Long before half of Tarrant County had a Leon or Kelly Clarkson story, everyone with an 817 phone number had an Abbott brothers story. Most of them involved the younger Abbott, the now deified guitarist Dimebag Darrell. But after his brutal murder while performing onstage 14 years ago, his older brother Vinnie Paul dominated the Bigfoot-like spotting of Pantera members around town.
Since Vinnie’s death Friday at the criminally young age of 54 – the cause of which has yet to be disclosed – stories about the local legend have been swirling around with gale force. Between countless Facebook posts, hastily written obits in online music rags, and wall-to-wall reminiscences on 97.1 The Eagle, fans and music luminaries have been endlessly sharing their memories of the heavy metal icon.
Nearly every fan’s tale echoes some variation of the following storyline: At some random dive bar or gentlemen’s club, a group of unsuspecting patrons bump into the famously approachable former Pantera/Damageplan/HellYeah drummer and strike up a conversation. They hang on his every word while he hilariously recounts the debauchery and depravity of touring with other larger-than-life heavy metal characters like Black Label Society guitarist and potential Duck Dynasty stand-in Zakk Wylde or noted creepy philandering narcissist Paul Stanley. Vinnie would buy the group round after round of Jäger Bombs (or his late brother’s signature shot, the Black Tooth Grin). Then all were invited back to his home after the bar closed, where, among a claustrophobia-inducing collection of Kiss and Dallas Stars memorabilia, there was a studio where the Stripe-Bearded One would treat his guests to bombardier double-bass drum solos until dawn.
My guess is that most if not all of these anecdotes are woefully embellished if not outright fabricated. In reality, I figure your average black t-shirt-and-camo-short-donning metal head who is currently regaling anyone who will stand still long enough with tales of that time him and Dime “shotgunned beers while floating on the Stanley Cup in Vinnie’s pool!” would have considered himself lucky just to have spied the drummer on the Jumbotron at a Stars or Cowboys game. But most of us have a strange preoccupation with celebrity, and few cultural groups are as obsessive about their thing as metal heads, so it’s not surprising that this type of mythology tends to build up around the rare international superstar who happens to emerge from your town.
My own single interfacing with Vinnie Paul, however, was as innocuous as any other customer service interaction I’ve ever had. I worked for many years for a large music instrument retailer, and my one memory of Vinnie consists of me loading some new PA speakers into his van while he stood smoking underneath a 5-by-8-foot picture of himself that was on the wall of the building. Not exactly he and I drinking enough to have my liver mount a revolt inside my body, but I still found him to be the same friendly, outgoing, and genuinely nice dude that everyone always said he was.
As sad as his passing might be, the greater sadness lies in what it signifies. The era of the rockstar is coming to an end. Whatever meteor is causing his extinction, be it the rise of hip-hop, the ubiquity of media of all kinds vying for every second of our dwindling attention spans, or simply a cultural shift away from the hero-worship of proselytizers of the Holy Trinity of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, there’s no doubt the genuine rockstar, the very symbol of shamelessly unchecked id, is fading away. Sadder still, the death rattle is more like an emphysemic wheeze than the roar of a Marshall stack on 11. The last icons are dying in their sleep instead of pools of their own vomit.
I’m not sure if there’s a heaven, but if there is, all the cool people go there, and the great band of the dead got a new kick-ass drummer. R.I.P., Vinnie. Getcha pull.