In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re asking our writers to talk about a song that always reminds them of their own arrested development.
To be a teenager in Arlington, Texas, in the early ’90s, you had no choice but to respect Pantera. Right as I was starting high school, Pantera released 1992’s Vulgar Display Of Power—a heavier, groovier form of thrash that made Pantera, in the many circles that loved to argue about this stuff, the realest metal band going. It also made the group my town’s biggest claim to fame, next to maybe having a baseball team that repeatedly failed to live up to Nolan Ryan. Even my nice, schoolteacher aunt (really more of an Anne Murray/Linda Ronstadt gal) was up on her Pantera, having taught drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott and his guitarist brother, the late Dimebag Darrell, in her home economics class at our high school. And like so many of us in its halls, she took tangential pride in knowing that the two scamps she’d always had to separate for talking had gone on to be big rock stars. It seemed everyone felt some connection to Pantera—and if you didn’t, you were suspect.
This was doubly true if you were one of the many other rock-star wannabes banging on in your garage or living room, like me and my friends. I spent most of my high school days hanging with the members of Embodyment, a Christian “life metal” group who preached piety over evil-sounding sludge riffs, and whose worship of Pantera was second only to Jesus. Their religion certainly didn’t preclude them from telling me I was a “pussy” for listening to The Cure, R.E.M., or hell, even the Beastie Boys and Mudhoney instead of Pantera. So I got with it quick: I dubbed Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display Of Power on either side of a Memorex and I listened every day. I studied. Pretty soon, I was drumming in one of many go-nowhere bands that tried to cover “This Love,” while I tried to cover up my technical inabilities by lamenting my lack of a double-bass pedal. (“I’m definitely gonna get one,” I’d say after yet another aborted attempt. “Can we just play ‘Love Buzz’?”)
I never got that double-bass pedal. My intense Pantera phase barely lasted three semesters, leading me down the rabbit hole through ever more dubious “metal” bands (I owned two Biohazard albums!) to Black Flag-inspired punk, then out the other side to Sonic Youth and so on. I still respect Pantera, but I rarely listen to it anymore; it’s far too angry and aggressive for me to connect with the way I did back then, when I needed it most. More than any other band, Pantera will just never sound the way it did to me when I was 15.
For instance, take “Walk,” one of my most-rewound tracks. It’s supposedly a song Phil Anselmo wrote about being pissed off at his so-called pals for thinking he’d become a stuck-up rock star. But to a perpetually, hormonally enraged teenager, it’s just a song about how everyone sucks. “Be yourself, by yourself / Stay away from me”: Is there a more universal expression of adolescent alienation, equally applied to the jocks hassling you in the hallways, and to the supposed “friends” who maybe said something about you to someone? (“No way, punk!”) “Is there no standard anymore?” is the cry of aggrieved, disaffected youth just discovering the myriad ways in which the world is unfair—like the government, or your dumb parents making you mow the dumb lawn. And it’s all powered by a guttural, lacerating guitar grind that makes you feel like a big, tough man when it’s in your headphones—the kind of man who can get away with saying, “Walk on, homeboy!” with a straight face—even if you’re just a powerless kid who’s vaguely mad about getting your own “respect.” To me it will forever be the sound of my hometown, and my strained teenage yearning to bust out of it, just like Pantera did.