Three Men and a Birthday


Three Men and a Birthday

Illustration: Sushant Ahire


If you’ve ever found yourself playing air-guitar along with a sweet solo on your headphones, or woken up with a crick in your neck from headbanging too much at last night’s gig, or ever called yourself a lover of rock and roll, August 20th should be like Christmas for you. This is the day three of the genre’s most recognisable faces were born across three distinct decades.

There is rarely an opportunity for Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, and Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit to be grouped together in any context, except perhaps that all three were juggernauts in their time, scaling the peaks of popularity reserved for those favoured by ANR executives, album sales, and success on the charts.

In a time before Spotify and Soundcloud, we got our music the old-fashioned way. We discovered artists through their videos and songs on TV and radio. Unlike today’s world of niche favourites and internet darlings, this primitive, pre-internet landscape was a realm of giants. Backed by big labels, some artists towered like titans above the rest, and the boys born on August 20th walked real tall.

Robert Plant was the archetypal leading man of the quintessential rock and roll band. Led Zeppelin ruled the 70s, laying the groundwork for genres like heavy metal with their blues-inspired brand of riffs. He also left behind a blueprint for the sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle that musicians have aspired to ever since. Pantera, in their prime, were worthy inheritors of that legacy. The Texan groove metal band played a smash mouth style, and walked the talk, touring for months while working on albums on the road. In the years following Metallica’s infamous “selling out”, metal needed an act to be the genre’s torchbearer in the mainstream. Headlining festivals across the globe, Pantera was ready to fill that void. Dimebag was considered one of the finest guitarists of his generation, and looked set to raise the bar further before his tragic assassination on stage. On August 20th, pour yourself a Black Tooth Grin and raise a toast in his name.

Finally, because every group needs its comic relief, we have to include Fred Durst in our list of birthday boys. He didn’t leave a lot of fond memories, but insists on occasionally tumbling out like a particularly animated skeleton in the closet. Once upon a time, he spearheaded the nu-metal movement, an abomination that swept the globe faster than swine flu at the turn of the millennium. Alongside contemporaries like Linkin Park (RIP Chester) and KoRn, Limp Bizkit was one of the biggest bands in the world.

Today, faced with a revolving cast of electronic and indie artists on my newsfeeds, I don’t find myself listening to my older favourites much anymore.

Growing up listening to my dad’s classic rock cassettes, encountering these three was unavoidable. Zeppelin came first, obviously. The aura around the band, with their classic rock star attire, the retro-psychedelic music videos, and the surreal air their music had, made me a lifetime fan. Then, during the mandatory pre-pubescent rebellious phase I discovered Limp Bizkit, leaders of a pack of nu-metal abominations that are best left forgotten in the early 2000s. And in 2004, when a shotgun blast ended the life of Dimebag Darrell, one the most talented guitarists to grace a stage, I discovered Pantera.

Things have changed since then. Today, faced with a revolving cast of electronic and indie artists on my newsfeeds, I don’t find myself listening to my older favourites much anymore. But on August 20th, I like to check in on them for an update because watching celebrities age poorly is one of the few things that gives me comfort at my own advancing age.

Robert Plant, whose next solo album is due this October is still putting out original music at the age of 69, even if there is a marked difference between the golden-haired, waif-like rock god of yore and the sexagenarian on stage today. Fred Durst’s star has faded, and he creepily tried to grab some shine by claiming he dated Britney Spears (a claim she denies) and then settled for a simple sex tape leak. The last time he tried to release anything under the Limp Bizkit name it was the laughable Gold Cobra, a 2011 album that still thought the world was stuck in 1999. Fred, it is safe to say, lives on as an advertisement against alcohol abuse and a mascot for embarrassing teenage memories.

But the person who is best off in my annual August 20th evaluations is Dimebag Darrell. The man’s career was tragically cut short by an insane gunman in 2004, who fatally shot him while he was playing onstage. So when I revisit Pantera’s music, it has the benefit of the rosy filter of nostalgia. Dimebag’s life played out like the Neil Young lyrics, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” and instead of sliding towards irrelevance, he remains the badass metal legend he became in his prime.

Just like Led Zeppelin, Pantera, and Limp Bizkit left a huge footprint on the history of rock, the three men at the centre of each band’s success are a gift that just keeps on giving. Happy birthday, boys.