I never expected to write these words down so soon and I have deleted this sentence more than times than I’d like to admit, but two days on from the announcement, I am still reeling in the shock and trying not to get choked up every time I see the continuous outpouring of grief on social media for the loss of Edward Van Halen who passed away after a long battle with cancer aged just 65.
There is nothing that can be written about Eddie Van Halen that isn’t already extensively catalogued in books, fan sites and Wikipedia and for those people looking to get a biography of the man will find it there. Instead, in the wake of the news, I would like to share some personal thoughts and memories on how Eddie Van Halen and his band touched my life and helped shape the music that I love.
As with a lot of people, particularly my age, my first noticing of Van Halen came from watching MTV and seeing music videos for songs such as ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’, ‘Right Now’, ‘Hot For Teacher’ and in particular ‘Jump’. Those synth notes at the start of that track are as iconic as the introductions to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘The Final Countdown’ and ‘Smoke on the Water’ and not only is that intro forever stored in a compartment of my brain that I will know until the day I die, I remember thinking that those guys looked so fuckin’ cool, so laid back with that devil may care attitude which so many bands tried and failed to emulate.
But that was just a track, it’s easy to bop along to a track and forget about it once it ends and the endless cycle of commercials start. What really turned me on to Van Halen was receiving the bands debut album for a birthday from my uncle. As I opened that the present, my uncle uttered the immortal words: “this will blow your mind” and my God, he was right. Playing ‘Van Halen’ was like opening a portal up to Sunset Strip, it oozed sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, this was a band playing the 80’s, taking the mantle from Montrose and Aerosmith and blew all asunder, from David Lee Roth’s cheeky smile and vocals, Alex Van Halen’s solid pounding and Michael Anthony’s driving bass with those luscious harmonies, but it was the guitar playing of one Eddie Van Halen that was otherworldly. I mean, ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’ is superb… but to follow it with ‘Eruption’… Boom! Head. Fucked. Mind. Blown. And that was that. I was hooked on Van Halen. But Adam, Van Roth? or Van Hagar? The answer was, I don’t fuckin’ care, I love Van Halen.
Because of this adoration, Van Halen has followed me throughout my life and even now, when I sit back in my chair and think of the amount of anecdotes that involve Van Halen, it’s a wonder how I managed to get any other band in; but I feel now is the right time to celebrate just how uniquely Edward’s music made parts of life. I scrimped and saved every bit of money from working in a bar to purchase my first car, a maroon Ford Fiesta lovingly nicknamed ‘Clin-Ton’ due to a Kang & Kodos reference from ‘The Simpsons’ that contained the pièce de resistance for any late teenager; the cassette tape deck. To celebrate this, I had acquired a cassette of Van Halen’s ‘OU812’, not their best album, but as luck would have it, this album became stuck in the cassette player and therefore, side one of ‘OU812’ is all I had to listen to… for months. I eventually snapped and tore the entire thing out at the side of a road, much to the amusement of my friend who had witnessed quite possibly the most Basil Fawlty moment of my life. To this day I still find it difficult to listen to the first few songs on that album without developing a twitch.
It is only when you look back on your life at these points that you realise that as a teenager, you were not cool, you were lame, very, very lame. A friend and I used to quote Van Halen to each other on a regular basis in some weird attempt to show we were cool in front of women. We weren’t cool. We were very frozen, so frozen we had freezer burn. These references included spinning our hands in a rhythm a la the band at the end of the ‘Hot For Teacher’ music video whilst singing ‘I’ve got it bad, I’m hot for teacher’ to announcing: “c’mon, gimmie a break” whilst the other person would retort loudly: “ho ho! One break! Cooooming up!”, to getting thrown out of the local strip club for shouting: “hey remember when that girl was prom queen? TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT ALL OFF!”. The actual shame. Furthermore, I regrettably responded to a fellow journalist who was due to conduct a meeting with Gary Cherone over a decade ago that they should ‘punch him for Van Halen III’ and that isn’t my proudest moment. However, none of it could prepare you for the embarrassment of seeing a female friend sporting a Van Halen t-shirt in a bar and like catnip to a cat, I trounced over with a beer in my hand and sat down. All this is very normal for good friends. Unfortunately, what is not normal is that it was at this moment I chose to mention Van Halen and began to rabbit at length about EVERY album, ranking them and explaining the in’s and out’s of each record that culminated in me giving her an extensive quiz about the entire Van Halen discography. I am so sorry Emma! And I know that you are chuckling reading this as much as I am whilst writing! Thankfully, I didn’t go home alone that night. I went to another friends house and watched ‘Live Without a Net’ where I passed out until morning.
The truth of the matter is this, no matter how shit I’m feeling, from bad news to a bad day at the office, I can always pick up the likes of ‘Fair Warning’ or especially ‘Diver Down’ and it will deliver a smile that is infectious and for those precious 30 minutes, that is all that matters in the world and that my friends, is what Van Halen means to me. I never had the fortune to meet Eddie Van Halen, but my heart goes out to his family and whilst his physical form may no longer be here, his spirit lives on in the music that he created. What more can I say than this, turn your radio’s on and he’ll appear right there!