“Oh boy. This isn’t going to be fun to write.” That was the first thing I wrote when I sat down to throw in my two cents for this article. I left it there throughout the process as a reminder that if I planned on calling myself a journalist and a writer, I was going to have to be able to talk about tough issues. Race is just one of those contentious issues that I don’t particularly like to write about, it is such a divisive topic and I like to write about the positive aspects of music. I am writing this late at night, have class in the morning, and I didn’t want to go to bed anyway. Simply because of the gravity that semantics can have on this sort of issues, I’m going to start off with the very basic facts of the situation with as little embellishment and creative writing as possible.
On Friday, January 22nd, there was charity music festival named Dimebash held at the Lucky Strike Live in Hollywood, California. The festival takes the first half of it’s name from the late Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell, and is held as a tribute in his honor. It was a charity show in benefit of the Ronnie James Dio Cancer Fund. The festival saw many special performances that night, including one by the Phil Anselmo (Down, ex-Pantera), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer, ex-Philm), and Rob Trujillo (Metallica, ex-Suicidal Tendencies) all together in honor of the recently deceased Motorhead bassist/frontman, Lemmy Kilmister. At some point during the show Phil Anselmo was caught on tape giving a one armed gesture that resembles a salute primarily associated with the German Nazi party during World War II, and then proceeding to yell into the crowd something that sounds like “white power.” This, understandably, has caused a bit of an uproar from fans and non-fans alike. Phil has made a statement about the incident under his Housecore Records youtube account, which can be read in full below. He stated that the outburst was him “joking” and that it was “the inside joke of the night because we were drinking f*cking white wine.” If you want to see the video of the incident, that can be viewed at the bottom of the article.
I think that it would be far too easy to write him off as a hateful bigot for this incident and call it a night. It’s not really my job to demonize him by imputing my own emotional reactions into the mix, but rather report the facts. Thankfully the job of judge, jury, and executioner is left up to the court of public opinion, and this is why I decided to dive into the disgusting mire of word diarrhea known as “the comment section” to see the thoughts of other fans.
Scrolling through the comments on the video, and other articles on the topic of Phil Anselmo and racism, I tried to grab a few of the better ones (in my opinion). There was obviously a lot of contention between the commenters, as there usually is in these scenarios. He had many trying to villify him as some kind of Lovecraft-ian horror, and he had his supporters who seem like they would willingly defend their hero until until the devil himself reached out of hell to take him down.
Every place I turned, a few themes began to emerge. Phil has been surrounded by the controversy of racism for a very long time. He has been known to give emotionally charged, racial fueled, pride speeches, the core of which seem like fairly harmless crowd interactions. On the surface, his speech critiques society’s conflicting views on racial pride. It particularly hits on the fact that it is hard to proclaim pride in being white without being accused of racism while pride in one’s ethnicity is praised in the case of those not in the ethnic majority. At one point he says “If you conduct yourself like a gentleman, and act like a human being, you shall be treated as such.” Those aren’t exactly the words of a racist, but the rant quickly turned sour when he’s struck by a bout a flawed logic and begins shifting the blame onto the black hip-hop community, and using that a catalyst to fuel racial pride.
(Author’s note: This video is from 1995 and not the one that inspired this article, keep scrolling down if you’re looking for that one.)
According to Exclaim, immediately following the show in Montreal that the speech is from, he was approached by some members of the venue staff and had a conversation prompting him to release a statement:
“I must take responsibility for the harmful words that may have racially offended our audience. First, to the black girl who has seen Pantera six times, thank you for telling me how upset you were at me; it made a difference and I was very sincere with my apology. Second, I’d once again like to apologize to the security guards at the show. They were classy and professional, and came to talk to me after the show when they really didn’t need to at all. They opened my eyes. And yes, they were black men. I have much respect for them. I extend my apologies and a thank you to them.”
According to Atothe, during a show an intoxicated Phil “told everyone in the crowd to ‘stop listening to all that n***er music,’ and threw his hand up just in the video.” Another commenter, Ian brought a pretty solid point that “there are a lot of stupid things people do when they have a few drinks.” Big mouths yell the loudest, and it’s no big secret that Phil is a loud, angry, and unrestrained individual when it comes to speaking his mind, and he doesn’t care what people think of him for it.
(Note: His name is fake. According to a status he posted, he changed because he is job hunting and doesn’t want employers to see his Facebook. I’m not going to lie, I creeped. In my defense, his page was public enough for me to see that status.)
In defense of Phil:
Humans make mistakes, and let’s be honest with ourselves here for a moment, we have all had a joke completely bomb on a crowd because it sounded far better in our heads than it did coming from our mouth. He acknowledged it happened, and his non-apology apology is pretty consistent with his character. No dedicated Phil Anselmo fan would ever expect or even want a half-assed, PR stunt apology for damage control. He also has a pretty decent track record of playing alongside members of varying ethnic backgrounds in bands. When the Confederate flag was a hot topic, and he was inevitably asked about his previous usage of it as a symbol, he did seem genuinely remorseful for it’s use. Although that was the big new story at the time, and could have all been a publicity stunt (either on his or the interviewers side).
In persecution of Phil:
My immediate reaction to seeing this video was simply “Duuuuude. Not cool.” I was absolutely dumbstruck, because who in the right mind yells “white power” and throws up a Nazi salute at a charity event honoring one of their fallen bandmates? Apparently Phil Anselmo. If this is actually happening as frequently as some of these people are saying, then maybe Phil has a problem.
I love dark and evil comedy (see: Anthony Jeselnik, dead baby jokes, etc.), and like to think that I’m pretty anti-political correctness for the sake of saving hurt feelings, but holy hell, I don’t even know how that can be taken as a joke. If it’s a joke that he gets drunk and racist, maybe he’s just a drunk racist. Maybe in his drunken stupor he is willing to yell the things that are on his mind while sober. Doing the math on his excuse doesn’t add up.
White wine + “white power” + Nazi salute =/= funny
In lolz of Phil:
I primary tried to finding serious input from people for this article, I couldn’t pass up a chance to lighten up the mood with some actual jokes. Sometimes the internet is a fun place.
I’m not offended much either way, I just happen to think it was a very stupid idea for him to do what he did. He certainly has his right to free speech. The public also has a right to free speech and may strike back in the ways that public shaming usually play out. Call me a “pussy mf’er” all you want, if he wants to make an ass out of himself as a public figure, we’re going to talk about it. If he wants to alienate his family, friends, and fans, that’s his prerogative.
In all seriousness, whether Phil meant it or not as a joke or as a sentiment of hate, this type of behavior at a tribute show is completely unacceptable. I do have to agree with one particular comment on the matter though, “Having never met the man I’m not sure what his true intentions were and his past has been ambiguous at best so at this time i think it best to reserve my judgment and I’ll leave it at that.”