BOOK REVIEW | "BLACK TOOTH GRIN: THE HIGH LIFE, GOOD TIMES, AND TRAGIC END OF DIMEBAG DARRELL" BY ZAC CRAIN
photo & text by nacrowe
the late PANTERA guitarist "DIMEBAG" DARRELL ABOTT was a LARGER-THAN-LIFE figure and arguably one of the most BELOVED HARD ROCK / METAL guitarists of all time, right there alongside the likes of EDDIE VAN HALEN, JIMMY PAGE, RITCHIE BLACKMORE, TONY IOMMI and RANDY RHOADS before him. his TALENT, PASSION and DRIVE for his instrument was absolutely UNDENIABLE, but what author ZAC CRAIN insists in his recent biography BLACK TOOTH GRIN: THE HIGH LIFE, GOOD TIMES, AND TRAGIC END OF DIMEBAG DARRELL (DA CAPO, 2009) is that among his PEERS, FANS and IDOLS he was just as RENOWNED for his HUMILITY, unbridled CHARM and preternatural ability to UPLIFT anyone and everyone's spirits, famous or otherwise. CRAIN even posits an argument that core of his DEVOTION for music and the guitar was not bred out of need to resolve a deep ANGER or FRUSTRATION with the world, rather it was a vehicle to express JOY, LOVE, AFFECTION and a shared CONNECTION with his extended COMMUNITY. such is particularly INTRIGUING given the absolute and uncompromisingly BRUTAL sonic nature of the METAL purveyed by PANTERA throughout their existence.
this focus on DIMEBAG's HUMILITY is the stuff of LEGEND. a childhood friend of mine who lives in MONTREAL spoke about how he ran into DIMEBAG and drummer VINNIE PAUL ABOTT while walking in a park. they were playing that night at a local club as part of their tour pushing their post-PANTERA project DAMAGEPLAN. my friend told them how during his middle school years in NIGERIA their music got him through a CRAZY time period in a foreign country. the ABOTT BROTHERS asked him to write his name down and stop by the show, he was added to their guest list. literally a guy off the street that recognized them and expressed a GENUINE CONNECTION to their music was enough for them to open their backstage for a ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME experience. testimonials to that level of GENEROSITY are throughout BLACK TOOTH GRIN. he in essence treated the METAL COMMUNITY as his extended FAMILY.
what i found INTERESTING about BLACK TOOTH GRIN was how CRAIN analyzed how music being a FAMILY BUSINESS (with his father being a former MANAGER and his only brother a BANDMATE) affected DIMEBAG's sense of FAMILY and how matters of the band, with the exception of his mother and long-time girlfriend RITA, superseded such. his father's dismissal as band manager upon moving to a major label led to an impasse that remained simmering in place for the rest of his life. likewise, his relationship with his brother was always colored by their shared involvement with one another in BUSINESS INTERESTS. all major life decisions thus inevitably got processed through the lens of PANTERA and then DAMAGEPLAN, rather than as a FAMILY. that is a terribly COMPELLING insight into DIMEBAG's relative ISOLATION at the end of his life.
another INTERESTING wrinkle was DIMEBAG's FUNCTIONAL ALCOHOLISM and how such was enabled by his position and RABID fanbase that sought to get wasted with him as a manner of CELEBRATION. a bit bloated and no doubt less robust as he hit his forties with DAMAGEPLAN, had he survived there no doubt would be a need for eventual moderation if not sobriety in his near future. such was the case with his partner-in-crime ZAKK WYLDE (BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, OZZY OSBOURNE) who year later would famously veer away from the booze as a matter of self-survival.
BLACK TOOTH GRIN is a fairly PEDESTRIAN biography is REPETITIVE in places. you can tell it was a LABOR OF LOVE and that interviews collected were almost explicitly POSITIVE by FANS, PEERS, ROADIES, SPONSORS, TOUR MANAGERS, BUSINESS PARTNERS and GUITAR IDOLS alike. at times i feel that the book veers a little too hard into hagiography, especially given the more UNSAVORY elements of PANTERA's legacy. this includes singer PHILIP ANSELMO's often MISOGYNISTIC lyrics and sometimes LATENTLY RACIST themes, as well as the band's penchant for CONFEDERATE FLAG-themed merchandise. similarly CRAINE seemingly conflates the TOXIC MASCULINITY exhibited by ANSELMO with the band retaining a sense of METAL PURITY in an age of other bands (namely METALLICA) selling out to the ALTERNATIVE nation. i think such is a particularly UNFORTUNATE supposition, as METAL has nothing to do with those DESTRUCTIVE positions and to suggest otherwise is DANGEROUS and just historically INACCURATE. so i was disappointed by all of that. similarly, it was also deeply troubling that CRAIN spent so much time describing DIMEBAG's deranged murderer. the less i know, understand or think about that asshole, much like JOHN LENNON's assassin, the better. the fact that CRAIN didnt heed such only paid off in death what that SAD, PATHETIC person arguably desired most post-mortem: attention.
i would recommend listening to DIMEBAG's guitar playing, but not necessarily this book. i'd instead turn to bassist REX BROWN's OFFICIAL TRUTH: 101 PROOF: THE INSIDE STORY OF PANTERA (review inked HERE) memoir, which is likewise PROBLEMATIC and anything but definitive, but at least an INTIMATE and thoroughly AUTHENTIC perspective on the career and legacy of the much universally CELEBRATED METAL band.
almost two decades after his passing, the loss of DIMEBAG is still bitterly felt. i feel incredibly lucky to have gotten the opportunity to see him play live at OZZFEST 2000 back in the day. he was undoubtedly the highlight of a stacked METAL tour and was undeniably SPECIAL.
RIP DIMEBAG AND VINNIE PAUL.