It's nearly 6 p.m. outside The Clubhouse--Dallas' premier all-nude strip joint--and just in time for their nightly broadcast, two newscasters speak into their cameras: "Tonight a community gathers outside a local club to mourn the loss of metal legend 'Dimebag' Darrell Abbott..."
It's a solemn note for a character known for songs like "Slaughtered" and "Fucking Hostile." That isn't lost on fans at the memorial, who drop to their knees in front of his photo, take off their caps and shoot him the finger. That part isn't on the news.
A makeshift memorial is growing outside the club--pictures of Dimebag, a spray of gladiolas, a full liter bottle of Seagram's 7. Laid out across the ground is a concert banner for Damageplan, the band Dimebag and his older brother Vinnie Paul formed out of the ashes of Pantera. It's hard not to cringe at the tour's slogan: "Devastation is on the way."
The night before, Dimebag was shot at least five times in the head in Columbus, Ohio's Alrosa Villa nightclub while his audience, his bandmates and his brother looked on. It's an unprecedented event in the history of rock and roll--a genre that, until now, appeared to have seen it all.
At least three others were slain, including Jeff Thompson, aka Mayhem, a 40-year-old bodyguard for the band. Killed by a crazed fan whose delusional behavior reportedly includes passing off Pantera lyrics as his own, Dimebag is already taking on a Selena-like mythos. Last Sunday, a local artist painted a mural-sized portrait on the side of the Universal Rehearsal studios on Greenville Avenue. Cars can be seen around town with shoe polish on their windows: "We'll miss you Dimebag."
That kind of fervor can be seen here tonight with a crowd that looks exactly like you would expect: baggy jeans and black hoodies, concert T-shirts and shoulder slumps. In the song "25 Years," from Pantera's best-selling 1994 album Far Beyond Driven, singer Phil Anselmo referred to his fans as "the thousands of the ugly, the criticized, the unwanted." There's not a cheerleader or a spirit squad member among them. For them, Pantera's chugging guitar and death-threat lyrics were like a scream of consciousness. And Dimebag was the heart of it all, the innovator, taking classic metal riffs and pulverizing them into a straight shot of 100-proof adolescent id.
"Dimebag is my god," one kid tells me. He's 17 with shaggy hair. "That's why I play the guitar. He's the only one who inspired me. When I found out he died, I was like, 'Shit.'"
The kid formed a band with his cousin, who saunters up beside us and lights a cigarette. "Man, when I found out Dimebag died," he says, "I thought it was a joke. I couldn't believe it."
"Why was he so important to you?" I ask.
He shrugs. "'Cause he's the shit."
"I want to tell you a story about Dimebag," says an older man, swaying slightly and holding a bottle of tequila. "I partied with Dimebag. I bought him a shot of Jägermeister. That was his favorite."
As the guy tells the story, he hands off the bottle to a teen girl, who pours a shot in her can of Tropicana fruit juice.
"We got wasted, although that's the last shot I bought that night. We partied all night long. He was a good guy. A good, good guy."
Everyone has a story like this about Dimebag. They talk about how nice he was, how tender underneath the studded persona. It's comforting to think he remained like them, because he was once exactly like them. Long before he became part of the '90s' most influential metal band, Dimebag Darrell was just another kid from Arlington who wanted to kick the world in the nuts. Along with his brother Vinnie Paul, he played in a Krokus cover band and dreamed of making it big. When he finally did, he didn't move to L.A. or New York. He stayed in the area and opened up a strip club that caters to just about every famous musician and athlete who comes through Dallas. One sign posted outside his home in Dalworthington Gardens called him "the people's rock star." He never believed in Hollywood. He believed in noise, booze and good pussy.
As a courtesy to fans, The Clubhouse has opened its doors tonight, dropping the typical $20 cover charge. Dimebag would have wanted it that way. Inside the cavernous club, girls stand on platforms, entirely naked save for lucite heels and money clips. It's hard to dance to the thundering heavy metal soundtrack, so their moves are more of a disinterested hip sway, a flick of the hair, an occasional smack on the ass. Onstage, however, is the real action, where a stripper appears in costume and makes good on her job title. She looks for all the world like a 12-year-old in pigtails and knee socks. A heavyset bald man stands expectantly at the foot of the stage, and she struts over to him and shakes her little tits in his face.
Last February, when Damageplan released its first album, New Found Power, the band held a CD release party here. It was a good time in their lives, a fresh start. That week, I'd interviewed Vinnie Paul for the paper. He was exactly as people had described him: gruff, foul-mouthed and sweet as can be. "When Dime and I first sat down to start a band, we said this'll be a lot harder than we think, and we'll have to reach down inside and find a new-found power," he told me, describing the album's title. "But the name had to be more powerful than that. The only thing that came to my mind was that when they built the atomic bomb, they had one thing in mind, and that was a fucking damage plan."
Outside the club, the memorial is growing--50 people, then 100. Empty beer cans are starting to collect around the memorial, along with candles and pictures. One boy lifts his sleeve to show off the Dimebag tattoo on his shoulder, a flaming skull with a beard. One woman clutches her lit votive and a framed picture while tears stream down her cheeks.
"It's from a 1994 Guitar Magazine," she says after she calms down. "It's a photocopy. I have the color one at home. I couldn't give that up. It's too precious." In the picture, Dimebag's hair is flicked away from his sweaty face, pointed skyward. His shirt says, "This isn't a beer belly it's a gas tank for my love machine."
"That's kinda funny," I say.
She smiles through her tears. "That was Darrell."
It's getting chilly now, but they keep coming, hordes of them. Families and couples, some old people but mostly young. They pour in from all corners of the city carrying 12-packs and whiskey bottles, smoking cigarettes and holding hands. At least they're in this thing together, kicking back at their sadness with some beer and strippers, remembering a life lived loud and fierce.
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