Why doesn't anyone give a shit about Pantera anymore?
Last Friday, I attended an organized tribute/toast to my favorite (dead) guitarist, "Dimebag" Darrell. Though the venue billed the event as "annual," this was the first New York-area "Dimebag" memorial I had heard about since the Pantera guitarist's death in 2004, and I did not want to miss it.
I own a fair amount of Pantera gear, but I decided to keep it low-key and sort of preppy that evening. I was hoping to walk in the bar and have all these metal dudes think, "Who is this fucking nerd? I bet he doesn't know shit." And I would be like, "Au contraire," and rattle off a bunch of Dime facts and take a lot of shots, so the metal dudes would be like, "Holy-shit, this dude fucking rules."
The toast took place at a bar called Idle Hands on Avenue B at 11:59 PM the night of December 7th (Dimebag was shot to death on the 8th, the same date as John Lennon). The flyer promised five-dollar "Black Tooth Grins" (Dime's signature cocktail) and a Pantera Power Hour to begin promptly after the toast at midnight. We arrived at 11 PM, hoping to beat the crowd but were surprised to find the bar already packed with drunk people. I had never been to Idle Hands before and didn't really know what to expect, but I was surprised by the straightness of the patrons. They didn't seem like quintessential Pantera fans. But, then again, neither did I.
The venue was vaguely 90s hard rock themed, complete with Porno for Pyros posters on the wall and "Spoonman" on the stereo. I guess I was hoping for more of a "Duff's"-style metal bar, but I wasn’t too disappointed. My group of friends was lucky enough to find a table, so I went to the bar to grab enough Black Tooths and beer to last us through the toast. I turned to the long-hair immediately to my left, gave him a friendly nudge on the shoulder and said, "Fuckin' Dimebag, right?"
He gave me a confused look and replied, "Um… No thank you."
OK, I thought, wrong dude. I turned to another guy and tried again.
"Coke or weed?" He asked. "I didn't even know they sold dime bags anymore."
Frustrated, I headed towards a guy wearing a Morbid Angel shirt standing near my table.
"Fuckin' Dimebag, right?"
"Darrell?" He replied. "Yeah… Pantera's cool."
I asked him if he was here for the toast. He looked confused and shrugged his shoulders.
I returned to my table and relayed my frustrations. My friends were sympathetic and they assured me that I would probably have to wait until the actual toast to truly distinguish between the bar hoppers and the Dime-dudes. Fair enough.
So I settled down a bit, had a drink, and talked about other things besides Dimebag. The bar was so packed at this point that you couldn't turn around without knocking a glass out of someone's hand. Everyone was drunk and shouting. I was enjoying myself and not really keeping track of time. I imagined that when the hour hit, the bar would go quiet, the Black Tooths would be raised and lowered, and everyone would hug as Pantera blasted our eardrums.
This was not the case. Through the noise of the crowd, I deciphered the familiar rumble of Vinnie Paul's kick-drum. "Alright," I thought, "A little pre-game Pantera." I approached the bar to buy another round for the toast. I was curious, and asked the bartender if he would be giving the toast, whether or not there was a moment of silence, and, basically, what I could do to help.
He pointed at the clock above the bar - it was 12:03am. I asked if I had missed the toast. He shrugged.
What the fuck? Was this the wrong bar? It couldn't have been - there was a Dimebag flyer on the front door. So did the toast not happen? Was I the only person who actually came to the bar for Dimebag? It appeared that way. I didn't want to be in this shitty place a second longer so I grabbed my friends, and pushed my way to the door. What a fucking bust.
I was so upset. Has Pantera really lost its relevancy? I know they haven't had the crossover success of bands like Slayer, but I never thought that I was the only person in New York who cared enough to toast “Dimebag” Darrel on his death-day. Does not Dimebag's legacy transcend the walls of Guitar Center?
The truth is Pantera are one of those bands whose actual music is obscured by the penumbra of its influence. Yes, they are responsible for Korn—and pretty much all Nü Metal—but that wasn't their fault. No one blames Kurt Cobain for Chad Kroeger. I have always had a difficult time selling Pantera to my music-savvy acquaintances. The "sound" itself turns people off. It reminds them of cheesedicks like Fred Durst. But, what I ask is for one to listen through the sound and to the actualsongs.
In particular, I encourage listeners to focus on Dimebag's guitar playing. It's completely bonkers. In my opinion, no other guitarist in history mastered the instrument quite like Dimebag. He could shred like Eddie Van Halen but had the noise-harnessing abilities of Arto Lindsay. But unlike Lindsay, Dimebag's noise technique was rarely intentional. Dimebag knew he was breaking ground with his playing, but never worried about making art. Dimebag was all Ace Frehley and Randy Rhodes until the day he died. My theory is that Dimebag got too good at shredding and stumbled upon something wild. His signature "squeals" have yet to be duplicated.
Look, I am not trying to convince people that Pantera are cool. This is merely an updated obituary. I understand why they have had a hard time reaching non-metal fans—they never dressed well, their name sounds more like a Mexican strip club than some metallic-slaying-mega-death machine, and their recordings sound incredibly dated. Hey, I hate the way Heavy Metal was recorded in the 90s just as much as the next guy (Listen to their live album over any studio recording), but I still think that Pantera's writing and power transcend any of the contextual shortcomings.
They were the only metal band with soul. It was real homegrown southern rock. Turbo-blues. Completely unpredictable yet absurdly satisfying with Dimebag at the wheel of this hicked-out madness. So, please, if you find yourself with nothing to do on December 8th, 2013, don't go to some stupid fake-ass Dimebag toast in the East Village, come to my party—because I am gonna throw one.
R.I.P. "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot 1966-2004.