Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Tale of Pantera and Bad Parenting

"What's this? Is that a tear, Pantera? Oh, is Daddy's little girl upset? I'm gonna kick your ass into next Tuesday. Now get outa here!" -- Beavis

Every word of this is true.

As the heavy metal community is reeling from the untimely death of the legend Vinnie Paul, co-founder of the influential band Pantera, and drummer in Damageplan and Hellyeah, I have been taken back to one of the strangest nights of my life.

To set the stage, I was a tour guide at Graceland, where I worked for several years. Now, visitors get a headset with a canned recording, but back in the day, there were live tour guides who were supposed to follow a script. In fact, we took a lot of liberties -- what do you expect when you repeat the same thing about 100 times a day -- which is why I am sure they switched to a standardized recording. Thanks to the memory of the Internet, I can tell you with certainty that this story took place on August 10, 1994, when I had just turned 18. That afternoon, I was working in the trophy building, where a lot of Elvis' costumes and awards are displayed. I was, as I am now, a hard-core metalhead, and I recognize metal when I see it. A group comes in for my tour that clearly is a metal band, but one I did not recognize. "Hey, who are you?" I asked. "We are part of the band Prong," one of the guys answered. We chatted and I learned that they were playing the Mid-South Coliseum that night with Sepultura and Prong. I engaged them a lot during my tour, and at the end I asked them if there was any chance of getting comped to see the show. This was ballsy AF, but I am always of the philosophy that if you don't ask, you don't get. "Sure, happy to do it. Write down your name and I'll make sure a guest and you can get in," the guy said. Holy shit. I won the jackpot, but the plot thickens.

"Oh my God, can I come?" asks a teenager who also was on my tour and whom I had also been chatting with. "Um, I don't know how your mom would feel about that," I said. Mom quickly jumps in, "That's fine, as long as you can give her a ride back to our hotel." Turns out the girl is 14.

Let's take a break from our story here to collectively ask, "WT Actual F?" I am a parent now, and I can't for a second imagine letting either of my daughters go backstage to a heavy metal concert with a stranger. Not for a second, and not just because I would insist on going backstage. I wasn't a friend of a friend. I was a total stranger and one she just met. I guess I had a trustworthy look, because this girl's mom was down. Mom seemed totally normal, by the way, not at all sketchy.

The girl meets me after work and we ride in my car to the Coliseum. I was convinced my name would not be on the all-access list, but it was. We go backstage and the mayhem begins. Prong was already on stage at that point, but Pantera was hanging out backstage. Tales about vocalist Phil Anselmo's temper are legendary, and I only had a brief snapshot, but he lived up to the hype. Phil was having a huge tantrum about something, I don't know what. He was calmed by his girlfriend, a very beautiful, thin woman with full tattoo sleeves on each arm. After Phil left I complimented her on her calming skills, "I'm a social worker," she said with the resigned voice of someone used to deescalating conflict with an angry man.

Eventually, Pantera takes the stage and Prong has showered and come back to chill and drink. This is where things really got interesting. Tommy Victor, the singer of Prong, starts leering at the girl I am with, and not just leering: "Look at this. You are a fine piece of ass. I would like to do 1,000 things to you," was the gist of the conversation, which I definitely do not remember in detail because it was 26 years ago. I was hoping my guest would demure, but just the opposite happened: She goes and sits on his lap, and he starts kissing her neck and nuzzling her ear. Sweet Jesus. I told him, "Dude, she's only 14, " and his response was basically, "And???" Things progress and he invited my plus one to a quieter spot. Again, I'm thinking her self-preservation instincts will kick in, but no such thing happens, so I have to save her. I find some way to get her away from Victor for a second and say, "Whoa, you need to chill. Are you a virgin? I hope you're a virgin!" She told me she was, but was eager to be rid of that label. "Oh HELL NO," I said. "Not on my watch." She started arguing with me that it was her body and her choice. Please remember I am 18, not exactly old and wise, but somehow I knew I had to step up my game here.

"Listen, girl, I am about as degenerate as they come, but my degeneracy stops at letting a 14 year old girl lose her virginity to a rock star who will fuck her and forget her. You could get pregnant and you could get an STD, and this is not how you should lose your virginity. Trust me on this one." She actually continued to argue with me and then went back to sit on Victor's lap, where he continued to try to seduce her. Once again, things were getting heated, so I had to take a different tack. "Ok, girl. You have two choices. You can come watch Pantera with me, or we can leave." She wisely chose Pantera.

We watched their show, which was incredible. Sadly, I was not into music that heavy back then, and I had little appreciation for the talent and legends I was enjoying. I was thinking, "Cool band, great show, but I prefer Poison." Sigh. It is true that youth is wasted on the young. What I would give to see Pantera and Sepultura today!

After the show I had to take this wild child with me back to her hotel, which it turns out was really, really far away in Mississippi. Then I had to drive back to east Memphis. I don't think I got home until about 2 a.m., and I had to be up at 6 to get ready for another day of work.

This was not the first and hardly the last of the crazy stories that only happen to me. I don't remember that girl's name, but I hope she is happy and well and that she lost her virginity to someone who cared about her. As long as it wasn't on my watch, to a rock star, I don't care.

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