My first experience with Ronnie James Dio was when my mom took me to see Heavy Metal. "Mob Rules" plays while an evil horde kills the pneumatic heroine's people. After acquiring a magic sword, she dons a chainmail bikini and, sitting astride a flying dragon, exacts her revenge. Justify that with some philosophy, and you pretty much have my taste in cinema today. I got a walkman for the following Christmas with what was my first album, Prince's 1999. But the first cassette I bought myself was the Heavy Metal soundtrack. Like many budding metalheads of the time, the soundtrack proved a huge disappointment, as there wasn't anything else on it like the Sabbath song. That didn't matter much, though, since it was strong enough to determine my musical preferences for the next 5 or so years. This was back in the good ol' days when genres meant something, were ideologically pure. Punks hated metalheads, and vice versa, but neither was hated as much as the accursed New Wave kids. I was never very good at being a purist: I hated solos even back then and spent a lot of time privately listening to oldies on the radio. However, I wouldn't publicly break rank -- like Maoism, metal gave me a sense of belonging to a greater good. Hell if I'd ever show weakness in front of my enemies.
I was a committed comrade the first time I saw Dio play on November 17, 1985, at Dallas' Reunion Arena during his Sacred Heart tour. Rough Cutt opened, but I don't remember anything about them. In fact, I don't remember much about this show except my buddy Mitch and I had balcony seats and were determined to get to the floor, where we wouldn't be able to see anything. Watching from the rafters just never had the same appeal as being part of the big, sweaty, headbanging collective by the stage. So, as Dio began "Rainbow in the Dark" for the encore, we dropped about 12 feet and made a dash to the front where we banged out the rest of the show. Hardly the October Revolution, but what do you expect from the Reagan-era suburban youth? At least I wasn't listening to Minor Threat.
The next time I saw Dio was on his Dream Evil tour. This was February 2nd, 1988, and once again at Reunion Arena. By then, thrash had made his style seem passé. The generic divisions were no longer so clear or socially meaningful. It was around then, when walking downtown, a skinhead approached me to tell me how much he liked my Motörhead t-shirt -- truly the beginning of the end. And, truthfully, I only went to the show to see Megadeth, but did get to witness Dio using a broadsword almost as tall as he to slay a dragon shooting lasers from its eyes (Dallas laws prohibited pyrotechnics). Shortly thereafter, I discovered The Velvet Underground and Zappa, effectively ending my metal days.
I'm hardly Dio's biggest fan, having only ever liked maybe 5 or 6 songs, but he was there at the beginning, and for that deserves my gratitude. R.I.P.