The afternoon light leaked through the open doors of the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday. But inside the venue, everything was lighted red enough to resemble a reign in blood.
The thousands-deep line outside for Thursday’s memorial for founding Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman (who died earlier this month at age 49) proved that the service was more than just appropriate -- for metal fans, it was necessary. Few bands command the kind of loyalty that the Southland metal pioneers have enjoyed for three decades. Drawing your first Slayer logo in a school notebook is practically a rite of passage, and learning Hanneman’s jackhammer guitar riffs is a sacrament of angry teenagedom.
The Hanneman and Slayer families are surely going through their own private grief. But for a few hours Thursday, the tribe of metal fans came together for a final rowdy goodbye.
As the lines of black-clad masses wound up Argyle Avenue, inside the venue, the service was the opposite of somber, yet wholly apropos. A pile of Marshall stack amplifiers filled the stage with an array of Hanneman’s guitars lined up in a 21-gun salute. Almost every bar in the place was open and serving briskly by 4 p.m. If there was a day when a Slayer fan needed a drink, it was this one.
Between the deaths of Hanneman, Deftones bassist Chi Cheng and Suicide Silence vocalist Mitch Lucker, it's been a particularly bleak year for metal. Upstairs at the Palladium, Suicide Silence’s guitarist Mark Heylmun tried to wring some meaning out of it all.
“We were literally on our way to the Golden Gods Awards to present an award in memory of Mitch, when we got the news about Jeff,” he said, with a bit of deadpan disbelief. “I had a total ‘Detroit Rock City’ story about first going to see Slayer, and they took us on an arena tour when we were just a little club band. I guess it all just reminds me that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life. But I think about it every day.”
The memorial was more of a metal head’s Irish wake. Reps from the band’s management, label, favorite gear companies and peers paid tribute in stories. Slayer lead guitarist Kerry King recounted a rare time when King’s liquor overtook him and he accidentally vomited on Hanneman in the back of a car (Hanneman’s alleged reaction? “That was awesome!”).
King's fondest gesture was to tell how Hanneman (who had taken time off from touring to recover from a vicious spider bite infection) was about to play a few songs at a Big 4 festival show (with Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth). Instead of hiding his wounds with his long-sleeve shirt, Hanneman tore the sleeve off it to show the crowd what he was going through. At that, the Palladium crowd howled with admiration.
Dino Paredes of the band’s label, American Recordings, looked overwhelmed by the event, choking up as he recalled decades of working with a band whose sound and scene was so singular and uncompromising. “Jeff always did whatever Jeff wanted to do. It could be frustrating, but he always stood by what he believed in. Go back and listen to ‘World Painted Blood,’ there was so much of Jeff’s heart and soul in that,” he said.
Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo and System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian each attested to Hanneman's instrumental prowess, and his quiet sense of humor that made close and lifelong friends. “Without Jeff Hanneman, there would be no System of a Down,” Odadjian said.
The only truly quiet moment came when a letten sent by Hanneman’s wife, Kathryn, was read to the crowd. It was both a love letter to her husband, and a lifelong thank-you card to the Slayer devoted, who made Hanneman’s life what it was. “May you continue to reign in heaven,” she wrote.
Right after the reading, the service returned to classic Slayer form. No less than five limb-flailing circle pits broke out among the crowd during a slide show montage set to Slayer classics. “You guys are . . . crazy,” said the officiant, Nick Bowcott of Marshall. But the time for funeral decorum was later. This was a Slayer celebration, in the way that every day with a formative, life-changing band can be. Bowcott surveyed his crowd and smiled. “And he absolutely would have wanted it this way.”