Music

Pantera Drummer Vinnie Paul is Dead. Don't Forget His Role in Ending the Cold War.

Pantera's 1991 Moscow show helped cement the demise of a dying empire.

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It has been over a week since Pantera drummer and American metal heavyweight Vinnie Paul Abbott passed away, and the tributes are still pouring in.

At a Sunday public memorial for Abbott—who died in his sleep at age 54—friends, fans, and a long list of musicians that either influenced or were influenced by Abbott expressed sadness at his passing while sharing personal memories of his life.

My favorite memory of Abbott is the role he and Pantera played in ending the Cold War.

In September 1991, Pantera—alongside fellow rock gods Metallica, AC/DC, and The Black Crowes—held a massive, free "Monsters of Rock" concert at a defunct airfield in Moscow, the heart of a rapidly crumbling Soviet Empire.

"It's a killer thing we are all here together, and music is the universal language," belted Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo to roaring approval from a crowd numbering anywhere from 150,000 to 1.6 million. All had turned up that day to hear angry, rebellious music of the kind that was prohibited in the USSR just a few years prior.

Images from the concert are glorious: Pantera guitarist (and Abbott's brother) "Dimebag" Darrell headbanging along with a shirtless Anselmo; a teeming mass of fans experiencing the fringes of Western culture live and in person for the first time; groups of Soviet policemen impotently struggling to hold back the crowd.

It was a profound cultural moment. It also came at a pivotal time in the USSR's own history.

Just a month prior, a clique of diehard communist generals had tried to oust liberalizing Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in a failed coup. Two months after the show, Gorbachev announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ushering in not the freedom and democracy many had hoped for, but rather a lost decade of corrupt authoritarianism, political instability, and economic chaos.

A New York Times write-up of the show reports "scattered arrests" from the day as "police officers wearing helmets and wielding truncheons chased after troublemakers and drunken youth who appeared to be well-represented in the crowd."

"More than 1,000 militiamen were on guard around the stage, and more were hidden in trucks parked farther away," notes the Times.

Nevertheless, one can also see in Pantera's 1991 Moscow show the liberating power of culture on full display.

As Reason editors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie argue in their 2011 book, The Declaration of Independents, the death knell for Soviet communism was not U.S. defense spending or its propping up of friendly third-world dictators. Rather, it was the Eastern Bloc's irrepressible desire to join the free, prosperous world they saw on the TV show Dallas, or heard about on Velvet Underground records.

Music critic and writer Andrei Orlov made a similar point to the Times, noting that "Monsters of Rock" gave Soviet citizens a chance to openly express a long-repressed love for heavy metal.

"Look at the graffiti in the city," Orlov said. "AC/DC is written on every wall."

At a time when serious people wanted to spread freedom at gunpoint, Pantera and Abbott were liberating the youth with heavy riffs.

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  1. And yet today, rock is dead and while the USSR is gone, a resurgent Russia has taken its place.

    1. Today’s Russia is a shell of the the USSR in terms of world influence, ability to wage war or impact US policy, or even in its ability to oppress its own people.

      1. Wait, I seem to remember hearing that they had placed one of their people in the White House just recently

  2. Damn. At least he’s with Dime now.

  3. Two months after the show, Gorbachev announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ushering in not the freedom and democracy many had hoped for

    Now, how are we ever supposed to get a decent contemporary-themed version of Risk with that attitude?

  4. My favorite memory of Abbott is the role he and Pantera played in ending the Cold War.

    In September 1991…

    1991? Favorite memory? Were you even born before 1991?

    Or is this like my “favorite memory” of William S Burroughs is when he tried to shoot that glass off Joan Vollmer’s head and hit low. Only that happened in Mexico 12 years before I was born

    1. You’re from the school they tore down to build the old school.

    2. He didn’t say it was his own memory.

  5. Damn. Didn’t know he died.

    1. Neither did I, and now I feel like an ass.

  6. Seriously? There was a 1989 concert given by hair metal bands there in 1989 called the Moscow Music Peace Festival. Billy Joel did a concert there in 1987.

    Sad that Vinnie Paul died, but he was hardly a pioneer in this particular instance.

    1. No kidding. And I don’t know exactly when I’d put the tipping point, but it was well before fall of 91.

    2. Generations. Billy Joel is old. The Rat Pack is dead. The youngsters like Pantera. Live with it.

      1. Yeah, all us youngsters who were listening to metal in 1992.

        Anyway, we’re memorializing a significant performer. Who needs facts getting in the way. And Fall 1991 is a good symbol as it was when the USSR was really and immanently on the way out.

      2. Sure, if you consider Gen-Xers to be youngsters.

        The guys in Pantera were/are the same age as the guys in most of mid-late 80s hair metal bands.

        1. “The guys in Pantera were/are the same age as the guys in most of mid-late 80s hair metal bands.”

          This co-existance used to crack me up to no end back in those days. Go into your average Guitar Center and you’d have a bunch of hair-rockin losers pretending to be ‘metal’, yet simultaneously you have Pantera, Slayer, Metallica, etc, etc.

          I know, hair guys were just trying to get laid, seeing as I said below, no woman has ever honestly enjoyed Pantera, Slayer, etc etc.

  7. Saw them in 96 when White Zombie opened. Good show. Red Rocks. Can’t be beat.

  8. I don’t care what anyone says about the vocal style, Cowboys From Hell is the best Pantera album.

    And Pantera is 1 million times better than Metallica. Yet those assholes are still alive.

    1. Cowboys from Hell is kind of the “kill em all”, good but not their most creative stuff. Vulgar Display though, I wore out that cassette!

      And no, as much as I love Pantera, it is just straight up foolish to say that they’re better than Metallica, well at least through Justice. Black album on has been complete dogshit though!

      At least Pantera never started singing and adding live orchestras…

  9. Cowbos from Hell is their best album yet. I love it.

    gmail

  10. Fact: no woman has ever actually enjoyed Pantera.

    Young men otoh, best shit ever.

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