Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Thoughts on Van Halen

You may or may not have heard that Sammy Hagar's autobiography Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock is coming out on March 15th. What seems to be getting the most press is the part where he talks about the apparent mess that was the Van Halen 2004 reunion tour. While I believe Sammy is right to tell the story of how Eddie Van Halen's alcoholism threw a guitar-sized monkey wrench into that tour, I am afraid that that is what people will emphasize as Eddie's true behavior. It's not. I have a fair deal of experience in my life with people who are alcoholics, and if there's one thing I know, they tend to be completely different people drunk than sober. Remember, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde was originally about alcoholism (read the story, and think 'alcohol' wherever you see 'magic potion'). I tend to think that Eddie's true personality is more like what Dweezil Zappa experienced when he met Eddie.

But enough on that. What I really wanted to talk about was the band itself. Van Halen has been my favorite band ever since I first heard Van Halen II in 1983. That was when my musical tastes shifted from Top 40 pop music to Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Unfortunately, my father deemed me too young to go see a concert during the 1984 tour without adult supervision (and it was going to be a cold day in hell before he EVER went to see a band like Van Halen play!). By the time of the 5150 tour, I was not only old enough, but I could pay for my own ticket. But you may recall there was a small change in the band between those two tours.

When it comes to Van Halen, there are fans generally divided into two camps: Those who prefer the David Lee Roth era, and those who prefer the "Van Hagar" era. I am not either of those people. Personally, I think it is a stupid dichotomy. Yes, Van Halen with Sammy doesn't sound quite the same as Van Halen with Roth. But for me, the musical change coincided with my change from a teenage boy into a young man. While they still made hard rocking and fun songs, there was a seriousness to the music that I don't think a Roth-fronted band could never have achieved.

If there was a downside to Sammy's tenure in the band, it was that Sammy had an aversion to singing Roth songs. It's not that he couldn't handle them (contrary to the opinion of some, Hagar is a better singer than Roth). Rather, he didn't want to sing them. Therefore, the first six years of the band's history was progressively marginalized on all of the Sammy tours. This means I never got to hear Dance The Night Away live (at least, not until 2007).

I am glad the Brothers Van Halen reunited with Roth, as the reunion tour in 2007 meant that I got to see a show the 14 year-old me missed out on. I hope they finally do come out with an album this year, as they have been away from the music scene for far too long. At the same time, I am sad that the rift between Eddie and Sammy is still so great, because any tour with Roth means that the entire Hagar catalog will be completely ignored. David Lee Roth can't even sing like David Lee Roth anymore, let alone try belting out anything Sammy sung.

I had some more thoughts, but it's late. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on Survivor: Redemption Island Episode 4-Pony Boy vs. Gollum!

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