Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Tag: van halen (Page 1 of 2)

Every Silver Jerry’s Got A Coat Of Grey

Pre–

“Yo.”

–carious Lee? Oh, hey. I have more questions about this.

“Figures. Shoot.”

What the fuck, man?

“The speakers?”

Obviously. Among other things, but obviously the speakers and their configuration is our primary focus. Are they being held up by the power of suggestion?

“Among other things.”

Like rope?

“Could be. I personally don’t recall tying anything down, but someone definitely could have.”

Wow. My further line of inquiry concerns the overall jankiness.

“Lotta jank with the Dead, yeah.”

This picture has been placed at Silver Stadium in Rochester, New York, and dated to 6/30/88.

“If you say so.”

This was a show at Silver Stadium in June of 1986:

“Okay.”

Professionalism could be achieved in 1986. It wasn’t ’72 anymore.

“And yet the kids came.”

Every other band was right to work their crews like dogs.

“Good thing I don’t work for one of them. We ran into those guys a couple times.”

Who?

“Those Van Halen jagoffs. Mike’s okay, but the brothers like getting drunk and biting people. They’re vicious little fuckers. And Bobby’s terrified of David Lee Roth.”

Why?

“Instinct. For most of the people he meets, David Lee Roth inspires a fight-or-flight response.”

I can see that. Precarious, could you look at one last photo, please?

“Do it to it, chief.”

This is, once again, the Grateful Dead at Silver Stadium in Rochester, New York, on the 30th of June, 1988.

“Need a little zoom-and-enhance on that one.”

No, I like the long view that shows just how bush a league could be. That, sir, is the limit of bush. No league can contain more bush than that. That picture represents the exterior of infinity.

“What you need to remember about our audience–”

Don’t use the drug excuse.

“–is that they were on drugs. It’s true. Most of ’em spent the show staring at a stranger’s neck.”

Stop it. A couple of tie-dye banners. Some curtains to hide the exposed machinery. A proscenium. Something. Anything. You could have done anything and it would have been an improvement, as this is the bare minimum. You stacked heavy shit up, plugged it in, and cracked a beer.

“We were drinking beer while stacking shit up and plugging it in.”

I expect more out of the Grateful Dead’s road crew.

“Why?”

Real-Time Thoughts On Van Halen’s Without A Net Live*

  • Sometimes, I hear Younger Enthusiasts talk about the 80’s.
  • “That’s my aesthetic,” the YE’s say.
  • Bullshit, you little bastards.
  • THIS.
  • This was the 80’s.
  • Not synthwave or vaporcore or any of that shit.
  • The 80’s were a mousse-stained bandana wearing a deconstructed double-breasted jacket.
  • With sneakers.
  • These were the guys who were headlining the arenas and banging all the chicks.
  • Your mom probably would have been around the right age at the time, Younger Enthusiast.
  • Van Halen fucked your mom, dude.
  • Are you gonna talk about the show or not?
  • I was easing into it.
  • Anyway, this is New Haven, Connecticut, on the 5150 tour; it’s virtually the only pro-shot record of the band back when they were any good.
  • My God.
  • It’s the Steinberger.
  • Guitarists went nuts for those geeky toys in the 80’s.
  • A guy at my high school named Adam Bagoon had one in white.
  • I still remember his name because he had a Steinberger.
  • He was unto a god to us.
  • Fucker just had rich parents, but still: IT DIDN’T HAVE A HEADSTOCK!
  • That’s some magick right there.
  • Eddie’s was cooler than Adam Bagoon’s, though.
  • First of all: paint job.
  • Second of all: cigarette.
  • I don’t even know how he did that.
  • On a normal guitar, you can jam the butt between the low E string and the headstock.
  • Like this:
  • But I have no idea how Eddie jerry-rigged a holder out of a Steinberger’s neck.
  • Jesus fucking Christ, it’s the drum solo.
  • Which begins with the gong.
  • Most drummers save the gong-whacking for the end.
  • It’s a climactical kinda sound, y’know?
  • But not Alex Van Halen.
  • Gong first.
  • He’s gong ho.
  • BOOOOOOOOO.
  • Shaddup.
  • Why are you even doing this?
  • Honestly?
  • No, lie to me.
  • Because I’m an artist.
  • Now tell the truth.
  • Well, a lovely Enthusiast hit the Donate Button incredibly hard.
  • And requested this?
  • Oh, God, no.
  • Who the fuck would request this?
  • I’m halfway through and I’m still not sure whether I want to be doing it or not.
  • Kinda leaning towards “not.”
  • But, you know, I didn’t write anything last night and I felt bad about it.
  • Like I should do something.
  • But why did the “something” have to be this?
  • My mental state is rapidly deteriorating.
  • Okay.
  • Can I get back to it?
  • You do you, Sancho.

  • You don’t have to watch the whole show–you have my permission to abstain–but at least watch this one tune.
  • The song is the eponymous album cut from 5150, the first and best of the four Van Hagar records, and it is the band’s latter years encapsulated: the digitalish drums, the drenchings of harmony, the useless lyrics.
  • And the trousers, Enthusiasts.
  • Oh, the trousers.
  • “You! Boy! Are those baggy trousers still in the window of the haberdasherery?”
  • “Yes, Mr. Van Halen! The baggiest I’ve e’er seen!”
  • “Fetch them up for me! Bring them back in ten minutes, and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”
  • Sammy and Eddie are now doing the evergreen “Guitarist mimics the singer” routine.
  • This was a high-level Rock Star Move.
  • Any schmuck could pull off the leg-on-the-monitor, or the town-name-lyric-sneak, but doing the call-and-response with the guitarist was only for professionals.
  • Most of the material on this tour was from 5150, as Sammy did not want to do too many of David Lee Roth’s tunes.
  • He could certainly sing ’em.
  • The Red Rocker has–objectively, measurably, statistically–a better voice than Diamond Dave.
  • Dave couldn’t sing.
  • He was a great singer, but he couldn’t sing.
  • The notes bedeviled him.
  • Live, he’d mostly just yell and do karate.
  • And this was before he blew out his voice.
  • Anyway, Van Halen was never above cheap (and effective) showmanship.
  • Look at this bullshit:
  • Place went nuts when they did that.
  • Didn’t cost a cent.
  • The best tricks are the simplest.
  • Van Halen tried.
  • They went out there and made an effort.
  • Jumping and running and making eye contact with the audience and all sorts of guitarobatics.
  • Hopping, frolicking, gamboling.
  • “NOW IT’S YOUR TURN TO SING, NEW HAVEN!”
  • And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
  • Maaaaaaan.
  • You don’t always have to be too cool for school.
  • For example, Sammy has now interrupted Best Of Both World to spray paint a pair of shoes.
  • A woman threw her flats onstage, and then Sammy spray-painted them red while chatting with the crowd.
  • A purse has also made it into Sammy’s hands, and he is accusing the other members of Van Halen of being its owner.
  • Banners proclaiming the band’s greatness, and bearing its logo, have also been presented to the group; Sammy fashions one into a cape and drapes it over Michael Anthony’s beefy shoulders.
  • Which means the bass solo is nigh.
  • Eddie taking an extended solo is understandable.
  • Cuz, you know, Eddie is Eddie Van Halen.
  • But Michael Anthony is not Eddie Van Halen.
  • He’s shorter, for one thing.
  • And he’s not the greatest guitarist that ever lived.
  • He’s a great harmony singer.
  • Can play the bass pretty good.
  • But he’s not Eddie Van Halen.
  • Michael Anthony does seem to know his limitations, though, and spends his time in the spotlight making end-of-the-world noises and running around hyping the crowd up.
  • Also:
  • Fuck you, that’s cool.
  • PANAMA!
  • Dave’s songs were not meant to be sung by anyone other than Dave; the words make no sense when you can understand them; the lyrics of Dave’s songs were mostly just delivery vehicles for grunts and yelps.
  • Sammy has shed his Chess King blazer to reveal his multiple bandana configuration.
  • One is a sash, several are bejoined around his neck, the legs are involved: Sammy has transcended his humanity.
  • He is the Mandana.
  • Ooh, Love Walks In with Eddie on the synthesizer and Sammy on lead guitar.
  • Don’t get it twisted: Sammy can play.
  • If Sammy was in literally any other band, he would be the best guitarist.
  • Tough break, Sammy.
  • How much of this was overdubbed?
  • The harmonies are suspiciously perfect.
  • Why not put out a live album, Van Halen?
  • Warts and all.
  • Surely, you made work tapes of the shows, Van Halen.
  • There’s gotta be some salvageable nights in there.
  • I know a guy in Canada who could walk you through the process.
  • You only have to sell around 15,000 units to turn a profit.
  • Again: I can hook you up with someone who knows all about this.
  • Aaaaaaaaaaand here we go:

  • Thirteen minutes?
  • Oh, kiss my ass, you Dutch drunk.
  • That’s longer than one of Garcia’s marriages.
  • Jesus, he can play.
  • I wouldn’t be pissed at Jascha Heifetz soloing for thirteen minutes, so why would this annoy me?
  • General principle.
  • Guitar solos should not be this long on principle.
  • In practice, this specific guitar solo is acceptable.
  • I saw Van Halen a few years after this on the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour, and Eddie’s solo was the highlight of the night.
  • EDDIE!
  • EDDIE!
  • All fucking night, but especially when he stood out there by himself and ESPECIALLY when he started doing the tapping bit from Eruption.
  • I lost my voice screaming.
  • Yeah, it’s pointless showing off.
  • But the best part of the NBA’s All-Star weekend is the dunk contest.
  • FUN FACT: Eddie kinda married himself.
  • A little weird.
  • The second of two tunes from Sammy’s pre-VH days: I Can’t Drive 55.
  • He simply couldn’t do it.
  • The man was incapable, be it physically or mentally, of sticking to the federally-mandated speed limit of 55.
  • It wasn’t that he didn’t want to.
  • He couldn’t.
  • The act was beyond him.
  • Anyway, Sammy is perched up above the audience on a scaffolding, and–as he has his guitar–is singing into one of those earpiece-attached doohickey mics that the NFL analysts wear.
  • Hey, it’s Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love!
  • Ohhhhh, that’s why Sammy’s up there.
  • For the line about “I been to the edge and there I stood and looked down.”
  • I get it now.
  • Not the best line in the song, though.
  • That’s “You know you’re semi-good-looking, babe.”
  • Holy shit, Sammy is hanging off that fucker by his fingertips.
  • Here, look:
  • Who the fuck let him do that?
  • He doesn’t even have a harness on.
  • Someone call OSHA.
  • Rock Star is an Occupation, and this is clearly a Safety Hazard; the incident is well within the agency’s purview.
  • I want OSHA to use the Time Sheath to go back to 1986 and fine the shit out of Sammy Hagar.
  • That was a weird sentence, I agree.
  • Shouldn’t have made sense, but yet both you and I got it just fine.
  • Something wrong with us.
  • Anyway, Eddie is back behind the synthesizer for Why Can’t This Be Love?
  • Appropriate question.
  • We’re told that it’s got what it takes.
  • The antecedent of “it” is not made clear.
  • But, whatever “it” is, it’s got what it takes.
  • Although, we are not apprised of what “this” has got.
  • “It” is not logically required–syntactically speaking–to be “this.”
  • We know that “this” is not love.
  • Of that we can be sure.
  • But what is “this?”
  • Hand sanitizer?
  • The St. Louis Tushee Dance?
  • Ennui, as a concept?
  • Dunno.
  • Sammy Hagar has secrets, and you will never know them.
  • Ew, Rock and Roll.
  • The Zeppelin tune.
  • The song’s fine, but covering it shows a lack of motivation.
  • It’s the obvious choice.
  • And the big finish, fireworks and sustained chords and rabbiting about together in boyish camaraderie.
  • This was your Woodstock, children of the 80’s.

 

*Dude, I totally forgot that the Dead also had a live record called Without A Net. Always a Dead connection.

Last Thoughts On Van Halen

YOU PROMISED.

Promises seem to be a theme this week, huh?

YOU PROMISED THAT THOUGHTS–

Stop yelling.

–on Van Halen was over. You played Happy Trails and showed David Lee Roth’s buttocks.

Yes. I did. Two things, though.

First?

I lied.

Shocker. Second?

You know when you take a piss? The little bit at the end? The shiver-shake-squirt?

These are the kind of metaphors that add to your legend.

I got, like, a couple more drops of Van Halen in me. Just a little bit, but if I don’t write about it then the boxer shorts of my mind will get stained.

And you continued the metaphor. Bravo.

Last trip to Pasadena. Swear.

Fine, but at least do it in bullet points.

Oh, of course. Paragraphs are fucking exhausting.

Especially when you think “paragraph” means “300-word long sentence with 14 subordinate clauses, seven semi-colons, and three parenthetical asides.”

I write how I write, man.

Just get to it.

  • I mentioned this, but I was thinking about it today: Van Halen’s iconography truly was first-rate; plus, they had a color scheme, which few other bands did.
  • Cheap Trick had black-and-white polka dots, and I guess the Dead kinda owned tie-dye; the White Stripes stole the Target logo; Stryper was–of course–the Yellow and Black Attack.
  • But the red with the white criss-crossy stripes was instantly memorable, easily replicable, and could be applied to almost any product.
  • Kids did, too.
  • My first guitar was a $30 acoustic that my parents had gotten my for my birthday, along with lessons that I did not apply myself to.
  • Me and Jay Dorfman–who loved Van Halen as much as I did–got ourselves some masking tape, plus a few strips of black electrical tape; we covered the neck and bridge in paper and spray-painted the sucker white; then we let it dry, applied the masking tape–using a copy of Guitar World magazine as a guide, I’m sure–and then put on a coat of red, and then matched the electrical tape to the photo.
  • I loved that fucking guitar.
  • (All the paint actually made it sound a little better, too.)
  • This is David Lee Roth:
  • (I can’t find the photo. It was of Dave being attended to by a wardrobe mistress. You can picture it.)
  • Nowadays, that shot would be on Dave’s Instagram feed, or thrown up on Facebook, to let his fans know how hard he was working and–more importantly–that he was just like them.
  • Sure, he plays a Rock Star.
  • But he’s got feelings just like anyone else.
  • Back then, this shot would have been ruthlessly hunted down by Van Halen’s publicity people.
  • Rock Stars weren’t just like you.
  • That was who they really were, all the time, 24/7.
  • Right?
  • Every big band had world tours, but only the Dead treated leaving the country like it was some kind of accomplishment.
  • (Serious question for the scholars: was any sort of Asian jaunt even suggested? Or did the Dead just kinda intuit that their act wouldn’t play over there?)
  • There’s only one good book about Van Halen–JES in the comments mentioned it–and it’s Van Halen Rising by Greg Renoff. (I bought it a year ago, but just read it…and now you know what triggered the past several days. Thanks, Greg.)
  • If you’re a VH fan, then you need to read it: Renoff’s a trained historian, and he tracked down all sorts of people who knew the band when, plus great stories, and all sorts of wonderful tangents about Los Angeles in the 70’s and the rock scene and whatnot.
  • The only problem with the book is that it’s the first volume; it ends around the first album, and you read the last page wanting to keep going.
  • And that’s it.
  • There’s no officially-sanctioned history, and no comprehensive summation; mostly because the Van Halen brothers actively discourage that type of thing.
  • Both the singers wrote books, though.
  • Dave’s, Crazy from the Heat, is a hoot.
  • Fucking exhausting, though.
  • It’s like spending 300 pages with Dave, and he is doing all the cocaine in the world and telling stories at you as hard as he can.
  • Fucking exhausting.
  • Sammy wrote Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock, and I read that one, too.
  • I know, I know.
  • I could have been reading Middlemarch or something.
  • But I read Sammy Hagar’s book, which is worth a look: lots of good stories shitting on Eddie and Alex, and also you find out that Sammy believes in aliens and ghosts and past lives and auras and crystals.
  • Sammy believes in many things.
  • Legend has it that 5150, Eddie’s home studio, has a vault full of live recordings and unreleased tracks; I’m sure that’s half-true.
  • The live recordings thing is probably right–don’t most sound guys make a work track of shows?–but not so much the unreleased tracks.
  • Unless we’re defining “track” as “Eddie doodling on his guitar for hours.”
  • I’m sure there’s a metric ton of that bullshit.
  • But, like, songs?
  • No.
  • If there were any songs, and they were good enough to be released, they would have been released, and probably a very long time ago on an album.
  • Van Halen’s records were uniformly good, but each one has at least a little bit of filler.
  • One Foot Out the Door from Fair Warning was literally written and recorded with an hour or so left until some sort of deadline, hence the name.
  • They weren’t especially prolific; the evidence is all the cover tunes.
  • You don’t put a cover tune on an album if you have an original.
  • Why?
  • Because you make more money from an original.
  • In the beginning, Van Halen split the songwriting four ways, which both stops arguments and causes them.
  • Everyone’s making the same money, and this reduces tension.
  • But, because bands are made up of human beings, everyone is not doing the same amount of work.
  • This increases tension.
  • There’s no way to win, really.
  • Anyway, at first they split the songwriting, but then Eddie realized he wrote all the music and the arrangement was changed.
  • I bet that was a fun conversation.
  • “Michael, we want to pay you less.”
  • Michael Anthony had several of those conversations: first they chopped him out of the songwriting, and then–before one of the uncountable series of reunion tours–made him sign over his rights to the name and merch.
  • In case you haven’t picked up on it, TotD is firmly Team Michael Anthony.
  • You could relate to him.
  • Look at him, man.
  • He’s got chubby thighs and bad hair and crotch sweat.
  • So do I.
  • So do most fucking people.
  • And some goof on him for his meat-and-potatoes, eighth-notes-on-the-root style of playing; what was he supposed to do?
  • Both Van Halen brothers essentially soloed throughout the entire song.
  • Someone’s got to play the fucking tune.
  • (He also had the best time in Van Halen. Go back and listen to them live: Eddie’s got good time, and Alex doesn’t. Michael Anthony knows where the One is.)
  • And that voice: castrato-like and an octave above where you’d expect the harmonies to be, and right spot on every time.
  • Dave slid into his notes, but Michael Anthony knew where his pitch was.
  • Alex also sang–they did four-part harmonies on their records and in concert–and he was also terrifying.
  • Yeah, he welded two bass drums together into giant bass-cannons.
  • Like Billy, Alex followed the lead guitarist musically; when Eddie dropped a beat, then so would Alex.
  • Michael Anthony completely ignored them both and played the song.
  • That’s Van Halen’s sound.
  • Records are lies, most of them, and subject to trickery: a band sounds like how it sounds live, and you can only understand a band–an actual fucking musical combo–by hearing them play live and asking yourself a very simple question.
  • Who’s listening to who?
  • In the best bands, the ones that Rock Nerds call important, the drummer listens to the guitarist.
  • I dunno why.
  • Okay, last thing: the changeover from Dave to Sammy very rarely gets analyzed in terms of lyrical content; let’s face it: neither is Dylan.
  • But here’s the metaphor.
  • Dave is William Burroughs, and Sammy is Mitch Albom.
  • Hear me out.
  • Dave’s lyrics make no sense at all, at least not in a logic or coherence or story level: it’s mostly scatted phrases circling a theme, but theress certainly no narrative or story.
  • You do, however, get some incredible lines.
  • Thought you’d never miss me til I got a Fat City address.
  • There’s a lot going on there in that sentence: it is rhythmic and evocative and allusive and wonderful.
  • Somebody said FAIR WARNING! Lord? Lord, strike that poor boy down.
  • That’s fucking perfect; I’ve never written anything as good, and might not if I died with a pen in my hand at the age of 101.
  • And Sammy wrote,
  • Feel like a running politician, just trying to please you all the time.
  • Which makes sense.
  • But that’s not the point, is it?
  • William Burroughs, Mitch Albom.
  • I told you to hear me out.
  • A final note to the non-existent Younger Enthusiast, who is say, “TotD, we still have Rock Stars who do Rock Star things.”
  • Oh, my sweet child.
  • She looks thrilled, doesn’t she? (Originally, that was a shot of the band pawing at a naked, nonplussed woman; I couldn’t find that one, either, so enjoy the shot of the boys in beefeater costumes.)

Thoughts On Van Halen II

When we left our heroes, they were about to rule the world. Which is a nice place to be; actually ruling the world is exhausting, and having ruled the world is sad, but a young man who’s about to rule the world can get himself some leg tonight, for sure.

Especially if they look like this:

The first album, Van Halen, came out in ’78; the band did a few tours opening up for bands past their prime (Sabbath) or who would never have a prime (Journey), and blew everyone off the stage to the point where no one would hire them, but it didn’t matter because the record had gone platinum and they were headliners.

For six years. That’s it: Van Halen to 1984, ’78 to ’84, six years. That puts them in the middle of pack, I suppose: Sex Pistols only existed for 18 months or so; Metallica is celebrating their Diamond Jubilee next year. Just as charisma has very little correlation with looks or intelligence, Great Bandness has almost nothing to do with longevity.

And besides, Van Halen kept going after 1984, right?

They were a working band: Van Halen released eight albums in those six years, and played 114.33 shows a year–I did the math–on such tours as the World Vacation Tour, the Party Til You Die Tour, and the Hide Your Sheep Tour. Big promises–sun and tits and triumph–and Van Halen delivered. Critics scoffed–they do that–but the kids lined up to dig in their blue jeans for crumpled and sweaty dollar bills to throw at the band.

Eight albums in six years isn’t even stupidly prolific, Younger Enthusiasts. (If you’re still reading about this nonsense.) The music business used to be based–like all businesses–in actual stuff, tangible products that people had to buy, and by Christ if there were a whole passel of Van Halen fans out there willing to plunk down $4.99 for a LP, then by Christ they were going to get the chance to do so.

None of Van Halen’s records hold together as art, and they’re all pretty much the same album: bunch of original material centering on the themes of “being awesome” and “pussy;” a cover or two (or three or four); a solo thing from Eddie. (Eddie always did a solo thing, no matter the venue. Album, live show, family cookout, business meeting: for a couple minutes, everybody had to shut the fuck up so he could play guitar. In Eddie’s defense, I’ve been listening to the few VH shows with acceptable sound on the internet and when Alex solos, I fast forward, and when Mike does whatever the fuck that thing he does live is, I fast forward, and then Eddie solos and I start to click the button to fast forward but then I don’t. Boy, could he play guitar.)

Their recorded output is a familiar rock and roll arc, actually: first album with all their good material on it, second one has the songs that didn’t make the first record, and then someone buys a synthesizer. There are no turds or outright clunkers, but also no true classics that hang together. Personally, I like Van Halen II the least, and Women and Children or Fair Warning the best, but one of my favorites is from Diver Down:

If you only have five minutes to explain Van Halen to someone, then play them this; it’s the perfect distillation of everything the band was. You’ve got the virtuosic opening, and then the drums and Michael Anthony hammering eighth notes on the root of the chord, but most of all there is the melody–Van Halen songs had good melodies–and the Beach Boy harmonies. And there’s Diamond Dave.

“David Lee Roth couldn’t sing, man.”

Oh, suck my improperly-wiped asshole, you general consensus-abiding slob. Stop listening to other people’s’ ears and use your own. You know who could sing, really sing, man? Steve Perry. How about Dennis DeYoung? Pipes of an angel, Dennis DeYoung. Whitney Houston had a beautiful voice, and look how that turned out for her.

I’ll take Diamond Dave. (No one else could take Diamond Dave, though. You know how he seems? That’s how he is. Imagine if cocaine were wearing spandex. Now imagine yourself in a business relationship with the cocaine wearing spandex.)

They were the biggest band in the world, back when there was such a title and it meant something, and when this new thing–the Tech Billionaire–came along and decided to throw a party, then Van Halen had to be the headliners, right? Steve Wozniak, the guy that started Apple who wasn’t the creepy one who’s dead now, basically pulled a Spicoli and hired Van Halen to play at his party: this was the US Festival.

The 60’s had Woodstock, right? Why shouldn’t the 80’s have a festival, and so in 1982 Woz paid for one; the Grateful Dead played a breakfast show, which sounded exactly as good as you might imagine. They looked like this:

In their defense, that’s how they always looked.

Woz lost $12 million on the show, so naturally he staged another eight months later. This time, though, the three-day festival would feature themed days: there was New Wave Day, headlined by The Clash; and Rock Day, topped by Bowie; and the third day was for heavy metal, and Van Halen was the draw. (The Scorpions, Priest, Ozzy, Quiet Riot, and the Crüe opened for them.) Van Halen got $1.5 million–which is $3.6 million in today’s money–and 300,000 kids showed up.

They looked like this:

“I forgot the FUCKIN’ words!”

Is how Dave greets the enormous crowd less than a minute into Romeo Delight, which is about taking whiskey to parties and squeezing ladies, and there was the promise: the winners don’t do their homework. Winners charm their way through, and fuck the hottest cheerleaders, and go to the best parties. Van Halen was throwing a party for the winners, and–since you were here–you must be a winner, right?

“Hey, man, don’t be squirtin’ water at me, or I’m gonna fuck your girlfriend.”

Hey, man, don’t believe ol’ TotD. Watch the whole show:

It is Van Halen at their Van Halest: everyone takes an interminable solo, and Dave keeps shouting “CALIFORNIA!” in the same timbre as a coked-up Grover Muppet, and Michael Anthony hits the highest harmony notes perfectly every single time

The only people who put iced tea in Jack Daniels bottles is The Clash, baby!”

Dave says this to the crowd as he drinks straight from the Jack Daniels bottle that had been brought to him by a midget butler. (Dave also had midget bodyguards.) It happens around 23 minutes in, and you be the judge as to whether or not there’s whiskey in Dave’s bottle. (Nope.) He would take several shots at the New Wave bands during the set, and single out The Clash. (They  would never play another show.)

David Lee Roth also sang an a capella rendition of Sarah Vaughn’s God Bless the Child at 57:00 and you owe it to yourself to hear him try to hit the high note. Trust me on this one.

The show was a huge success, so naturally it led directly to the end of the band. (Woz lost another $12 million; I bet he doesn’t sit around missing it. What’s the point of being rich if you can’t hire Van Halen to play your party?) They sold a ton of records and sold out shows around the world, but this was their first real national exposure–Van Halen wasn’t allowed on the Johnny Carson show–and Hollywood types got a sniff of David Lee and poured celluloid bullshit into his ears, and Dave started thinking he was a movie star.

1984–which has only one good side on it and might be their weakest album–was an international blockbuster, mostly due to the hit singles, Jump and Hot for Teacher, and their videos. Didn’t matter: the end was coming, and after the tour (the exact circumstances change depending on who’s telling the story), David Lee Roth (still thinking he was going to be a movie star, and riding high off his solo hit cover of California Girls) left the band.

The last show was in Nuremberg. As last shows often are. This is what it looked like:

Ah, well. No one comes to see the singer, right? The Van Halen brothers, and also Michael Anthony, soldiered on; in fact, they picked up a new Origin Story. This time, it involved Ferraris. Eddie and Sammy Hagar, who had been in Montrose and recently had several solo hits and purchased several jumpsuits, shared a mechanic. This seems like a coincidence until you realize that–even in California–there are only so many garages you can take a Ferrari to. The guy around the corner isn’t going to cut it, and you can’t get your oil changed at Jiffy Lube.

Eddie and Alex met Sammy Hagar, and jammed with him; they hit it off, and Sammy joined the band. (Presumably, Michael Anthony was informed at some point.) The fans accepted this with equanimity and good cheer, welcoming Sammy Hagar into the Van Halen family with love and acceptance, and are certainly not still arguing about it in comment sections and forum boards to this fucking day, no siree.

Switching out a lead singer is tricky: AC/DC did it, but they had to; Bon was simply not up to making another record. Genesis kinda did, but mostly they just turned into a different band entirely. (We will not mention the spate of legacy acts that have replaced their singers with dudes who used to imitate them in tribute bands.)

I distinctly remember my fellow Rock Nerd Jay Dorfman and I discussing whether or not the name would be changed: Van Hagar? Could be worse, right? Imagine if they had hired Leon Schlongenheimer? No one is going to the local sportatorium to see Van Schlongenheimer. What if Eddie, in addition to inventing all his guitar toys, also invented a Time Sheath and went back to hire Jim Morrison? You can’t be named Van Morrison, because that is Van Morrison’s name. And he’ll sue your ass; he’s mean.

They kept the name; they had to, and besides: you could never come up with another logo as good.

Look at that shit. Even better than looking at it: draw it on your desk in math class with blue ballpoint pen. Stealies are tough to get right, and Metallica’s was cool, but no one beat the mighty Van Halen’s dirt-simple iconography. (Maybe the Dead Kennedys, but they sucked; political bullshit; the Dead Kennedys were for the weird kids. Van Halen was for winners.)

Anyway, Sammy was a Van Halen now, and the band looked like this:

Look how happy they all look about the situation.

(Who you think punched Eddie? I bet it was Alex. A lot of bands have a Puncher–the Dead had a couple–and Alex was Van Halen’s. I don’t know if Alex is still getting drunk and punching people–he’s 63, so I truly hope not–but it used to be one of his favorite activities.)

The sound changed, obviously, it had to: it was still Eddie and Alex playing real loud with a blonde guy shouting harblegarble about tits over the top of it, plus Michael Anthony on the high harmonies–you couldn’t hear the bass on the first two post-Dave VH albums–but something was different. Alex had started using these non-musical electric drum sounds.

But they were still something. Watch this–and I know I keep telling you what to do, but you know you like it–and I think I hit the button that will start it at the right song, but if I didn’t then go to 22 minutes in.

The song is 5150, a deep cut from the record, but it’s one of Eddie’s greatest guitar lines; the solo he takes in this version is jaw-shattering. Also, everyone onstage is wearing genie pants, and Sammy Hagar is wearing every bandana in the world. Sammy Hagar could wear a bandana in ways that you did not know bandanas could be worn.

And Eddie has a burning cigarette wedged under the strings on the headstock of his Magic Guitar.

Then it all went to shit. (Perhaps you’re noticing a pattern with the Van Halen brothers.) The first follow-up to 5150 took 2 years and was called OU812, which even as an impressionable dipshit struck me as cheesy. The third Van Hagar record took 3 years, and was called For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which was even worse than OU812, and had the Crystal Pepsi ad Right Now on it. I went to see this tour, me and Matt Tahaney, and the whole crowd chanted “EDDIE, EDDIE!” at the openers–Alice in Chains, who were a terribly boring band–and then I yelled myself hoarse, and went to the bathroom during Sammy’s solo acoustic number, and after that I stopped giving any sort of shit about Van Halen.

In my defense, so did everyone else. Van Halen kind of stopped giving a shit about itself: how else do you explain hiring Gary Cherone? Look at this bullshit:

I mean, really. Fucker looks like a contest winner. He lasted one album, not that anyone noticed.

However, a picture from Cherone’s brief tenure in the band does help to explain the twenty years that have followed:

See it? C’mon, you see it.

Look at Eddie.

Yeah: sometime in the late 90’s, Eddie Van Halen lost his fucking mind. His wife, Mackenzie Phillips, left him and he started doing crystal meth becoming unreliable, and entered a phase in his life where he was completely and utterly incapable of seeing a microphone without talking shit about his bandmates into it.

So they had fired Sammy–or Sammy quit, it depends on who’s telling the story–and hired the scrub from Extreme, and then they fired him; David Lee Roth was back! And then he wasn’t, and then Sammy came back but left again, and then it was Dave’s turn once more. Then, Sammy AND Dave came back at the same time, and take one wild guess how that turned out?

And one morning in the past few years, Eddie Van Halen woke up and thought,

“Who haven’t I fired, alienated, and talked shit about in the press?”

And Eddie Van Halen thought,

“Alex.”

But Eddie Van Halen realized he could not do that to Alex. So then he thought,

“Michael Anthony.”

And the fucker fired Michael Anthony. Who never hurt a single soul, and seemed like the only tolerable human out of the whole grinning lot.

Eddie’s little fatass kid is in the band now, and Dave’s back. They look like this:

But it doesn’t matter. It hasn’t for a very long time, in fact. No more Rock Stars, and no more Guitar Gods. Presidents do the winning now, and get the pussy. No more cocky young boys from California, and no more promises made, and no more promises kept.

There used to be a band from California; they were called Van Halen and they looked like this:

Wait, I forgot. Van Halen had one other thing in common with the Dead. Remember how the Dead would end shows–if they felt like it–with And We Bid You Goodnight, a sweet send-off to the crowd, sung sweatily and with cigarette burning in the guitarist’s hand?

Just like that:

And that was Van Halen, who were an American band from California. I apologize for this being so long; sometimes you catch a band like a cold. We’re done here. Party’s over.

Say goodnight, Dave.

“DAAAAAAAAAAVE!”

Til we meet again.

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