It wasn’t just his mighty pipes that made him Ronnie James Dio — it was his moral fervor. With Black Sabbath classics like “Heaven and Hell,” or Eighties solo classics like “Holy Diver” and “The Last in Line,” what always stood out was Dio’s raging compassion for the lost rock & roll children in his audience, his fiercely anti-clerical religiosity, his hatred for the kings and queens who blind our eyes and steal our dreams. Dio barely ever sang about women unless he was empathizing with them, as in “Invisible,” where he also empathized with gay teenagers, which was (to say the least) a bold move from a straight rock star in 1983.
Dio was already a metal legend when he replaced Ozzy in Black Sabbath in 1980, but it was his own Eighties albums that meant the most to me. Like Morrissey, who entered my world around the same time Dio invaded MTV with “Rainbow in the Dark,” he trafficked in over-the-top romantic imagery that made him incomprehensible to outsiders (i.e. adults), but he used all his swords-and-demons imagery as a metaphor for teen angst. So he made us feel like we were holy divers who’d been holding our breath too long, but someday we’d come up for air; we were Israelites who would one day shake off the Pharaoh’s chains; we were rainbows in the dark, waiting for some sign of the morning; we were the last in line, not knowing if we were evil or divine. Dio never pretended to be one of the kids — he sang as an adult assuring us that we weren’t alone in our suffering, and some day we might even be proud of conquering it. Morrissey sang, “There is a light that never goes out”; Dio sang, “Some light can never be seen.” But they were coming from the same dark place, really.
Unlike Morrissey, Dio was famous for not being a dick. His gracious, gentlemanly manner was part of the mystique. My favorite Dio story, told to me by a not-so-famous metal singer who shall remain nameless: it’s backstage at a European rock festival where Dio is headlining.
Not-so-famous guy, who’s on the bottom of the bill, says, “Mr. Dio, I’m a big fan of yours.” Dio solemnly replies, “And I yours.” The guy was blown away Dio knew his name — but what I love is that mega-formal locution “And I yours,” which made it a very Dio thing to say. Sail on, RJD.
As a tribute, here’s a list of the Top Ten Dio Proverbs:
1. “Love can be seen as the answer, but nobody bleeds for the dancer.” (“Heaven and Hell”)
2. “When there’s lightning, it always brings me down, because it’s free and I see that it’s me who’s lost and never found.” (“Rainbow in the Dark”)
3. “We’re all born upon the cross.” (“The Last In Line”)
4. “We’re all 18 and we’re in between. We need a helping hand through the promised land.” (“Invisible”)
5. “Between the velvet lies, there’s a truth that’s hard as steel. The vision never dies. Life’s a never-ending wheel.” (“Holy Diver”)
6. “Don’t go to heaven, because it’s really only hell.” (“Don’t Talk to Strangers”)
7. “It’s always worse at night, when darkness kills the light.” (“Breathless”)
8. “I hate the light. I speed at night.” (“I Speed at Night”)
9. “Come and sail upon my golden sea. Maybe one day you’ll be just like me… and that’s *freeeee*!” (“Egypt/The Chains Are On”)
10. “We’ll know for the first time, whether we’re evil or divine. We’re the last in line. See how we shine.” (“The Last In Line”)