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 face the cameras: "Tonight a community gathers outside a local club to mourn the loss of metal legend 'Dimebag' Darrell Abbott ..."
It's an odd solemnity for a character known for songs such as "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 gladioli, 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, Wednesday, December 8, Dimebag was shot at least five times in the head onstage at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio, in front of the audience, his bandmates, and his brother. Four others were murdered, including Jeff Thompson, aka Mayhem, a forty-year-old bodyguard for the band. Killed by a crazed fan whose delusional behavior reportedly included passing off Pantera lyrics as his own, Dimebag is already taking on a Selena-like mythos. This Sunday, a local artist will paint a Pantera mural on the side of Dallas' Universal Rehearsal studio. Cars around town sport shoe-polish tributes on their windows: "We'll miss you, Dimebag."
The crowd at the memorial looks exactly as 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 isn't a cheerleader or a spirit-squad member among them. For them, Pantera's chugging guitar and hateful 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 hundred-proof adolescent id.
"Dimebag is my god," one kid tells me. He's seventeen 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?"
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 into her bottle of Tropicana fruit juice. "We got wasted, although that's the last shot I bought that night," he continues. "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 one of the most influential metal bands of the '90s, Dimebag Darrell was just another kid from Arlington, Texas, who wanted to kick the world in the nuts. With his brother, Vinnie Paul, he played in a Krokus cover band and dreamed of making it big. When he finally did with Pantera, he didn't move to Los Angeles 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 the tony Dalworthington Gardens neighborhood called him "The people's rock star."
As a courtesy to fans, the Clubhouse has thrown open its doors tonight, dropping the typical $20 cover charge. Inside the cavernous club, girls on platforms stand entirely naked, save for Lucite heels and money clips. It's hard to dance to the thundering heavy metal soundtrack, so their moves involve 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 takes the stage in costume and makes good on her job title. She looks for all the world like a twelve-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, and 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 newfound 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 -- fifty people, then a hundred. 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 tells me 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 streaked across his sweaty forehead, 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 older people but mostly young. They pour in from all corners of the city carrying twelve-packs and whiskey bottles, smoking cigarettes and holding hands. At least they're in this thing together, just more fans kicking back at their sadness with some beer and strippers, remembering a life lived loud and fierce.
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