To all the fans, friends and family of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott who wrote and called in to complain about our image of the slain rocker on the cover of last week's issue, please know this: We did not, whatever you may think, shoot a photo of him lying in his casket. The image we published of the Damageplan guitarist, who was slain by a crazed fan at an Ohio nightclub December 14, was an illustration created by artist David Hollenbach based on old file photos of Abbott. (Four other people, including the gunman, were also killed in the attack.)
The band's manager called to let us know that Abbott's family was terribly upset at the sight of the grim illustration, and for that we're sorry. But at the risk of sounding both insincere with that apology and callous, we also must say that even if we could go back and change the decision to run that cover, we wouldn't. Here's why:
A long time ago, Buzz was working at a small newspaper when news broke of a mass shooting at a McDonald's restaurant in Southern California. The morbid wits on the news desk began making the usual tasteless jokes. ("Guess someone got the Unhappy Meal by mistake.") Then The Associated Press sent over photos of the victims--yearbook photos of smiling children. The jokes stopped. Later on, we worked as a cop reporter for a bigger paper, and one of our jobs was to call on the families of murder and traffic accident victims and ask grieving people for photos of their dead loved ones. It was ugly, intrusive work, but we did it willingly, because we remembered the reaction to that earlier shooting. So many violent deaths are buried in briefs in the back pages of newspapers that it's easy to forget that each death involves the loss of a real person. Something as simple as a photo puts a face on these stories and brings the loss into clearer focus, making these "routine" stories of mayhem seem less remote. It's the news biz's imperfect way of telling a community to pay attention.
So it was with our somber image of Abbott, whose grieving friends describe as a vibrant, friendly man. Our intent with that cover was to help the mass of Dallas Observer readers feel something of their loss and grief. Was that worth the added pain we inadvertently caused Abbott's friends and family? You may think not, but we respectfully disagree. Sorry about that.