Sometimes, you don't know what you are missing until it is gone. Or, rather, some things exist in the background of life, and you just take them for granted, never really thinking about them. And then suddenly they are gone, and you realize that you should have paid more attention.
I say this because on Thursday 2 May 2013, Jeff Hanneman died, and a little bit of my mis-spent teenage years died with him.
"Who was Jeff Hanneman?" you might ask. The founder, rhythm guitarist, and principal songwriter in the purest and angriest of the metal bands from the late 1980s: Slayer.
How did he die? Liver failure, which is pretty much how one would expect a metal guy to die, especially one who played a custom guitar with the Heineken logo on it to show his enthusiasm for that brand of beer.
But it's not what you think.
Apparently a few years back while chilling in a hot tub, he got bit by a spider, one of those ones that injects the stuff that starts breaking down your flesh. Necrotizing Fasciitis is not only an excellent name for a metal band, but also the name of the disease that struck Hanneman. It ate away at his flesh, and it took years and intensive medical therapy for him to live through it.
It could have been worse -- a few years back a woman here in Atlanta caught that, and had both legs and an arm amputated before the doctors stopped it. It must have taken some powerful (and no doubt expensive) drugs to cure Hanneman.
But really powerful drugs are bad for the liver. And his liver was probably not in the best of shape to begin with. So, it failed. And he is gone. Which seems weird to me.
I was never a huge Slayer fan, but i grew up in the 1980s in suburban America, and as a white male adolescent i was required (by Federal Law at the time -- thanks, Reagan!) to listen to angry music made by white guys with guitars. I started with metal like early Motley Crüe, Ozzy, and (I am ashamed to admit) Twisted Sister, etc., then migrated towards Black Flag, Minor Threat, and The Misfits.
But Slayer -- Slayer were everywhere. Reign In Blood came out in 1986 and it seemed like half the people i knew had a copy of that record. It was in the background for lots of pointless teenage hanging out in suburban Atlanta for a few years.
And i respected what Slayer were doing. They were like a hardcore band and a metal band at the same time. Loud, fast. Brutal. The vocals often growled, the guitars flying by so fast. The rhythm section a painful pounding. In a way they were very similar to Suicidal Tendencies or Agent Orange, who were popular in my suburb at the time.
I got away from metal for many years, but lately in my old age i have been getting back into the really loud, angry things. A lot of the good metal coming out these days -- from Mastodon to Yakuza to The Sun The Moon The Stars -- owe a debt to Slayer and take some influence from them.
People, including celebrities, die all the time. Heck, often at Team Trivia when we are trying to think of a funny team name, someone will ask "Who died this week?" that we could mock in a humorous fashion.
Sometimes it is soemone i was unfamilair with who passed.
Sometimes someone whose work i enjoyed, and it makes me a little sad.
And sometimes is it someone i respected, and those deaths are often hard to take. Joe Strummer's death prompted me to listen to The Clash over and over for a week. Hanneman's death has done the same thing to me, and i am sure that my neighbors are wondering why the heck i am blaring angry metal all the time, not to mention the guy in the cube next to me at the office, who is wondering why i seem to be headbanging at work these days.
I cannot explain it, but it is really strange to think that he is dead. Slayer were, well, they were just in the background. And now part of them are gone.
Oh, and he was only 49, which is not that much older than me. Maybe that has something to do with it.
Jeph Jacques, of the excellent online comic Questionable Content, has a similar take on this: http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=2439
So the metal world mourns. I wonder if sales of Heineken spiked as fans mourned with his favorite beer?
I am not the only one to be thus affected. Here is a really good obituary from, of all places, NPR:
A great quote from that article: "Like an Ingmar Bergman film, metal often works in darkness, rooting for something, anything that makes sense of this ugly human existence. Hanneman understood that and channeled it into a band that exemplifies pain."