Chris Armold

February 21, 2007


Photo Credit: www.columbusdispatch.com

I was reading an interview that you did that I think was with Blabbermouth.com.

It wasnít really with Blabbermouth.com. It ended up on Blabbermouth.com.

You were talking about how you wrote a book about Dimebag.

Itís not a book about Dimebag.

Well, about his murder.

Well, thatís in there. Yes.

I thought it was an interesting interview. I realized that Iím not the only person that sees this whole situation from a different perspective.

Well, thatís where Iím coming from. Everybody has all this doom and gloom and this evil and blah, blah, blah. Thatís certainly one way to look at it because we lost some really good people. But on the other hand, holy cow. What a wonderful example of people stepping up to help each other and brothers helping brothers that they never met. Jeff Thompson, Erin Halk, and Nathan Bray, those were the three non-celebrity guys who were murdered that night. They could have certainly made some different choices that would have kept them alive but instead they wanted to try to help people. They wanted to do something and that merits our respect and our admiration and it certainly merits telling your story I think. Thatís what I did. Dimebag is certainly a part of the book but heís more of the impetus for everything coming together. The book is not a bio on Dime. Youíre not going to find out where he went to school or what his favorite color was or anything like that. You will find out a lot about the three people who were murdered. Youíll find out about the background of the killer. Youíll read about the events that led up to the murders at the Alrosa and other little twists and turns that maybe or maybe did not contribute to it.

Something that leapt out at me when I read about Nathan Gale and I guess I can understand that non-military people wouldnít notice that was the fact that he was an ex-Marine. The length of time of his service and the time period that he was in the Marine Corps really struck me as odd. For one thing he didnít finish his entire service time.

Thatís correct.

He didnít make it out of basic training and this was when we knew the war was on.

He did indeed make it out of basic training. How long do you think he was in for?

About a year and something.

It was almost two years.

It struck me as odd because this was when we knew that Bush was going to attack Iraq. Why would you unceremoniously dump someone out of the Marine Corps at a time like that?

Well, the Marines get the credit for being the first entity to actually identify what his mental problems were. The Marines were not about to take a guyÖ

Whose psychosis they couldnít control.

Itís controllable but youíve seen people get disqualified in the Air Force for all kinds of wacky stuff. People who just couldnít for one reason or another, either they were smoking weed or they get caught for drunk driving. His situation was a little more critical than that. A little more difficult to identify but the one thing you know about being in the military is that the military, although we train people to blow things up and break things and kill people, they donít want a bunch of mindless sociopaths running around with guns. They want competent people who can think and react and apply the rules of warfare and comply with the code of conduct and the Geneva Convention. Somebody who has got a mental illness, you canít just hand them an M-16 and drop them off in the middle of the desert and say guard this. You know what I mean.

Yeah, unfortunately I think a lot of things have broken down in this particular war. The thing is a lot of people donít realize that the guy got a Section 8 from the Marine Corps. The thing that gets me is that people have a really weird attitude towards mentally ill people. I think people actually think you bring mental illness on yourself. That you wake up one morning and decide ďhey, Iím going to be psychotic.Ē

Yeah, I know. One of the things I do in the book, this is the first time Iíve ever dabbled in a true crime genre. Iíve written a couple of books before. Whenever Iíd read a true crime book, a book about some serial killer or whatnot or the Lacy Peterson case or whatever the heck it would be, I was always kind of annoyed that the focus was always on the bad guy and always on the crime. One very rarely gets a chance to analyze what led somebody to the predicament and also very rarely do you find out anything about the victims involved. I really wanted to do that. The other thing is, going back to your question about mental illness and mental health, one of the things Iíve done in the book is when I interviewed Nathan Galeís mother, and I have a lot of time with Nathan Galeís mom, sheís been very, very helpful. Up to the point where the last time I needed to go see Mary I called her up and she said ďhey, Iím probably not going to be at the house when you get there. Coffee pot is on, just go on in and grab a cup of coffee and hang out.Ē We have a good relationship and she understands what Iím doing and she trusts me. She also knows Iím not giving her son any quarter. Thereís no excuses. Thereís no rationalization. Thereís nothing in the book thatís going to make you go ďoh, poor Nathan Gale. What a shame.Ē The reason for that is, to their credit, before the Marines let Nathan Gale go and he did get an honorable discharge, they sat him down and they explained exactly what his condition was and they told him exactly what he needed to do to keep it under control. At some point in time he made a decision to not do that. That consequently makes him culpable for his actions. Itís not like youíre going to forget you need to take your antipsychotic drugs. Again, addressing your issue, what Iíve done while there are no excuses made I do try to explain a little bit about what paranoid schizophrenia is. Very briefly and itís not a long dissertation or anything. Itís very straightforward and to the point but Iíve got a Bachelorís in criminal justice and a couple of Masters degrees. Iím a reasonably smart guy but I discovered very quickly how little I knew about that particular mental disorder so I had to do some homework. Consequently what I do is thereís a portion in the book where I actually explain what it is and then I provide resources to people who are interested in learning more about it. My hope for the book and the main reason that Nathan Galeís mother participated is, one of her greatest regrets is that she wasnít savvy enough, educated enough, informed enough, or whatever term you want to use to recognize that what was moving her son or propelling him in his direction was not drug use or just misbehavior, it was true mental illness. Itís a very delicate balancing act. Iíve never been one of those ďoh, poor Nathan. He had a tough childhood so I can see why heíd go kill a bunch of people.Ē I donít believe in that. Consequently when you look at the book in the chapters that relate to Nathan Gale, you will not see photographs of him. You will not see any pictures of Nathan blowing out candles on a birthday cake or playing fucking little league baseball or any of that stuff. Itís not to say that he did all those things but the idea behind the book is Iím not here to glorify somebody who snapped and killed a bunch of people. I want you to close that last page of the book and be in awe and be impressed and be moved by the courage of Erin Halk, Jeff Thompson, and Nathan Bray. I think thatís where the real story is. I think itís an absolutely compelling book. Itís very different. Itís not what anybody expects, Angela. I donít really know what people think itís going to be. All I can tell them is itís not what they think.

The reason Iím concerned is not because I personally glorify people who do weird shit. I rather wish they wouldnít do it. At the same time I know that people in this country have this attitude and they have the same attitude about suicide victims. I donít know what it is about people but if you die in a car wreck or someone murders you or you have a terminal illness then you have all this sympathy and outpouring. If you commit suicide people have this thing about condemning you. Itís strange.

To me it depends on what motivates the suicide. Iíve always got my own little personal rule that if I get to the point where my health is so bad that I canít wipe my own ass, itís time to go. Jumping through a hoop, if itís a permanent solution to a temporary problem I donít agree with that. The book is all about communication. The book is all about talking because I end the book with whatís the lesson here? What do you walk away with thatís good about four people being murdered by a mass killer who gets killed by the cops? Whereís the silver lining? The silver lining to me took a long time for it to really become apparent to me but it was in front of me the entire time. The silver lining is that youíre going to get to find out about three ordinary guys who did something very extraordinary. Youíre going to find out that they come from three different backgrounds but they share a lot of things. There are a lot of differences between them though but when the chips were down they made a conscious decision to do something that a lot of other people wouldnít do. Thatís not to denigrate any of the other people. Itís just to say these people had a little certain extra, a little certain something that propelled them to be a bit courageous or be a little more caring. At the same time the whole crowd or the vast majority of the people who were there did an extraordinary job as far working together and helping each other out. They cooperated a great deal with the police. They shared cell phones, smokes, and jackets and all that stuff out in the parking lot. When there is a couple hundred people hanging around to give statements to the police, thatís big time.

Something that struck me as weird was a lot of people wanted to hold that nightclub responsible and wanted to sue the nightclub. I thought that was a little strange because letís face it, has anybody ever been shot to death on stage in a nightclub before?

Not that Iím aware of. I looked at that real hard and I went into this project, Iím not a journalist so Iím not held to some standard of having to be objective but thatís what I tried to be. I tried to be very objective. I tried to put my biases and stuff aside as I looked into this. It became very apparent to me very quickly that this is a no win situation for the venue. Weíre not talking about a fire safety issue. Weíre not talking about a crowd control issue. Weíre talking about something thatís completely out of left field where you have a person with a gun who is on a mission to kill people. When you read the book I donít think itís going to take you very long to realize itís a real stretch to try to assign any blame to any entity beyond the killer. Thereís got to be intent, opportunity, and I donít see the upside for the Alrosa Villa. I donít see an upside for Damageplan of somebody coming in and killing a bunch of people. It just doesnít make any sense.

People were going ďoh my God, they should have checked for guns.Ē Iím thinking about all the nightclubs I go to in Dallas. Well, hell they never check people for guns. They still donít.

Do you ever go to Deep Ellum?

Yes.

Well, then youíve probably run into Jeff Thompson before.

I used to see Dime all the time. Whenever those guys were off the road they were at all the shows. When that situation happened, the next time I went out it was like you see your favorite quilt spread across your bed but somebody cut a patch out of it. I saw these guys all the time but the only person Iíve ever actually spoken to was Vinnie. You just get so used to seeing those people all the time that theyíre part of the atmosphere.

Yeah, I think youíll find a lot of answers to some of your queries in the book.

Iím glad that his mother played such an important role in this. If thereís one thing that Iíve noticed about a lot of people who go out and do some crazy shit, they never do anything for one reason. Thereís always a whole bunch of shit going on.

People ask me all the time what made me decide to do this book and my first answer was the mediaís spin on the motive was they think Gale was bummed out that Pantera broke up. Thatís utterly ridiculous. Nobody goes out and kills people because a band breaks up. That might be one tenth of one percent of it.

One factor.

Nobody sits at home and says ďGod damn it, Pantera broke up. Iím going to go out and kill people.Ē Iím sorry. Even if you look at John Lennonís murder by Chapman, it really didnít have anything to do with Yoko Ono or the breakup of The Beatles or any of that stuff. It was Catcher In The Rye stuff. It was psycho stuff.

It might have had a political connection as well. There was a lot of weird shit about that.

Well, Chapmanís a real left field kind of guy. Itís hard to say.

I would say easily influenced.

The one thing that struck me about Gale, in a lot of ways he was a very socially inept person but he was also very intelligent. He couldnít spell worth a shit. I donít know how his communication skills were but as far as cognitive ability, Iíve got his notebooks from when he was in the Marine Corps learning to be an auto mechanic and heís got algebraic equations that he did for figuring out how to load a vehicle to get the proper center of gravity and itís incredible stuff. Itís really complex calculations and some of the stuff he read, he absorbed a lot more and was probably more savvy than I think people would give him credit for. Very few people honestly knew this guy.

I know that a lot of people have the impression that if youíre mentally ill you have to be stupid. Some of the most mentally ill people are also some of the most intelligent people.

One to three percent of the population is paranoid schizophrenic and chronic depression probably runs up at 30, 40, or 50 percent of people.

I saw something on television where they said that at least 22,000,000 people are clinically depressed and they donít even know it.

They know it. They just donít want to admit it because as you say thereís some sort of stigma related to that.

I was interested in what inspired you to write the book and what your whole take on that was because it was definitely a hell of a lot different than what everybody else was saying. I was telling some friends of mine that people always think everything is so cut and dry and thereís a simplistic answer to why people do stuff. Itís not like that at all. It never is.

This is a very deep story. Itís pretty easy if youíre Joe Media guy to write 1,000 words saying how this mental degenerate Nathan Gale climbed up on stage at the Alrosa Villa and killed Dimebag Darrell and three other people because he was pissed off that Pantera broke up. Okay, is that true? No. Parts of it are but itís all about spin. Itís all about how itís presented and what Iím trying to do is, Iím just letting the facts and the interviews and my correspondence with witnesses and family members and people who were there and the evidence itself tell the story. For example there are no cheap shots at Nathan Gale. I donít go out of my way to call him a goony dopey-eyed googly-eyed fucker or anything like that. I just let his own words take care of that kind of stuff because thereís just no need to.

I think what you basically did was make this a human story.

Absolutely, yeah. Thatís what I wanted to do. I had a strategy for how I wanted to do this and it was like spokes on a wheel but every facet of the story was a spoke that started at the outside of the wheel and it all needed to converge at the center. The center is the Alrosa Villa. So thatís what I do. Every chapter leads you to December 8th and everythingís connected. Did you know that eight months prior to the murder of Dimebag, Damageplan was playing in Cincinnati?

Oh yeah, he approached the band in Cincinnati.

No, he didnít approach the band. He climbed up on stage and went after Dimebag. I have photos of him on stage. He got his ass kicked by security but nobody would press charges.

Wasnít there one point where he actually approached a couple of the guys in the band and talked to them?

There are a lot of urban myths and thatís one little thing that the book tries to cut through. For example thereís a guy who is claiming that he actually had a little conversation with Dimebag after he was shot. His final last words thing. Thatís all bullshit and bogus. Thereís a lot of that going on. Thereís an assertion that somebody tried to steal Dimebagís guitar after the shooting and thatís not true. Thereís a lot of bullshit.

I seriously doubt that Dimebag said anything after he was shot because I think he was unconscious and probably dead.

Dimebag was dead before he even hit the stage floor. For the most part the primary interviews were done face to face with the mother of the bad guy and then the wife of Nathan Bray. I drove to Arkansas to sit down with Jeff Thompsonís family. Went to Pennsylvania to sit down with Erin Halkís family. Iím dealing with the homicide detectives. The officer who killed Nathan Gale has written a forward for the book. Thereís a letter to all the readers from the Thompson family, from the Brays, from the Halks. Thereís a listing of all the witnesses, all the cops, all the firefighters, all the paramedics, all the people who worked at the Alrosa Villa. I think the book is 340 pages and 250 photos. Itís completely unlike anything in this genre that youíll ever see. My publisher is very, very vocal and adamant about saying that this is the most important book ever written about heavy metal. Thatís his spin, not mine.

Another thing people claimed was that these heavy metal people, look what they do to each other. Nobody has ever gotten on stage and shot somebody to death before in any genre of music.

When you hear about some serial killer or something like that, you donít ever hear them say that he listened to Garth Brooks. Or heís a big Celine Dion fan. You get the Columbine dudes and oh no, they listened to Marilyn Manson.

So that guyís responsible for all the evils of society.

If you really sit back and look at what happened at the Alrosa Villa and you look at how people behaved and how they reacted and how responsible so many people were, it takes 30 years worth of heavy metal stereotyping and throws it out the window. Just compare the murder of Dimebag to the murder of Tupac Shakur. Tupac Shakur gets smoked on The Strip in Vegas with his crew and guess what? Nobody sees anything.

Same thing happened with that Notorious B.I.G. person.

Same exact thing. Nobody sees anything and these murders are still unsolved. Here weíve got hundreds of rock and roll fans doing the right thing. Weíve got the cops doing a great job. Weíve got firefighters and paramedics busting their asses. Weíve got 911 dispatchers doing a wonderful job. People at the hospital going over and above. Itís an amazing story and what I really want to get across to people is that this is an incredibly tragic thing but there are certainly lessons to be learned from it and thereís certainly a lot to admire. I look at the Alrosa Villa not as a place of some horrible, tragic murder happening. I look at it more as a place where there are some people who did some kickass stuff here and there was a lot to admire that went on here. I look at it the same way, I even write in the book, can you imagine Dallas without the Texas Schoolbook Depository? Seriously, you look at that place. You go to Dealey Plaza, an incredibly tragic event down there but people go there and they reflect and theyíre moved and they study and they remember and they try to understand. Bulldoze that building or blow it up or something like that and we lose a lot of our history. We lose a lot of ability to go back and analyze things and try to understand and look at what happened. I see some similarities. Iím not trying to compare the death of Dimebag with the death of a President but people are people are people. I donít know that the murder of anybody is more important than the murder of anybody else in general.

Yeah, thatís a feeling I have too. I donít think anyone personís life is ever more important than somebody elseís.

Thatís the other answer to your question. The two things that drove me to write this was that I didnít buy the motive and the other thing is that the three non-celebrity guys who were murdered fell off the face of the earth so quickly because they were so overshadowed by Dimebag. Within a week their names werenít mentioned. You really never heard anything. It was all about Dimebag and if you ever watch that Pantera Behind The Music thing which has its high spots in it but in general itís very generic. It was slapped together.

I did watch that.

They show several photographs of the killer. They use his name but they donít mention Erin Halk, Nathan Bray, or Jeff Thompson one time. Not once.

This is another bad facet about our society in this country. Youíre always supposed to focus on celebrities. For example if you look at Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. He left her for some other broad. Oh my God, whatís this woman going to do? Well God damn, sheís got millions of dollars.

Well, look at this fucking Anna Nicole Smith shit. Youíd think the fucking President died or something.

Yeah, itís like what about women whose husbands leave them all the time for other broads and they donít have a God damn dime in their bank accounts. How are they going to survive? Oh my God, Iím supposed to worry about some fucking multi millionaire.

Thereís an element out there whose only reason for buying the book is to read the murder chapter. The book has this ďoh, youíre writing a Dimebag bookĒ or ďthe Dimebag murder bookĒ. It really isnít but I expected that would happen anyway but I think that if people take the time to read the chapters on Jeff Thompson and Erin Halk and Nathan Bray, especially when they know whatís going to happen, itís going to kick the shit out of them when theyíre reading about these guys getting murdered. Theyíre also going to be inspired by the fact that good is more powerful than evil and there are more good people than there are bad people. We can piss and moan and whine and cry about how tragic this is. I get beat up everyday by people who say Iím a scumbag whoís trying to make money off the murder of Dimebag or canít I just let the guy rest in peace. My answer to them is this is just a historical, factual event that occurred. I had the opportunity and the privilege of telling the story of these people. I have access to their families. I have access to actual people who were there that night who really know what happened. Why would I want to wait 10 or 20 years to try to write this and piece it together with secondhand information when I can do it now and do it right and do it factually.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people just donít want to own up to certain things.

To me itís really funny that some of these metalheads I hear from and Iím a metal fan. I love to rock. Metal has a real dark, menacing kind of vibe to it and it talks about death and blood and all sorts of stuff but at the same time these people are acting all squeamish that I might be a little too graphic in my descriptions. My answer to them is, itís absolutely graphic. Itís very detailed. The fact of the matter is Iím talking about a real deal no shit murder. Weíre talking about somebody being killed. Itís not pretty. Itís not funny. Thereís nothing to be inspired by in that. Youíve got to deal with that but on the other hand if I dumb it down, if I try to sanitize it or make it cleaner, than all I do is I detract from the courage and the honor of those three guys who got killed.

Not only that but if you sanitize shit too much then people view it as something commonplace. Sometimes people need to be slapped in the face with graphics.

Thatís what this thing does. There are some parts of this book that are going to crush people and itís a very human story. It revolves around a lot of people and the Nathan Bray story is from the perspective of his wife. Jeff Thompson is from his father and a woman that he was just absolutely smitten with. Erin Halk is from his mother and his sister. Obviously the bad guy is from a lot of different sources. A lot from his mom but a lot from the courts and probation officers and judges and the military stuff. There are so many different areas I worked in this thing but itís not what people anticipate. People have a certain ideation about what a true crime book really contains and this doesnít subscribe to the methodology that most people use. I decided Iím not going to go for the sensationalism. Iím not going to spice it up. Iím not going to use a lot of little writing tricks and gadgets. Iím just going to tell the story and let it flow. Now obviously for continuity I had to make it an interesting story. I had to keep it in context and keep it flowing but as far as putting bullshit into it, no way. Absolutely not. It is what it is. Itís as honest and accurate as I think I can possibly do within the timeframe that I worked on it. Iím very, very pleased and proud of the way itís come out and Iím very, very fortunate that Iíve been working with a lot of wonderful people who understand and get what Iím trying to do. I honestly believe that anybody who reads this book and you donít have to be Joe Metalhead to read it, anybody who is into human stories or wants to read it or be inspired will find a message within its pages.

I hope in a lot of ways that it will also inspire people to pay more attention to their children.

Iíll read you the last paragraph in the book. I think youíll dig it. I end the book with ďAs this book comes to an end, itís our responsibility to remember the courage, the heroism, the great riffs, and the great times. Itís also time to look at the big picture. The lessons taught by the events of December 8, 2004 are clear and simple. Life is fragile and can end in the blink of an eye. Consequently, never hesitate to let those you love know your feelings. And like Frank Thompson, never close the door. As with Carrie Bray, love your children and make them your priority. Finally, live your life with passion and endeavor to do something good for somebody each day.Ē Thatís how it ends. Itís real deep. If you had told me five years ago that I would have written a book as deep and potentially as important as this one is, Iím stealing my publisherís words, I would have laughed in your face. Itís a horrifyingly tragic story but from a human perspective itís awesome.

I am totally glad that you did that. That you wrote that book and you wrote it from a completely different perspective.

I appreciate that. That was what I wanted to do. If it was just going to be some neato torpedo just blood gore kind of thing or this pointing fingers at people crap, I wasnít going to bother.

Thank goodness for that because thereís too much of that crap already out there.

Iím not trying to be the Hemingway of heavy metal or anything like that. Iím not but if it happens thatís cool because within the heavy metal community we donít have too many credible voices out there. Itís more about who can be the most outrageous and get the most attention and thatís how marketing works. The reality is that most people who are heavy metal fans, youíre a heavy metal fan when you go to a show. Youíre a fan all the time but you wear your shirt and tie and you cover up your tattoos when youíre at the office. You take good care of your kids, you pay your bills, you go to church, and you do all those things. When you go out to rock itís time to rock. When you go out to rock youíre hanging out with people you donít know but youíre talking about the last time you saw this band or what a kickass guitar riff it is. Itís all about having a good time.

I have never been to a metal show where somebody didnít turn around and engage me in a conversation and after five minutes you almost feel like youíve known that person all your life.

A rock concert is an event. Itís not just something you do everyday. Iíve been to literally hundreds of concerts and I do concert photography so Iím in front of the barrier. Iím standing three feet away from Alice Cooper or Iím backstage talking to B.B. King or whatever. Itís always an event and itís always thrilling and itís always fun to be around all my rock and roll friends and people Iíve never met before. Nobody ever gives anybody any hassle and then the next morning we get up and we go back to our regular lives. We live vicariously through the aggressive music. Weíre not guided by it. Weíre not led by it. It doesnít make people go out and kill. It doesnít make people go out and destroy things. It doesnít cause people to be irresponsible. Those traits are developed independent of whatever music you listen to.

You have to have a deep rooted desire to do that kind of shit.

Absolutely.

Any other thoughts or comments?

The publisher has been absolutely awesome in this. A couple of things that I think are just super, super important that I want to get out to people. First and foremost, the book is not a biography of Dimebag Darrell Abbott. Thatís not my story to write. I did not interview the Abbott family. They declined and Iím not about to try to fake some biography on a guy without working directly with the sources. I wouldnít have done it with Bray or Halk or Thompson if I hadnít had the help from somebody in their family or next of kin. I didnít care who it was. It doesnít really matter whether itís a brother or a mother or a sister or a wife. To just try to do it off research and shit online and try to make a fake bio, Iím not going to do it. The other thing too is when it came to pricing the book, the publisher and I are in complete agreement. We want to make it affordable. We wanted it to be a book that people will read so initially it was $27.95 hardback and in the end we decided $15.95 perfect bound doesnít detract from the quality or the appearance but it sure as shit makes it a lot less expensive for people. Weíre hoping folks will dig it and read it and Iím always available. People can reach me by emailing me at chrisa@core.com and I donít care if youíre a rock and roll writer or if you work at a factory. Email me and Iíll answer you. I answer everybody. Itís a privilege to be able to have people to be interested and I am very grateful for your time. I wish you all the best in your journalistic endeavors.

A vulgar Display Of Power