Vinnie Paul died June 22, 2018. I have been mourning a man I have never met, except in the music that nourishes my soul, since that date. Pantera found me when I was an angsty teenager hiding behind a keyboard in AOL chatrooms. I barely had any real friends. My honest problem was I was terrified to be myself outside of the written world. When I was writing, I felt like I could be honest, and I could be myself. It was not even so much I was afraid to own my words, it was I was afraid of myself. Everything about me felt wrong. It started then, and it’s only recently become a thing of my past. I mean, as of this week, it has become a thing of my past.
My life has a distinct soundtrack, and there are several Pantera songs that play these memories. Cemetary Gates and crying in my bed because I wished I was dead or while I was cutting myself trying to understand why it felt so good to hurt. Suicide Note Part 1 & 2 for obvious reasons. This Love and taking Evan to a strip club for Valentine’s Day because I am the best, coolest, awesome-st girlfriend/wife/best friend (and so very humble). The memory of sitting there drinking beers and watching a chick in camo strip to This Love brings a smile to my face every time. Or the memory of long drives with Evan and me doing interpretive finger dancing to Walk (that’s probably one I would have to show you, it’s very “special”). Pantera was one of the bands that got me through teens and 20’s, a soundtrack to a younger me.
When Dimebag was murdered, I was devastated. I don’t think I had seen Evan cry before the day the Zakk Wylde tribute video came out. I’m talking huge heartbroken sobs so hard he made me sob, and I think it was more from shock. (He may not appreciate that overshare!) I remember being so depressed thinking how Vinnie had to watch his brother die before his eyes. The pain, I couldn’t imagine it.
I believe pain is the precursor to beauty. I believe the most beautiful people in the world are covered in scars that are naked to the eye. I believe the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate people have spent many days in hell, and of those, many of us have put ourselves in that very hell. But what about someone who had to suffer a loss like that? Who had to watch his brother’s life bleed out, as he sat helpless on stage at a concert? Can that pain be transformed? Can it be transmuted?
Of course it can. And it did. A supergroup emerged from this tragedy. Chad Gray, who is one of my all time favorite singers – probably second only to Corey Motherfucking Taylor – started HELLYEAH. Vinnie came on as the drummer. I’ll be honest, I did not pay any attention to them when they started. It was 2006, the year I got married, bought a house, and became a mother to my first born son. It was 4 years after the adoption and Evan and I started dating. Until that time, our lives were filled with music – particularly metal, particularly Pantera. In my 20’s, I lost my connection to music because I spent most of my time waddling around pregnant and becoming the world’s most fucked up Stepford Wife.
After Evan and I separated, I found music again. I think my soul had been starved and cut off beyond the brink of sanity prior to that. Remember Interview with the Vampire, when Lestat comes back after being in the swamp and he talks about feeding off crocodiles? That’s how my soul felt. Slowly, music nursed me back to life. HELLYEAH came into my life 2 important times. The first was when my best friend surprised me with tickets to Mayhem, and my journey home to music and myself tentatively started. My marriage was struggling, it was the summer before my hospitalizations started. HellYeah was playing, and I stood in the sun drinking beers with my best friend and remembering why music was everything I needed in life. They released Unden!able in 2016, and I remembered I had forgotten about them. I listened to I Don’t Care Anymore for months. It was incredible hearing Dime’s guitar again, and I kept thinking how much peace that must have given Vinnie. The song fucking rocks, and became a guiding mantra for me. I wanted to stop caring. Not apathy about life, but apathy about opinions. Why do so many of us care so much what other people think? Why do so many of us spend our lives ruled by the court of public opinion?
That song became the soundtrack to me starting writing again. What did I have to hide? What was I so fucking scared of? Maybe I am half decent at writing and people will like it? Maybe I suck ass and people will not like it? Who gives a shit? Why was I hiding so far back in the closet of my life?! At this point, I was still struggling with whether or not I believed in Catholicism but tentatively taking steps towards philosophy, Buddhism, and pan-theology. So, either I have one life to get my ass to heaven or one life to set me up for more lives based on this life. (That is so rudimentary it is not fair to either philosophy, but that was my fear.) I was terrified of going to hell. The me inside of me was damned, despicable, unworthy of love. For most of my life, I believed my parents hated me. Not because of them, not because of anything, but because I was convinced no one could love me. It’s why I became so obsessed with music. It was my first coping skill. It was the first time I felt I wasn’t alone. I have cried so many tears to so many albums, as so many of us have. Music is like Novocain for your mind and cashmere sweater for your soul, right?
This song started a fire in me unlike any other. I just wanted to stop the bullshit. It’s taken me two years to really, genuinely truly stop the bullshit. I have barely been able to write. Every time I would sit down to type, I would lose my shit. I’ve talked about the psychosis a lot lately, because I have to. I have to heal this wound. It’s been gaping and festering and oozing as I’ve been gingerly cleansing myself (and feeding off alligators) slowly. So slowly. Part of my psychosis centered around blogging. My old blog, Mahbuttitches, caused so much seemingly irreparable harm to my family and people I love. I used it as an outlet to be angry, to be a victim, but to heal. I started putting pieces of puzzles together, and I started seeing all of my demons, my darkness, my shadows. All of the pain I had caused myself, the things I had done to myself for 2 decades, it was too much.
A mind can only handle so much, and true to my nature, I pushed too far. But you can only break out of your comfort zone by pushing to far. Muscles need to rip and tear and be broken down to grow anew. Destruction breeds creation. I finally see the beauty in how epically I burned myself alive, because I do believe the meditation caused the psychosis, and I do believe I caused my psychosis by not taking care of myself. I was unmedicated, I was refusing to listen to anyone telling me I was bipolar, and I was angry at the world. I was a blindfolded dragon who lit herself on fire. Or, apt to my tattoo, a phoenix. And I’m not saying this because it’s anything but how I see it. I like to see life as poetry, forgive me for too much description.
Then Vinnie died, and the timing was aligned. Don’t for a second take I’m saying Vinnie died to save me from my sins, it’s just synchronicity at work. The constant ripples of consciousness that create the mystery, beauty, and surprise of life. Like music, there is no end to the experience, if you just shut up and enjoy. Bands like HELLYEAH transcend the mundane consciousness and use poetic metaphors triggering insight, growth, and beauty that makes my words feel hollow. Listen to the words, in HELLYEAH, in Mudvayne, if Chad isn’t a singing Buddha, I’ll eat my hat. The man went through hell – listen to Hush, and he comes out of his own self discovery, a similar path I’m walking, to see his own power, the power of his truth, his voice, and what he can make people feel with his honesty and vulnerability. This is art.
I put Hush on as soon as I finished reading Vinnie died, which I had really weirdly, started listening to HELLYEAH again obsessively maybe a few weeks prior to this death because of Hush. It came up on my Daily Mix on Spotify, and a few songs later, Moth played and I could not stop listening to them. Seriously, the lyrics in just those two songs – mindblowing wisdom and companionship.
It’s August 9th, and I have been listening to HELLYEAH since May? At this point? Almost nonstop, I can’t stop listening, it just makes me feel everything I need, it’s like a treasure map into opening my heart, opening my mouth, and writing again. I’m telling you, the full circle thing is overwhelming. I remember playing I don’t care anymore as I was typing about Evan and I fixing our marriage. I was terrified to write about it, because I was still worried about people thinking I was an idiot. It was that song that kicked me in the heart to STOP FUCKING CARING. I love the man, who gives a shit? He’s my best friend, and I don’t want to walk this journey without him by my side. Forgiveness is my terms, not theirs. That day, June 10th, was our 12th anniversary (we never actually divorced, I don’t think we could handle it…). Our 11th anniversary we were just living together and terrified of how bad it could turn out. Our 12th, we finally stopped lying to ourselves and admitted we wanted to get back together. We put our wedding rings on that night. My left hand feels whole again. Because of a song by HELLYEAH.
I am so addicted to this band, and every time I hear Vinnie drum, I am so overwhelmed with this bittersweetness. I’m so glad he has been woven back into the fabric of us, and I know he’s here, he’s with his brother, and he is immortal. I’m not even saying that from a spiritual perspective, I am saying it from literal reality. His songs live on through us, my obsession with HELLYEAH has led to my kids becoming obsessed with HELLYEAH. (I’m a terrible mother who does not censor her children’s music, because I feel the emotional value, healing, subconscious triggering/awakening is far more valuable than them avoiding the inevitable F-Bomb, from their sailor mouthed mother or the many artists we all adore. I also don’t care what you do with your kids, heh)
The point in that is: through two generations, his drumming lives on. In me, and in them. I listen to so much music from my parents, so there’s every chance my grandchildren will listen to his music. I’m obsessed with Westworld, and the line from Ghost Nation: “You only live as long as the last person who remembers you.” has been burning like a hot coal in my mind. Vinnie contributed to music that saved my life – over and over and over again. There were so many times I wanted to kill myself, there were so many times I pulled myself back from pushing deeper on my wrist. There have been so many times I almost let go of the steering wheel, and it’s music that stopped me every time. Because I watched these souls turn their pain to beauty and in that transformation, they have become immortal. They will be remembered long, long after they are gone. They will be passed down in stories of concerts, or drives with the windows down and the music up. They will live in memories of pain and joy. And every time they are remembered, they’re here with us.
I can spend hours, hell days with Vinnie, and I always have. Their music unlocked the truth in me: I couldn’t write anymore, because I had to learn to talk first. To stand firm, beautiful, and strong in my truth. To take myself out of the closet in my skull and smile genuinely into this world. See the beauty in everything. Write the beauty in everything. My psychosis was the greatest blessing I’ve ever had. I see life is music. I am free, because I am me. I can express myself like I’ve been watching, learning, and healing. Music. Vinnie’s drums, Chad’s voice, Christian & Tom’s guitars, and Kyle’s bass have been playing the soundtrack to my journey home to myself, to my writing, to the point where this all began:
I don’t care anymore. I don’t care what you say. I don’t play by the same rules, anyway. I won’t be there anymore, so get out of my way, let me by. I got better things to do with my time…I don’t care anymore.
And as long as I am able, I will remember and I will write about this journey and every immortal that is helping me scatter my soul into the universe.
How about you? If you made it this far (AND THANK YOU!) what’s the band that has profoundly affected you? What song? Comment here or link to your own memory post about an artist that saved or changed your life. Tell me about the song that makes you float away from this world, or the vocalist, let’s just celebrate the beauty of music, and especially Vinnie Fucking Paul. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your gift. I will see you in the eyes of my children, because you are a reason I can still gaze in them.