Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Brian Deneke. His death did not made the international news much, but for those that live in Europe, his death is sharing similarities with the death of Sophie Lancaster (died on 08/11/2007). Many metalheads know about her death, enough to have Delain dedicated a song on her named “We Are The Other” in their album named similarly. Both deaths share the same motivation: murdered because they were different, because they were not fitting the mold of society, because they were ostracized by their attire and their style, because they wanted to live their lives as teenagers using music subgenres as a vehicle for their catharsis. Brian found in the punk culture a liberating moment, Sophie found in the goth culture a liberating moment. Myself found mine in the doom metal culture.
I heard the story of Brian only recently, as a stranger, from my few years living in Yellow City. Some call it Bomb City, because of the nearby Pantex assembly that constitute some vital part of the economy. But I felt in the story of Brian, the same story that many others that do not fit to the mold of the society feel: being labelled as a misfit, as an outcast, as an indesirable of the society.
Interestingly, Brian and me share roughly the same age (+/- 12 months), come from the same generation (Gen Xers) and have been in our troubled teenage years in the same time. We both are not actual to the punk movement, if we consider the movement “golden age” was in the end 70s-beginning 80s. Yet, the punk movement was alive and kicking proud in the 90s. Some classmate embraced punk as a way to rebel against the system, embracing some anarchist ideas. “Fuck the system!” was the motto. I was like Teflon to embracing punk: it did not stick long on me. I rather was seeking the melodic riffs of the other major genre that grew alongside the punk movement: the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I was driven by the escaping and incensing tunes of Iron Maiden, swinged by the lyrics of Bruce Dickinson and the guitar melodics. Sure, I was an outcast, I was a nerd and I was the dude that sit quietly in a group of friends. But what I experienced was nothing to what Brian and many teenagers in the US experienced.
As an European, the only exposure to US teenage years was through the TV: you had the posh and falsely glamour pictures from “Beverly Hills 90210” or “Melrose Place”, the funny “Saved By The Bell” (although sometimes opened discussion to serious matters) or what appeared more realistic as “21 Jump Street” (by discussing some real issues). But the one that was really in phase with me was MTV “Daria”. She was also an outcast in her sense, nixing being part of the cheerleader team or being the girlfriend of the football star. She was also a punk at heart along with her friend Jane, without having a crush on Trent (Jane’s brother) that was playing into a rock band during the weekends. It also showed me that the meaning of belonging to a tribe in the US was really much more amplified in the US than it was in Europe.
Where I had no pretension for a music career, Brian saw himself part of the local punk scene dreaming of becoming a leader for a punk band that could make a living of his art. The events that lead to Brian’s death are unknown to me and mostly garnered from reading on different sources.
It seems all started on the IHOP facing the former Western Plaza mall (what seems to be the current strip mall located on I-40@Western corner). On Saturday December 6th, an altercation occurred between Dustin Camp (a honor student and star football player at Tascosa High School) and John King, a member of the local punk scene. For those who are not familiar, Tascosa High School is usually considered one of the most preppy public HS in Yellow City, surrounded by the posh Tascosa neighborhood (since the Colonies neighborhood claim the title of “posh neighborhood). There are contested claims that Camp tried to run on King and his group with his Cadillac, some claiming King hit Camps windshield with a baton. On Friday 12th, Camp and King (alongside their group of friends) set a showdown in front of the same IHOP at 11:00pm. During the fight, Camp retreated in his car and ran over Deneke in an apparent hit-and-run.
The trial was set on Camp with a first-degree murder. The defense attorney, Warren Clark, apparently try to divert the attention of the jury by ostracizing and trying to put the blame on the punk community. Considering the Yellow City community, putting blame on the misfits is an easy target by portraying them with some infamous cliches: “They are lawless, they worship Satan, they are punks.” These are the same kind of stuff we metalheads have to go through: our music is noise, garbage. We are Satan-worshipper, we have tomb-destroyer. We are evil incarnate.
The trial concluded with Camp found guilty as involuntary manslaughter, 10 years probation and $10’000 fine. This is a very mild sentence for someone that voluntarily (according to witnesses) run over Brian and left the crime scene. This case has possibly some signs of “affluenza” in which the social position of the person prosecuted is used to downplay the severity of the crime (“He is a good boy! He is in the Honors list! He is the football star player!”), something we have been already seen. Nevertheless, he was arrested in 2001 for underage drinking, followed by charges on false statement to police and ultimately sentenced in September 2001 to 8 years in prison for violating his probation.
More recently, a movie documentary named “Bomb City” retracing the story of Brian Deneke has received some remarkable standing ovations and awards at various film festivals. I would strongly recommend to watch it and I hope to attend the local airing.
Although the punk and metal scenes rarely mingle (although some can argue that thrash, death metal are intertwining of punk and metal), the small scene in Yellow City make us closer. We don’t have much gigs in town, so when we have some local bands performing in a bar, it is more than welcome. I try to think that what if Brian was still amongst us, maybe I would have been sitting in a bar watching him perform and enjoying his gig.
However, I will never have that chance. I really feel sorry for Brian’s parents about what happened to Brian. I wished I could give them “my sincere condolences” even 20 years after the facts. Rest in Peace Brian 😦