Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: “Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera” by Rex Brown


Nobody likes it when the band they’ve been enjoying listening to for years packs it up and calls it a day, but you can make a little lemonade out of those lemons by realizing that sometimes this can lead to material that would have normally never seen the light of day being scraped out of a vault, packaged, printed, and presented to you for a purchase price usually a whole lot more than it’s actual musical worth. And the more successful or major label the band, the more that dried up tit is going to be wrought by the legions of leeches pulling the strings. Until you come to your senses some 20 years after the demise of said band and see the racket for what it is when an umpteenth version of their “Greatest Hits” is being repackaged with the same tracks switched around and baited with a never-before-heard live demo version of a song they did before they were who they were. However this isn’t always the case, sometimes band members themselves will release things posthumously that they wouldn’t normally have done while creative juices were still flowing. Or attention is diverted elsewhere and time is precious so it never happens while a group’s blood is still pumping. It leaves the potential for all kinds of things seeing the light of day, live footage, demos, unreleased studio recordings, books etc. Sometimes there just isn’t a market for it until later on down the line, as was the case with Pantera.
When Pantera was in their prime, the internet hadn’t become a household source of information yet – fans were very limited with what they could see or read about regarding the band, actually that pretty much goes for any group affiliated with heavy metal at the time. Except for the occasional interview on Headbangers Ball, or what was coming out of the monthly edition of Metal Maniacs, exposure was nil. Sure Pantera released 3 DVD’s in the tenure of their existence – but those comprised mostly of drinking, vomiting, blowing up fireworks, and squeezing puss-filled boils off the asses of their road crew. All fine and dandy for the 14 year old fucktard whose only source of jerk-off material was the occasional topless groupie chick on the VHS Cowboys From Hell Home Video, but I’ve done a lot of growing up since then. These days I’d much rather see a candid in studio come-up of how an album came to be, how riffs were conceived, lyrics were inspired, instruments were recorded, etc. I don’t give a shit how humorless it is. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and there are a whole bunch of people that never paid attention in 1992, or weren’t around to pay attention in 1992, that are paying attention now, let the wringing of the tit begin, I’m talking to you 20th anniversary special edition of Vulgar Display of Power.

…And let forth the credible stuff as well: Pantera bassist Rex Brown’s recently released biography “Official Truth 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera” (co-authored by Mark Eglinton) offers a very inside look at the band that we were never afforded the opportunity to voyeur into back in the day due to the aforementioned lack of technology and popularity. It’s Rex’s side of the story, from all the way back to when he was a kid to his current status with Kill Devil Hill – centralized around his career in Pantera, the bad-ass, bow-to-nobody, game changers that flew the flag for real heavy metal through the 1990’s. Straight up, if you’re a Pantera fan then read the book, you’ll enjoy it – I did. Though not without some criticism. It was cool to get a deeper insight into the individual personalities of the band, and perhaps some of the motives, if you will, as to why they made music the way they did, but I was definitely hoping for a whole lot more information about the actual songs themselves. The making of each album is pretty glossed over in the first few pages of the chronologically appropriate chapters, and then it’s onto the antics and drama of the road for the next few. Yet you still get to hear how the band approached each album and why each one ended up sounding the way they did, like why ‘The Great Southern Trendkill’ is so (awesomely) abrasive and ‘Reinventing The Steel’ sounds a bit more traditional. He even delves into the Down albums he was involved with and talks a bit about the recording dynamics of those sessions. I did still get a new perspective on how the albums were done and learned some things I hadn’t known about before, so I can’t complain about it too much – it’s hard to jam a career like the one Rex had into some 280 pages and not have to gloss over pretty much everything.

I was a bit of a Pantera fanatic back in the day, and followed them pretty closely during their existence and for a bit afterwards. During that time I’d sort of gotten the vibe through interviews and whatforth that Rex often fancied himself quite the bad-ass, and the book only amplifies that theory with his lack of humility. It weighs pretty heavily with Rex’s self-horn tooting, and I can’t help but wonder how much of a motive catharsis was in the writing of this book as he more than occasionally has some harsh words about his band mates. He attempts to balance the jabs with occasional praise but doesn’t seem to even out the ratio in the end. This is all fine, dandy and expected with a book like this. You’re going to sell more tickets to a car crash than a birthing. But take the time to laugh at yourself – and enlighten us dammit. Your vocalist is a disconnected, back-stabbing junkie. Your guitarist is an idiot who can’t hold onto his money, and your drummer is a fat-ass, fame whoring poon-hound, yet there’s no skid marks on you? Even when he talks about his drinking problem he seems to be holding back – this is a guy whose organs began shutting down on him from his addiction, and yet there’s no ugly side to it ever really portrayed in detail. The divorce from his wife comes and goes amicably, and he’s always there for his kids, even though he’s a touring musician/alcoholic. By the end of the book the do-no-wrong thing was really wearing thin to me. His idea of letting his guard down is telling the reader that at one point during a show he was so blown away by his guitarist Dimebag Darrell’s playing that he walked over to him and kissed him. If you’re gonna paint the pictures of everyone else’s desperation and darkness, you gotta paint yours the darkest if it’s there – it’s your fucking book and your fucking story, don’t do it if you’re worried about tarnishing your image – but that’s just my opinion.

In the end however it is a satisfying read. As a fan of Pantera I couldn’t put the flippin’ thing down. Rex was always the out-of-focus guy on the T-shirt so to hear his side of things as more of a spectator to the rest of the band is interesting and believable. It exposed a lot of behind the scenes controversy that I hadn’t realized had gone on and includes interview bits with road crew members, managers, producers, wives, girlfriends, all sorts of people that were intimately involved with Pantera in one way or another, credible sources. He also dishes a bit of inside dirt on some other heavy hitters in the scene appropriately. Rex does a good job of portraying just what a rollercoaster ride the Pantera years were and how appreciative he was of having rode it (ridden it?). While reading it you may be shocked at how much of a ‘brotherhood’ the whole thing actually wasn’t, but in the end realize that all that went on and all they went through only helped to carve what the definition of what brotherhood was to them, and should be to everyone.

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