Cosmic Cycles of Violence:
John Lennon and Dimebag Darrell
Gunned Down on December 8

© Brandt Hardin

Pantera’s furious music was propelled by guitarist Darrell Abbott’s maniacal claws ripping across a Washburn fretboard. The music was aggression distilled, warfare on vinyl, the hellish harmonics of testosterone-pumped teenagers smashing beer bottles and crucifixes, the pentatonic expression of sociopathic sexual impulse turned loose on loose pussy, power chords and possession, amplifiers and alcohol, whammy bars and whimsical youth. Pantera was pissed. And yet, no one remembers the jolly Dimebag Darrell being particularly pissed in day-to-day life. Not nearly as pissed as John Lennon was, anyway.

Behind the lead Beatle’s circular granny glasses and tireless promotion of peace burned a fury unmatched by most metal enthusiasts. Lennon was pissed at his parents, pissed at his bandmates, pissed at his stay-at-home wife, pissed at Her Majesty the Queen, pissed at America’s war machine, pissed at the world for not giving peace a chance. Lennon was fucking hostile. But neither Dimebag nor Lennon were as pissed as the two pistol-wielding schizophrenics who made them into rock star martyrs, both on December 8, twenty-four years apart.

© Brandt Hardin

To be fair, John Lennon’s youth in England was marred by parental abandonment and random death. His sea-faring father left John in 1946 when he was only five, and his eccentric mother, Julia, left her son in care of his aunt Mimi in a house full of women. His mother eventually came back into John’s life a few years later—even buying him his first guitar—only to be run over and killed by an off-duty cop one sunny afternoon when John was only seventeen.

John took his personal pain and pissed disposition to the Liverpool College of Art, where he met the straight-laced Cynthia Powell, who would become his wife, and became best friends with the brilliant painter Stuart Suttcliffe, who for a brief time would become the musically incompetent fifth Beatle during their formative residencies in Hamburg, Germany.

In January of 1962, the Beatles signed a contract with their new manager, Brian Epstein, a closet homosexual Hebrew who immediately fell in love with the young John Lennon. Epstein’s savvy negotiations would see the barely-known Beatles become the biggest band in the world within two years, and that astonishing success would see Epstein become, in Lennon’s playful words, a “rich Jew fag.” Everybody wins until somebody dies.

The Beatles returned to Hamburg in April of that year, where they were to visit Stuart and his new wife. They were greeted with the news that Suttcliffe was dead. Coroners had found a brain tumor below an indentation in his skull—perhaps inflicted when a group of thugs attacked Stuart in a pub, or else by John when he kicked Stu’s head into the pavement for leaving the band. John fell into a somber silence for days, finally pulling it together to console Suttcliffe’s widow, and then resume his raucous rock star ambitions.

In July, Lennon learned that Cynthia Powell was pregnant. Rather than getting pissed and knocking her around, as he would do during jealous rages—or paying a £200 settlement for her silence, as Epstein had done for numerous others—John asked Cynthia to marry him. Their son Julian was born in April the next year, two days shy of Sutcliffe’s deathday. Family life is usually a total cock-stopper for hard rockers, but unlike many aspiring musicians, becoming a father never stifled Lennon’s rise to ultra-mega-super-stardom. It didn’t slow his groupie-scrogging, either.

That year, 1963, Beatlemania engulfed the UK on the heels of Twist and Shout. These dazzling English chaps with their shaggy mops and spiffy gentleman’s suits rode to the top of the world on a wave of squealing pubescent girls. Twenty years later, Dimebag Darrell (then known as “Diamond” Darrell) would launch what would become the biggest, most aggressive mainstream metal band in the world. Of course, in those days the glammed-out members of Pantera dressed like, well, squealing pubescent girls.

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By all accounts, Darrell Abbott and his brother Vinnie Paul enjoyed a remarkably stable childhood growing up in a working class neighborhood near Arlington, TX. Their father Jerry was a musician, and fervently cultivated his sons’ ambitions to become rock stars. Their mother was no less nurturing, working hard at a factory to support her jobless boys’ hobbies.  By this point in history, rock n’ roll was just another pastime.

Darrell spent countless hours alone in his room practicing guitar licks while Vinnie hammered away on his drum set. Unlike many disturbed metal fans, the boys didn’t immerse themselves in hard music to escape from the irritating world outside so much as escape into the powerful fantasy worlds of heavy metal. While other boys went to school, played sports, partied, got laid, got jobs, and all that normal shit, the Abbott brothers continued to rock out at their parents’ house well after most kids had gone off to college and started careers.

Darrell prostrated himself before the guitar gods of his youth until the day he died. He gauged his musical progress by phlegm accumulation—while playing a particularly difficult lick, he would arch back and hock some nostril sauce over his shoulder onto his infamous “loogie wall.” Each thick splat signified another riff under his belt. Listening to the exquisite dynamic between Eddie and Alex Van Halen, the Abbott brothers wouldn’t be satisfied until they became Van Halen.

Pantera’s first six albums were recorded at Jerry Abbott’s studio near the boys’ home. Their father actually created a label for their first releases. Pantera’s early efforts were a dripping cheese sandwich on toasted metal: Metal Magic, Projects in the Jungle, I Am the Night, and finally, Power Metal, which was written by their original singer—who was a pussy—and recorded with their newfound singer, Phil Anselmo—who was pissed. Once Phil showed up, Pantera became what they were always meant to be: cowboys from hell.

Dimebag’s blistering riffs and Phil’s endless anger—at cops, Christ, corporate trendies, and the various cock-nozzles life will throw at you—propelled Pantera to the heights of Headbanger’s Ball and around the planet on multiple world tours. But it didn’t matter where Dimebag found himself—the world was his wet bar, every new face was a new best friend, and each concert was a hysterical joke for which a smashed guitar was the punchline. Darrell rarely found time to be truly pissed. Life was entirely too fun for actual fury.

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John Lennon prostrated himself before many gurus during his life, in his own swaggering manner. Through absorption, projection, and continual metamorphosis, he became the most iconic guru of the revolutionary generation. Lennon became a hero wherever a hero was needed most.

The first waves of Beatlemania saw John Lennon: Sex Icon. He had watched Elvis get all shook up, and now it was his turn. One glance could unleash a spastic spontaneous orgasm—or at least, so it seems from the grainy footage. The Beatles were like sweat-soaked vibrators buzzing across the world. The teeny-boppers lined up in droves, panting, weeping, screaming, fainting, falling all over themselves to get just one inch closer to the sly, if agonized Lennon. Of course, pretty boy Paul McCartney got the lion’s share of adoration, and for the competitive Lennon that would never do.

Fortunately, no other Beatle had the nerve to touch his role as John Lennon: Rebel Icon. Sensible, traditional, down home decent folk balked at his observation that “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink…We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first—rock n’ roll or Christianity.” Inflammatory statements like that ensured that kids would love him and parents would hate him, even if they wound up buying their kids more Beatles albums.

After turning off his mind in the mid-Sixties, he became John Lennon: Psychedelic Icon. Inspired by Timothy Leary’s enthusiastic writings and bombarded with a continuous supply of LSD, Lennon began dosing on a daily basis. The first few times were freak outs, but once he got the hang of it, tripping became his fast-track to enlightenment. The Beatles’ music shifted into another dimension. Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club became psychedelic staples. “Tomorrow Never Knows” and a sugar cube might take you across the universe. It wasn’t long before Lennon got burnt out on chemical mind expansion, though, and set out looking for a heavier trip.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a creepy little gnome, but his Transcendental Meditation cult briefly captivated the Beatles in 1967, and inspired the development of John Lennon: Spiritual Icon. This short period of navel-gazing and chanting the sacred Om was to be an eerily pivotal moment in the singer’s life. After years of abuse and alienation from John’s life of stardom, his wife Cynthia made the decision to leave John after she was pushed back by a security guard while trying to board a train for the Maharishi’s retreat in Wales. The Beatles went on without her. Lennon’s manager Brian Epstein was wary of the devious guru’s exploitation of his clients’ fame, but Epstein died of a drug overdose while the band was meditating at the retreat, so that was that. “Now you will be able to come to India with me,” the Maharishi told them, which they did. Lennon didn’t last long in India, though, what with all the mindless conformity, bland food, and accusations that the Maharishi had sexually assaulted Lennon’s fellow aspirant, actress Mia Farrow. When the guru asked why he was leaving, Lennon replied, “If you’re so cosmic, you should know.” Lennon’s spiritual quest would not end there, however, as he would soon find himself kneeling at the Goddess’ feet.

John met Yoko Ono at one of her art shows at the same Indica bookshop where he had discovered Timothy Leary’s manual The Psychedelic Experience. He later said that lightning struck immediately, creating John Lennon: Pussy-whipped Icon. After a bizarre courtship in which the witchy Yoko basically stalked Lennon at his home and wedged herself between him and his already estranged wife, the two finally consummated their love. The day before, Lennon had held a meeting with the Beatles and core members of the Apple Corps, where he proclaimed with no hint of humor, “I’ve got something very important to tell you all. I am Jesus Christ come back again. This is my thing.” Yoko became his Mary Magdalene with which he could work on half-baked conceptual art projects, record bizarre noises that barely resemble music, release album covers and photo shoots displaying their fig-leafless flabby asses, abandon his band, his family, and his manhood, and of course, do up massive amounts of heroin.

By the end of 1969, Woodstock had made people believe in the power of music to create peace, Charles Manson had been inspired by The White Album to slaughter of Sharon Tate and friends to start the race war, Altamont had called all possibility of peace into question, the draft had been reinstated for the Vietnam War, and the Beatles had called it quits with extreme animosity, after less than a decade together.

With his leftist lover now permanently attached, he became John Lennon: Revolutionary Icon. The couple moved to New York and met with the Yippies to lend a hand in stirring up the shit. They wore bags during interviews to subvert the prejudices associated with race, beauty, and of all things, hair length. After marrying, they held a highly publicized “Bed In” as an eccentric “commercial for peace.” John took Yoko’s last name, becoming John Oko Lennon, and began calling his wife “Mother.” He wrote cynical songs about working class heroes, hopeful songs imagining no religion, countries, or possessions, provocative songs about women being the niggers of the world, doubtful songs about not believing in Hitler, Jesus, Kennedy, Kings, or Elvis, desperate songs asking people to just give peace a chance.

They projected the image of perfect soul mates, inspiring people who had given up on love to open their hearts. But in 1973, John took some time off from the marriage. He moved out of the house, got wasted every night, and perhaps most importantly, he started banging his twenty-two year-old personal assistant, the petite Asian May Pang—all at Yoko’s insistence. After a year and a half of belated bachelorhood, he crawled back to Yoko with his tail tucked between his legs. In 1975, Yoko gave birth to Sean. They both retired from public life to raise their son, and the new father settled into John Lennon: Family Man Icon for the last five years of his life.

Three weeks after the release of their comeback album, Double Fantasy, John Lennon signed a copy for a disgruntled fan waiting outside the Dakota apartment building in New York. A few hours later, that same fan shot him dead. The signed copy is presently on sale for nearly one million dollars.

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Dimebag Darrell’s story isn’t nearly as complicated or convoluted. The details of his life are scant compared to someone like Lennon, whose every burp and fart was documented and filed away, but by all appearances, life was really quite simple for Dimebag. He celebrated Halloween like it was New Year’s Eve, and approached life like every day was Halloween. Special occasions called for a drink, and every moment was a special occasion. If you were invited, you had to drink, most likely a black tooth grin (two shots of whiskey and a splash of cola.) And it didn’t matter who you were, everyone was invited.

If he didn’t have a guitar in his hand, Dimebag had a drink or a bottle rocket ready to blast it in your face. He was a tireless prankster. If he caught you asleep, you were canvas. If you were looking the other way, you were a target. If you took yourself too seriously, like the time he stumbled across tedious guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen at a hotel and had his roadie accost him with a bag of donuts (“No, I don’t like donuts! I don’t like donuts!”), you were a piece of performance art for his home video collection. One of his posse’s finest productions was short skit in which a roadie gets his hand smashed off by a road case and stolen by a random passerby. Had he not been so engrossed in music, Dimebag may have been an America’s Funniest Home Videos contender.

First and foremost was family. Dimebag was fiercely dedicated to his brother, Vinnie Paul. When Dave Mustaine left Metallica, he offered Dimebag the spot as lead guitarist in Megadeth. Darrell agreed, on the condition that his brother would be the new drummer. But Megadeth already had a drummer, and Dimebag had better songs to write, anyway.

Whenever Darrell came home to Texas from touring, the first thing he did was have a drink. The next thing he did was visit his mother and pay off her credit cards. Even after he had earned a small fortune, Dimebag’s home was never more than a few miles away from the house he grew up in, which was just a few miles from his father’s recording studio. Pantera’s first six albums were recorded with his father, and the seventh, Far Beyond Driven, was recorded with another producer at their father’s new studio in Nashville, TN. Dimebag never tired of familiar places. His love life was no exception.

Darrell met Rita Haney at the age of eight when she kicked him off of his bicycle. They remained friends until they were teenagers, when he made his first move. They never looked back from that kiss, and were joined in common law marriage until the day he died. By all accounts, Rita never slowed Dimebag down. At the very least, she never asked him to wear a fucking bag during interviews. If Dime wasn’t partying at home or playing onstage, he was doing both at a strip club. How many women Dimebag slept with is not a matter of public record—it could have been one, it could have been one thousand. Considering the typical road rules of the rock star fraternity, one is inclined to believe the latter. A gentleman does not kiss and tell, but it’s doubtful that Rita would care if he did either.

When the band settled into their final four-piece—Phil, Dimebag, Vinnie, and Rex—they shed their girly outfits for regular street clothes. Pantera’s true debut was Cowboys from Hell in 1990, and it blew up like a car bomb. Vulgar Display of Power had twice the blast radius, and 1994′s Far Beyond Driven remains the most aggressive album to ever chart at #1. Any pissed off kid who didn’t want to be pissed alone gathered around Pantera. Their message was blood simple: Fight for your friends and fuck up your enemies.

Phil Anselmo wrote all of the lyrics, but of course, Dimebag sang along to every song. The message flowed through him. Phil was an archetypal warrior male, furious at the world. His words aimed the machine gun and Dimebag fed him the gain-heavy ammunition. Fuck your parents, fuck your girlfriend, fuck the cops, fuck their government, fuck the Christians, and on a bad day, fuck the Christ they stood for. Pantera’s sound was as provincial as Dimebag’s drawling Texas accent, as Southern as the Confederate flag on his custom Washburn, as damaging as the black tooth grins soaking into his liver. Funny thing is, Dimebag never stopped smiling. Everything was a laugh.

While the trials must have been many, Dimebag’s biographies only describe three traumatic experiences in his life. The first was the death of his mother, who succumbed to cancer in 1999. The second came after 9/11, which left Pantera stranded in Ireland for two weeks. Phil had been struggling with heroin addiction for years, exacerbated by degenerating discs in his spine. The tension was mounting over his erratic behavior. When the band arrived back in the States, they went their separate ways but never came back together. In 2003, they finally announced the break up of Pantera. The Abbott brothers had become the “enemy” that Phil was so intent on fucking.

So far as Dimebag was concerned, Pantera and their road crew were family, thick as blood. Nothing could hurt him like the dissolution of his tribe. The Abbotts formed a new band, Damageplan, but had fallen from playing packed arenas to filling small clubs. “The highs and lows of rock n’ roll,” was all the bitching Dimebag would indulge. To make matters worse, a war of words continued in the press between Anselmo and the Abbotts.

In December of 2004, Metal Hammer published an ominous interview with Phil Anselmo in which he unleashed his fury:

“[W]hat comes around obviously goes around, and that is definitely something that is a very powerful force in my life…Cycles on top of cycles. Revenge on top of revenge. I suggest no one do me wrong…Things don’t go so well for them…And I lift not a finger…”

When the subject moved on to the Abbotts, Phil said:

“[Dimebag] would attack me vocally, and just knowing that he was so much smaller than me, I could kill him like a fucking piece of vapor…He knows that and the world should know that and so, physically of course, he deserves to be beaten severely…

“I was…a unique, unbelievably magnetic front man…I have a devoted following that would do anything for me, anything that I say.”

One week later, a crazed fan jumped onstage and gunned Dimebag Darrell down as well as a body guard, a stagehand, and a fan, before being shot by Officer James Niggemeyer. Talk about unfortunate timing.

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Happiness is a warm gun. So heavy in the hand. So easy to pull the trigger. One flick of the finger makes a tiny hole. God-like power. Any idiot can do it.

Nathan Miles Gale grew up in small town Ohio. He was batshit crazy, and pissed as all hell. He believed that Mike Judge was watching his every move, basing Beavis and Butthead off of his pathetic life. He also believed that the guys in Pantera were up to the same tricks. He listened to their music so much that the songs became his own. They were stealing his lyrics for their songs. Why wouldn’t anyone else understand that?

He saw menacing faces hovering above his bed at night. Their voices taunted him, called him a homosexual, told him to hurt people.

Nathan enjoyed drugs. He smoked dope, dropped acid, ate pills, snorted coke. When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, Nathan was alone in thinking that Marilyn Manson was behind the attacks. He joined the Marines at nineteen, but was discharged when it was learned he was schizophrenic. He moved into an apartment next to his mother. In December of 2002 she bought him a 9mm Beretta. Two years later, he took it to a Damageplan concert at Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio to find Dimebag Darrell and settle the score.

Mark David Chapman was born in Texas, but went to school in Georgia outside of Atlanta. He traveled the world from there. He also smoked dope, dropped acid, ate pills, snorted coke, and became a born again Christian. He was also batshit crazy, a god in his own mind, ruling over the voices which he called the Little People.

After cheating on his fiance, he decided to go to Hawaii where he would kill himself. He was committed to a mental facility there, but was so liked that he was hired on part time after his release. He eventually married a Japanese-American woman, just like John Lennon. He listened to Lennon’s music obsessively, just as he read The Catcher in the Rye. After reading a book about Lennon’s lavish lifestyle in New York, he was extremely pissed. He was indignant that Lennon would arrogantly disavow Jesus. And how could John Lennon: Revolutionary Icon tell people to imagine no possessions and yet live as a millionaire? He told the Little People that he would kill John Lennon. They begged him not to, but his mind was made up. The Little People fell silent.

After two previous attempts were aborted in last minute panic, Chapman arrived in New York on December 6, 1980. The last thing he did before finding John Lennon was buy yet another copy of The Catcher in the Rye, in which he would write: “This is my statement” signed—Holden Caulfield. He left the book in his hotel room, but brought a copy of Double Fantasy and a loaded .38 with him.

By demons be driven.

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John Lennon gave his final print interview to Rolling Stone the day Mark David Chapman arrived in New York, but it was never published until thirty years after his death, one year ago. Many people claim that Lennon had shown foreknowledge of his death, and this interview shows an eerie prescience that makes one wonder if Yoko’s nutty New Age ideas of cosmic connections were really that far-fetched, though it raises a number of questions about the couple’s belief that projecting one’s thoughts and intentions can create one’s reality.

“They only like people when they’re on the way up,” Lennon told Jonathan Cott, “and when they’re up there, they’ve got nothing else to do but shit on them. I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero….So forget ‘em, forget ‘em.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

John Lennon — “Woman is the Nigger of the World
1972

Pantera — “This Love
2000

Darby Crash Burned by John Lennon

1980 was a happening year for rock star martyrdom, and Darby Crash was more than willing to give up his miserable life for that sort of immortality.  Sacrifice is just part of the martyr deal.  He would spill his blood for the sake of punk rock, and the whole world would adore him for it, right?  After all, hadn’t that tactic worked for Sid Vicious?

The Germs’ reputation spread through L.A.’s budding punk scene from their first gig in ’77.  Their teenaged singer, Darby, was notorious for smearing himself with various foods and slicing himself up with broken bottles onstage.  The band’s music was unlistenable for the most part—a DIY mishmash of detuned guitars and randomly beaten drums—but nobody cared so long as Crash threw his scrawny, bloody frame at the audience like a brain-damaged cat chasing shadows.  In any intense romance, it’s always the thought that counts.

Darby conceived of the Germs as a sort of rock n’ roll cult.  The mark of sectarian inclusion was a cigarette burn to the inside of the wrist, always administered by a prior initiate.  The core crowds thrilled at Crash’s self-inflicted violence, and after awhile, newcomers began to give him some assistance.

L.A.’s early punk shows began to implode under the weight of suburban toughs looking for a brawl.  Reviewing videos of the Germs’ performances, one finds the perfect target holding the microphone.  These kids beat the living shit out of Darby night after night, which made for a good excuse to get loaded on heroin before going onstage.  Venues eventually refused to book the Germs, which provided another good excuse to tap the vein.  Being a closet homosexual in a seemingly homophobic society was yet another motivation to disappear into a boiling spoon.  In the end, the sun’s continual rise and descent was reason enough for Darby to use heroin.  After all, didn’t all the greatest stars turn to the red flower for inspiration?

Despite all appearances, Darby wasn’t a moron.  He was an avid reader who absorbed Nietzsche alongside readings of Scientology and Buddhism.  He was as fascinated by the image of Jesus as he was Sid Vicious.  All of it pointed to the promise of death leading to something greater, a concept that obsessed the young punk to his early grave at twenty-one years old.  He frequently spoke of his suicidal “five-year plan” to friends, but they all thought it was just another aspect of Darby’s melodramatic persona.

Germs recorded only one studio album, GI, which stood for “Germs Incognito” as the band booked themselves in venues that feared the very real possibility of the group provoking a riot.  Produced by Joan Jett, it is also contains the only bearable sounds the band ever came up with.  Alongside the band’s segment in the punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, the album remains a cult classic to this day.

The Germs opened for the likes of Devo and Blondie, and the exposure provided by Penolope Spheeris’ documentary was promising at first.  But their immanent breakthrough was not enough to keep the group together.  Darby hammered the final nail when he whimsically replaced the band’s drummer with his man-lover.  In 1980, the Germs split and went their own directions.  According to the brief biography, Wild-Eyed Boy, Darby absconded to England with his sugar mama and supposed lover, Amber.

AC/DC’s Bon Scott had been found dead of alcohol poisoning in London in February of that same year, and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham would go in much the same way a few miles north later on in September.  Neither of these death’s went unnoticed, but most likely it was Ian Curtis’ suicide in May of 1980 that got Darby thinking about his future.  After Curtis’ death, Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” shot to the top of the charts.  Suicide was a costly marketing ploy, but goddamn, it worked!  The clock was ticking on Darby’s five-year plan.

The Germs played their final gig on December 3, 1980 at the Starwood in L.A.  It was a rather lackluster show with a disappointing turn-out.  The guitarists jokingly broke into the throbbing riff from Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” with no idea of the significance.

On the morning of December 7, 1980, Darby and his new “girlfriend” Casey Cola retreated to a coach house behind her parents’ place with $400 worth of smack.  It is assumed that he doctored the dose to leave Casey alive, because she woke up to find him laying cold and blue beside her.  According to legend, a note was scrawled on the wall that read “Here lies Darby C”, left incomplete as the singer drifted away.  Another legend claims that his arms were splayed in a crucifix position.  Whether this is true is irrelevant.  The symbolic intention was certainly there.

Darby Crash killed himself to attract the eyes of the world, and for the whole day of December 7, he had fans in the palm of his hand.  It was a short-lived adulation, though.  John Lennon was shot the next day.  Even in death, Darby’s timing was as off as the Germs’ worst drum solo.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Germs — “Manimal
1979

Freddie Mercury Wasn’t Nearly
As Gay As You Are

© Brandt Hardin

You call Freddie a faggot.  You think his mustache was pure trash.  You are disgusted by the glans flexed in his spandex. You dig into the details of Mercury’s mercurial libido, but I’ll tell you right now that being that concerned about a rock star’s sex life is fucking gay, man. Vicarious hairy ass.

You fantasize about the sloppy meat between a superstar’s sheets like an imaginary groupie choking on phantom fellatio.  You feed on rumors like a junky at a pain clinic fire sale.  You’re a bottom-feeder sniffing at the hem of a musical Messiah’s garment, cowering in the shadows of his ball sack.  Not only would Freddie Mercury not fuck you, he wouldn’t be flattered that you care who he fucked.  So call him a faggot if you want to.  No one denies he was gay—he was the frontman for QUEEN, for Chrissakes.  He just wasn’t as gay as you are.

That doesn’t mean that Mercury never slept with women.  Men don’t grow mustaches like that and not get down with the ladies at some point.  He probably had a hundred women, which is ninety-nine more than you will—if we count self-administered handjobs, anyway.

Reading through the quotes in Freddie Mercury: His Life in His Own Words, it becomes clear that the singer was passionate about women, especially the only love of his life, Mary Austin.

“I’m gay as a daffodil, dears.  But I couldn’t fall in love with a man the way I could with a girl…”

“I treat Mary as my common-law wife and we’re getting on fine…We believe in each other, so fuck everybody else.”

Maybe fucking everybody else was the problem, because Freddie certainly did a lot of that—men, women, midgets, wombats, God only knows what else, who cares?  It’s none of your business.  Stop snooping.

After seven years of living together, he and Mary called it quits.  But Freddie would carry on (carry oooon…) because nothing really matters…

“Sometimes a good friend is much more valuable than a lover.  Apart from Mary, I don’t have any real friends.”

I’m sure his buddies didn’t appreciate that, and you can be damn sure that his hairdresser and lover of over a decade wore a squished up sour face after hearing it.  Jim Hutton lived with Mercury for the last six years of his life, remaining by his bedside like a loyal pet, and yet Freddie had the gall to say: “If I go first, I’m going to leave everything to [Mary Austin].  Nobody else gets a penny—except my cats.”  And Freddie followed through, like a true-to-life, thuper thweet, find-em-fuck-em-and-give-em-AIDS rock star.  Freddie lived life on his own flamboyant terms.  Fuck everybody else.

Yeah, Freddie performed at Bob Geldof’s globally-broadcast, egalitarian charity ball in 1985.  But Freddie didn’t get guilt-tripped into doing Live Aid.  Those starving Ethiopians couldn’t piss on his fabulous parade.  Causes are so gay.  No, he played Live Aid because playing the biggest humanitarian concert of the century is just sooo Freddie Mercury.

“To be honest, let’s face it, all us rock stars still want to be in the limelight and this is going to showcase us.  Let’s be open about it…it’s going to be a worldwide audience, an all over simultaneous broadcast…I doubt there is one artist that’s going to appear who hasn’t realized that fact…

“Even if I didn’t do it, the poverty would still be there.  It’s something that will always be there.  We’ll do all we can do to help because it’s a wonderful thing.  But as far as I’m concerned, I’m doing it out of pride.”

It was all about entertainment.  Left wing musicians hauling millions off to their mansions or right wing writers peddling psuedo-empowerment to the servant classes—Mercury was beyond such hypocrisy and pretention.  Having a message is for fags.

“We think a show should be a spectacle and we’ve been slagged off in the press for our flamboyant stage show.  But that’s the whole point…

“I feel incredibly strong on stage…The adrenaline’s there, you feel like the devil and it’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.  But I know in myself that I would never misuse it…I’m much too wonderful for that, darlings!”

Mercury’s honest appraisal of his exalted status was refreshing to realistic rock fans.  This was an age that viewed the martyrdom of John Lennon as a precursor to a cultural apocalypse, a generation bred to worship anyone with a TV face and a microphone.  Mercury was a shallow breath of fresh air.

“I’m not the Messiah or anything—I don’t want to preach to [the audience]…My job is not to teach them, my job is to make music.  I don’t want to change their lives overnight, I don’t want to involve the audience in peace messages or anything like that.  It’s escapism…”

Queen was the rare result of talent, will, and greed.  They crafted songs with the care of a jeweler cutting a diamond, producing both snappy hits and epic ballads.  The audience could never be too big, the lights could never be too bright, the showmanship could never be too superficial.

“I was once thinking of being carried on stage by Nubian slaves and being fanned by them…But where to find a Nubian slave?”

Freddie wasn’t about to take himself too seriously.  He was all laughter and leather.  Topless tarts and bottomless mic stands.  Macho men and mustaches.  Overbites and undergarments.  White tights and spotlights.  Like fat bottom girls, he made the rockin’ world go round.

It made him miserable in the end.  He became distrustful of the hanger-on hobnobbers who slipped into his life just to slurp on his fame like psychic vampires fighting over an infected used tampon.

Freddie had risen to the height of social approval and material wealth.  He had an eight-bedroom Victorian-style mansion built in Kensington, West London.  Marble floors and mahogany staircases.  Shopping sprees to Harrods, Cartier, and Asprey.  Lalique and Galle vases.  Midgets serving trays of cocaine.  You couldn’t attract more rats with all the cheese in Wisconsin.

“It’s like I’m handicapped, because people immediately go for my so-called stage persona.  No one loves the real me.  Inside, they’re all in love with my fame and stardom.”

Freddie became more and more emotionally isolated and shackled by the cold chains of betrayal.  He trusted no one further than he could smack them with his cock, so that wound up being the only personal connection he could hope for.  The sad part is, his sordid love life is all you ass-hammers even care about.

“My sex drive is enormous.  I sleep with men, women, cats—you name it.  I’ll go to bed with anything!  My bed is so huge it can comfortably sleep six.”

Does that titillate you?  Captivate you?  Are you happy now that you’ve had a peek beneath his sheets?  I’ll bet you want to know who now.  What are their names?  What positions did he prefer?  What did his lovers look like?  What did they smell like?  Did their wiry mustaches ever get stuck together like velcro?

You ask too many questions, and Freddie was never one for answering questions, anyway.  Questions are fucking queer.  In the last years of Freddie’s life, people were always asking probing personal questions.  Why doesn’t he play shows anymore?  What happened to the wild parties?  Why does he look so unhealthy?  Is he love sick?  On drugs?  HIV positive?

Freddie had nothing to say about it.  He became somewhat reclusive. He “stopped having sex and started growing tulips.”  The clock ticked by slowly.  Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Then suddenly, on November 23, 1991, Mercury came clean with a public statement that he indeed had AIDS.  A thousand gay assholes simultaneously slammed shut in abject terror.  The next day, Freddie was dead.

I know, I know, you say he got what he deserved.  Promiscuity leads to decadence.  The wages of sin is death.  Sodomy causes pain in the end.  God hates fags.  And maybe you’re right.  AIDS is a nasty way to go, generally reserved for certain proclivities, so that has to mean something.  Ask yourself this, though:

If God kills queers because he hates their man-loving ways, and none of us live forever, then does God hate us all, each for our own special reasons?

Death cuts every one of us down, but life only raises up so many rock heroes.  How ironic that Freddie Mercury became one of the brightest stars in the world because he was so fantastically flaming, and yet you’ll just sneer from the sidelines because you’re so fucking gay.

[In memory of Seth Putnam]

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Queen — “Another One Bites the Dust
1981

Michael Hutchence:
Don’t Hold Your Breath

© Brandt Hardin

If there is such a thing as too much pussy, then Michael Hutchence must have gotten it. Remember the topless girl with the stunning green eyes from Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games” video? Hutchence hit that. Or the ghostly girl with the ruby lips singing in Nick Cave’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow”? Hutchence hit that, too. Television interviewers, supermodels, pop starlets, and an endless stream of groupies playfully dubbed “INXS-ories”—Michael took primal lust to extremes that the average porn addict couldn’t approach vicariously.

Michael was on that sweet love-makin’ sadomasochist mack daddy on crack tip. He tied them up and tortured them with pleasure. He snorted drugs off their toe-nails and tongued them down til they wanted to die. He probably ate grapes off their butt cheeks. They don’t call it a “Hutchence steamer” for nothin’. Described by those who loved him as warm and charming, the smooth-talking Australian had a habit of charming his friend’s lovers into a warm bed. Just a day in the life of a dirty rock star, until the paparazzi caught Hutchence doing the wrong man dirty.

Bob Geldof was a saint, canonized by the media and knighted by the Queen. From 1985 on, he could do no wrong. That year he organized Live Aid, a multi-venue benefit concert to relieve famine-stricken Ethiopia, which was performed in London and Philadelphia and broadcast across the planet. Bob and his wife-to-be sat next to Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Wembley Stadium while nearly two billion viewers received his all-star pop showcase via satellite, including Bob Dylan and Queen, along with the crushing guilt that comes with eating a burger while Africans starve to death. The event raised upward of £50 million that day, much of which inadvertently went to fund Ethiopia’s genocidal Communist dictator Mingitsu Haile Miriam and his guerilla army. All saints must suffer, and such an ironic misappropriation must have ground Geldof’s gears, but not nearly as bad as the humiliating and highly publicized cuckoldry inflicted by his reckless wife ten years later.

Bob began romancing Paula Yates when she was barely eighteen, back when she was just a little fan girl following his band, the Boomtown Rats. Thinking himself to be older and wiser—eight years to be exact—he struggled to keep her wild oats out of the feeding troughs of the rich and famous. After their protracted courtship resulted in a daughter, they were finally wed in a $50 Las Vegas Marry-Mart. Paula would bear Bob three daughters in all, naming them Fifi, Peaches, and Pixie. And that was before she started getting high.

Aside from authoring self-help books on motherhood and posing for Penthouse, Paula’s greatest claim to fame was as a UK music television personality. She was highly regarded for her engaging interviews with pop stars on the ascent. It’s only natural that she’d develop a little crush here and there.

Michael Hutchence’s handsome photograph suddenly appeared on the Geldof family refrigerator after Paula interviewed him on The Tube in 1985. But Bob was a trusting husband. He kept his cool. Nine years later, Bob’s suspicions—and the rest of the world’s—were finally roused during Paula’s sultry “on the bed” interview with Hutchence for The Big Breakfast. The jealousy drove Bob bonkers, and after Paula indulged a few too many late nights out, he confronted Michael at a party, telling the star to leave his wife alone. Paula denied everything when she found out. She even insisted that Bob call Hutchence and apologize, which Bob did reluctantly, his gloomy penis staring down at his feet.

The chemistry between Michael and Paula couldn’t have been more obvious, but it took front page photos of the cheating couple leaving the Halkin Hotel together to tear the wool from Bob’s bleary eyes. It was Sunday morning, February 11, 1995, and Geldof was pissed off. Two and a half years later, Michael was found naked and dead.

It had been a wild ride up to that fateful night. While INXS’ music may have been somewhat bland and forgettable, Michael’s performances exploded with such slick sexual savagery that every guy in the audience wanted to be him and every girl wanted to be with him—hence the Hutchence curse. He also wrote a poignant pop track addressing the nasty business of human nature called “Devil Inside,” so stop calling him a mediocre merry-maker, you Aussie-hating asshole. The international market may only have loved Hutchence passionately for the album Kick, but Australia remained loyal to their star while the rest of the world jeered.

The whole business with Bob and Paula had been nasty from the start. One alpha altruist, two chatty cheaters, three cartoon-named babies, and an army of tabloid photographers with film to spare. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for Michael and Paula to have their sordid lives documented and devoured by the yellow press and their insatiable public, from that first hotel headline to the Geldofs’ bizarre divorce proceedings (which left Paula and Michael living in Bob’s house, and Bob living in Michael’s old apartment) to the birth of Michael and Paula’s daughter (named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence—no kidding) to the police investigations after their nanny found opium in the crazy couple’s house to Paula’s sorry suicide attempts to that iconic Brit Awards moment in ’96 when Michael presented the Best Band award to Noel Gallagher, who sneered back, “I’d just like to say that fucking has-beens shouldn’t be giving awards to gonna-bes!” It’s no wonder Michael was always punching out paparazzi photographers—it must have been the only enjoyable pastime left to a man numbed to life’s little pleasures.

A random encounter in 1992, years before all the trouble started, may shed some light on Michael’s twisted peanut. He had been walking in Amsterdam with his supermodel girlfriend on his arm, and stepped in front of a taxi. The cabbie had clearly been having a bad day when suddenly this arrogant, swaggering rock star type walks in front of his cab at a leisurely pace, fucking up the driver’s schedule and sporting a highlighted perm to boot. The cabbie snapped, got out of his taxi, and shoved Michael to the sidewalk. Michael cracked his head on the concrete, causing minor brain damage. In the blink of an eye, the natural sensualist had lost his sense of taste and smell. Perhaps, as is common in such cases, he homed in on other senses to compensate.

It was November 22, 1997—the 35th deathday of JFK—and Michael was having a distressing night in Australia. His rock n’ roll rollercoaster had begun in Sydney’s dive bars two decades before, taken him around the world in a death-defying spiral, and left him wrecked in a Ritz Carlton hotel room in the same city on the eve of a small venue tour, bringing him full circle. Besides partying with a local couple, he’d been on the phone all night, feeling sorry for himself to Paula, chatting with a new lover in LA, and going off on Geldoff about child custody issues. By early morning, Hutchence was lonely and fucked up. He’d consumed a cocktail that included cocaine, champagne, Valium, and Prozac, but that’s not what killed him.

Michael was the type who needed excitement to calm his nerves. He could have called a hooker that night, but how boring. Maybe he could call two—twice as boring. He could go down to the street and start a fist fight, or arrange to go skydiving, or maybe just pick the phone back up and prank call at random. Boooriiing.

A belt can be used for a lot of things. Put it through your belt loops, and your trousers won’t fall down to your ankles. Double it over, and you’ve got a kinky disciplinary tool. Tighten it above your elbow, and you’ve got the perfect tie-off for a soothing shot of heroin. Slip it around your neck, and suddenly bold new horizons open up.

Michael’s body was discovered in his hotel room by a dumbfounded maid. His leather belt had been tightened around his neck and tied to the door handle. He was as naked as Adam in Eden, but not nearly so innocent. According to Hutchence’s brother, forensic investigators found small amounts of semen on Michael’s body, indicating an auto-erotic asphyxiation sesh gone horribly wrong. Despite the coroner’s verdict of suicide, there is every reason to believe that out of desperation for one sweet moment of relief, Michael decided to choke himself while tugging one out, then suddenly lost control of the enterprise.

Earlier in the day he’d told an interviewer for Adelaide’s Sunday Mail:

“The press, especially in England, makes a construct of a human, and then they either do two things with that person. They make them beyond human, or they dehumanize them…

“See, it’s against the law to destroy Jews, blacks, people for religious causes. The law and Parliament have stopped discrimination like that. All we have left is celebrity, and every society has to kick a dog, it’s a fact. Someone to raise and someone to burn. It’s human nature…”

After gorging oneself on the all-you-can-eat buffet presented to superstars, the only thing left to do is eat the silverware and flash a broken smile to the public. That strangled gurgle heard around the world was Michael saying, “Cheese!”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

INXS — “Devil Inside
1987

If there is such a thing as too much pussy, then Michael Hutchence must have gotten it. Remember the topless girl with the stunning green eyes from Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games” video? Hutchence hit that. Or the ghostly girl with the ruby lips singing in Nick Cave’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow”? Hutchence hit that, too. Television interviewers, supermodels, pop starlets, and an endless stream of groupies playfully dubbed “INXS-ories”—Michael took the satisfaction of primal lust to extremes that the average man couldn’t approach vicariously in porno-stacked warehouse and a pack of bubblegum. Michael was on that sweet love-makin’ sadomasochist mack daddy on crack tip. He tied them up and tortured them with pleasure. He snorted drugs off their toe-nails and tongued them down til they wanted to die. He ate food out of their butt cracks. And they don’t call it a “Hutchence steamer” for nothin’. Described by those who loved him as warm and charming, the smooth-talking Australian had a habit of charming his friend’s lovers into a warm bed. Just a day in the life of a dirty rock star, until the paparazzi caught Hutchence doing the wrong man dirty.

Bob Geldof was a saint, canonized by the media and knighted by the Queen. From 1985 on, he could do no wrong. That year he organized Live Aid, a multi-venue benefit concert to relieve famine-stricken Ethiopia, which was played in London and Philadelphia and broadcast across the planet. Bob and his wife-to-be sat next to Prince Charles and Princess Di in Wembley Stadium while nearly two billion viewers received his all-star pop showcase via satellite, including Bob Dylan and Queen, along with the crushing guilt that comes with eating a burger while Africans starve to death. The event raised upward of £50 million that day, much of which inadvertantly went to fund Ethiopia’s genocidal Communist dictator Mingitsu Haile Miriam and his guerilla army. All saints must suffer, and such an ironic misappropriation must have ground Geldof’s gears . But not nearly as bad as the humiliating and highly publicized cuckolding inflicted by his reckless wife ten years later.

Bob began romancing Paula Yates when she was barely eighteen, back when she was just a little fan girl following his band, the Boomtown Rats. Thinking himself to be older and wiser—eight years to be exact—he struggled to keep her wild oats out of the feeding troughs of the rich and famous. After their protracted courtship resulted in a daughter, they were finally wed in a $50 Las Vegas Marry-Mart. Paula would bear Bob three daughters in all, naming them Fifi, Peaches, and Pixie. And that was before she started getting high.

Aside from authoring self-help books on motherhood and posing for Penthouse, Paula’s greatest claim to fame was as a UK music television personality. She was highly regarded for her engaging interviews with pop stars on the ascent. It’s only natural that she’d develop a little crush or two.

Michael Hutchence’s handsome photograph suddenly appeared on the Geldof family refrigerator after Paula interviewed him on The Tube in 1985. But Bob was a trusting husband. He kept his cool. Nine years later, Bob’s suspicions—and the rest of the world’s—were finally roused during Paula’s “on the bed” interview with Hutchence for The Big Breakfast. The jealousy drove Bob bonkers, and after Paula indulged a few too many late nights out, he confronted Michael at a party, telling the star to leave his wife alone. Paula denied everything when she found out. She even insisted that Bob call Hutchence and apologize, which Bob did reluctantly, his gloomy penis staring down at his feet.

The chemistry between Michael and Paula couldn’t have been more obvious, but it took front page photos of the cheating couple leaving the Halkin Hotel together to tear the wool from Bob’s bleary eyes. It was Sunday morning, February 11, 1995, and Geldof was pissed off. Two and a half years later, Michael was found naked and dead.

It had been a wild ride up to that fateful night. While the music may have been somewhat bland and forgettable, Michael’s performances with INXS exploded with such slick sexual savagery, every guy in the audience wanted to be him and every girl wanted to be with him, hence the Hutchence curse. He also wrote a poignant pop track addressing the nasty business of human nature, “The Devil Inside,” and that has to count for something. So stop calling him a mediocre merry-maker. The international market only loved Hutchence passionately for the album Kick, but Australia remained loyal to him to the bitter end.

The whole business with Bob and Paula had been nasty from the start. One altruistic alpha male, two chatty cheaters, three cartoon-named babies, and an army of tabloid photographers with film to spare. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for Michael and Paula to have their sordid lives documented and devoured by the yellow press and their insatiable public, from their first front page leaving the hotel together to the Geldof’s bizarre divorce proceedings (which left Paula with Bob’s house, and Bob living in Michael’s old apartment) to the birth of Michael and Paula’s daughter (named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence—no kidding) to the police investigations after their nanny found opium in the crazy couple’s house to Paula’s sorry suicide attempts to that iconic Brit Awards moment when Michael presented the Best Band award to Noel Gallagher, who sneered back, “I’d just like to say that fucking has-beens shouldn’t be giving awards to gonna-bes!” It’s no wonder Michael was always punching out paparrazi photographers—it must have been the only enjoyable pastime left to a man numb to life’s little pleasures.

A random encounter in 1992, years before all the trouble started, may shed some light on Michael’s twisted peanut. He had been walking in Amsterdam with his supermodel girlfriend on his arm, and stepped in front of a taxi. The cabbie had clearly been having a bad day, when suddenly this arrogant, swaggering rock star type walks in front of his cab at a leisurely pace, fucking up the driver’s schedule and sporting a highlighted perm to boot. The cabbie snapped, got out of his taxi, and shoved Michael to the sidewalk. Michael cracked his head on the concrete, causing minor brain damage. In the blink of an eye, the natural born sensualist had lost his sense of taste and smell. Perhaps, as is common in such cases, he homed in on other senses to compensate.

It was November 22, 1997—the 35th deathday of JFK—and Michael was having a distressing night in Australia. His rock n’ roll rollercoaster had begun in Sydney’s dive bars two decades before, took him around the world in a death-defying spiral, and left him wrecked in a Ritz Carlton hotel room in the same city on the eve of a come-back tour, bringing him full circle. Between partying with a local couple, he’d been on the phone all night, feeling sorry for himself with Paula, chatting with a new lover in LA, and going off on Geldoff about his refusal to allow his daughters to go on vacation with Michael and Paula. By early morning, Hutchence was lonely and fucked up. He’d consumed a cocktail that included cocaine, champagne, Valium, and Prozac, but that’s not what killed him.

Earlier in the day he’d told Adelaide’s Sunday Mail:

The press, especially in England, makes a construct of a human, and then they either do two things with that person. They make them beyond human, or they dehumanize them…

See, it’s against the law to destroy Jews, blacks, people for religious causes. The law and Paliament have stopped discrimination like that. All we have left is celebrity, and every society has to kick a dog, it’s a fact. Someone to raise and someone to burn. It’s human nature…”

A belt can be used for a lot of things. Put it through your belt loops, and your pants won’t fall down to your ankles. Double it over, and you’ve got a kinky disciplinary tool. Tighten it above your elbow, and you’ve got the perfect tie-off for a soothing shot of heroin. Slip it around your neck, and suddenly bold new horizons open up.

Michael’s body was discovered in his hotel room by a dumbfounded maid. His leather belt had been tightened around his neck and tied to the door handle. He was naked as Adam, but not nearly so innocent. According to Hutchence’s brother, forensic investigators found small amounts of semen on Michael’s body, indicating an auto-erotic asphyxiation sesh gone horribly wrong. Despite the coroner’s verdict of suicide, there is every reason to believe that out of desperation for one sweet moment of relief, Michael decided to choke himself while he tugged one out, then suddenly lost control of the enterprise.

After gorging oneself on life’s sensual buffet for so long, the only thing left to do is eat the silverware and smile at the.world with broken teeth.

Ronnie Van Zant: This Bird
You Cannot Change

© Brandt Hardin

In my home state, a gigantic Confederate flag billows in the wind above Interstate 40 about halfway between Nashville and Knoxville. I have never gotten an adequate explanation as to why the controversial flag flies there or who raises it every morning—some say it is the work of Southern traditionalists, others claim it is the Ku Klux Klan—but I choose to believe that it is a tribute to the memory of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s beer-swilling singer, Ronnie Van Zant. His deathday is October 20, so without argument, today the crimson flag flies for him.

Ronnie Van Zant was born in Jacksonville, FL, where he formed a band with his fellow longhairs in high school. They eventually named their group after a crotchety gym teacher, Leonard Skinner, who had ragged them day after day about their girly locks. The coach lost a promising athlete and the world gained a Southern rock martyr. Ronnie was a born scrapper who dreamt of becoming a pro boxer like his idol, Muhammad Ali. Of course, he also harbored childhood dreams of becoming a baseball player or a stock-car racer, but like boxing, you can’t participate in those sports with princess hair. Not so for rock n’ roll. Van Zant’s fate was sealed.

Lynyrd Skynyrd did their best to distinguish themselves from the overshadowing popularity of the Allman Brothers’ brand of Southern rock. Where the Allman Brothers jammed for hours on end, Lynyrd Skynyrd composed tight, chop-heavy tracks (with the exception of “Freebird,” whose solo is long enough for you to leave the venue to buy a pint of Jack Daniels and return in time to hear the end of the song.) Still, both groups played for the War of Northern Aggression’s sore losers and their descendants, bending the black man’s Delta blues to the absolute limits of whiteness. Their redneck connection was cosmic, brother. Van Zant even dedicated “Freebird” to Duane Allman, who was shredded in a motorcycle accident in 1971.

Lynyrd Skynyrd were one of the last bastions of working class White America by the ’70s. In an era of urban unrest, racially charged domestic terrorism, and the doldrums of disco, Lynyrd Skynyrd held fast the hearts of hillbillies. The rowdies were roaring for more in the autumn of 1977. Skynyrd released Street Survivors on October 17, whose album cover showed the band blazing in badass poses, about to embark on their “Tour of the Survivors.”  Three days later, it all came crashing down.

The “Survivors” tour found the band traveling in a modified 1948 Convair 240 (known as the CV-300) which hobbled through the air like a drunken buzzard. On October 19 the plane—dubbed Freebird—shot an alarming stream of flames from the engine, prompting the band’s new back-up singer, Cassie Gaines, to refuse to set foot onboard again. The guys talked her out of her stubborn paranoia, however, and on October 20 she was coaxed into flying from Greenville, SC to Baton Rouge, LA. That afternoon, the rickety Convair went down in the same Mississippi swamps that spawned Robert Johnson.

According to the surviving keyboardist, Billy Powell:

Our co-pilot…had been drinking the night before and, for all I know, may still have been drunk…We hit the trees at approximately ninety miles per hour…everybody was hurled forward. That’s how Ronnie died: he was catapulted at about eighty miles per hour into a tree [and] died instantly of a massive head injury…I saw [the co-pilot] hanging from a tree, decapitated. Then I saw Cassie, who was cut from ear to ear. She bled to death right in front of me.

Paramedics arrived in time to save most of the crash victims, and to witness the nearly 3,000 bipedal vultures descend on the wreckage, stripping the site of every piece of morbid memorabilia they could sink their pink claws into. The same sort of carrion would break open Ronnie Van Zant’s Orange Park mausoleum on June 29, 2000 and lay his body on the ground. It is unclear whether they also stole the fishing pole that Van Zant was buried with, or if so, whether the grave-robbers caught any decent fish with it.

The cover image for Street Survivors was so eerily appropriate that the MCA record label pulled the album from shelves and replaced it with a less prescient cover. A few thousand copies of the original album are still in circulation among collectors. My mother has a copy hanging on her wall. It’s the sort of decoration that will keep you awake at night as the ghosts of Skynyrd stare down at you. Superstitious fans got the same screaming willies as they listened to Ronnie Van Zant sing from beyond the grave:

Whiskey bottles and brand new cars
Oak tree you’re in my way…
Can’t you smell that smell
The smell of death surrounds you…

On the tenth deathday of Ronnie Van Zant in 1987, the newly reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd hit the road, complete with most of the crash survivors and Ronnie’s younger brother, Johnny Van Zant, among other new additions. One by one the original members dropped off over the years, but Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to tour today as a sort of tribute band with serial rights.

Soon after 9/11, my brother and I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd: The Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Band play a free concert in Knoxville. The arena was full of rebel flag-bearing rednecks for whom the classic rock staple “Freebird” never gets old, and the event was sponsored by Budweiser—back when it was still an American-owned company. Between songs, Johnny Van Zant touted his jingoistic support of American troops and American military aggression as he waved an American flag above the cheering crowd.

At the peak of the show, an enormous Confederate flag backdrop came down behind the band. I remember feeling a mixture of Southern pride and shame, which generally go hand-in-hand. But no matter how out of place I felt, it was nothing compared to the one black guy whose chunky white girlfriend had popped a rebel flag hat on his head and dragged him out to the concert. It’s amazing what a man will do for love.

Perhaps Ronnie Van Zant was smiling down on us from heaven that night with an etheric Texas Hatter’s hat shading his eyes, admiring the thousands of crackers floating in his Southern rock soup. Everyone knows that ancestral spirits love being remembered. Ghosts feed on memories.

So call your local classic rock station right now and request “Freebird.” Play extended air guitar solos along with the radio. If you see a concert tonight, demand that the band play “Freebird.” Otherwise, crack open a beer, jump behind the wheel of a pick-up, and drive around drunk listening to “Freebird.” Do it for Ronnie Van Zant!

Show a cop your middle finger and yell, “Freebird!” Invade a pet store and release the parakeets and cockatiels, crying,“Freebird!” Sculpt a bird you cannot change out of titanium and smash it through a restaurant’s glass window. Then, at the top of your lungs, tell the shard-covered patrons what you just gave them.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Lynyrd Skynyrd — “Freebird
1977