Pop-Ed: Thank You Dimebag Darrell

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“Thank You Dimebag Darrell”

It’s early in the morning during a pretty rough week before Thanksgiving; I suddenly wake up to the sound of my cell phone ringing and I pick up the phone and listen to my mom talk about how my grandfather went to the hospital. Without getting too personal, I nearly lost a father-like figure whose role goes above and beyond the average grandfather. In the meantime, I’m slowly healing from a shoulder injury and attending physical therapy twice a week until Christmas time. I’m a pretty positive person but these last few weeks were very rough so where do I exert this pent-up frustration?

Time and time again, my guitar becomes my place of salvation as each of the six strings intuitively connects to my inner subconscious unlike any other artistic outlet. I proceed to plug my guitar [LTD EC-1000] into my amplifier where I’m already tuned down to drop D. Without hesitation, I hit the open string, hold my finger on the first fret, and play the main riff to Pantera’s “Walk.” For nearly fifteen-minutes, I play this monstrous riff over and over until I find “a new level of confidence and power.” Just like a big brother, Pantera’s music – specifically Dimebag Darrell’s Dean Razorback – provides the inspiration and encouragement to stay positive and true to my core values.

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While I truly discovered Cowboys From Hell after I turned thirteen, my love for Pantera is a lifelong story. From a young age, I begged my Aunt to blast Pantera, Metallica, Skid Row, and Danzig on her cassette player. Even back in the early 90s, the relentless tenacity of these previously mentioned acts; especially Pantera left an indefinable mark on my music tastes. Years later, I caught the music video for “Psycho Holiday” on a defunct music channel formerly known as MuchMusic during the spring of 2003. Back in the early 2000s, I blasted records like System of a Down’s Toxicity and Linkin Park’s Meteora, however, stumbling onto “Psycho Holiday” occurred during a time period where Metallica changed my life. Looking back, Pantera just naturally clicked after I devoured records like Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets. Shortly after, my aunt gave me a stack of CD’s including Far Beyond Driven, Pearl Jam’s V.S., and Temple of the Dog’s self-titled LP. Seriously, I remember listening to “Strength Beyond Strength” on my walkman and thinking to myself, “How could one band create something so ruthless and chaotic?”

Over the next few months, I purchased Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display of Power, and The Best of Pantera: Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboys’ Vulgar Hits!” I type these following sentences with goosebumps running through my body – no other musical act helped me find such inner strength to believe in myself quite like Pantera. When I first listened to “Walk,” I became infatuated by this band’s ability to manifest such visceral aggression into a melodic display of relentless grooves. All these difficult hurdles in my life suddenly disappeared, as I felt invincible and confident enough to conquer any obstacle standing in my way.

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For the next six-years, I took guitar lessons at a local music store called Musicians Workshop in Manalapan, New Jersey where my teacher Ron Nash helped me develop the necessary skill set to learn Pantera masterpieces like “This Love.” If I needed a weekly reminder to practice my guitar scales, songs like “Domination” provided the inspiration to continually improve my craft. In terms of transitioning into a full-fledged ‘Metalhead,’ my consumption of Pantera and other classic acts like Iron Maiden, Slayer, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains occurred around 2003/2004. Unfortunately, the war of words between the Abbot’s and Phil Anselmo were glossing headlines around this time. For a young Pantera fan like myself, I understood the formation of ‘Damageplan’ (Dimebag’s second band) resulted from the darkest period of the Abbot brother’s musical career.

Let me talk about one of the biggest regrets in my life – Damageplan performed at my local venue – Starland Ballroom – twice in 2004. For any Pantera fan reading this, it’s difficult to construe my desire and guilt for missing Damageplan’s performance on December 4, 2004. One of my best friends saw Damageplan earlier in the year and mentioned how they played “Walk” and “A New Level,” and this severely spiked my anticipation for the show. Unfortunately, my aunt couldn’t take me and none of my friends really listened to Pantera. At fourteen-years old, I desperately wanted to see my guitar hero perform in person but I didn’t really have much say in the matter. Nowadays, I would’ve gone by myself but I assumed they would play again sometime in 2005. Going off my last statement, this next portion of my story forever changed my attitude in terms of missing my favorite bands on tour.

I remember waking up late for school on a cold and cloudy Wednesday morning on December 8, 2004 and sprinting out of my house so I wouldn’t miss the bus. Looking back, I started my day on the wrong note and something didn’t seem quite right. My first period English class was one of my favorites in high school – there were a few other rockers like myself and my teacher even listened to Tantric and Sevendust. Once I sat down, my friend turned over to me and said, “Hey Anthony, I heard one of the guys from Pantera died.” My stomach immediately felt nauseous as I emphatically replied, “Are you kidding me? Who?” One of the older kid’s in my class overheard our conversation and said, “Dimebag Darrell was murdered on stage.” Honestly, I refused to believe him until he mentioned the source – the defunct radio station ‘92.3 K-Rock.’ The sudden shock of Dime’s passing sunk my heart to the fucking ground and I probably could’ve cried if I weren’t in a class. For the last two years, Dimebag “Darrell” Abbot opened my eyes to the intrinsically expressive outlets of heavy metal. Especially at fourteen-years-old, it was very painful to lose my biggest musical influence from my favorite band.

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Once I arrived home from school, I rushed to my computer and researched every article related to the situation. Story after story, I couldn’t believe how something so tragic happened in the most sacred environment. After reading about the passing of heroic fans and crewmembers too – this nightmare became one of the most disturbing events in the history of modern music. In my humble opinion, no other live setting creates such a mystical aura and unifies large groups of people quite like music. Death should never compromise the communal relationship between a gifted performer and crowd ready to devour the brilliance of their artwork. Till this day, I express my sincerest condolences to Vinnie Paul who witnessed the death of his brother and best friend. For the legions of metalheads who criticize him for ruling out any sort of Pantera reunion, could you truly imagine the heartache of the Abbott Family?

However, instead of letting tragedy define this upcoming anniversary, the legend of Dimebag Darrell continues to transcend different generations of metal listeners. Phil Anselmo once screamed the lyrics, “My strength is in number/ And my soul lies in everyone,” In the truest sense, those words perfectly describe the lasting impact of Pantera. Just flashback to the late 90s/early 2000s, the quintessential guitar hero in the vein of Randy Rhoads no longer served a purpose in the eyes of the mainstream. For the youngsters out there, imagine a music scene where guitar solos weren’t considered ‘fashionable’ anymore. Personally speaking, I turned to older bands as I craved virtuosic guitar work that I didn’t hear on MTV or the radio. Instead of following the trends, Dimebag proceeded to wail away on tracks like “Revolution Is My Name” to keep the dream alive for optimistic shredders. I’d even argue his passing shed some well-deserved spotlight on the brilliance of his guitar-oriented catalog. Make no mistake, I don’t find it coincidental that guitar driven bands heavily influenced by Pantera, such as Avenged Sevenfold and Lamb of God, ignited the largest wave of American metal since the late 80s after Dime’s passing.

Speaking from personal experience, Pantera also helped me find the courage to succeed during some critical junction’s in my life away from music. For the naysers who stereotype metalheads as unintelligent, I transferred to Rutgers University nearly three years ago to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree. To sooth my transition from a small school to a large university, listening to songs like “The Great Southern Trendkill” eased the pressure of maintaining a high GPA. Before the end of my first semester, I spent plenty of nights in the library till two in the morning studying for my finals. Acing my last exam would help me cement a 4.0 GPA. During the bus ride from my dorm to the classroom, I listened to “A New Level” to calm my nerves. This exam took place during a gorgeous day in the beginning of May and I felt so confident walking into the classroom. Let’s put it this way, I guarantee none of my other classmates were this pumped for a history exam! Most transfer students experience an overall drop in their GPA during the ‘transition’ semester but this became one the proudest moments of my academic career.

Anthony Toto with Rita Haney, Dimebag's girlfriend.
Anthony Toto with Rita Haney, Dimebag’s girlfriend.

During the summer of 2012, I also had the pleasure of meeting Dimebag’s longtime girlfriend, Rita Haney, at the Rockstar Uproar Festival. She hung out by her booth dedicated to Dimebag’s legacy and we had a great conversation about Pantera. Looking back, I greatly appreciate how she took the time to talk and listen to my story – her kindness perfectly displayed why Dime and her made such a great couple. We even joked around about my friends and me listening to songs like “Becoming” before we go out on the weekends. The highlight of this conversation occurred when she spoke about Dime’s love for the fans and how he invited them to drink and eat some barbeque before and after shows.

To conclude this tribute, I remember reading a feature story in Guitar World that perfectly captures the beauty of Dimebag Darrell’s personality. Harkening back to the mid 90s, Dimebag came across a young fan and his father during an autograph session that took place at a small music store. This young man’s father approached Dime later on and spoke about his financial predicament and his inability to afford a guitar for his son. After hearing about this family’s struggles, Dime asked them to hang around till after the signing concluded so this young fan and his dad could walk around the store and pick out a guitar. To his credit, Dime covered the costs and helped this father make a dream come true for his son. His reasoning behind this extraordinary act of kindness related to how his young fan could potentially become the next Eddie Van Halen if given the opportunity. Music is the greatest gift anyone could receive but Dimebag used his platform to create once in a lifetime opportunities for his legion of fans. As future generations of metal musicians discover Dimebag Darrell, they will recognize how his incredible character also defined his musical legacy. On behalf of Pantera fans everywhere, thank you Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott for the inspiration, strength, and timeless memories!