Heavy metal legend Dave Mustaine and TAS’s old friend, Human Events editor Jed Babbin, probably don’t share too many overlapping areas of interest. But, as Megadeth’s latest offering United Abominations makes clear, the transgressions of a certain international body situated on the East River is one topic over which the guitarist and Inside the Asylum author could have a meeting of the minds.
In a mere five minutes and thirty-seven seconds United Abominations’ title track encapsulates a litany of complaints against this “blot on the face of humanity,” as Mustaine sneeringly calls it, from its practical indifference to ethnic cleansing and state-sponsored terrorism to the “mire of hypocrisy, bribes, kickbacks and corruption” it mucks around in. “The U.N. is where our so-called allies undermine us, and we pay 22 percent of the tab to host our enemies here at home,” Mustaine intones during what is almost certainly the only song this year to name check Kofi Annan’s son Kojo (“Held hostage by Oil-For-Food/Yet their own plates are full off the fat of their lands/There’s no blood on their hands, right Kojo?”) thunders along.
“I have a feeling a couple years from now, people are going to be saying, ‘Who the f—k is Kojo?’” Mustaine laughed in a recent telephone interview from Amsterdam amidst the hustle and bustle of the United Abominations world tour. “But you know what? I bet some of the kids who bought this record looked his name up after reading the lyrics and know a whole lot more about the Oil-for-Food scandal than they did before.”
Not everyone is amused by Mustaine’s battering of the blue helmets. “I just wonder which abomination he considers worse: Eradicating polio or ending obstetric fistula?” Mark Leon Goldberg sniffs on UN Dispatch. “Or is it the campaign to reduce childhood mortality rates by two-thirds that gets the aging rocker’s blood boiling? I suppose he can take his pick.”
“I’m sure the United Nations does some good stuff,” Mustaine retorts. “I mean, they’ve got one of the most beautiful women in the world pushing rice in Darfur. But that’s the irony of it all. They’ll send those C130s over there full of supplies, drop it off and…the rebels get it. Deliver it all the way if you’re going to deliver it. What good is it if it goes to the bad people? Then there are these allegations of women and children being raped by peacekeepers in Africa — the first time that happens it’s a crime, the second time it is a travesty.”
It’s the lack of outrage that has Mustaine outraged. “Why doesn’t Michael Moore do an expose on the UN?” he asked, adding, “When I see Syria on the Security Council [in 2002-2003], am I supposed to feel secure? It’s mad….They just rely on UNICEF, this one good thing they’re doing, to cover up all the stuff that they’re not doing, to put them beyond dissent. I’m not impressed. How long are they going to sit by and watch Hezbollah fire Katyusha rockets into Israel from Lebanon? That’s a question I’d like answered.”
Speaking of Israel, on another track, “Amerikhastan,” Mustaine envisions a dystopian future wherein a “legion of bankrupt souls with a lust for revenge” brings civilization to its knees. “You must ignore the focus groups,” he advises in his melodic howl. “You must send in the Mossad/Turn off the BBC and CNN/And don’t look back.”
Ignore CNN? Call in Mossad? Is it any wonder Mustaine’s recent reception in Tel Aviv was near-rapturous? And how long will it be before Mustaine winds up a roving celebrity ambassador for the Project for the New American Century?
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, MUSTAINE’S career should be dead, dead, dead. Mega-dead, even. Over the last half decade, Mustaine suffered a “compressed radial nerve” in his left arm, forcing him to spend a painful year relearning to use his fingers and play guitar. Then there was the endless ridicule over his unflattering appearance in Some Kind of Monster — the 2004 documentary detailing Metallica’s unintentionally hilarious year of group therapy — a band Mustaine was unceremoniously fired from…in 1983. Finally, the controversialist became a born-again Christian, alienating heavy metal’s substantial evil music constituency. (United Abominations contains two touching paeans to Mustaine’s faith — “A Tout Le Monde” and “Never Walk Alone: A Call to Arms.”)
The metal press had their hammers and chisels out, prepared to carve the epitaph. Mustaine wasn’t ready to jump in his own grave, however, returning in late 2004 with a message and sound that was, if anything, less compromising. That same year Mustaine, proving his knack for confrontation was not limited to compact disc, told a reporter, “Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks said that she is ashamed to be from the state of Texas. Well, I’m ashamed that you are f—king from America.”
“People say musicians should stay out of politics, and I agree,” Mustaine sighed when asked about the appropriate nexus of music, politics and everything else. “But I’m a citizen, too. I love my country. When I went to cover the  Democratic National Convention for MTV, I walked around like a respectable American who happened to be in the music business instead of like one of these idiots in a T-shirt that says ‘F — k Our President.’
“In a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter,” he continued. “I can’t tell you how condescending the look I got from John Kerry was when I walked up to interview him at the 1992 convention or the way Oliver Stone treated me. I was like, ‘You know what? Don’t let the hair fool you, guys.’”
Or the records, for that matter. The message of the band’s 1986 sophomore effort Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? is as crisply provocative and self-explanatory as United Abominations, while Rust in Peace (1990) delved into Cold War-era fears. The song “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” actually proved to be a fairly prescient take on the impending clash of civilizations — even if other tracks dealt with alien abductions and alchemistic curses.
“I had labelmates when I was on Capitol Records like Poison who had songs like ‘Talk Dirty to Me,’” Mustaine explained. “That never appealed to me. I wanted to do something that was a little bit more profound, even if I didn’t really want a bunch of pontificators in the front row.”
Disaffected youth and outcasts are always going to make up the largest segment of the heavy metal audience, yet Mustaine nonetheless insists his is a message and a medium that attracts more sophisticated fans than those outside the genre circle might suspect. The last time Megadeth played El Paso, for example, a fan introduced himself to Mustaine. They chatted about the new album for a bit and then Mustaine asked him what he did for a living.
“He said, ‘I’m an in utero cardiologist,’” Mustaine recalled. “And I said, ‘What? You’re a Megadeth fan and you go inside a pregnant woman’s stomach and operate on a fetus’s heart?’ I thought, ‘There’s so much more to this music than most people understand.’”
The cardiologist is not alone. At the Megadeth online headquarters there are separate Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Israeli, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and English forums where fans gather by the thousands. In a way, Mustaine is running his own model United Nations.