Life After ‘Deth: How Megadeth’s Marty Friedman Became a Japanese Superstar
Marty Friedman has been in Japan for so long that he’s lost track of what’s happening back home in America. In casual conversation over a lunch of anago tempura, deep-friend tuna cheeks and myriad pieces of sushi at a restaurant in Tokyo’s hip Shinjuku neighborhood – all ordered at Friedman’s recommendation, selected through a remote-control hand-held console that’d be a challenge even if the instructions were in English – he expresses genuine astonishment that sushi is now so commonplace in America that it’s available at convenience stores. He’s also shocked that Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo now has a firm presence in the U.S. “Really?” he says. “No kidding! Uniqlo New York? Wow!”
So it goes for Friedman, who abruptly quit a plum gig as lead guitarist for thrash-metal icons Megadeth at the turn of the millennium, uprooted his entire life to Japan and never looked back. Not that Friedman’s services weren’t in demand Stateside – his stint in Megadeth lasted 10 years and spanned four albums, including Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction and Youthanasia, the band’s biggest-selling and arguably best albums. He was also on board for 1999’s divisive Risk, a record scorned by fans and critics alike for its tepid direction and which served as a watershed moment for Friedman and the band.
“Going into the Risk cycle, he was not terribly thrilled with the direction Megadeth were taking,” recounts Clay Marshall, General Manager of Prosthetic Records, Friedman’s current U.S. label home.”[Friedman] wanted Megadeth to embrace the heaviness. At the end of the Nineties as the whole nü-metal thing was going up, he thought Megadeth were getting beaten at their own game by these bands that were embracing more of an aggro sound. He just wanted Megadeth to keep going that direction.”
He’s The Ryan Seacrest of Japan
Friedman’s decision to leave Megadeth behind has worked out quite nicely. He’s a highly sought-after live and studio guitar player in Japan, but in many ways that’s something of an afterthought: Friedman has become a national celebrity in a way that only computes using the idiosyncratic calculus of Japanese culture. “He’s a cultural celebrity over there,” Marshall offers. “I tried to figure out how to explain it to people and we came up with the ‘Ryan Seacrest of Japan’ catch-phrase. It’s not exactly accurate, but it was a much more accurate assessment of who he is and what he means to that world than ‘Marty Friedman: Heavy Metal Guitar Player.'”