave Mustaine’s politics and public image as one can find (hell, I’m not even a big fan of Ellefson, or Megadeth in general). But fairness is the point of this piece, and I do think it’s important to consider that there were some very real, very personal reasons why Megadeth let Ellefson go — just as I think it’s important to question whether or not they should have. But if personal issues weren’t the source of his firing, and his current sex scandal was, then it’s arguable that it wasn’t a good enough reason.

Moving forward, Dave Ellefson will probably have a pretty easy time getting work. Even if his public image is harmed by this scandal — and given the nature of the events, it probably won’t be that tarnished — his reputation and legacy are such that people will come a-calling to him pretty soon. But that’s perhaps why his firing from Megadeth seems so egregious. There’s so much terrible shit going on in the world right now, but Dave Ellefson just had an online affair. For one of the biggest names in a transgressive art form to let him go because of that feels pretty silly.

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Words by Chris Krovatin