The Dead Man’s Party is a double edged name for this section. On the backside, it’s about the carousing and reveling, drinking and drugging for days on end, living life to its fullest. On the front side, though, things are darker, as all that carousing and reveling, drinking and drugging can lead a man to his end of days. When I looked over Slayer’s Undisputed Attitude album for a Party post, “Richard Hung Himself” and “Ddamm” struck me not only they’re my two favorite songs on the album, but because they embody to sweet perfection both highs and the lows of the Dead Man’s Party.
On an album that is mostly covers of punk songs, “Ddamm” is a Jeff Hanneman original, written for a side project called Pap Smear. It’s a brilliant acronym that stands for “Drunk Drivers Against Mad Mothers,” which brings to light that, on rare occasions, Slayer actually has a sense of humor. Given that Hanneman died of liver failure, this song should not be funny anymore. Especially for me, as I can remember all the times I was holding on for dear life as my mom drove the family home drunk from the grocery store. But the idea of Slayer driving around with a BAC that would explode the test kit, running Mad Mothers Against Drunk Driving off the road and pummeling them is fucking hilarious! I’m laughing as I type this. Leave it to Tom Araya and co. to explore the dark side of every noble cause. Alcohol led to Hanneman’s demise, way too prematurely, but every time I go to Buffalo Wild Wings, I raise a glass and have a #HeinekenforHanneman. I’ll keep the party rolling for Jeff, long after his death.
“Richard Hung Himself” is a loopy take on heroin addiction that leads poor Richard to the rope. A punk tune originally recorded by D.I., it examines the gray, cold, inevitable end for a junkie. Richard is fucked from the very first lines of the song, with “Needles stabbed into the wall,” as “Fighting back he found his life drowning/ And there was no way up.” This is about as bleak as it gets, but there’s a wicked, black comedy to Casey Royer’s lyrics, such as when he describes the hanging Richard as “What a swinging guy,” and telling the listener, “Richard won’t come out to play.” There’s also this anti-religious subtext to the song, with lines such as, “Jesus caught and pushed him off the shelf,” and a suggestion that he’s destroying the body that God gave to him. This fits perfectly into Slayer’s wheelhouse (Slayer is, after all, the band who titled their second album Hell Awaits), and gives Araya the chance to be playful with the vocals, something he would never do if the band had written the tune.
There’s one line that strikes me powerfully and quite a bit differently when I listen to “Richard Hung Himself” now, as opposed to how I did 10 years ago. “Is death the final high?” I just turned 45 a few years ago, and I’m constantly seeking the next high in every area of my life. That most definitely includes when I party, which I do to legendary levels. But there are places I won’t ever take the party, and shooting heroin is the darkest of them. When I was 12, I walked in on a person very close to me shooting up. It scared me. Profoundly scared me. As I grew up and realized what addiction of every sort does to a person, I came to understand that death is always the final high, and every junkie is chasing it. So while young Phillie would hate and condemn Richard for being weak, I can’t help but pity the poor son of a bitch. The human condition is a twisted thing, no?
I’ve never seen these songs played live at a show, and I never will. Slayer only played a few songs off Undisputed Attitude, and that was only for a brief period while promoting the album. Admittedly, I would love it if the band swapped out “Dead Skin Mask” or “Mandatory Suicide” for one of these tunes, for variety’s sake. Below you’ll find a really poorly shot live performance of “Richard Hung Himself.” I debated not including it because of the low quality, but it’s worth posting just for odd posterity.
Some people will tell you life is a party, and we should celebrate every minute we have of it. Others will say as soon as we’re born, we’re dying. Both are right. The Dead Man’s Party is in full swing with “Richard Hung Himself” and “Ddamm,” two songs that manage to be both grim and funny. Party on, dude. Party on.