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Thoughts For A Dimebag

 For “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott (August 20, 1966 – December 8, 2004)

Steve Collins was my primary school’s resident expert on all things parentally unapproved: punk rock, horror movies, Stephen King and Sid Vicious. The introductions he made for me in the sixth grade alone would have been enough of a negative influence as any one person could be expected to have, but after the post-primary school holiday he turned up on the first day of seventh grade sporting freshly shoulder-length hair, the ability to play a guitar and a Pantera shirt, and the downward spiral continued.

Every guy in our class went home that day and either dug out their parent’s or older sibling’s until-now ignored guitar or else begged their parents to buy them one, and as soon as they’d all mastered a few power chords Steve lost interest and moved on to the drums, which of course he was also a master at. From there it was on to singing (voice like a choirboy, naturally), and ultimately gangster rap, but back in those days Steve was the mascot metalhead, and if you caught him early enough in the morning before the teachers did, you’d have a new band to go home and check out based on whatever shirt he was wearing before he was forced to change.

Heavy metal has always and will forever be the T-shirt musical genre, especially for caffeinated youth desperate to enrage the lords of suburbia. Metal shirts represented the apex of musical merch design, and in most cases were actually better than the music they represented. Even the shittiest and most forgettable bands had cooler shirts than anybody else, with names that screamed sacrilegious awesomeness emblazoned in fiery type over images of blood, gore, demons and apocalyptic violence. In short, everything a boy could ever want.

Metal shirts fulfilled the double purpose of pissing off parents, teachers and the buttoned-down brigade, and marking out other like-minds for instant friendship. Spotting a blood-splattered black top in a sea of pastel colours and surf brands was like spotting water in the desert of mindless youth. No matter your age, background or cool status, if you saw a guy with unwashed hair in a Kill ‘Em All shirt you knew you at least shared a similar worldview, and, being suburbia, odds were you were both into skating and slasher movies too.

Pantera were something else entirely. The cowboys from hell, here to destroy your town, held the power of relative obscurity over Metallica, who everybody and their little sister knew about. As awesome as the four horsemen’s first run of albums will always be, once James Hetfield’s voice broke things got a little iffy and it did get a little tiring explaining time and again that yes, it was the same Metallica, but no, you didn’t like ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘Whiskey in the Jar,’ and why was a Southern Rock band called Metallica anyway?

Pantera were heavier, and undeniably radio unfriendly, with songs like ‘Fucking Hostile’ that were perfect for testing and ruining new speakers with. The cowboys were tougher than any other band too. Where Metallica and Maiden seemed like just a bunch of skinny skateboarders and horror nerds (i.e. exactly what you didn’t want to admit to being) trying to come off as scary by singing about death and the end of the world, Pantera actually seemed badass, like a bunch of whiskey-drinking rednecks you actually didn’t want to run into in real life.

Of course that image was quickly dispelled once I convinced my mother to buy the R-rated 3 Vulgar Videos From Hell DVD for me, but to no loss, because it made them seem even more like the coolest guys on the planet. The Jackass before there was Jackass, Pantera’s home movies of themselves drinking, smoking weed, and doing all around stupid, hilarious shit, was required viewing for every teen terror, metalhead or no. Not to mention the stripper shower scene that was my first proper full frontal experience and the secret gem of the disc that was passed around like contraband for months thereafter.

The hilarious image of Dimebag Darrell shredding to innocent bystanders on the side of the road is still the first thing I think of when I think of him, and was the first thing that popped into my head when I came downstairs one morning and was told by my mother that he’d been killed, right before the strange sensation of loss that I’d never experienced at the news of the occasional distant relative’s passing.

I’d never experienced death close up before, and even though he was a complete stranger, the hours I’d spent watching and re-watching Pantera’s home videos, listening to Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display Of Power on repeat, and poring over guitar magazine interviews to discover how he pulled off those reverse dive bombs at the end of ‘Cemetery Gates’ made it feel otherwise. The strangeness of his death, too, hit me hard. That someone could be shot dead on-stage mid-concert was unfathomable to me. Tour-van accident or plane crash, maybe, but for a musician to be murdered was a completely foreign concept (needless to say at this point I hadn’t yet discovered black metal).

School that day wasn’t so unlike other school days when news of massive terrorist attacks or natural disasters had just broken. The death of Dimebag Darrell was the resident hot topic. Even those who had no clue who Pantera were had heard, the onstage murder of a musician being worthy of primetime newscasting, even if the musician in question was a metalhead.

While it was a little off-putting to hear these people who openly shunned Dimebag’s music, if they’d even heard it at all, talking about him, it was kind of nice to know he was being talked about and remembered. Everyone swapped tidbits of misheard reportage and conspiracy theories about what had actually gone down on that stage, kids trying vainly to make sense of a senseless act. Even without the ceremonial Pantera T-shirts you would have been able to spot those in mourning from miles away, moody metalheads looking just that little bit moodier.

Steve Collins didn’t show up to school that day, and we all knew why, but nobody would ever give him shit for being a pussy. We all knew it would have hit him harder than anybody. For him, Dimebag was family.

After school that day I forwent the usual afternoon skate for a makeshift memorial service in my bedroom. Alone behind my closed door, candles lit and headphones on I worked my way through the entire Pantera discography under the watchful gaze of the grinning, glazed-eyed poster of Dimebag that adorned my wall.

After Reinventing The Steel came to a close, I slipped 3 Vulgar Videos From Hell into my DVD player and couldn’t stop myself from laughing at all the same scenes. I actually ended up pulling it to the shower scene. Deep down, I knew it’s what Dimebag would have wanted.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Paul Maggard

    November 18, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    I was very fortunate to be high-school age at the time Pantera’s “Far Beyond Driven” album hit the shelves. They were truly the definitive; No metal band, regardless of how heavy, drove the point home like they did.

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