I don’t know if you’ve ever met any of your untouchable, godlike, rock ’n’ roll heroes. But I have, many times, and it usually sucks. They’re never as impressive as when you first saw them in a magazine, and I should know—I’m a photographer, and it’s my job to make rock stars look cool in magazines. I’ve been disillusioned over and over, but in 2003, when I met Pantera’s guitarist, Dimebag Darrell, things went differently. I had done a few photo shoots with Dimebag for a guitar mag, and after the second one, he invited me to his home in Arlington, Texas, to attend a Christmas party.
On Christmas Eve, I arrived at his house—it was obvious which was his because it was the only one in the neighborhood with a huge Confederate flag on the roof. I was expecting a bacchanalian drug fest fit for a metal god, but when Dimebag’s wife, Rita, answered the door in an apron, I realized this was just a straight-up Christmas party. I drank countless “blacktooth grins,” his signature drink of Seagram’s Seven Crown, Crown Royal, and a tiny bit of Coke. There were dudes with ponytails and women in mom jeans, and Dimebag was beneath a black, upside-down Christmas tree passing out presents like spice racks and potpourri.
“Matt!” he yelped when he saw me. “Welcome to the party!” Not long after, the lights dimmed and a smoke machine spewed fog from the base of the tree. Someone threw Black Sabbath on the stereo and the party really started. A random buddy brought a crumpled stop sign he’d knocked down during a recent drunk joyride in Dimebag’s beat-up truck. Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains came late, strolling in holding a fist-size Ziploc of white powder in a decorative holiday bag with a rolled-up dollar bill taped to it. It was a white Christmas for all.
I’ve had these photos stuffed in a drawer since then, but I guess it’s time I shared them. A year after they were taken, Dimebag was shot and killed by a crazed fan, and I figure we should remember him in his true element: surrounded by a bunch of women in mom jeans, novelty drinks, and suburban raging.