Thoughts On The Dead

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

Last Thoughts On Van Halen


Promises seem to be a theme this week, huh?


Stop yelling.

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

Yes. I did. Two things, though.


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:
  • dlr-backstage-style
  • 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.
  • van-halen-1979-ma
  • 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.
  • vh2_alex_kit
  • 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.
  • van-halen-naked-chick
  • She looks thrilled, doesn’t she?


  1. It’s like a parody of a Pynchon novel, really, except that only Pynchon could write his own satiric parody. Sammy moves from Riverside to the Bay Area to join Van Morrison’s guitarist (“Tupelo Honey”), going from Top 40 copy bands to –“serious rock”–, only to return to his Okie redneck roots with the Van Halen boys. But then when things go awry, Sammy returns to the Bay Area and moves in next door (kinda) to his true hippie bearded brother Bob, and rejects his roots, never to speak to them again, except when he does.

    Is there a mysterious woman named “V”? An inexplicable half-brother chasing a trail of rocket strikes throughout California? A postal service outside of known networks, descended from a 16th century noble family? Or just coincidence that strikes a roadie named Tyrone Slothrop?

    Everybody read a few thousand pages and get back to me.

  2. boo – bies !!! boo – bies!!! boo – bies!!!

  3. Tuesday Jackson

    December 5, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Dave is William Burroughs, and Sammy is Mitch Albom.


  4. The best bands the drummer follows the guitarist? I could throw out a long list, but I’ll just use one – Rush.

    Give me examples of Kreutzmann following anyone in the band. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I’ve never noticed it. But then my listening to the Dead stops at 1974. Maybe the cocaine years changed all that, I don’t know.

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