Anselmo’s gaffe

I was a 90s teenager. I liked (and still like, though not exclusively) my music fast and heavy. One band that I liked, casually, was Pantera. I think they peaked rather quickly, within the early 90s, but Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power remain great groove metal albums. It’s a shame that they couldn’t survive the new century, in part because of the murder of guitarist Dimebag Darrell.

In late January, the former singer of Pantera, Phil Anselmo, at a Dimebag tribute event, soured proceedings when at the end he shouted “white power” quite viciously in an inebriated state. He was quickly and deservedly rounded up on by the metal circle, but what’s worse is that this isn’t the first time Anselmo has behaved boneheaded, though you always hope it’s the last.

No one is naïve to the fact that heavy metal/punk rock has some racists because the music is by and large produced and consumed by white males and it’s easy for a subset to tweak the rage for a vile agenda. But heavy metal stems from the blues, black music – I call it blues on steroids – and when I was growing up you saw metal bands of white, black and brown; dare I say it, but metal was probably the most visibly diverse and now it’s not hard to find people with no penis playing that kind of music. I think metal probably has more work on being less homophobic but racism seems a dying problem.

So it was sad to see Anselmo doing a Nazi salute because there were a couple of Pantera songs with very clear anti-racist lyrics. They had a very aggressive look but that was the thing of day, it went with the music; to then get it tacked by boneheaded racism is a bit sad. Sad because the other members of the band, and even Anselmo’s current band members, don’t espouse that. Heavy metal and music within that sphere has always been about rebellion, maybe only sonically, maybe also politically, and when someone within that who’s respected shouts “white power”, the first thing you think is: dumb fraud.

Some people say that rap and hip-hop espouses black power statements but the tuned in know that’s in response to the power structure. Black power is a defiance against oppression, stemming from X and MLK. White power is oppression; it’s thinking that there’s a master of race. What’s odder is that Anselmo is hardly Aryan with his brown eyes and black hair, and his Sicilian ancestry alludes to Moorish/Arab roots. His ex-wife had a Jewish surname.

I’m hoping that Anselmo’s outbursts are just braggadocio, that he somehow thinks that it’s interestingly edgy to do sometimes (as he approaches 50yrs of age), but I’m hoping that he learns that it’s pretty sad and pretty vile.

I just don’t know how you can shout “white power” while playing music which is so obviously indebted to black guys with guitars. Then again, racist skinheads also took their look from anti-racist ska fans. Logic error!