photo & text by nacrowe
being abroad is an inherently risky proposition given that by definition you are not intimately familiar with the local culture, geography and general mentality of the inhabitants. being involved within the context of a foreign legal system is yet another more disorienting level of bewilderment, one that i unfortunately know from personal experience. as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA i was the victim of an assault walking home from local college that i had just given a lesson as part of my assigned service as a lecturer. obeying guidance from my superiors at PEACE CORPS, i went to the police shortly thereafter and witnessed what only can be described as corrupt maneuvering to save face on the part of the authorities, who paraded various innocent local men (most i assume who were beaten) in front of me for identification. i was made out and walking the streets became unsafe as nearly everyone thought i ratted them out to the police. it was bad. it got worse when my name hit the news and i became a national headline.
i can only imagine if i was the other way around and i was accused of something truly heinous within this dodgy legal morass.
that is pretty much the premise of the DARK DAYS (HACHETTE, 2015) memoir by LAMB OF GOD frontman RANDY BLYTHE, who recounts his monthlong incarceration in the notorious PANKRAC PRISON and trial on manslaughter charges related to the death of a fan who sustained injuries at a PRAGUE concert a few years prior. it should be stated up front that ultimately BLYTHE was ultimately exonerated of the charge.
it is a hell of a story that is told with humor, wit and empathy for not only his former fellow incarcerated peers, but also the guards. you very much get a first hand perspective on the survival mindset of a prisoner and how one maintain's hope and a sense of AGENCY within a context designed to eviscerate your sense of PURPOSE and IDENTITY. but ultimately DARK DAYS is less about specifics of his legal absolution and more about the singular experience of being imprisoned abroad and how to meet those acute personal hardships (which are PSYCHOLOGICAL, CULTURAL and SPIRITUAL in nature) with DIGNITY, GRACE and HONOR.
anyone familiar with LAMB OF GOD would not be surprised that BLYTHE produced a well-written accounting of his experience. as a writer i found him to be incredibly well-considered and deeply reflective. he speaks a lot about maintaining mental discipline and positive habits of mind (PMA) that allow him to not be victim to the traps of XENOPHOBIA or thinking in cliches and platitudes about his situation. with all his free time he develops a routine of reading, writing, meditation (zazen) and exercise that allow him to be present in the moment, as painful and isolating as that could be.
this discipline provided a core for which he could be aware and better able to assess his situation, which included his deep sorrow for the loss of life of one of his fan, even comparing it to the previous tragic loss of his newborn daughter. life for him is about dealing with life head on and accepting responsibility. and how can you not respect that?
this discipline also allowed him to not make broader judgements on CZECH society writ large, which i have witnessed AMERICANS do most of my life for far smaller grievances than incarceration while awaiting a murder trial. the fact that this book is not a tome against the notorious CORRUPTION present in EASTERN EUROPE (there is a reason the term balkanization exists) is quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
my only critiques are pretty minor.
stylistically, BLYTHE is a bit on the verbose side, something he fully admits. i believe this book could have used another edit as there is a tendency towards repeated tangents of key points that appear and then laboriously reappear in multiple passages throughout this 500-page book.
based on his prison experience, BLYTHE vigorously defends the ROMA people. my own experience finds me less than sympathetic to that population, as i saw them beat their infant children constantly in the street as to make them more convincing agents of pity for foreign tourists. its hard for me to unsee that sort of thing, but i understand he is informed by his experience, as am i.
there is a tendency for BLYTHE to ascribe his attitude, resolve, discipline and resolute sense of identity to his upbringing in VIRGINIA and cultural aspects of SOUTHERN GENTILITY. having lived around TEXANS and LOUISIANANS when i lived in NIGERIA growing up, who espoused endlessly about this supposed sense of moral clarity and refinement that came from their CHRISTIAN upbringing in the SOUTH always made my eyes roll. especially when these same people said unspeakably racist things about the local population and their children performed acts of cruelty on such. i understand that for BLYTHE this intimate sense of being grounded on your soil and within your community was a key element that provided him the resolve to transcend what can only be described as a harrowing experience. i get it. i just never bought into SOUTHERN GENTILITY as a concept. it probably says more about me that i take issue with this, but then again i am not from the SOUTH. so what do i know?
this all being said, i found DARK DAYS to be one of the more enjoyable and thoroughly readable self-written memoirs by a musician in recent memory. despite whatever deficiencies or squabbles i may find in various aspects of his story , in the end i have to admit his memoir is brutally honest and he takes responsibility for his participation in this most unfortunate tragedy with DIGNITY and GRACE and with his HONOR fully intact.
well worth reading whether or not you are a fan of LAMB OF GOD or METAL in general.
BOOK REVIEW | "OFFICIAL TRUTH: 101 PROOF - THE INSIDE STORY OF PANTERA" BY REX BROWN WITH MARK EGLINTON
photo & text by nacrowe
its been over 15 years since DIMEBAG DARRELL's murder, but he's seemingly been omnipresent in the METAL community in spirit ever since. OFFICIAL TRUTH 101 PROOG: THE INSIDE STORY OF PANTERA (DA CAPO, 2013) is PANTERA/DOWN bassist REX BROWN's attempt at making sense of his former band's legacy and laying bare the warts-and-all narrative of how their insatiable drive to succeed over time alienated themselves from each and ultimately led to their estrangement and break up. the bizarre, unforeseen shooting of guitarist DIMEBAG by a mentally ill midwestern fan in DECEMBER 2004 only further heightens the loss felt by fans for this once indomitable juggernaut of a band that basically single-handedly maintained METAL as a cultural entity in the ALTERNATIVE ROCK doldrums of the 1990s.
in essence, BROWN promotes his perspective that PANTERA fell apart due to over touring over a 15 year career that found them rarely taking extended breaks. initially this was due to their commitment to each other to make it in the business, but later it seemed they were worried about maintaining their lifestyle and appeasing fans worldwide. the narrative forwarded by fans in the years after DIMEBAG's murder there has been much blame and consternation being forwarded singer PHIL ANSELMO's way for his issues with heroin and dalliances with DOWN, SUPERJOINT RITUAL and various other side projects. BROWN counters this line of thinking arguing that the reality was that they needed a break and the brothers ABBOT (DIMEBAG and drummer VINNIE PAUL) by the end did not have communication with ANSELMO enough to come to that sort of conclusion.
its funny how many people mocked METALLICA for their documentary SOME KIND OF MONSTER (THIRD EYE, 2004) in which they hired a group counselor to work through interpersonal issues, but they had the last laugh as they are still together performing almost 20 years later. for all their macho, alpha-male posturing, PANTERA couldn't look each other in the eye and admit they needed help reevaluating their business choices in light of physical and mental health concerns.
speaking of which, one repeated line of criticism for this book are the shots BROWN takes at VINNIE PAUL for his immaturity and stubbornness. nobody argued that such were untrue, just that they didn't see the point in kicking a guy down after a family tragedy. i disagree, if anything BROWN comes across as a pretty relaxed, even-keeled and not particularly emotional narrator. i found him to be pretty reliable, but what do i know? his criticism of VINNIE PAUL was done in order to relate accurately the internal dynamics of the band and how there was a clear dividing line between the brothers and BROWN and ANSELMO. what comes across glaringly is the idea that BROWN served as a middle man in PANTERA. a middle man between the band and management, accountants, lawyers and even feuds between members themselves. lots of tough choices that needed an unemotional adult participant often found their way to BROWN, which was ironic given that he rarely talked in interviews, leaving the rest of the band members to give off the impression to their fanbase that they were in control.
this book is sort of his take on everything, and given ANSELMO's reluctance to speak on the issue and the recent passing of VINNIE PAUL years after his brother's murder, this book will likely be the final take on that issue by an actual band member.
tragic story about a great band that i really enjoyed as a teenager. its well-written and overall comes off pretty level-headed. if you are a fan of PANTERA or a lover of METAL in all its forms, SLUDGE METAL, DEATH METAL, THRASH METAL, NWOBHM, DOOM METAL, BLACK METAL, METALCORE and beyond, this book is worth your time.