Friday, December 5, 2014

Reflections On Dimebag Darrell's Death

Sorry for the absence, a lot of stuff has been going on between the holidays and some professional stuff. Rest assured, I have not forgotten about Justified Arrogance. This essay featured for the Dallas Observer this morning, so technically this is kind of cheating. I am really proud of this article. Dimebag Darrell and Pantera were important figures in my musical development. This is the original cut before editing. For the finished cut, please visit 

Music is all about the immortals. We talk about them all the time: the Ozzy Osbournes, the James Hetfields, and so on. We let these people into our lives. They become a part of us; helping us along as we grow up. Some of them are there for the biggest moments of our lives, the highs and the lows. In Dallas, Texas’ world of metal, there is only one band that has held a monopoly over this emotional connection to its fans and to the city: Pantera. I’m not going to bore you with the Behind The Music story. You already know the story. Formed in the 80s by the Abbott brothers (Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul) as a glam metal band, they really became successful when Phil Anselmo joined and the band really cut their teeth around the world as PANTERA to become one of the biggest metal bands of all time (for reference: Far Beyond Driven made it to #1 on Billboard almost entirely without help from mainstream media support; an unheard of achievement even to this day). But I digress, you already know this story. The story I’m about to tell you about, you already know too because it is metal’s greatest tragedy. It is when mythology clashes with mortality. As much as people want to believe these guys are gods, at the end of the day they’re still only human. Even Phil Anselmo, who brags he has legally died four times from overdose, will eventually pass on one day. That’s life. Even for those who live larger than life.

On December 8th, 2004, the metal world lost Dimebag Darrell in a tragedy that defies words. It wasn’t like when Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash or when Jeff Hanneman died of failing health or when Cliff Burton died in a bus crash. As tragic as those events were, those kinds of things happen. There wasn’t a whole lot anyone could really do about it. Dimebag lost his life at a club in Columbus, Ohio on a cold night when a demented Pantera fan named Nathan Gale, who blamed Dimebag for the breakup of Pantera, attended Dimebag’s new band Damageplan’s show. During the band’s set, Gale jumped on the stage and drew a handgun, opening fire on Dimebag and road crew members. Dimebag, along with three others, lost their lives (with seven others wounded). I remember when I heard the news. You couldn’t escape it. My first thought was “this isn’t real”. Even in a genre of music like metal, where things are often without reason and occasionally nihilistic, none of what happened in Columbus made sense. Musicians die. It happens. But they’re not supposed to get shot on stage.

Dimebag’s death changed everything for everyone. Case in point: December 17th, 2004, only nine days after the shooting, I attended a show at Trees: Hatebreed / Sick of It All / Terror / Full Blown Chaos / No Warning. When I walked up to the door, the reality of what happened in Columbus hit me in the face. The security at Trees was on full alert. People were getting patted down and handheld metal detectors were running over everyone. On the walls everywhere were “RIP DIMEBAG DARRELL” flyers. It was like a subculture dystopia. A world without Dimebag Darrell. More to the point, the bands were nervous. Everybody was. Nobody knew what to expect. What happened to Dimebag had never happened before. Was it a harbinger of things to come? The show started and it went off without a hitch. Terror, a hardcore band from Los Angeles, is famous for calling their fans to the stage to partake in stage dives during their set. Like every Terror set I’ve ever seen, the fans were out in full force stage diving. I even hit a few of my own. Every time someone hit that stage though, I saw it in the corner of my eye: Trees security and road crew members jumping an inch every time a fan hit the stage. Even though that Terror set was business as usual, the world they were living in no longer was.

Here we are now. Ten years later and what has changed? Luckily, there has not been a repeat of what happened in Columbus and no one else has had to go through that kind of tragedy. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t weigh on the minds of some. When Phil Anselmo’s sludge band Down played the famed Maryland Death Fest in 2013, he made a big demand before the band would play the fest. He asked that the fest security collect attending fans’ bullet belts. Maryland Death Fest has a large crust punk attendance and a major fashion staple of crust punks are bullet belts. Despite the fact that the bullets are not live and they are merely for show, Anselmo had convinced himself that someone would sneak in live ammunition and attempt to assassinate him.

Elsewhere in Dallas, the memory of Dimebag is celebrated and honored by touring bands. For years, the Clubhouse, or the “Pantera strip club” as out-of-towners refer to it, was a destination for visiting musical acts. They wanted to drink whiskey at the Pantera hangout while taking in the sights. They wanted their picture taken next to all of the Pantera memorabilia in the lobby. In the last few years, fans have taken their Pantera pilgrimage a step further: they visit Dimebag’s grave in Arlington. At Dimebag’s grave, people smoke blunts and pour whiskey out for the man whose ability to party was only surpassed by his ability to play guitar.

It is easy to say Dimebag is gone. That he died in 2004 and that was that. It wasn’t though. Randy Rhoads died and Ozzy kept putting out records. Cliff Burton died and Metallica kept touring. When Dimebag died, things ended with him. People understood it then as they do now. You can’t replace Dime. You just can’t. The beard, the Dixie guitar, and the drinking while he played his solos. That was all him. We watch 3 Vulgar Videos From Hell and we smile at all of it. That was him as he lived. When he died, the world didn’t end. The world just admitted that they couldn’t replace the irreplaceable.


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