For the last few months, everything obscure that has popped into my mind has found its way into reality.A conversation about an old neighbor from twenty five years ago led to an unsolicited email in my Inbox from that neighbor’s son a few days later.When I couldn’t remember my third grade teacher’s name, I asked my Mom, who promptly ran into her in a mall parking lot a week after our conversation.I think of things, and they happen.
Before I got on the plane for the Middle East this past week, Joe Daly sent me a playlist for my iPod – a playlist that included Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules (my absolute favorite track from the Dio-era Sabbath).In the spirit of the song I started a Facebook conversation taking pot shots at the singer on another friend’s page.I’ve never disliked Dio, but it is hard to deny that he is easy to make fun of.And so we did.As a few of us took turns skewing his lyrics, I had to listen to more and more of his music for research, and as I did so, I found myself singing it in my head.Holy Diver, Man on the Silver Mountain, Rainbow in the Dark… it was the soundtrack as I trekked through the desert all week.
And then he died.I didn’t even know he was sick.
Then the realization sunk in.I killed Ronnie James Dio.I did.Just by thinking about him.And now, on top of taking responsibility for his passing, I am forced to admit that despite years of arguing to the contrary, I was a fan.I really was.A latecomer – a convert literally the day before he died – but a fan nonetheless.My only real Dio story comes from years ago when I went to see him with Black Sabbath in concert.I went with my friends Jerome and Frankie, along with five other guys whose names escape me, though they’re not important.
What is important is Jerome.Jerome belonged at this concert, more than anyone possibly could.I showed up in jeans and a black t-shirt, the same way I show up to most places.Jerome, on the other hand, came to rock.He was a magician by trade, and dressed the part.The long hair, the flashy shirt, the rings on every finger and the bracelets – no, let’s call them bangles – and the twelve necklaces, and the yellow sunglasses at night… He looked like Lorenzo Lamas on a shooting range.
His hair did not escape our group’s alcohol induced desire to pick on something.He ceased to be named Jerome almost the minute we pulled onto the freeway.He became Rapunzel, Mandy, My Little Pony, Chewie, a Highlander, the worst episode of Renegade ever.We couldn’t stop.Then came the Jesus jokes and the Bon Jovi references, and then the ridiculous:
Jerome’s hair is better than Winger. Jerome’s hair hit .350 for the Astros last year. Jerome’s hair beat Jif in a taste test 5-1. There were more Chewbacca noises and cracks about those godforsaken yellow glasses and side bets on how long he was going to wear them. Someone said something about Blu-Blockers and Bono and there was the obligatory Corey Hart reference.”Good thing he has them on,” someone said, “in case we need to locate DNA or find a lost golf ball.”
Eventually, we made it to the concert venue, where I fell out of the car in a fit of laughter, my side hurting as I fired off another crack about how cool it must have been to live with The Addam’s Family.I learned something that night as we snagged a few lawn seats and $9.00 beers and caught the end of Megadeth’s opening set.It wasn’t just Jerome.It was everyone there. Those people you made fun of in high school?Once a year, they all get together and go to a Dio concert.All of them.
Though I’ve always prided myself on the database of music trivia stored in my brain, my knowledge of Ronnie James Dio has never strayed too far from the classics.That night I was going to be treated to the rest.Seventeen songs, and every one had something to do with either mountains, or demons, or the sea, or more demons, or devils, wizards, or dragons, or a castle, or a castle on a mountain by the sea where there are demons and wizards.
There were lots and lots of skulls and everything was off of the Heaven and Hell album.
“We’re Heaven & Hell, and this next song is about Heaven & Hell and it’s called… Heaven & Hell. We’ll do some more songs you don’t know after that from our Heaven & Hell album and then we’ll do a cover of a song that we didn’t write, but if we had we probably would have called it Heaven & Hell.”
At some point Frankie and I wandered off, the two of us the only ones in the entire venue not mesmerized by the lyrical game of Dungeons and Dragons being played out on stage. We tried to find Jerome again, but looking for a long haired guy in a black shirt at a Dio concert is somewhat like that scene in The Thomas Crown Affair where all the duplicates were walking around with the briefcases. Eventually we gave up.
We spent the last half hour laughing like children at the show and texting Jerome with messages like “I’m going to lower the drawbridge. BrB.” and “Slade just got eaten by a dragon”. Then we laughed at the lighting, and how the lighting director just had three buttons to control the on screen video. On, Off, and Skulls and Flames. We also learned that you can sing Billy Joel’s Piano Man to every Dio song.
When we were out of things to make fun of, we wrote our own Dio songs and when we had hit our threshold for that we renamed the band.The InDio Girls.Bel Biv Dio.Celine Dio.Riamond Dio.Dio Suave.
I know I left that night having had an incredible time.I’ve long since fallen out of touch with the guys I went with and I’ve rarely thought of Dio over the last few years.Then this week happened.I unintentionally stumbled headlong into the man’s music during the last week of his life.
Now I’m sure he’s riding his tiger to Heaven or Hell, or wherever metal goes when it dies, but he did manage to capture one final fan on his way out the door.
I’m sorry I killed you, Dio.