Wednesday, 19 May 2010


As you will all know by now, Ronnie James Dio passed away on May 16th after a brief but intense battle with stomach cancer. The greatest rock singer of his (or any other) generation has left the mortal realm and the lives of his family, friends and millions of fans around the world will never be quite the same again. Those are the facts and there’s nothing that any of us can do to change them. And as much as I dislike the vicarious grief that people so often indulge in when famous people die, on this occasion I am more than willing to let everyone shed their tears and tell their stories without me sneering from the sidelines. It’s always immensely sad and emotionally draining when people you care about die. I lost my father last year, also to cancer, and I’m still struggling with his absence on a daily basis. These are yawning chasms that can never be filled and they force you to stare your own mortality in the face. It’s fucking hard and painful. That’s life and that’s death. We deal with it and we move on as best we can.

Of course, I can’t claim that I knew Ronnie particularly well on a personal level, but the power of music should never be underestimated. People love to wheel out the cliché that music is “the soundtrack to your life”, but as much as that sounds like twinkly-eyed bullshit, it really is true, unless you’re one of those freaks that doesn’t find music to be one of life’s greatest joys. Ronnie James Dio and his wonderful, life-affirming music had a massive impact on my life and I cherish the one occasion that I met him as one of the greatest moments of my life as a music fan. I was also lucky enough to interview him over the phone on several occasions, and he was never anything less than an absolute gentleman, a genuinely fascinating and inspiring figure and, perhaps most importantly, a fucking awesome bloke.

When I met him, backstage at Wacken Open Air a few years ago, it was in my capacity as a writer for Kerrang and I had to ask him a bunch of pre-prepared questions for some banal little sidebar piece that was, amazingly, just about the only way that I could get Ronnie some coverage in the magazine. I was cringing inwardly as I sat down and got ready to ask him what his most embarrassing moment had been, what he would choose for his last meal and, ironically it seems now, which song he would have played at his funeral (he chose ‘A Salty Dog’ by Procol Harum, which is a beautiful song...give it a listen!), rather than ask all the questions I really wanted to ask; about his glorious career, his huge creative achievements and where that amazing, soul-stirring voice came from. Speaking from bitter experience, I know that a lot of big rock stars are used to this kind of frivolous idiocy from the British music press. We often like to kid ourselves that our readers aren’t really interested in the music itself, and would rather see a picture of our favourite bands sitting in a bathtub full of baked beans. Utter bullshit, of course, but bullshit perpetuated by people who care more about looking clever than displaying any sort of passion for anything, as they foist their own self-absorbed cynicism onto everyone else. It’s horrendously tiresome, but that’s showbiz.

Anyway, I don’t get to pick and choose what I do most of the time, so I got started with my daft questions and, much to my surprise, Ronnie James Dio immediately got into the spirit of the thing, answering everything and putting plenty of thought into his replies, chuckling at some of the more moronic questions but answering them all the same, keeping eye contact with me the whole time and sticking with it until I had everything I needed. We carried on chatting for a few minutes after I’d switched my dictaphone off, and he asked me about my family and my life and seemed genuinely interested. The encounter ended with his assistant taking this picture of Dio and I together – DIO & DOM - followed by a handshake and friendly farewell.

I stopped grinning about a week later. It’s easy to get jaded when you speak with well known musicians all the time, but moments like that stay with you forever. I wasn’t a music journalist for those 30-odd minutes. I was a fan, surfing on a wave of adrenaline and happiness. That’s what Ronnie James Dio meant to me, and I know that thousands of people feel the same way. I’ve spoken to loads of people this week and many of them have their own stories, either about meeting Dio (without exception, everyone genuinely found him to be a lovely, charming and genuine man) or about the immense importance and power of his music. When it comes to heavy metal, Ronnie was not just one of our greatest singers, he was also one of the most significant creative forces that the genre has ever seen. Even if you just list the really obvious stone-cold classic albums that he was involved in – Rainbow Rising, Heaven And Hell and Holy Diver – it’s hard to think of anyone who has such a rich and seminal CV. But there’s so much more great music in Ronnie’s catalogue...I’ve been listening to it all on rotation ever since I heard about his death, and it’s amazing how many great songs there are. Albums like The Last In Line, Dream Evil, Master Of The Moon, Dehumanizer, Long Live Rock & Roll...they’re rammed with brilliant moments, all elegantly transported along on the wings of Ronnie’s commanding but beautiful voice. How fucking awesome was The Devil You Know? Easily one of the best things Ronnie ever recorded, it was rightly hailed as a new masterpiece by everyone sensible when it came out last year. It’s horrible to think that it represents Ronnie’s last creative endeavour, but even so, what a way to go out! Even the records that we’re not really supposed to like that much – Angry Machines, anyone? – are way better than the reviews they received would suggest. The man was an enormous fucking talent and I don’t care whether you were a huge Dio fan or just someone with a passing interest in rock and metal that quite liked Holy Diver and that Tenacious D movie...Ronnie James Dio left his mark on the world and nothing can erase it. I recently wrote a small tribute to my dad when I was designing the artwork for my band’s forthcoming album, and I wrote that “he did what he loved and loved what he did and left a lot of beautiful things behind”. I think the same applies to Ronnie. As terrible as it is to lose him so prematurely, his legacy is vast. He left a lot of kick-arse music behind and we will play it, as loud as possible and as often as possible, until we all cash in our chips too.

The sad truth is that, assuming we all survive for the next 20 to 30 years, we’re going to have to watch most of our heroes pass away and, as much as it pains me to admit it, there don’t seem to be too many artists and musicians of comparable calibre to take their place. There’s plenty of amazing new music, of course, but where is the next Dio, the next Ozzy, the next Lemmy? Who is going to replace Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica when they’re gone? We can safely ignore the internet morons that sneer at and disrespect these musical giants. I was originally going to write a blog chastising the snivelling cuntsores that had been slagging Ozzy off on the Metal Hammer site, but what’s the point? If you can’t be mature or smart enough to acknowledge the massive contribution that people like Ozzy and Ronnie have made to our world and the music we love, then your opinion is utterly irrelevant and I’d quite like my oxygen back, please. I’m no nostalgia junkie, but there’s no denying that these names, these legends, are the bedrock upon which our entire culture is constructed. You don’t have to love their music and you don’t have to treat them with blind reverence, but you do have to salute them for their achievements and their passion. Anything else would be fucking stupid.

The mainstream media will never understand heavy metal. Just look at the clumsy obituaries that Ronnie has received from certain quarters this week, most of which focus primarily on his status as “the guy that invented the Devil’s horns”, with obligatory references to Denzil the Dragon and Spinal Tap and how silly heavy metal is etc etc...oh fuck off, you ignorant, patronising twats. Metal fans are fully aware that their music can be preposterous, over-the-top, bombastic and daft. That’s one of the main reasons we like it so much. But don’t pretend that it doesn’t have substance...that it doesn’t mean anything. Because it means a lot more to me and my metal brothers and sisters than the bland, banal indie rock and sterile pop tripe that mainstream magazines exist to exalt mean to anyone. In the event of a nuclear holocaust, who do you think will crawl from the smoking rubble? It won’t be Pete fucking Doherty. It won’t be Justin ‘The Singing Wankstain’ Bieber. It will be some guy in a Venom shirt, clutching a half-drained bottle of Merrydown and shouting ‘Slayer!’ at the top of his voice. Heavy metal fans are the most devoted and passionate fans in the world and I defy anyone to prove otherwise. This music will never die. Ronnie James Dio’s music will never die. Every time we crank up Neon Knights or Stand Up And Shout and raise a glass to our fallen hero, his legend will grow.
Rest in peace, Ronnie. Thanks for everything. We’re missing you terribly but we will continue to rock in your honour, now and forever. Horns up!

Dom Lawson, May 2010