Rants & Essays

On the Death of Dimebag Darrell

By Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Bad enough our brothers and sisters are dying needlessly overseas in a bloody conflict that has lost its identity. Bad enough ordinary crime claims countless lives on our home turf. Bad enough cancer, AIDS and another disease, drunk driving, rob vital lives before their time. At least the romanticized Joplin and Dean version of a “righteous death” seems to have fallen out of favor. Yet how to make sense of a sensational, cruel massacre that ropes in a highly respected metal performer?

Not since the death of Cliff Burton has the passing of a heavy metal notable been so widely publicized. Unfortunately for the contingency of Pantera and Damageplan fans, their cliques have inadvertently gone to the head of the pack in front of Slayer disciples for the title of Most Psychotic Fans, sorry to say. I’m sure this distinction was something nobody ever expected or wanted.

As we wait to unravel the mystery behind the unexplainable rampage in an Ohio nightclub on December 8th that claimed the lives of five including Dimebag, the puzzling questions arise: Was it revenge? Was it temporary insanity? Was it a drunken rampage? Or was it simply a disenfranchised Pantera fan who couldn’t hack the fact that his life was hopelessly intertwined to a well-loved but currently defunct band? Whatever the excuse, it is nothing more than a goddamn cop-out. Murder is murder…period.

Ironic that the irrational shooting spree by 25-year-old Nathan Gale came on the anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon, another musical figurehead whose slaying shocked the world. Shudder to think, was this a copycat killing on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death?

Not to say that Dimebag Darrell should be cast in the same light as Lennon, not by any means. Nonetheless, this brutal act of selfishness parallels Lennon in the fact that an unbalanced individual felt obligated to greedily steal a celebrity from the rest of the world. Whether you were a Pantera fan or a Damageplan fan or neither, Dimebag’s death should be met with the outrage it deserves.

With the same twisted self-esteemism that compelled John Hinckley to take a shot at Ronald Reagan or Turkish activist Mehmet Ali Agca to attempt an assassination upon Pope John Paul II, or the vainglorious snidery of Mark Chapman when he hypocritically asked for the autograph of John Lennon before pilfering his life, Nathan Gale’s killing of Dimebag Darrell, for whatever possible reasoning, is nothing more than a base, arrogant gesture of hatred.

In a year of mostly positive news in the metal world, Dimebag Darrell’s killing not only reveals the darker side of the genre in ways its practitioners could never fathom, but a lack of closure that further stigmatizes the tragedy of the event. How are we to feel? Did Dimebag instigate Gale’s actions, or was this a random act of senseless violence by a desperate voice seeking attention in a world full of lost voices?

I won’t begin to posture any further. I never had the chance to interview Dimebag, so I can’t begin to empathize as closely as his friends and comrades can. However, I will continue my thoughts, not through the eyes of a journalist, but a fan.

The memory I will take of Dimebag Darrell is the fleeting glances of an enthusiastic guitarist in a high-octane band just reinventing itself from its secretive glam metal beginnings. This was on the Cowboys From Hell tour with Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus. I lost my glasses during the show, but the blurry images from a highly active mosh pit were overcome by the metallic bellow gorging from the stage. That outrageous blare told me Pantera was very likely going to take over the metal world at whatever cost, and they made good on it. Like them or hate them, Pantera kept the metal spirit alive while the genre was dying from the grunge dagger that pierced the original scene. In many ways, the few bands that survived the nineties, Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth owe part of their continued success to the popularity of Pantera.

While grunge paved the way towards a leaner, grittier sound in hard rock, Dimebag angrily wailed on his frets in protest, invisibly waving the metal flag from the neck of his guitar, saluting the diehards that followed him and Pantera through the mostly stale music scene in the 90s. Their legacy carried over into the new millennium, testament by their widespread influence in today’s bands.

Sad that Pantera couldn’t continue on for its loyal legions, but even sadder is the possibility that a fan with a grudge felt obliged to share his pain with the rest of the metal community. So, in true metal spirit, I say fuck you, Mr. Gale. We all have pain, we’ve all been wronged and we’ve all felt the temptation to lash out at other in anger. What separates us from the mongrels is that we rise above it.

Peace be to Dimebag’s family, peace be to Gale’s family as I’m sure this will bring undeserving repercussions upon their household (and I urge all metal fans to show some class and leave the Gale family be in their suffering; spewing your anger upon them is the same as blaming Ozzy, Priest and Manson for suicide). Most of all, peace be to the brothers and sisters of the metal community. This was a butt-ugly statistic we didn’t need.

Courtesy of Pivotal Rage (www.pivotalrage.com).