And the cradle will no longer rock.
That’s my favorite Van Halen song. It sounds so alive, but Eddie Van Halen isn’t.
He paid his dues. You’ve got to be a virtuoso. When no one is watching, no one is paying attention, you’re on a mission.
And then they started knocking around town. Most bands fermented in their local burb and ultimately pulled up roots and moved to Hollywood. Van Halen started here. And you could see them all the time. At clubs like the Starwood or Gazzarri’s, which never featured stars, just those on the way up or those who would never make it. The stars played the Whisky, the Troubadour, the Roxy. You went to the Starwood and Gazzarri’s to rock, to hang with like-minded people, it was a niche, and few broke out of it.
So Gene Simmons decided to pony up for a demo. We knew because we heard it on KROQ. “Runnin’ With The Devil.”
But still, Van Halen was stuck in no-man’s land. Everybody in L.A. knew them, but no one outside Tinseltown did. One wondered if their moment was gonna pass.
And it was not an act that played nicely with others. As in it didn’t always fit. Van Halen were born to be headliners. I saw them opening for Nils Lofgren at the Santa Monica Civic before the first album came out. David Lee Roth resembled no one so much as Jim Dandy, of the execrable Black Oak Arkansas. A larger than life cartoon that was playing to the back row of the arena even though we were in a theatre. As for Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, it was so loud and I was so close that it all washed over me, I didn’t get it.
Until “Van Halen II.” When the clerks at Rhino Records were testifying how great Eddie was, and they didn’t like anybody unless they were obscure, and someone playing this kind of music? It perked up my ears.
So, they were always around.
I took a class with Jim Rissmiller, he’s gone now too, about concert promotion. He brought in Noel Monk, the band’s manager at the time, and Noel filled us in on “Diver Down,” which was imminent. But it was “1984” that broke the band wide, I mean to everybody.
And David Lee Roth thought he was the act, but it was always Eddie Van Halen, always. Van Halen could continue with a new lead singer, but not without Eddie. Van Halen was one of the very few bands that could succeed at the same level with a new lead singer, that’s testimony to Van Halen’s skills. Sammy Hagar has the pipes, but look at the venues Hagar’s playing now.
But back to “1984.” It was released on New Year’s Day, when at the time no one put out any music in January whatsoever. And it dominated the airwaves. “Jump” was in the jukebox at the Rainbow, it was played over and over that spring and summer, long after it had left the airwaves.
And of course Van Halen was supercharged by MTV. But somehow they truly bridged the gap. Most of the classic rockers, those with careers before the music television service, did performance videos, where they stood still, Van Halen jumped around, to the point where Eddie had to get his hips replaced.
Actually, my favorite track on “1984” is “I’ll Wait.” That was one of the album’s breakthroughs. Not only was Eddie a star on guitar, he mastered the keys too, he could add new sounds, he wanted to grow.
And Dave went on to sing about “California Girls” as the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony licked their wounds and then two years later, the newly configured Van Hagar came out with “5150.”
The hit was “Why Can’t This Be Love.” The work track, the one that came out in advance. And at first it was different, you didn’t quite get it, but then you couldn’t get enough of it, you played it over and over again.
It was still the vinyl era. I bought the LP the day it came out. And it’s very good. At this point its most famous, most played cut, is “Dreams,” which could never be done with Dave, but my favorite opens the second side, “Best of Both Worlds.” It was the riff and the dynamics. From loud to understated. I tingle as I listen right now. This wasn’t pure balls to the wall, it mixed in-your-face with subtle, twisting and turning along the way.
And if you watch the video live from New Haven, not only can you see Eddie play the notes effortlessly, you see him moving in time, dancing at the front of the stage and the effect is one of pure, unmitigated joy. Isn’t that the point, to let the sound elevate your mood, to take you to heaven right here on earth?
And Sammy’s manager, Ed Leffler lifted the band to new financial heights. They were true superstars. They continued while everyone else faded.
As for the ill-fated encore with Gary Cherone, let’s forget it, everyone else has.
But we can never forget what came before.
Van Halen hooked up with Ted Templeman and redid “Runnin’ With the Devil” and it was all over the radio in L.A.
Eddie Van Halen lived his life like there was no tomorrow. As did those caught up in the sound. To the point there are tons of old fans scraping by, they never expected the sound to die.
And it turned out the simple life wasn’t that simple. Once you made the record you went on the endless road, where you got high and got laid but it was never enough and you could not get off the treadmill and Eddie got further into drink to cope. It’s hard to be a hero when you’re shy and you’re not sure if people truly understand you.
As for Jamie cryin’…the bands did not want to get stuck, they were reaching for the brass ring, settling down to a traditional life was not in the cards, you made it or died trying, there was no safety net.
And Eddie could make covers his own, but it was always the originals that gripped you, you truly wanted to dance the night away. And when you did you were singing along at the top of your lungs, even if you couldn’t hear yourself, because you bonded with the sound, it was your sound, your life. We all wanted some. As for Junior’s grades…school didn’t help you in rock and roll, it was religion, not something you could learn in class, you were either bitten by the bug or you were not, and those of us who were needed heroes to put our faith in, like Eddie Van Halen.
So where have all the good times gone?
That’s what I want to know. They evaporated. Rod Stewart sold out and sang the Great American Songbook which a rock fan might have heard on the way up, but never wanted to hear again. We believed, we put our faith in you, you weren’t supposed to let us down. It was love with Van Halen. We were looking for something to fill the hole and Eddie always did.
Did Eddie finish what he started?
I guess he did, but it doesn’t feel that way. We expected him to pull through. We expected to see him on the boards again.
And Eddie forged his own path. You know if you see his original Frankenstein guitar. If you owned it you wouldn’t let it leave your bedroom, it appeared that fragile. But in Eddie’s hands not only was it solid, it emanated the elixir of life, that’s what music provides when it’s done right, and Van Halen did it right.
What can I tell you. Everybody on the inside knew Eddie was sick. But he was sick for so long it looked like he would always be with us. But now he’s not.
And Eddie had a reputation for being off-putting, but the truth was he was just gun-shy, that’s how you get when you’ve been ripped-off and pushed around so much, some people embrace stardom, others know to put it on a shelf, they know who they are, and they don’t want the accolades to change who they are.
And first and foremost Eddie Van Halen was a musician. He’d be silent and uncomfortable, but if you got him into conversation, if he trusted you, he’d light up, he’d talk a mile a minute about music, he was passionate. That’s the essence of a great artist, that passion, the quest, which has got more to do with the music than the fame, the fame is just a byproduct.
So we expect the classic rockers to die. After all, many are pushing eighty. But Eddie Van Halen came from the second generation, he didn’t make it in the sixties but the seventies, and he knew what came before, he’d digested the Beatles, unlike today’s rockers he knew about melody and song structure.
But we don’t expect anybody from the second generation to die yet, unless it’s an accident, or…
The Big C.
It knows no limits, no matter how rich you are, oftentimes no matter how healthy you eat and live, it can still get you, it can still bite you in the ass.
Now one of the great things about being a musician is if you do it right your work sustains. And the work of so many of the bands of the seventies and eighties has already been forgotten, but not Van Halen, never Van Halen.
And there will be no more Van Halen. Without Eddie you just can’t do it, no one can replace him. Didn’t we learn that with Dave, with his revolving door of axemen? You see it isn’t solely about skill, it’s something more than that, it’s inspiration. Being able to transcend what has come before and create something new. To the point where Eddie Van Halen has a place in the same cadre of guitarists as Clapton, Page and Beck. Like Jimi Hendrix before him, Eddie Van Halen tested the limits, came up with a new sound. Suddenly everybody was tapping, trying to re-create “Eruption.” But the key is to come up with it first, to innovate, to push the envelope for the thrill of it all.
And it wasn’t only guys who were fans, but girls too, which wasn’t always the case with these bands. And Eddie married America’s sweetheart and looked like he was living the life, but life is more complicated than that.
Janie got Eddie clean. She sat him on the couch and said he was going to do rehab her way. And it stuck. But you can use all the bullets in your arsenal and still not beat the Big C.
And now I don’t want to end this. I could write about Van Halen forever. And I have, many a time.
And there’s such exuberance in tracks like “And the Cradle Will Rock…”
And such gravitas in numbers like “Love Walks In.”
It’s a conundrum. Eddie could do more than one thing, it was fascinating to follow the evolution.
But now it’s done.
But on hot summer nights to come we’ll still have that mellifluous sound of his guitar coming out of dashboards, out of earbuds. Van Halen was the sound of life, how can Eddie be dead?
I’m in shock.
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