Something for the Metalheads. -MMA
By Brandon Geist | Photos By Stacy Kranitz
Deep in the backwoods of a tiny Louisiana town (population: approximately 600) lays a large but unassuming red brick house, its front porch enclosed by a white wooden railing. The dwelling looks so warm and hospitable there might as well be a freshly baked apple pie in its window. Revolver has driven nearly two hours through hurricane ravaged New Orleans to get here, and now we can't help but think maybe we have the wrong address. Then we notice, sitting at the foot of the stairwell, a large plywood cutout painted with two ghoulish faces right off the pages of a classic E.C. Horror comic. And then, as we get out of the car, a gargantuan rottweiler comes barreling around the corner. Welcome to the home of one Philip H. Anselmo, the legendary vocalist of Pantera, Superjoint Ritual and Down – and quite possibly the most revered and reviled frontman in heavy metal.
In the past year, the mystery and mythology surrounding Anselmo have only grown. The singer, a notorious recluse who has nonetheless spent most of his life onstage, has made only one public appearance – when he turned up unannounced, playing guitar with Eyehategod at a CBGB's benefit show on August 15. It was a surprise reemergence from a selfimposed seclusion that began at the end of 2004. In a video message posted on the Superjoint Ritual website shortly after his former Pantera bandmate, Dimebag Darrell, was shockingly murdered, a tearful Anselmo announced, “This changed the entire world, and this is the last you'll be seeing of me for a long time.”
When the singer finally greets us in his living room – a veritable shrine to horror movies, heavy metal, and hardcore, full of posters, gargoyles, tapes and CD's – what strikes us first is the sheer strength of his presence. Head shaven a la Vulgar Display of Power – era Pantera, the 37-year-old Anselmo looks as vigorous as ever and surely just as able to snap most other men in half between his fingers.
His voice, meanwhile, hits gravelly lows that shake the walls. The singer speaks slowly, deliberately, pausing frequently to mull over everything he's about to say. He's clearly wary of the press and of breaking his long silence. When we sit down to talk, the tension in the air is palpable. But as the interview continues, it becomes more and more clear how much he has to get off his chest, and the words flow more freely – so freely, in fact, that it sometimes seems almost unnecessary to ask questions. It also becomes apparent that, like his ferocious-looking canine (named Dracula), who turns out to be a sweetheart, Anselmo is far more vulnerable than his intimidating exterior would suggest. He claims repeatedly throughout Revolvers visit that he is a changed man, and based on what he's told us, and the undeniable emotion with which he expressed himself, its hard not to believe him.
REVOLVER: Tell me about the past year.
ANSELMO: Man, this has been the worst year of my life — it's been the worst year of many people's lives. Ever since… Ever since my guitar player was taken from me, basically.
REVOLVER: How much do you miss Dime?
ANSELMO: I miss him more than I can even begin to say. I think of him every single waking day — every 30 minutes, if not every five minutes.
And… [he pauses] Trying not to get choked up here. I'm trying to compose myself. I speak with Rex [Brown, PANTERA's bass player] often. We both are dealing with it… I'm in therapy. I never had to see a psychiatrist before. I see one regularly now. They tried to put me on antidepressants, but I won't take them because I don't trust drugs at all anymore. I don't trust a f*cking pill, not unless it's a vitamin.
I feel so goddamn bad for Vince [Paul, PANTERA's drummer and Darrell's brother], because during the writing of our last record, [his and Darrell's] mother passed away… I miss Vince. I miss his sense of humor. And Dime — there was no more creative, beautiful, perfect mother****er ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. He could make something out of nothing — if we were in Bum****, Anywhere, he could find some kind of something to do that would end up being fun, you know? And not to mention his music, our music. Dimebag, Vinnie, Rex — they were the greatest, and still are the greatest, musicians I've ever played with. I will always love everybody in that band, man. We had so much chemistry together. I miss it so goddamn much. You know, it took me quite awhile, but after about six months, I watched some old videos, I listened to our records, and I was just stunned, amazed, gasping for air, because I knew that I was part of something that changed heavy metal forever. And it took all four of us.
To lose someone like Dime, and to have his brother in such pain, it kills me. I'd give one of my fingers to fix everything somehow, go back in time, or to have been there. This is a harsh thing to say, but if I saw some stupid son of a bitch coming at my guitar player with a gun, I would have knocked his block off, you know? I would have taken a bullet for that m*ther****er.
REVOLVER: Have you tried to contact Vinnie?
ANSELMO: Yes, right afterwards, and I don't blame him for his isolation. I mean, it's a stunning, stunning thing. It's nothing you can just put out of your mind, it's nothing you can drink away, it's nothing you can go to a psychiatrist for a couple of months and he can put everything into perspective. I fear the worst for him, because I love him so much, you know? All I have in my heart is love, and when I say this, there's no way I can leave the fans out.
We, PANTERA, had the greatest, the most intense, dedicated fans I've ever seen in my goddamn life. And I really hope with all my heart that one day, people — especially our fans and my friends — can see clearly enough to think for themselves and really realize that I have nothing but love for them. I've just been going through personal hell since December. Once again, it's very hard to talk about, man. You know, my heart is in a thousand pieces a day.
But there is something very, very, very important that I've been wanting to say for a long time… and the only reason I couldn't say it before was because I always wanted that air of 'a new level of confidence and power' — you know, that 'vulgar display of power.' When I was in my middle twenties, I could walk through walls. There wasn't a man big enough to kick my f*cking @$$. I'd rock with anyone, and I don't remember losing a fight.
And then I tried a drug called heroin, because deep inside of myself I thought — I knew — there was no way that any drug could conquer me. No way. But the second time I did it in my entire life, it killed me.
Then I rebounded from that, played a show the very next night, knew that there's no way I'm messing with that garbage anymore. But I could tell something was screwed up with my back, something was not right. Pain, severe pain. So in between tours, I had an MRI, my first of six. Sure enough, the lowest lumbar disc in my back was ruptured — shattered from being onstage since I was 14 years old, jumping off the stage, off Vinnie's drum set, going as crazy as possible.
So I asked my doctor, 'What can I do about this?' And he says, 'Well, you're going to have to wear a back brace,' which I've been wearing for 10 years now. [Anselmo pulls up his shirt to reveal a large back brace around his midsection.]
ANSELMO: Nobody's known that. Anybody who ever thought I had a beer gut or I was fat, I was holding my bones together. Then, after two, three more tours — another MRI. I got another damaged disc, and no cartilage between the bottom one and the next one, which meant bone-on-bone scraping and nerve damage, and so the painkillers got stronger, stronger, stronger just to get up on that goddamn stage and do what I do, man. I mean, I was born to do this and I've known it since I was 6 years old.
Back in the Nineties, I went to see so many goddamn surgeons, and they all wanted to slice me open from the belly, take pieces of my hipbone out, take all my guts out, lay them on a table, and then fuse the discs from the front, use pieces of my hip to fill gaps in the bone and cartilage, then put all my guts back in, sew me up. I asked the doctor, 'Well, what's the recovery time for something like that? And he's like, 'Oh, 10 months to a year, maybe a year and a half.' I'm like, 'No way. I gotta work, bro. We're going to Europe. We're doing Ozzfest. I cannot take a year off.' And then, on top of that, I had doctors ask me if I had been fitted for a wheelchair. That's how bad it was. And I never have let that out of the bag before. I said, 'A wheelchair?! I still jump off the damn drum riser, man.' And they're like, 'You're just going to screw yourself up.
And so eventually, I got put on the heaviest painkiller known to mankind — it's called methadone. Most people relate methadone to heroin, but I saved every bottle, every document — everything was for my back. And you know, it still hurt to be up there on stage, and when I woke up in the morning, it felt like an ice pick was shoved in my lower back, and the colder it got, the worse it got. And when you'd go to Europe in the middle of winter, it's like, man, I cannot do this without medicine.
So I think people, especially journalists, took it upon themselves — and I really can't blame them, because I've never spilled these particular beans before. But I was slurring my words, I didn't have that glow anymore. It was killing my soul. You know, drugs, dope, everything you ever hear about them, it's true, man.
So now, here we are in 2005 — medical science and neurology have come a very extreme distance. I have found an incredible doctor. He has put me through rigorous tests. They've given me my sixth MRI and nuclear testing where they make all your bones glow. [Laughs] And the worst of all was the last one. It's called the discogram — they allow no medication, no relaxants at all, and the whole purpose of the procedure is to duplicate the pain that you feel.
So, at that point in time, I was slowly coming off this poison called methodone, which ruined my life, and another pill, which anybody who takes it is out of their mind. It's [a muscle relaxant] called Soma. That's what makes you sound like you're on the biggest amount of dope in the world — it makes you retarded, and I hated it. And so I want to apologize to all of my fans. I just wanted to play for you guys, man. And I think an apology is due for all my close friends and family, who had to endure what they didn't understand. And Dimebag, Vinnie Paul, Rex — they didn't understand the pain I was going through and the medicines and all of that. I apologize — so much. I'm not making excuses, but living with chronic pain makes you antisocial, depressed, not yourself. It changes your life, and it did mine, and now I want it back.
And so, next month, on November the eighth, I'm going under the knife, and I'm getting this mother****er fixed finally, I will walk through walls again, and I will punch through bricks, and I will rise again. Mark my goddamn words.
REVOLVER: So you're totally clean right now?
ANSELMO: Oh, absolutely, man. First of all, I made a very conscious decision that I could not keep poisoning myself with this goddamn medicine. I got it in my mind to stat\rt stretching, get exercise, fresh air, do a lot of building the muscles surrounding the destroyed disc area, building the glutes, upperback muscles, lower back muscles. I've been on the program now – it's just, like, waking up, taking a **** in the morning, I splash water on my face, brush my fangs, come downstairs, immediately start stretching, rattle off 50, 100 crunches. Then I ride my bike for about two miles, every day. Every single day. The only days I missed riding my bike were when Katrina hit ans we were evacuated.
And the whole time I was coming down off the drugs. Because I'll tell you what, 90 percent of the people have to check themselves into some sort of medical facility to get off of this particular drug, and me and a handful of my friends that were in similar situations ddi it ourselves. And to me, it makes us stronger individuals, and I'm proud. You know, it's torture, it hurts you. It's sleepless nights, it's anxiety, it's every reason why nobody should get involved with heavy dope, man. Ever, ever, ever. I'd rather be on a golf team, or a badminton team then take another painkiller in my life. [Laughs] And you know, that goes for aspirin, Tylenol... I don't like pills except for vitamins and anything that's going to make my bones stronger and clean out my body.
REVOLVER: Tell me about playing with Eyehategod at CBGB's. That's quite a way to make a appearance.
ANSELMO: Yeah, I haden't been onstage in over a year, and I was really beating my head against the wall. I've been a fan of Eyehategod since its inception. I know the songs – I just had to actually sit down and learn the parts. You know, it was like, Monday I sucked, Tuesday I sucked, Thursday was a little better, and Friday I pretty much knew what was going on. Then I think we flew out Saturday, played the gig the next day. It was one of the greatest times I can think of this year – or in my life, really.
REVOLVER: What about your own music? There were a lot of rumors about the guys in Down getting together before Katrina struck. Will there be a new Down album?
ANSELMO: That's up to everybody in Down, you know? But, yeah, Down is an incredibly important band to me. And there's one other project that may be a little tough for people to understand – it's not sonically heavy, but subject-wise it's absolutely heavy. It's a band that I've been in for many, many yearsm and I've just been waiting for the right itme, and boy, it sure is the right time. So, yeah, you will hear music from Philip Anselmo again, and it ain't gonna be nothing nice.
REVOLVER: So are you prepared to tour again as the frontman of a band?
ANSELMO: Bet your ***. To this day nobody has taken my throne of heavy goddamnmetal – I've just abdicated it for a while because, you know, Philip Anselmo has to take care of Philip Anselmo for a change.
REVOLVER: And when you do finally tour again, are you worried at all that some crazy will try to take you out?
ANSELMO: There ain't no way I'm playing a show unless the security's tight and everybody knows the score, man.
REVOLVER: But as you know, some people really hate you...
ANSELMO: Man, look, there is no way anyone in this world can vicariously live through that tragedy and blame anyone but the kid who shot my guitar player, for God's sake, So many people don't even know me, and they have formed an opinions. I would suggest to every person that reads this, before you judge anyone else, make sure and check yourself out first. Because imperfection is just a human way, man. And opinsion are like assholes – everybody has one. And when you assume something, yes, the *** comes out in you. Don;t believe every ******* thing that you read, especially these goddamn tabloid magazines, like Kerrangl and Metal Hammer, for all the tasteless ******** that they pulled.
REVOLVER: So what did those magazines pull? And how big a role did it play in theing going so wrong with Pantera in the end?
ANSELMO: You know, after the Slayer/Morbid Angel tour [in 2001] that we did, I thought it was wiseest to take a break. I wanted to get the second Down album done, and wanted to release the Superjoint album, because both of them had been on ice for so long. Never did I think that before interviews would even start, I'd have guys come in and tell me how much Darell and Vince hated my guts. Or I would say something that would be taken so completely out of context, like, I would kick Dimebag Darrel's *** or something like that.
Look, man, the world knows that I probably wouldn't be the easiest guy to fight, but I would never raise a hand to Dimebag Darrell. That would be like raising a hand to my own family, and it would never happen. Ever. No way.
And goddamn, man, I would never quit Pantera. Are you crazy? I mean, that was my home. That was my real band, you know? And now, yeah, I'm starting from scratch, and all I know how to do is play music. That's all I know how to do. But if there's any silver lining within all these clouds, it's that out music does live forever within our records. That is immortal. As is the strength of our fans and the faith that I have in our fans to realize that Dime's murder was the action of a psychotic mother****er who believed in the media too much and fell into this hype thing. Our fans are hardcore, and it kills them, what happened, but it's not going to do any good to take sides because there is only one side, you know?
So goddamn the effects of drugs, goddamn the ******* media personnel who toy with words and don't expect consequences. And goddamn anyone who thinks that I had anything but love for Dimebag Darrell. A part of me, a gigantic part of me, is destroyed, and I am a different man.
REVOLVER: You're wearing a “Free Mike IX” T-shirt in supprt of Mike Williams, who was arrested in the aftermath of Katrina and is currently in jail.
ANSELMO: The singer for Eyehategod, Mike William, I've know since seventh grade. We'd run into each other at shows, bars, and eventually we became friends. Mike's story is one of great sadness and great victory. At an extremely young age, both of his parents passed away. Still, every time you saw Mike Williams, his head was high. He was a cocky like bastard, man. He was punk rock from the day I met him. He;s such a survivor, with such will and talent. For him to be sitting behind bars, completely straight, no drugs in his system – for that beautiful talent of his to be behind bars – it breaks me down. I mean, I wear his scar with pride. [Anselmo shows off a deep scar on his thumb.] We had this ******** knife fight one time. He won.
REVOLVER: I heard that you evacuated to Houston right before Katrina hit land.
ANSELMO: Yeah, I was stuck in a hotel room for two and a half weeks in Houston, Texas, with my rottwieler, my other dog, and this cat I've had since 1992 or something. I wasn't even sure he was going to make it because of the trauma, but he's a tough bastard.
I was surrounded by all sorts of different people from New Orlean, who were working class, earning week-to-week salaries just to buy groceries and pay rent, and everything that had was gone. Just to think about the city, its culture, its characters, just the bands that have come out of here over the last 20 years, scattered and literally washed away.
REVOLVER: Do you think that the Nola scene is going to come back as strong as ever, or do you think...
ANSELMO: I don't know. Look, man, at this point we don't know if our phone lines are going to work tomorrow. That's the scariest part, and that's the saddest part. Yeah there're certain palces that are making a comeback, but everybody's general answer is that, “Yeah, we're open, but where are the customers?” There're a lot of people gone, man. It's scary. I mean, why take a chance on losing everything in one night? Hurricane season comes around every year, and this time next year, I don't know where I'm going to be, to be honest with you.
REVOLVER: So why break you silence now? How hard a decision was it?
ANSELMO: Extremely hard... You know, when I was in Houston, taking refuge from katrina, I couldn't go to a convenience store withour getting recognized. And when I went up to New York with Eyehategod, sure, everybody knew who the f*ck I was, and they were just like, “holy ****, man!” And there was so much respect, so much love, and once again, compassion, and the fact that people would come up to me and tell me how much the band that I played in, with, like I said before, three of the best, the very best musicians, the tightest musician I've ever seen in heavy metal, period – how much that band made a difference in their lives, lyrically, musically...And I think Dimebag Darrell's achievement, knocking Eddie Van Halen's *** off as No. 1 guitar player.
I mean, these are untouchable accomplishments done by us. The songs we came up with – anthems, man – that if we were ever to get together again and play, which is impossible because there is no way I would get on stage with another guitar player. You know, Vincent, Rex, and some other guitar player – that would be a travesty in my heart. But I just know in my heart, also, that if Dimebag were still here, and we all got into the same room, all four of us, we would be teary-eyed and hugging each other within five minutes. And we'd be putting together a reunion tour and making plans for the next record without a ****ingdoubt. And I know that the second we broke into “A New Level”, “Walk”, “Domination”, anything like tha, the entire earth would shake, and its wouldn't matter what town we were in. I knew, Rex knew, we talked about it constantly, that one day we'd all patch it up and get back to work...and we were looking forward to it so much...
[At this point, Anselmo starts to break down, his eyes tearing up.]
It's tough to be a man sometimes.
[He clenches his fists and tries to hold it in, but eventually cracks and buries his head in his hands.]
I don't mind if you put this in the magazine. I don't mind at all. I have no shame in this. This is why I have to go see a therapist. Oh, God. Why? Why? You know, man? What the f*ck? What the f*ck?