We’re the hand that writes / Then quickly moves away . . .
~ Ronnie James Dio (1942 – 2010)
During the summer of 1984, in the midst of a transition from the heartland of Indiana to the suburbs of Chicago, I spent a couple weeks in Dallas, Texas, hanging out with my cousins on my birth mother’s side of the family. Usually, when we’d get together, it was about finding all the ways we were alike. My aunt bought the three of us matching Cowboys shirts, we shared a love of professional wrestling and big combs that stick out of back pockets, and went on trips together to wade in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the San Antonio River.
If pressed to name one way in which we were irreconcilably different back then, it was in our taste in music. Where one tended to gravitate toward the more pop-influential stylings of Duran Duran, and the other found much to love and relate to in the Southern-fried rock and country mentality, I was an unabashed headbanger. And, being long before the days of YouTube and video-on-demand, I wasted no time in commandeering the television, always settling on MTV and waiting for the next airing of “The Last in Line,” the latest single by Dio.
God I loved that song . . .
Here was this Lilliputian giant with a receding hair line and a killer voice. THE Voice. If Satan has a voice, it sounds a lot like Ronnie James Dio when he sings. And he sang about shit like witches and demons and absent Gods. The stuff that makes parents squirm.
I was immediately hooked.
Years later, while digging deep into the Christian-Music-Most-People-Never-Listen-To archives, I found this gem, from Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren’s 1980 solo album Seeds of Change . . .
The Voice, singing about following Jesus. On my Christian music radio show in college, I played the crap out of that one. People were confused. Isn’t that Dio?! He’s Eeeeevil! He sang for Black Sabbath?!?!? I turned a deaf ear to their admonitions that I repent immediately or face the fires of Hell. I was like that. Even then, I was willing to let the message stand, despite the messenger.
Regardless of who he jammed with, or whatever the message might be, RJD kept it gritty. No flash or bravado. Just his magnificent voice, surrounded by the heaviest of riffs and the deepest of bass lines. His masterpieces were minor-key jams that kept me grounded and never failed to help me vent the frustrations of living in a dichotomous world. This song, from one of his final projects, has fit the bill as-of-late . . .
In 2002, in an online interview celebrating the release of Killing the Dragon, Dio shared his thoughts on Good and Evil . . .
I’m a believer in people. I always have been. This is my planet, this is where my interaction is. I’m not prepared to deal with what comes after death, since I believe that heaven and hell are right here. Good and evil reside in us, and we have the ability to choose.
I can buy that.
The Voice is dead. Long live The Voice!
(And, please, don’t hurt yourself trying to hit the high note at the beginning of this RJD classic, recorded live with Heaven and Hell at Radio City Music Hall in March of 2007. At the time, he was 64 years young. You’ve been warned . . . )