Patterico's Pontifications

10/6/2020

Eddie Van Halen, 1955 – 2020

Filed under: General — JVW @ 10:03 pm



[guest post by JVW]

I hadn’t really thought to write about Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, guitarist for one of the biggest bands of my youth, who died earlier today after a long bout with mouth and throat cancer. As a kid I was a Van Halen fan, like most white boys my age, and I vividly recall being home sick from school on that day in December of 1983 when the local radio station received its demo copy of “Jump” via FedEx and played it for the first time just in time for Christmas shopping. That spring when they commenced upon their world tour I fervently negotiated with my parents to allow fourteen-year-old me and my eighth-grade buddies to go up to the big city to see the group in concert. My father, who recalled that Van Halen had caused something of a ruckus in our home town four years earlier, didn’t seem too enthralled with the idea. In any case, our failure to procure tickets for the show (there were about 400 of us in line hoping to buy and our local record store had been given probably 100 tickets to be sold in lots of four) made the point moot and I didn’t see the 1984 Tour.

Lead singer David Lee Roth would of course leave the band (or be kicked out; believe whichever version you wish) the following year, and the Van Halen brothers and bassist Michael Anthony would soldier on with new vocalist Sammy Hagar for the next decade. I never liked the Hagar version of the band as much as the original, though I still do appreciate some of the songs they made with Mr. Cabo Wabo himself. In any case, one constant that remained throughout both incarnations of the band (let’s just all agree to forget the Gary Cherone version of the band, OK?) was Eddie’s slick guitar playing, impossibly fast and sounding like nobody else in rock and roll. Most of us were stuck playing the sort of instruments that you can play in middle school band — trumpets, saxophones, trombones, etc. — but even if we couldn’t quite sling an axe ourselves we appreciated and marveled at the greatness that Eddie Van Halen so effortlessly displayed.

But what really inspired me to write this post was Kyle Smith’s tribute to Eddie at National Review Online. I hadn’t really thought of it this way, but Van Halen hearkens back to that glorious epoch in music between the transition of 70s strident leftist punk (after a dose of 60s protest music) and then later the revival of the earnestly gloomy alternative 90s hippy revival. Van Halen was the top band in America, and probably the world, at the height of Reaganism when rock and roll went back to being fun, at least when Bruce Springsteen wasn’t singing about your girl leaving you after the town’s factory closed and your VA benefits had been cut. Here’s how Mr. Smith described the scene:

The band clarified its mission at the start: “Running with the Devil,” the first song on their first album, isn’t a postcard from hell: It’s about raising hell. In contrast to Sixties doomscrolling like “Sympathy for the Devil,” it’s not a warning, it’s an invitation — to a kegger or a roadhouse. [. . .] On the album cover Roth had his shirt completely open to expose his big hairy chest, and at the end of [the band’s cover version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me“] he delivered a witty, “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” Van Halen was a laugh. In concert and in the videos, Roth did ridiculous yet awesome judo moves and Eddie never stopped smiling. This was the sound of fun, of wild and sticky Friday nights in crowded saloons, of young hormones past all control — the sound of sex.

Exactly right. Are there any present-day youth acts about whom you could say the same? Certainly there are, er, “artists” today who are happy to sing of carnal pleasures, partying, and general mayhem, but inevitably that act quickly shifts into pro forma condemnation of police brutality or a demand for immediate climate action or special pleading on behalf of this or that persecuted interest group. To my knowledge, Van Halen never told us what causes we must espouse or for which candidates we must vote; they were content with having a great time with us and then moving on to the next city.

So long, Eddie, and thanks for your part in my boyhood. I’ll close this out with my favorite Van Halen song, with a video so impossibly silly that it was clear the band never intended for us to take them seriously.

– JVW

23 Responses to “Eddie Van Halen, 1955 – 2020”

  1. I also really kind of liked Eddie’s wife, Valerie Bertinelli, the cute daughter from One Day at a Time.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  2. It always amazed me that EvH was behind that wonderful solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It was my understanding that he did it in one take in the studio.

    But you are correct, JVW. I think his smile while playing was so very genuine. And the Tweet from his son Wolfgang announcing his passing was moving.

    Since you like “Panama,” I thought you might like this, by Rick Beato about “Running with the Devil.” You may have already seen it.

    https://youtu.be/SwjNDhSKPk0

    Thank you for the nice essay. I was sad when I heard the news today.

    Simon Jester (41c481)

  3. My ex-wife used to work for Van Halen. You can see that on the records with some combination of her name Nancy Renee Simpson O’Haley. She was called the fan club manager which meant they received letters from fans and then sent the fans catalogs to buy van Halen merchandise.

    I got to go to Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli’s wedding at some castle. He was supposed to be shy, but I found him to be on the mean side to people. David Lee Roth seemed like he was constantly high and Alex van Halen drank a lot. The nicest of the lot was Michael Anthony, the bassist. They would often times pick up wife and I in a limo to go to one of their concerts. They were very loud. After the first time I made sure I wore special earplugs I bought from the Guitar Center thereafter. I also remember that they ended their concerts singing Happy Trails to You in harmony.

    In 1985 when David Lee Roth and Van Halen Split they shut down all operations. That’s when we had my daughter and my ex-wife decided to stay home.

    BTW, I believe Van Halen’s version You Really Got Me was a whole lot better than the version by the Kinks.

    Tanny O'Haley (8a06bc)

  4. Mick and Keith are going to outlive ’em all. Go figure.

    Paul Montagu (77c694)

  5. most white boys my age

    This white boy your age (maybe a few years older) never enjoyed their music.

    when Bruce Springsteen wasn’t singing about your girl leaving you after the town’s factory closed and your VA benefits had been cut

    Or his.

    Spinal Tap was the purest expression of the VH genre.

    Their contemporaries like Talking Heads, The Police, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dire Straits, The Pretenders and U2, among others, have aged a lot better IMO.

    Dave (1bb933)

  6. If not for high schoolers, all these people would be working at McDonald’s.

    nk (1d9030)

  7. I know, I know, that was A Cold Shot.

    nk (1d9030)

  8. Saw VH in maybe 1976 at La Serna HS. Friends had a band named Eulogy and we all thought Rusty Anderson was the best guitarist in SoCal. After seeing EVH we knew there were bigger things ahead.

    Eddie went on to immortality and Rusty ended up as Paul McCartney’s guitarist.
    _

    harkin (7fb4c9)

  9. I think a lot of the present day potential fan base of the 80s hair/hard rock genre have been eased over into country. Van Halen was the house band of the original Cobra Kai generation.

    urbanleftbehind (ade68e)

  10. I etched “VH” into my knock-off Trapper Keeper in middle school…

    Hoi Polloi (2f1acd)

  11. “I etched “VH” into my knock-off Trapper Keeper in middle school”
    _

    The ‘Trapper Keeper‘ episode of South Park is one of my favorites.

    I was a bit earlier.

    One of my friends’ brother was really good at inking the elongated and bulging block letters that were ubiquitous at the time on concert posters. All the kids were asking him to put the name of their favorite band on their blue cloth notebook covers.

    When my turn came I asked for The Beatles. With a look of exasperation he said he was tired of doing that and did I like any other band. I said ‘Steppenwolf! He really liked that and did an amazing job. I wish I still had that notebook.

    harkin (7fb4c9)

  12. That was my favorite song too.

    Remember how MTV played Jump over and over and over and over and over?

    Patterico (115b1f)

  13. The ‘Trapper Keeper‘ episode of South Park is one of my favorites.

    A classic. I love the old cruder South Park episodes a lot. I still love the show, but it’s definitely more complex, and the world is also a lot uglier, so it’s less fantasy, more parody. It’s always been both, but the balance is different. That recent episode taking Trump to task is amazing, but it’s familiar.

    With a look of exasperation he said he was tired of doing that and did I like any other band. I said ‘Steppenwolf! He really liked that and did an amazing job. I wish I still had that notebook.

    That is a great story.

    Dustin (4237e0)

  14. And I still say Magic Carpet Ride was the first rap song.
    _

    harkin (7fb4c9)

  15. One of my friends’ brother was really good at inking the elongated and bulging block letters that were ubiquitous at the time on concert posters. All the kids were asking him to put the name of their favorite band on their blue cloth notebook covers.

    When my turn came I asked for The Beatles. With a look of exasperation he said he was tired of doing that and did I like any other band. I said ‘Steppenwolf! He really liked that and did an amazing job. I wish I still had that notebook.

    harkin (7fb4c9) — 10/7/2020 @ 8:24 am

    I hated my knock-off trapper keeper, but with some help with a friend, we drew the elongated VH to make it more cool. Don’t know if it worked or not but I made it out of middle school in one piece.

    Hoi Polloi (2f1acd)

  16. “Don’t know if it worked or not but I made it out of middle school in one piece.”
    __ _

    The best explanation for middle school is what I got from my Pop when I asked him why it existed:

    “You’re too old to be around the little kids and you’re too young to be around the teens”
    _

    harkin (7fb4c9)

  17. Eddie was top talent; but not the best.

    The five best concerts I ever attended, ranked in personal preference:

    1.Bruce Springsteen.

    The Boss was bumped from the Syrian Mosque venue in Pgh., and liked to play in small halls so he was booked into the 2,000 seat Campus Center auditorium literally across the street from my frat house. Tickets around $4. Born To Run had only recently been released and he’d been on the cover of TIME. He and the band literally played for FOUR & HALF HOURS. They played everything Bruce and when they ran out of his tunes just played classic rock ’til they dropped from exhaustion. It was simply awesome. For four bucks.

    2. Sinatra.

    Atlantic City, N.J. New Year’s Eve. Front row. Tickets: $35. Most professional presentation ever. 90 minutes of classic Francis Albert-hi voice was still good; from Fly Me To The Moon to New York, New York– which drove the locals wild and to the lengthy standing-O.

    3. Count Basie.

    Another $4 college classic. He and the band played his classics. After the show we invited the Count over for a beer; got an LP signed: ‘C. Basie.’ He was a very cool cat.

    4. Benny Goodman.

    Was dragged kicking and screaming to this one by the folks; Albert Hall, London. Tickets were about $15. It was simply magnificent. Goodman did a clarinet solo in the hall and you could literally hear a pin drop– remains one of the most vivid Big Band shows ever–and the venue was awesome.

    5.James Brown.

    ‘The hardest working man in showbiz’ put on a frenzied show- again at the Albert Hall. We lucked out w/good seats about 15 rows back and you could see the effort and the sweat on his brow.

    Special mentions- Chicago & Santana at the Odeon Hammersmith; ‘The fragments:’ Stones Hyde Park freebee [literally across the street interrupting my algebra homework]… Beatles ‘roof concert’- literally in passing to and from school but it was spotty; St; John’s Wood was on the way to Finchley and there was a lot of press around.

    But nothing has topped Springsteen and Sinatra.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  18. I got to go to Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli’s wedding at some castle. He was supposed to be shy, but I found him to be on the mean side to people. David Lee Roth seemed like he was constantly high and Alex van Halen drank a lot. The nicest of the lot was Michael Anthony, the bassist.

    From what I have read, the Van Halen brothers could be real jerks. It’s a big part of the reason that David Lee Roth left the band, and of course they ultimately pushed out Michael Anthony so that Eddie’s son could become the bassist. And even Eddie and Alex eventually started to quarrel, making reunions much less likely.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  19. What year did you see Sinatra, DCSCA? I saw him in the summer of 1990 and it was a fantastic show, among my top five concerts as well. I was fortunate in my timing, because I understand it was only about a year later that he started relying upon the stage monitor teleprompter to remember song lyrics. Oh and by the way, at that time he was two years younger than Joe Biden is today.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  20. “Eddie was top talent; but not the best.“
    _

    I wasn’t much of a fan of VH’s music but if you just look at the testimonials from musicians recognizing on how great a guitarist he was and how much he transformed guitar playing and inspired those who came after is amazing. Comparing VH concerts to Sinatra and Count Basie to say he wasn’t ‘the best’ is lol. So is anyone saying he was the best. He was great and amazing and influential and that seems good enough IMO.

    My favorite EVH story is the time he called Alice Cooper and asked him to set up a lesson with Glen Campbell who was an amazing guitarist in his own right. It goes to show Eddie was always willing to learn, even when he was considered a guitar god.

    And my favorite VH story is the one about why they insisted that all the brown M&Ms be removed from the bowl they required in their dressing rooms. It was an easy way to see if the venues read their contracts.

    harkin (7fb4c9)

  21. @19. JVW- Believe it was New Year’s Eve, 1980. Went down to AC w/t folks. The seats were just amazing for $35–and he was so precise w/his timing– the show lasted 90 minutes to the minute. Recall watching his face- he was still singing from memory- just him in a tux w/a mike– and as if only singing to one ‘person’ the spotlight. It was just really professional– and good.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  22. @20. Well, after the Springsteen event it was hard for anybody to top in my experience but that was in the mid-70s. But we were lucky. And noe of us had ever seen a guy and his band play for 4 1/2 hours. They took a 15 minute break– that’s all. He and the band literally played until they ‘dropped.’

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  23. My advice is, save your rock records in a secure location because after Amy Barrett is confirmed the only popular music you’ll be allowed to listen to will be Donny and Marie Osmond singing Pat Boone’s Greatest Hits.

    nk (1d9030)


Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.2104 secs.