In the course of a lifetime, there are some lessons that can only be learned the hard way. We all mess up more often than we’d like to, but we will often gain wisdom and experience if we just step back and take honest stock of these mistakes. If anyone understands what it’s like to stumble and pull themselves back up, it’s Dave Mustaine.
In the middle of a concert in 1988, the Megadeth mastermind made a controversial statement from the stage of such gravity that the band was escorted out of town under police protection. Rather than tucking tail and wallowing in self-pity, Mustaine used his blunder as experiential ammunition to write one of Megadeth’s best-loved tracks
The incident occurred during a stop in Northern Ireland’s Antrim County on Megadeth’s tour in support of their So Far, So Good… So What! album. Politically minded as he is, the famed guitarist was unaware of the nuanced roots of the ongoing ‘troubles’ in the region.
“I had been enjoying the wonderful adult beverages of Ireland. I was overwhelmed about being in Ireland though I didn’t even know the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland until later on. During the afternoon a guy had been caught selling bootleg T-shirts inside the venue, with the proceeds going to ‘The Cause’. I was told this was a struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants which I thought pretty fucked-up, but I honestly didn’t know that The Cause meant the IRA.”
Getting more and more inebriated throughout the show, Mustaine likely tipped over the chemical edge during a short break due to technical difficulties. The guitarist recalled: “I went back and had a shot of peppermint schnapps. Paul McCartney had famously said: ‘Give Ireland back to the Irish’ and if it was good enough for Sir Paul, well… But when I said those same words followed by: ‘This song is for The Cause – Anarchy In Antrim’ and we played a cover of the Sex Pistols classic things went really fast and I don’t remember everything that happened.”
The next morning during breakfast, bassist David Ellefson laid into Mustaine about the events of the prior evening. “He told me: ‘I bet you don’t remember being escorted out of Antrim last night in a bulletproof bus, do you?’ And no, I didn’t. My reply was: ‘That’s fuckin’ hot!’ but of course it wasn’t fuckin’ hot. Ellefson certainly didn’t think it was cool. Later, when I was alone, I wondered why the fuck I’d done that. But all of us were young, everybody [in the band] was drinking and smoking and we were dealing with a lot of internal personal struggles.”
Shortly thereafter, Mustaine began to pen the now-legendary anthem, “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.” Referencing the Sectarianism he saw firsthand in Ireland, the opening lines of ‘Brother will kill brother spilling blood across the land/Killing for religion something I don’t understand’ has become resonant on an even larger scale.
Watch Megadeth’s “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”