Editorial: Your Dead Metal Heroes Were No Angels
Dimebag Darrell was no angel. He drank too much and did a bunch of drugs. He had an arrest record. He was an incredibly talented musician, and—from what I’ve read—a great guy. That’s worth something. But let’s not paint him white and give him a halo now that he’s no longer here. He was one of our best, but that says something about us.
When the metal gods die, there’s always an immediate urge to portray them as angels. Their sins are forgiven, because hey, they were good dudes, and their work made so many people happy. Dimebag has been sanctified repeatedly since his death; if he’s not an actual angel, he’s a child who just liked playing ‘round the crick. They’ve done it to Jeff Hanneman, too—Angel of Jeff—but less blatantly so; it’s hard to canonize someone who wrote that much music about the Devil (a Quorthon angel is hard to find). Others rock angels include Randy Rhoads, Cliff Burton, Paul Gray, The Rev, Peter Steele, Kurt Cobain, and every dead rapper. Anyone I’ve ever met who knew these guys absolutely loved them, and that’s great, but they aren’t playing harps in Heaven now, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Is that what you really want? These envoys of rebellion and vitality and excess, all dressed in white and smiling at each other? Rock & Roll Heaven is a comforting idea until you realize how much it would suck. Good music is born of tension and turmoil, and angels in Heaven don’t deal with many challenges other than what to have for lunch that day, surf and turf or barbecue dodo. Soon, there’s not much else to do but play “Hotel California” again. All your new material is about how it blows to be in Rock & Roll Heaven, and you finally kill yourself and go to Hell so you can hear some Maiden.
This is not to say that all our favorite rock stars are burning in agony for their crimes. It’s as naïve to think that rock stars who overdid it are going to Hell as it is to believe they’re chilling on a cloud. Just because one idea is bullshit doesn’t mean its opposite is right. First of all, the best rock and roll, even the satanic stuff, is really about how the Heaven-and-Hell thing is a fairy tale meant to keep us from living a fulfilling life. And second, even if you do believe your soul goes somewhere after you shit the bucket, do you really think your afterlife will be one of the two realms you learned about in Sunday school? It’s never black and white. There’s always a third option.
There are ways to think around it. Maybe it’s not Heaven in the Christian understanding. Most metalheads would prefer Valhalla, the Viking warrior afterlife where you murder each other all day and party all night. Maybe it’s like certain Asian and Caribbean cultures, where the soul becomes a household god or protective ancestral spirit. Or maybe it’s an afterlife made up of your perfect days. Maybe Pete Steele passed away, and opened his eyes to find himself clearing downed branches in Washington Square Park. After work, he headed to Duff’s. Repeat. That’s a nice idea, and it’s a lot more believable than him smiling down on Wacken from astride a moonbeam or whatever the fuck.
Dio gets to be an angel. Yup. That’s just how it is. If someone told me Dio was an angel, I’d buy it. Dio’s music was never truly Satanic—the Dio demon is more of an Egyptian, Anubis-type entity than a diabolic one—and he was driven by a unique sense of positivity that would be appropriate for a warrior seraph. So he’s in. I know I’m a total hypocrite for saying that, but that’s the thing about Heaven—you don’t believe in it until someone you love dies, and then you hope it’s real, just for them.
A collaborator of mine passed away recently after a battle with cancer. We’d had creative differences while we worked together. I was stubborn, and more than once I picked a fight with him just to butt heads. When I got the news, I had that moment of guilt—Why did I turn down his ideas? Why didn’t I just concede to do it his way? If I’d only known… Then I got over it. It does my friend no favor to rewrite him as a perfect person now. My points were valid. They still are. By the time I knew he was sick, we’d gotten over our differences and we were on our way to creating something great together. Putting him on a pedestal makes the life he lived less important.
A great man once told me, “Perfection is a myth. Purity is a myth.” To me, that’s one of the central concepts behind the universe. Everything’s all fucked up, nothing more so than people, and no people more so than metalheads. So I’d rather remember metalheads as people, because to do otherwise is to lie. Go ahead and think of your favorite musicians as gods who wrested diabolical songs from the sonic abyss. In heavy metal, there’s nothing wrong with your idols being larger than life. But let’s face it, life is going to outgrow them eventually. When that time comes, don’t disrespect their legacies by turning them into angels. Don’t damn them to Heaven.