Rants, raves, comments, and suggestions from a confused observer.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Ronnie James Dio: Stargazer, Strange Dreamer, Goodbye.
(First posted Tuesday 18 May, 2010)
I’m writing this because I’ll be damned if I let those patronizing jackasses at the New York Times get in the last word on Ronnie James Dio. Knowing or caring about a man never was a requirement for writing his obituary, but a crudely concealed contempt for those who loved him apparently is. Take comfort though: the author of this claptrap will have far fewer people crying over his own obituary than the man he refused to respect.
Do you know who we lost on Saturday?
A singer? A poet? A mystic? A Shaman? Spiritual advisor, trusted guide, muse and oracle? Yes, yes and yes, all of the above, and all the clichés that go with it, and that would have been enough. That would have been cause for regret, and reflection and tribute. But not so many tears. An artist can inspire you, but it takes more than an artist to get close to you.
On May 16, we lost a friend.
How many young Metalheads, finding themselves at the bottom of life’s barrel, looked up one day and saw Dio’s gnarled fingers pointing the way? Sometimes pointing to salvation, and sometimes just giving words to the struggle. It is difficult not to believe that he couldn’t see straight into one’s soul. He was our personal Merlin, Gandalf, Cantus, and Doctor Who; and now he’s gone.
Faulkner once said that the only thing worth writing about was the human heart in conflict with itself. If you listen carefully, that struggle was the theme of almost every Dio song. Either your struggle with temptation (and I do mean YOURS), your guilty conscience, the masters you choose for yourself, your dreams, triumphs and tragedies. Even when he was just harping on the pleasures of Rock and Roll, Dio was invoking something transcendent and sacred.
And if he framed it all in the motifs of classical mythology, the same motifs invoked by storytellers since the Epic of Gilgamesh, I fail to see how it denigrates the work. Which is why my blood always boils when peons from the mainstream press dismissively say “He wrote about dragons”. Yeah he did. The kind of dragons you and I face every day. So did Isaiah, Homer and Mallory. I suppose Tolstoy wrote about guns, Marlow wrote about devils and Bradbury wrote about spaceships.
I suppose also that Dio would have grabbed more headlines if he’d drank himself to death after a life of self indulgence or died in a hail of gunfire following a life of gang violence. Such is the criteria for media admiration nowadays. Instead, we’ll have to settle for stories of a good man, a kind and decent man, a husband, father and grandfather. The kind of man who organized the Hear’n Aid charity benefit (sans messianic Geldof/Bono pretensions), and devoted time and energy to his wife’s Children of the Night organization. The man who Eddie Trunk claimed spent his time in chemo cheering other people up, the man who Rob Halford called “selfless”, who Tony Iommi called “a kind man and would put himself out to help others”. A man who always had time for his fans.
I had the privilege of meeting Ronnie back in 1998 outside Copps Coliseum in Hamilton Ontario. I’m embarrassed to say I blubbered and stammered and had nothing at all intelligent to say. But he warmly greeted us idiotic fanboys (even holding hotel security at bay), signed autographs and posed for photos, which you can see on the left. Have a good look. You can tell a lot from a man’s smile. You might realize why I feel we’ve lost a friend and not just a singer.
The world became a colder, less magical place on May 16. I never thought there would one day be a world without Dio. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t overcome the cancer and go back on tour. I never imagined that Heaven and Hell wouldn’t perform again or that Magica II would never see the light of day. I never thought I wouldn’t get the chance to say any of this to the man who told me it was alright to be a dreamer.