When it comes to creativity and vision, the best of us don’t compromise. It’s easy to shift and jump on a trend to make a buck, or follow blindly when someone promises a path to success. It’s a path many of us would take. Those destined to make a mark never compromise on their vision, their integrity or their standards. They do what they want and don’t expect anything for their work, or even expect people to understand. In the words of mythologist Joseph Campbell, they follow their bliss. It’s strange to say of a guitarist who penned songs that offered a bird’s eye view of the abyss, but Jeff Hanneman was following his bliss until he left us yesterday at the untimely age of 49.
Jeff Hanneman was lucky. Many innovators need to wait until late in life or after they are long gone to be praised: examine the history of music, writing and art for examples. Hanneman was able to not only make a career, but change the lives of millions because he didn’t take the easy road. In a time of hairspray and fishnet stockings, Slayer created something far darker than any of their contemporaries. Hanneman was a key reason Slayer rose to prominence; his twin guitar assault with Kerry King is a defining trait of thrash and a musical marvel that still moves listeners. Most musicians would be content to write one song as good as “Angel of Death.” Hanneman wrote or co-wrote a book’s worth, with a few more likely rattling around in his brain.
Hanneman was a singular entity on stage: feral, driven, seemingly angry. There were never any niceties when he played: it was plug in, power through and move on — and possibly leave a venue without a few rows of seats. Considering how inimitable his sound was — you know a Hanneman lick as soon as you hear it –- I imagine he would be intrigued by the outpouring of grief via social media. Slayer and Hanneman’s sound is an obelisk. No band can replicate it. For generations, bands that even tried to open for them had a long night ahead. But the swift reaction of thousands of fans shows that each listener had a highly personal reaction to Hanneman and Slayer. That’s the mark of art: to craft an intensely individual vision that resonates on a deeply personal level with each listener, to burrow into someone’s heart and soul and stay.
Jeff Hanneman could do that.
Hanneman probably wouldn’t want us to mourn long. Slayer’s catalog is littered with songs about the certainty of death, the impermanence of the physical body and the fragility of the human mind. Nothing is for certain in their music, much like in life. Despite his too-early passing, Hanneman left a list of musical accomplishments that won’t be topped. Music writers will continue to try and fail to explain what makes Slayer work with fancy adjectives and academic analysis, as they have for decades. It’s unnecessary. You know why Jeff Hanneman was special when you hear the lead up to “Raining Blood,” a song so powerful it defies death. For generations, it will remain a bulwark and a line in the sand for anyone that dare call themselves heavy.
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[photo by WireImage]