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metal's bad rap

It didn't take long for the vultures to swoop down on the body of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, using his death as vehicle to drive home - once again - the fallacies of and prejudice against heavy metal. Yesterday's rumors are today's facts - Nathan Gale, the man who killed Dimebag, was so distraught over the breakup of Pantera that he believed the band's demise ruined his life. He blamed Abbott for this and relieved his angst by shooting him in the head. As with any news story that blames music, video games or movies for someone's criminal, deranged actions, the media misses one glaring point: in order for the killer to react in such a manner, he had to have some serious, deep rooted issues that go way beyond the music he listened to, the games he played or the movies he watched. Metal has long been a favorite whipping boy of the hypersensitive, shallow-thinking My Morals Should Be Your Morals set. From the time Ozzy first barked at the moon, metal was imprinted with a warning label: This music is hazardous to your children. Freaked out parents and sociologists looked much deeper into the music than was necessary and proclaimed the genre as one that would cause its listeners to sign up for the church of Satan or become zombies in an army of juvenile delinquents. You would think that when all these years later Ozzy became the darling of television and looked upon as a sweet, if dopey, father figure, the world would have figured out - albeit belatedly - that heavy metal is as much a theatrical act as Britney's original virginal persona. Yet every media commentary I've read this morning on the death of Abbot has the same underlying tone - live by the sword, die by the sword. Metal is music for misfits, don't you know? What can you expect from the fans of a band whose lyrics are all unprintable in a family paper? They were heathens, I tell you! They drank and smoked and cursed! It's all so shrill and so unnerving. It's interesting bands like Pantera and Damageplan can be sworn off as dangerous and crude because of the lyrics, yet a guy like Eminem can be hailed as the voice of a generation even though his lyrics have more cursing than a Quentin Tarantino film and they tell stories of murder and mayhem. Eminem:
Gimme the keys I'm drunk, and I've never driven a truck But I smoke dope in a cab I'll stab you with the sharpest knife I can grab Come back the next week and re-open your scab (YEAH!) A killer instinct runs in the blood
I wonder if we'll smile in our coffins while loved ones Mourn the day, the absence of our faces, living, laughing, Eyes awake. Is this too much for them to take? Too young for ones conclusion, the lifestyle won. Such values you taught your son. That's how.
Look at me now. I'm broken. Inherit my life.
Did I pick and choose which lyrics to use? Sure. Don't you think the media does the same? All you'll hear today is how Pantera's lyrics were hostile and angry, how they motivated angry kids to act out their immoral thoughts. Most of the articles will speak in general terms. Very few will cite specific references. And if they do, you can bet no one is going to quote Cemetery Gates. The need to make more out of this story than is there, the need to sensationalize and give it Weekly World News headlines is far greater than the need to be honest. Of course, they will point to Abbott's nickname of Dimebag. They'll look at the Pantera DVDs and a see bunch of hard drinking, hard partying guys. And they'll conclude "the metal lifestyle is a dangerous one." And tomorrow on Page Six, there will pictures of some pop music princess with a bottle in her hand and her tits hanging out of her dress or a some boy band star holding a bottle of Jack Daniels and spitting at the camera. But, hey. They're just having fun, right? Pop Stars Gone Wild! What a riot! Give that guy some long hair and a guitar and suddenly he's a wild eyed beast who wants to eat your children. It's not just the music of heavy metal that's misunderstood. The fans also get their share of the lies and distortion. We're all emotionally disturbed individuals with deep psychological problems, bad parents and broken homes who draw pentagrams on their bedroom floors and torture the neighbor's cats. I grew up listening to metal. I was all of nine years old when I first heard Paranoid and War Pigs playing on my cousin's stereo and became hooked. It wasn't the lyrics which, at nine, I didn't understand at all. It was the music. It was the screeching guitars and pounding drums that reached out to me in some primitive way. I didn't know what Ozzy was singing about, I only knew how that music made me feel. Even at nine, I knew I was hearing something powerful that would stay with me forever. More than 30 years have passed since I heard my first Black Sabbath album. I haven't killed anyone. I never attempted suicide. I haven't sold my soul to Satan. Like millions of others, I appreciate the music (and yes, the lyrics) without becoming so involved in it that, like Nathan Gale, I can't separate myself from the entertainment. There are millions of people who play Grand Theft Auto who will never see the game as an impetus to go steal a car and mow down a few innocent people. But the one person who does see the game in that way will cause a posse of hyperventilating parents to claim that all video games are evil, none of them ever stopping to think that maybe this kid had mental issues that prevented him from separating reality from fantasy. Games and music are always convenient scapegoats, especially when some morality group can use an otherwise sad news item to strike up publicity for their agenda. And so today's papers will all say the same thing - yea, Gale was a little nutty, he had been acting strange for a while and hey, did you see the lyrics to Fuckin' Hostile? Then the article will veer off on some tangent dealing with terrible lyrics and angry undertones and somehow, Gale will become the victim and Abbott will have died by his own sword. Instead of quotes from fellow musicians talking about Dimebag's talents and friendship, instead of references to the fact that he was one of the most influential guitarists in rock music and he was murdered in front of his own brother, we'll get chapter and verse on the wild lifestyle and brainwashing lyrics of heavy metal.
disclaimer: I know that not all of today's articles on the death of Darrell are saying these things. I've mainly read through the links sent me in email last night.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference metal's bad rap:

» More on the shooting of Darrell Abbot from The Sheila Variations
by Michele. She takes on the "My Morals Should Be Your Morals set" - those who think metal is too violent, music for misfits, if your children listen to it they will turn into the Columbine killers in about 2... [Read More]

» Whip On That Dead Horse, Boys from JimSpot
Michele has more on Dimebag Darrell and the reaction to his murder and (par for the course), she's saying what... [Read More]

» Death of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot from PoliArt
I was not an enormous fan of Pantera, but I must admit that I gave myself a headache bangin’ my head to their songs on several occasions when I was a kid. [Read More]

» Wizbang Fever! from AMERICAN DIGEST
Because nobody asked me, here are my current picks in the Wizbang 2004 Weblog Awards. MOST IMPORTANT CATEGORY! Best Essayist: AMERICAN DIGEST aka "ME." Because I would like to get at least 1% of the vote. And by the way, why isn't The Belmont Club in t... [Read More]

» Wizbang Fever! from AMERICAN DIGEST
Because nobody asked me, here are my current picks in the Wizbang 2004 Weblog Awards. MOST IMPORTANT CATEGORY! Best Essayist: AMERICAN DIGEST aka "ME." Because I would like to get at least 1% of the vote. And by the way, why isn't The Belmont Club in t... [Read More]

» R.I.P. Dimebag from Bobo Speaks
Dimebag Darrell, formerly of the band Pantera was shot and killed Wednesday when his band Damageplan was on stage. The official story can be read HERE. Michele at A Small Victory has a very good post on the subject. See... [Read More]

» R.I.P. Dimebag from Bobo Speaks
Dimebag Darrell, formerly of the band Pantera was shot and killed Wednesday when his band Damageplan was on stage. The official story can be read HERE. Michele at A Small Victory has a very good post on the subject. See... [Read More]

» R.I.P. Dimebag from Bobo Speaks
Dimebag Darrell, formerly of the band Pantera was shot and killed Wednesday when his band Damageplan was on stage. The official story can be read HERE. Michele at A Small Victory has a very good post on the subject. See... [Read More]

» Tales of A Metal Head Wife from Cake Eater Chronicles
Two days ago, the former lead guitarist for Pantera was shot and killed by some nutjob who was upset that the band had broken up. Michele objects to lumping this act in with heavy metal's already tarnished image, because, as... [Read More]

» More on Nathan Gale from Right Moment
I came across two articles today each one examining Nathan Gale, the man "suspected" in the murders of four people Wednesday night in Columbus. First a sidenote the articles keep referring to Gale as a suspect and I know they have their reasons but c... [Read More]

» "The metal lifestyle is a dangerous one" from Sore Eyes
Michele has posted some eminently sensible comments on media reactions to the death of Pantera guitarist Darrell Abbot:Of course, they will point to Abbot's nickname of Dimebag. They'll look at the Pantera DVDs and a see bunch of hard drinking, hard pa... [Read More]

» Misunderstood metal from The Smoking Room
Michelle at A Small Victory (currently winning for Best Culture Blog) addresses what she sees as both media and general cultural bias against heavy metal, its bands and fans in... [Read More]

» Rest in Peac Dimebag from A Bellandean! God, Country, Heritage
It makes me sad that some nut had to get so obsessed with a band that he had to kill one of the great guitarists of the day. Regardless of what you think about the style of music or the agressive lyrics, Darrell knew how to play guitar, he was loved ... [Read More]

» Rest in Peace Dimebag from A Bellandean! God, Country, Heritage
It makes me sad that some nut had to get so obsessed with a band that he had to kill one of the great guitarists of the day. Regardless of what you think about the style of music or the agressive lyrics, Darrell knew how to play guitar, he was loved ... [Read More]


An excellent point, and well made.

Michele, Greg Asman on Fox News was doing it yesterday while the guy from Rolling Stone was on. He kept going on and on about Dimebag's nickname and that "when you do drugs, you hang around with rough people". The guy from Rolling stone just looked at him like he was completely stupid and tried to deflect into another area but he kept coming back to "when you do illegal substances, you are around not very nice people".

It's easy to judge metal as an evil entity, we as a society have done it for years (just ask Tipper Gore and the PMRC).

Accurate as usual, Michele. I'm a metalhead (of the Priest/Maiden/Michael Schenker vintage) and English professor and right about your age, and I've seen this sort of nonsense go on every time anyone with an interest in the music meets an unfortunate end. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've been asked how I can read Chaucer and listen to Motorhead -- I'd have... well, a whole bunch of nickels, anyway.

Ultimately, I think Alice Cooper got it right a few years back when he said:

"It's not the movies I watch,
The books that I read,
The music I play...
I'm just a wicked young man."

And I think that sums up a lot of these clowns. Unfortunately, anyone who blames the music won't want to hear what Alice has to say, anyway.

Again, rest in peace, DD -- you were gracious to my little brother when you didn't have to be, and you (like anyone) deserved better.

I never made the transition from punk to metal, jazz lured me away. But that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate good a good musician when I hear one. I've had occasion to hear some of Abbot's skill on the frets, courtesy my eldest son ("Dad! You got to hear THIS!") and was rocked on my heels. Maybe I'd never buy one of his records, but man the guy could play a lick. So I wasn't surprised (yes I was) when I read the arch-conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning and found on page 2 "An Appreciation" of Abbot and his skills as a musician. Maybe some of these idiot parents will get the message that their kids are listening to something these "grownups" just don't take the time to hear.

I got one word that should shut the argument up and should give everyone involved a moment to pause: Selena.

To quote so many, nuff said.

I have to say, as a music journalist, who reads daily music news like CMU you see far more violence in the hip-hop/rap world. Currently in the UK a member of So Solid is being charged with murder, there was the machine-gunning outside the MOBO awards, the stabbing at the Vibe awards, the execution style killing of Tupac and Biggie Smalls. Of course, if you point out that this genre is far more violent (lyrics are too), never mind being homophobic and mysoginistic you are a racist.

PS: Very soon after I posted about the murder on BC some arsehat used the murder to slag off concealed carry laws in Ohio.

Metal, Album Rock (Zeppelin, The Who, Rush, Bad Company, Aerosmith...on and on), and Punk, all serve admirably as an outlet for teenage energy and rebellion. Every rock/metal/punk band has angry songs and also love songs. Put the lyrics to "Thank You" from Led Zeppelin up and people will be surprised.

I think the gangstra rap stuff is different altogether. It's not angry, it's indifferent. It paints a picture of violence and degradation of women as something you should be indifferent too. Early rap was often funny, much as punk was, with tongue in cheek songs about serious subjects. Young people would be much better served by a return to real rock-n-roll, in whatever flavor they find appealing.

I went through a metal phase in the early 80's (and I think Ozzy has gone soft) and can remember sitting in church listening to the preacher saying how listening to rock music will make you do drugs. I thought he was full of crap, and expressed my thoughts to my parents, who backed him up. Heh, guess I proved them all wrong.

Anyway, I agree with you, Michele. A nut is a nut no matter what music they listen to, and if they don't have a gun, they will use a bat, or a piece of pipe, a bomb, or whatever to kill whether they ever touch a drug or not.

I think people get the causation flipped around backwards on this issue. As usual, I'll try to explain by using porn as an analogy.

Do most rapists/child molesters read a lot of porn? You betcha. But they are drawn to porn because of their pre-existing issues, it isn't like they were fine until their malleable minds were shaped by porn. Would you expect them to use their free time reading Chaucer?

Same thing with rap and metal. If you're predisposed to being violent, you're probably going to listen to rap, metal, etc. because they've got the whole hard/dark thing going for them. You aren't going to look for a sugary pop vibe when you're buying CDs.

I don't buy that, Hubris. What about all the people drawn to rap/metal that aren't violent at all? And I wonder how many serial killers, murderers, rapists, etc. are really metal fans?

It's like the person who read way too much into my 500 songs list. He assumed I must be coming from a very bad place. Which I'm not. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know.

I heard Joel Rifkin was really into Barry Manilow, anyhow.

I didn't articulate it very well, let me give it another try:

If you are a sexual predator, you are probably likely to read porn. However, it is not a necessary factor for being drawn to porn. I a friend of mine could go to allinternal.com 100 times a day without being a sexual predator.

If I supply you with these facts:
1) Most sexual predators read porn
2) John Doe reads porn

You cannot say that "therefore,John Doe is a sexual predator."

I think that believing porn causes sex crimes, or believing that rap/metal causes violence, is an example of a cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. Or some other kind of non causa pro causa fallacy (I always get them mixed up).

Hubris - speaking of sugary pop, what about the drug addicts, homicidal freaks and suicidal maniacs that made up the New York City art world? Pop artist Andy Warhol was almost killed by one of his 'fans', and those people do a lot more than dimebags.

Yes, I know, pictures of Campbell's-Soup Cans don't cause violence and drug use, and fans of overpriced pop were probably predisposed to be that way. But what are these violent people seeing in that soup? Is the art, and the artist, ultimately to blame?

If Darrell Abbot had been killed while buying drugs or died of an overdose, then the whole "live by the drug, die by the drug" thing would make sense. But he didn't, he was killed playing music. The Selena analogy is apt.

As the whole thing being a show, Ozzy crossed the line when he pissed on the steps of the Alamo. He's lucky to be alive. Pretending to do so is one thing, but really doing so is another.

Bolie IV

If a person truly believes that music can lead people astray, it says a lot about their own minds. Specifically, how easily their OWN opinions/perceptions can be molded; and the to what degree they take ownership of their own actions. I don't know a single respectable person who would denounce their own free will by saying "My (music/devil/god/church/drugs/friends/family) made me do it!" Anyone who assumes the music led Gale astray is only letting us know that the course of their life is probably influnced by equally irrelevant stumuli.


I agree.

Now I must take my leave, time to get back into my Skinner box. I have to peck the response lever fifty times if I'm gonna get my soup today.

Right on... Very well thought out and very well stated.

I think that I speak for many when I say that this music, with its violent lyrics, dark subject matter, and aggressive sound is an outlet for my own frustrations. There is nothing, NOTHING more satisfying to me than to hit a heavy bag or squeeze one more rep on the bench press, stand up with my face red and the sweat flowing and belt out "Just give us... FIVE MINUTES ALOOOOOOONE" to the boom box blasting behind my head.

It's just music man... Some may find it annoying and loud, I find it expressive and inspiring, beautiful and motivational.


My sentiments exactly. I love loud violent thrashy-music, I love angry rap ... yadda yadda ... because when I blast it, I LOSE myself in it, it is a perfect and safe outlet for my own feelings of frustration, rage, sadness, whatever. It's a catharsis. Awesome stuff.

Great post, Michele.

hubris - my question was really for your first comment, not your second. That's one reason why I know more about art than music - bad timing.

Thanks for pre-answering the question.


I'm ignorant with respect to both art and music. The precog thing is the only thing I've got going for me.

I am a huge metal fan, but you can not equivicate the lyrics of Eminem to those you chosen from Pantera. You can not compare apples to aardvarks.

Lyrics are lyrics. You certainly CAN compare one style of painting to another style of painting or one style of sculpture to another style of sculpture.

I'll routinely listen to Pantera scream, "Boiling the corpse in the blood of his children, praying for his god to prevail", and I'm pretty sure there are people out there that would be offended by that statement. However, the first amendment protects Pantera's right to record those lyrics and my rights to buy and listen to them. That is why I have to laugh when I see someone like Bill O'Reilly whining about Eminem and his gangsta lyrics. If people like O'Reilly didn't scream bloody murder about him all the time, I'd bet he wouldn't be a third as popular as he is. Marylin Manson is another example of a somewhat mediocre talent that was pushed over the top by a bunch of "concerned" parents.

It's like this, talk to your kids, find out what they're into, get involved in their lives. I'll bet Nathan Gale was a very lonely boy that became a very lonely, disturbed man.

Music can often be a comfort to troubled people, and I would argue that when such people go off the track and do something destructive and terrible it is hardly the fault of the music or musicians. Consider the case of Mark David Chapman. No one would consider Lennon's music inherently violent or destructive. And yet the tragedy suffered by "Dimebag" is somehow to be blamed on his music which, by implication, is blaming the victim. Funny how that works....

the guy obviously had some problems that had nothing to do with what music he listened to. He could have latched on to any band that subsequently broke up and had members re-form as other bands, took it upon himself to take revenge on whoever he perceived broke the band up in the first place and shot them. It just happened to be Pantera/Dimebag Darrel. It could have been Soungarden/Audioslave/Chris Cornell. It could have been... christ it could have been any of literally hundreds of bands that formed and broke up over the last decade.

And i think antigroups are simply looking for attention for their agenda, or whatever, to be blaming anyone but the dickhead who pulled the trigger first. They could conceivably blame his friends if they knew he had a problem and never said, Get Help, Dude, but even that's a stretch. Cos that guy, again, obviously had some serious fuckin problems.

My son is a drummer who has played with metal bands; my daughter once managed one of those bands. If I had thought for a minute that either of them was endangering themselves by so doing, I would have said so.

Of course, they wouldn't have heard me above the racket, but the point stands.

I'm no fan of Pantera or their particular style of music, but that's beside the point. Music simply does not make people do bad things. Sure, it's possible for violent lyrics to reinforce the predilections of someone who's unbalanced and predisposed to act out violently. So what? Maybe the murder rate would go down if we all had to listen to Barney sing I Love You, You Love Me every day, but I'm betting it would actually go up (starting with old Barney himself). Music provides catharsis, and catharsis can help defuse potentially dangerous situations in the real world.

But even if it's true that murder and assault rates would go down if we allowed the American Family Association to excise all violent lyrics from every song that gets recorded or published, would that be a country we'd want to live in? Why are so many people in favor of free speech only for those who agree with their beliefs? If your faith or your ability to control your own behavior is threatened by someone else's speech, it's you who have the problem. Don't try to use your problem as an excuse to try to take away our Constitutional rights.

I don't know much about metal, and I won't even speculate on the motives of the fellow who killed Darrell Abbott, but being upset that people are jumping to rash and unfair conclusions might be causing some of you to be too dismissive of a body of research, some of it pretty thorough, on the cognitive effects of aural stimuli and repetitive messages. It's one thing to defend an art form you appreciate and scorn the benighted. I'm all for that. But it's a little defensive and illogical to deny that music and lyrics have ANY baleful effect on people, that it's all about the baggage. Again, I'm not offering any speculation about this terrible incident other than to give the benefit of doubt to the victim. Perhaps this is slightly off topic.

The only effect loud music has had on me has been to damage my hearing. Strangely enough, that upsets other people a lot more than it does me. What did you say? Huh? Could you speak up a little louder? There's no need to shout, young man, I heard you perfectly well!

“The only effect loud music has had on me has been to damage my hearing.”

As is the case with most people.

But I'm not talking strictly, or even chiefly, about loud music — but about longterm exposure to aggressive, antisocial messages through the most emotionally evocative of art forms.

Again, I'm not trying to hijack the thread. I understand the point made here. I too get tired of cynical media personalities latching on to and promulgating the lowest lowbrow, predictable angle after something like this happens.

But if the issue is mental health ...

I got to meet Dimebag last December when he signed autographs in the music store I work for.

Although I am by no means a Pantera or even a metal fan, it was still an amazing experience, mainly because he was so genuine and nice. Dimebag stayed to sign over 300 autographs (the line was wrapped around the outside of our store and almost a city block long), and party with his fans.

He also took pics with us workers, signed autographs, and provided a bright, alocoholic break for the middle of the retail Holiday season.

Michelle...stop shopping at Guitar Center and come to Sam Ash on OCR...I can give out discounts (well atleast to a fellow LI blogger).


it breaks my heart to read these comments. you don't realize how real hell is. one day you'll meet God face to face and know He was real all along. at that time it will be too late to serve Him--you will be destined to hell with satan in ETERNAL torment. my prayer is that you will realize the truth before it is too late and turn to God who loves you!

Dear Mandy,

Thanks for today's sermon.

Satan laughing, spreads his wings.

Who said you can't be a Christian and listen to Pantera?

Sheesh, talk about insecure and imbalanced...

At least the guy didn't play Dungeons and Dragons.

Mandy: There is a hell and it is filled with self-rightous prigs like you singing "devotional" music and being annoying. Using the death of Dimeback to peddle your happy-clappy rubbish is inappropriate. Why you just fuck off back to whatever fundy hole you came out of...

Back to the matter at hand. I don't think lyrics influenced this guy who killed Dimebag but the comments from Anselmo just might have (assuming that the bloke who did this has a very sick mind) causing him to think he was doing the righteous thing. I do rather hope that Phil is feeling pretty bad about what he said in the Metal Hammer interview, alas he is probably too stupid to realise what hurtful things he said.

There are plenty of metal fans who never get violent at all. I think if you did a study of things...far more rap fans and musicians have been in trouble with the law than metal-heads. Why do you think its so fun for MSM to overplay things whenever this happy in the metal community? (And I know wherefore I speak as a metal/hard rock journalist.)

Oh Mandy, you came and you gave without taking, but we sent you away!

I like quite a bit of heavy metal, though not Pantera's; I don't believe metal should be banned; I do believe in free speech; etc., etc.

But I have to call BS on one line of argument some are making. Music can kindle a host of emotions: love, exaltation, melancholy, good cheer, and so forth. So why would anybody try to rationally claim that the one thing music cannot inspire is violent tendencies?

I know that, unlike rap, heavy metal's brand of violence is mostly make-believe, a cartoon. That's one reason why Marilyn Manson generated so much parental concern--unlike other goofy death metal bands, he wasn't kidding. There's an edge of irony, therefore, in Abbott becoming a victim of real violence.

Marilyn Manson wasn't kidding? In that outfit?

Yeesh, MM was definetely kidding...he is one big piss-take.

"But if the issue is mental health..." says "allome"

Oh well, if "mental health" is the battlecry, then let's trash any old-fashioned notions of personal responsibility or of individual liberty.

And let's replace those old-fashioned notions with some freshly whipped-up pseudo-scientific crap, shall we?

Crap like "a body of research, some of it pretty thorough, on the cognitive effects of aural stimuli and repetitive messages." Not that you'd care to cite any of this "body of research", of course, since upon close examination it'd prove to be about as scientific as homeopathy.

Tell us all about the evil subliminal messages again, please! Hearing about them gives me a strange demonic thrill.