Ronnie James Dio: Metal’s least embarrassing elder statesman
Ronnie James Dio died at 7:45 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, May 16. By the time he succumbed to stomach cancer at the age of 67, he had been the lead singer of Black Sabbath, Rainbow, his own band, Dio, Elf, and the recent Black Sabbath offshoot, Heaven & Hell. In total, he gave four decades of his life to heavy metal, creating and promoting it. You know the “Devil Horns” (m/,) thing? That was all him. Bow before Power of Satan.
What’s especially impressive is that I can write all that without ever having listened to him. It’s a supposed sin to admit this, but I’ve never intentionally listened to one of Dio’s works. It’s not for any negative reason. Respect for the man is virtually drilled into you by elder metal scribes from the time you bang your first head. Discovering new bands is a slow and contemplative process for me, and honestly, I just never got around to Dio.
I’d feel like a fraud then if my eulogy was just a diatribe about the power and influence of his music on me personally. Instead I’ll say what I knew about the man and why I liked him.
Dio, as I understood him, was like the anti-Ozzy Osbourne, whom he replaced as lead singer for Black Sabbath in in 1979. While Ozzy bled out his reputation on reality TV, Dio stuck to releasing consistent material and working the live circuit. While Ozzy, six years younger than Dio, was consistently criticized by writers and fans alike for weak, tuneless or breathless performances, Dio was said to always deliver.
To me, he was just more metal than his elder contemporaries. He didn’t chase little dogs around collecting their poop (Ozzy). He didn’t shop at designer outlets (Metallica). He didn’t release Christmas albums (Rob Halford) and he didn’t sue his fans(Metallica again). This makes him OK in my book. The scene in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, where he shows director Sam Dunn the swords and suit of armor in his living room? Good Lord, I wish he was my Dad, or at least my crazy uncle Artie Dio-stein.
So, I didn’t know him personally, I didn’t have front-row tickets to see him live, and his music is immortalized on millions of tons of wax and plastic and coded on people’s hard-drives. What’s left for me to grieve then is one of metal’s less embarrassing grandparents, who represented the genre intelligently and with the appropriate level of knowing humor. He was a symbol of integrity, the Washington Monument of metal’s capital, in a world that’s becoming frighteningly un-metal (Century Media signs Vampires Everywhere!?).
That’s the end of it for me. I’m all for brevity when it comes to emotion and I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I won’t pretend to wish him well. I’d rather just say it sucks that Dio’s dead. May metal live forever.
Photo by marcelinoportfol
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