Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ronnie James Dio

Okay, I'm a bit late to the party here. The man passed away three days ago. I get that.

But I felt like I should write something in tribute. I've been a gamer almost as long as I can remember: I began playing AD&D at the tender age of five back in 1979, sitting in the basement with my uncle who was in high school at the time, and his friends. My parents were in a Thursday (I think) bowling league at the time, and would drop us at my grandma's while they were out. My sister would sit upstairs with my aunts and I would make my way downstairs into the dungeon where my uncle and the "cool kids" I idolized hung out.

The DM, Alan, would spend about an hour every session creating a dungeon (mostly using the random generator tables in the DMG) while the rest of them did character stuff or just chatted back and forth. Indeed, one of the most clear memories I have of that is my grandma calling downstairs, "Johnny, don't you be teaching him anything bad down there!"

To which my uncle exclaimed, "Here, Jase, smoke this!"

It was a few years before I understood that, but when I did the delayed humor of it was well worth it.

"But how," you ask, "does this relate to Ronnie James Dio?"

Right you are to ask. You see, my uncle and his friends, like many gamers back then, were also metalheads. Every week, as I recall, the sounds of Metallica, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, and Dio punctuated the hours we spent down there playing. It was because of those guys that I got into metal and gaming. Indeed, it's such a small world that back in 2000 when I came to work at the University of Pittsburgh, it turned out that Alan ran the copy center in my building. I hadn't seen him in many, many years and it took us a few interactions to recognize one another, but yeah. Small world. And he hadn't changed much, either.

But again I digress. More recently with the advent of D&D 4th edition, I found myself drawn (driven, really, by that abortion of a game) back to my formative years. I started up a first edition AD&D game with my Friday group and have since then begun an OD&D game (chronicled here) with my Sunday group. The AD&D game came about as a result of Gary Gygax's passing a couple years ago. We decided to play AD&D as a tribute, and when I announced my intent to run it, one of my group asked, "Will we be playing Dio in the background?"

Unless I'm quite mistaken, we did.

Dio, for some reason, more than any other metal artist, is linked to D&D in my mind. Whenever I pick up those old books and flip through, I can hear "Rainbow in the Dark," "Holy Diver," "Wild One," and "Sacred Heart" in the back of my head. In fact, it seems morbidly appropriate that he's passed when he did. This year alone we've lost John Eric Holmes and Frank Frazetta. In the past few years, we lost Tom Moldvay, Dave Arneson, and Gary Gygax. All the luminaries of the early years of gaming seem to be moving on their way to the great gaming group in the sky. Somehow, as sad as it is, it seems right that Dio should join them.

Say what you will about metal music--Dio is inexorably linked with the D&D of the late 70's and early 80's. It may not be true for you personally, but for the culture it is--they even pointed out on VH-1's I Love the 80's that gamers always wore concert T-shirts, had long hair, and listened to Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, and Rush. Many of us happily lived right the heck into that stereotype at the time.

And some of us wish, on occasion, that we could revisit those days.

Rest in Peace, Ronnie James. Hopefully you're jamming with Hendrix, Randy Rhodes, John Bonham, and Cliff Burton up there,and making music for Gary and Dave (who I hope have reconciled in Heaven), and Moldvay and Holmes to game to, while Frazetta paints the covers to the albums and new gaming books. What a wonderful, motley band of brothers that must be.

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