This week Morley concludes his conversation with Chris A. author of 'A Vulgar Display of Power: Courage and Carnage At The Alrosa Villa '.
antiMUSIC: As far as tragedies go in rock and roll, how important an event was this and what does it mean first of all to metal by way of the loss of such a musician?
Chris A.: The loss of Dimebag is in incredible tragedy. For his style of music, very unique, very respected, I think Dimebag was a great heavy metal ambassador, at least to metal fans. You've been around the block with some of these celebrity types before and you know what, they aren't always really what they seem to be. But in the case of Dimebag, though, by all accounts, was exactly what he came across to be; a happy, fun loving, thankful, gracious guy who appreciated his fans and went the extra mile signing autographs; saying hello; picking up the phone, and appreciated all that he had and understood that because people bought his records and came to his concerts, he tried to give some of it back. So I think from that perspective, musically and from a human aspect, I think it's a huge loss. I think though, in the grand scheme of rock and roll tragedies, there's less to learn about this than say the station house fire in Rhode Island, or The Who tragedy in Cincinnati be cause those where definitely incidents where the venue was directly involved and very culpable. The Cincinnati thing, it was defiantly a crowd management issue. They didn't how to deal with the fact that they had thousands of people show up early and The Who was a little behind schedule and they started the sound check late. And the next thing you know, you've got people being crushed to get in and they would not open the doors. And the station house and you've got pyrotechnics going off in what's essentially a tinderbox and 100 people get killed. I think the book will go a long way in putting this incident in its perspective. What I mean by that, is that I believe it to be a very extraordinary, extreme a-typical event. Like I said, I never found a precedent for somebody climbing on stage and killing a musician. One of the things I hope gets out, is that the bad guy was afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia. This is not a person who fell through the cracks of society. He had been getting a lot of attention from his mother. She worked really hard to figure out what his problem and she felt it was more behavioral and drug-related than anything. At 12 years old this guy was on probation all the way until he was an adult. He dealt with probation officers, counselors, teachers, judges, youth correctional facility and nobody recognized that he was a paranoid schizophrenic.
It's a horribly frightening affliction. Hopefully some people will tune into that. Now on the other hand, let me make this crystal clear: this guy does not get a pass. He does not get a rationalized excuse. One of the most important things that happened is the Marine Corps…this is the U.S. marines…when he joined the marines, this is the bad guy, the marines figured out that this guy had a problem. They sent him to a shrink, ended up institutionalizing him and identified him as a paranoid schizophrenic. Most importantly they sat this guy down and said 'Listen. Here is what you have and here's how you can address it.' And he was put on a medication regimen. And it was made very clear to him, you take this medication, you'll be okay. You'll be able to function in society. You will be able to contribute. However, he made a choice shortly after leaving the Marine Corps to stop taking his medication. Consequently man, he's culpable. He made a choice and when he made that choice he let loose the beast.
antiMUSIC: What does this represent to the relationship between artist and fan? Do you think this has or will change firstly the way security is presented at shows? And secondly, do you get a sense it changes how artists view their fans and might place a larger distance between them because of this?
Chris A.: To answer your question first about venue security, first of all, I don't think there was a venue now or then that had a protocol to deal with an armed intruder. Even today I don't know how you can…I come from an anti-terrorist and crime prevention background, and I don't see how functionally a concert venue could realistically and functionally address this kind of thing. And again, it's such a one-off event, such an extreme happening that I think the fact is, venue security in general has not changed. You know I've been to, shoot, 30-40 shows since Dimebag was murdered and I can probably count on one hand the times where I've gone through a metal detector and the pat downs. You know, about the same. They're cursory. They're bogus. They're feel-good stuff. They're really not effective, especially when you're talking about dealing with somebody who is on a mission. Who is committed to what you're going to do. Who's trained themselves and has prepared for it. Had Nathan Gale gone through security, whether there had been a metal detector or a pat down, in a case of a guy like him, it's very doubtful that that would have done anything. And I mean what are you going to do if you've got an unarmed guy patting down somebody and he comes up with a gun? What are you going to do? So realistically, I think there are probably a few things that avenues can do to reduce the likelihood of violence. But this sort of violence, or this sort of activity, is again, you know, I'll keep hammering on this, this is a real one-off, this is a really, really rare event. So I think it's almost impractical to try to respond, for every venue to try to figure out a way, how do they keep people with guns from coming in...it's just not practical.
As far as artists and their relationships with fans, it's absolutely affected them. I've seen it first hand. And that's really a shame. And then again, one of the things that propels that is the fact that, a lot of people they look at this as such a disaster that they don't really take a step back and analyze it. It's kinda like the shoe bomber guy from Britain. Flew to the United States and had a bomb in his shoe. So now everytime you go to the airport you gotta take your shoes off. We're taking off our shoes, and we're getting our shoes x-rayed because one guy put three ounces of explosives in the soles of his shoes and you know, I'm not a particularly politically correct guy but my analogy in comparing to this is well, why aren't we looking for...why don't we profile, rather than have your grandma and three year-old Suzy in a stroller slip her shoes off, there's gotta be a way to kinda narrow that view down, to make it more effective.
I know plenty of rock stars who used to show up at venues, an hour, and hour and a half before and would hang up backstage and shoot the s*** with the band and you know, do the meet and greets and there's little of that now. They pull up two minutes before they go on stage. The van drops them off. They run inside and grab their guitar and they play for an hour and a half. They run out the back door. The van's waiting for them. They're gone.
antiMUSIC: How long did this book take you and what all went into it?
Chris A.: I corresponded with probably close to 200 people. Interviews, face to face interviews or else really detailed interviews, probably 40-50 people. I don't even want to guess man hours, man. I mean, it would probably kill me if I were to even think (about) that, but it's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours. I traveled to, one of the things I'm most proud of, is in dealing with the principals involved , the family members of Nathan Bray and Erin Halk and Jeff Thompson. All that was done face to face. Nathan Bray's wife and I sat down face to face for six hours and now we talk on the phone once or twice a week, to stay in touch and clarify and shoot the s***. Drove back to Pittsburg to meet with the mother and family of Erin Halk. Drove out to Arkansas to meet with the family of Jeff Thompson. Spent hours and hours and hours in the home of the mother of the killer. Homicide detectives, firemen, paramedics, witnesses, man it just goes on and on and from a research perspective it was dealing with…there was a video shot on stage by the band that I have, like I said, two and a half hours of that. I got the crime scene video shot by the Columbus police department. The police investigation which is 650 pages. Crime scene photos. Coroner's photos all used for cross referencing, statements and assertions by people. I did this. It's not too difficult to exclude folks who over-emphasized their actions and what not and then there's a lot of documentation that I was fortunate to have from the mother of the killer. I have all of his writings, I know what books he read, I have his medical records from the Marine Corps. I sat down with his probation officer and the judge who dealt with him as a juvenile. They actually released his juvenile arrest record and probation records to me. I think what I really want folks to know, is that as far as research and this goes, this is my third book. I did a couple of military history books, so I got a real good background and a real solid feel for digging into stuff. My law enforcement background is very, very helpful in understanding what I'm looking at, when I'm viewing crime scene photos and the report. The venue was incredible to me. They, Rick Cautela, the guy who owns the Alrosa Villa, one of the owners, he had nothing to hide and he was more than willing to let me poke around and take photos and do whatever I needed so I had access the venue so, I did little things like show up there at 10 o'clock at night when a band was playing and walked the same path the killer walked that…one of the things that's really interesting is that at the venue you can actually walk around. You know how the p.a. stacks at a venue are normally, they go all the way to the walls, you can't go around them? The Alrosa Villa is different. It's got elevated platforms on each side of the stage that they use for VIP seating. You can actually walk around the pa right on stage.
So I did that when there was a band playing, and when there was nothing going on. And I came to the opinion that the lighting is so subtle, I believe the bad guy either had been at a previous show or had really cased the place to know exactly what the layout was. Because it wasn't super obvious that you could just walk around the p.a. stack so I think he'd been there before. So what I want people to know is , I didn't just sit around in my underwear sitting in front of my computer screen, reading crap on Blabbermouth and put something together. I really, really worked this. You know, dealing with incredibly good documentation and first generation stuff, face to face with people directly involved. It's a very, very credible piece of work;. I tried to limit my opinions as best I could and really let the facts speak for themselves. And I think it comes out, well, it's definitely exceeded my expectations.
antiMUSIC: When does the book come out and where will it be available?
Chris A.: Comes out 14th of April and should be available everywhere. From Amazon to borders, I don't know what's going on with Canada specifically, but man if I have to drive up there with a load of books in the trunk of my car for my brothers in Canada, I'll do it. (laughs) One of the things that I'm really pleased with is, you don't have to be a metal head to read this book because it's really not...this isn't Hammer of the Gods. This is something that anybody who a music fan or someone who likes to read true crime stuff or somebody who's looking for a little reminder that there really is good in the world, will find something…I think anybody who reads it will find something in it. And I think they'll be moved by it. It's very respectful to the memories of Erin Halk, Jeff Thompson, Nathan Bray and Dimebag. And I just…it's cool. It came out well.
antiMUSIC: Anything else you would like to add that I did not ask you?
Chris A.: A lot of people mistakenly believe this is a biography on Dimebag and it's not. There are many moving tributes to Dimebag in the book by people he knew and people he didn't know but people who were touched by his music, or by his persona and I think if people sit back with a cup of coffee and read this book it will...they will walk away very moved by the actions of Erin Halk, Nathan Bray and Jeff Thompson and unlike the vast majority of this kind of true crime book, I kinda always ask people, Morley do you know who Jeffrey Dahlmer is?
Chris A.: Okay, let me think of a Canadian who's killed a bunch of people. What's her face, the blond gal.
Chris A.: Karla Homolka, besides her sister, can you tell me the name of any of those people…and I'm not going to do that crap. That's not what this is going to do. When you close this book, you're not going to feel sympathy or you're not going to go, 'Wow, Nathan Gale was neato torpedo.' You're not…that's not going to happen. I think people will walk away with a real moving experience. This book is not what they expect. It's so much more.
antiMUSIC: Well, you've really whet my appetite for this. I can't wait to read it.
Chris A.: I'm passionate about this Morley. Looks like it's going to 350 pages. Over 240 photos. Yeah, the whole idea man is, tell you what. You're going to get sucked into the life of these three guys and then you're going to have the s*** kicked out of you when they get killed. And that's the way I want it to be and that's the way it needs to be. And I think that's what happens and I think people will be moved by it.
antiMUSIC: Awesome. I wish you all the best with it, Chris
Chris A.: Thank you. Take care
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank Chris for taking the time to do this interview.