Monday, May 16, 2011

Metal Will Never Die. Your Experience May Vary.

Renowned heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio died on May 16, 2010, and this, the first anniversary of his death, seems an appropriate time to ponder some of the accomplishments of his long and storied career. (Those accomplishments we can think of, anyway, or glean from the Internet; we didn’t actually listen to all that much Dio growing up.)

Ronnie James Dio is known for having popularized the hand gesture generally known today as the “devil horns.” Despite its common name, the gesture didn’t initially have any sort of Satanic overtones.1 In actuality, it came from Dio’s Italian grandmother,2 who considered the gesture a means of warding off the maloccio, or evil eye—a protection against evil, rather that some sort of endorsement of it. Whatever its origin, however, the gesture has become synonymous with an awesomeness than only heavy metal can achieve.3

Not to be confused with: (left) Hook ’em Horns—virtually identical but rarely seen outside of Texas; (center) “I love you”; or (right) Spider-Man.

Given the decidedly silly band names with which he was associated in his early years, Dio deserves credit simply for having been able to keep his career alive. While he did, of course, spend time with Black Sabbath and his own band, Dio, before that he was a member of the band Elf—initially called The Electric Elves, believe it or not—and also Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.

Really—Rainbow. He was in a band called Rainbow, and this apparently didn’t bother him one bit. Some sources suggest that, when he collaborated in 2006 with former Black Sabbath bandmates Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice, Dio considered naming the band Strawberry Shortcake before eventually settling on the more prosaic Heaven & Hell.4

Rainbow: Because this shit is fucking heavy.

Dio is also known to have inspired at least two songs by occasionally semi-serious acoustic metal band Tenacious D, quite possibly the greatest band in the world, according to their various promotional materials. The vast majority of Tenacious D’s songs are inspired by (and often about) mythical creatures, marijuana,  themselves, or the majesty of rock, so to be able to lay claim to not one but two of their compositions is quite a distinction. One of these songs, “Dio,” from their self-titled 2001 album, is in fact about Dio, whereas “Kickapoo,” from 2006’s Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny,5 features a guest vocal from the man himself.

Perhaps Ronnie James Dio’s greatest achievement is one that he never intended, or even necessarily thought much about: his success goes a long way to prove that heavy metal is perhaps the most egalitarian of all musical genres. Let’s face it: normal- to odd-looking people rarely stand a chance of making it big in the music industry; looks and moderate (or barely measurable) talent generally get the breaks rarely awarded to the gifted but schlumpy.

Case in point—C+C Music Factory:

You thought Zelma Davis was going to make you sweat.

. . . turns out it was actually Martha Wash.

In heavy metal, on the other hand,

you think you’re listening to this guy . . .

. . . when you’re actually listening to this guy.

Granted, hard rock music has its own problems with image and appearances—there’s a very good reason why the name “hair metal” stuck so well to an entire era’s worth of bands—and it’s quite possible that, had Dio’s career begun in the golden age of the music video, rather than the decades beforehand, he would have struggled, his unconventional appearance made a punchline instead of being dismissed as irrelevant in the face of his talent.

Nah, who are we kidding? That doesn’t really happen, does it?

1. And doesn’t really now, either, no matter what Tipper Gore might want you to believe. Or whoever it is that says heavy metal music is all about Satan—we think Tipper really cared only about naughty words.
3. Mrs. (Dr.) Some Guy even inadvertently used the “devil horns” gesture in a characteristically enthusiastic moment during a job interview at a well-known and respected hospital, when describing something that—while now forgotten—totally rocked. She got the job, thus proving that pharmacists are the most metal of all hospital employees.
4. There is not a single source that suggests anything like this. We just made it up. But we’d love it if this silly joke becomes the seed of an absurd story that eventually becomes accepted as fact simply because it gets repeated hundreds of thousands of times all over the internet for no reason other than that people are willing to believe any dumb thing.
5. Why link to the German site for the Tenacious D movie? First, because German is the most metal of all languages—just ask Mötley Crüe or Mötörhëäd—and second, because we couldn’t find the English page.

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