I overheard a conversation at lunch the other day in which one of the assistants, someone a dozen years my senior, explaimed in an excited voice that she was going to a VAN HALEN concert. She said it in this sort of way that a sadly ironic person says “LET’S PARTY, YEAH!” in a very amateur-night-out sort of sense, like when Will Ferell playing some PTA soccer dad would say “We’re going to the Pottery Barn! It’s gonna rock!” After she left the room, I wondered aloud, “Who the FUCK even listens to Van Halen anymore?” And apparently nobody knew, because I was the only one at the table who even knew that Sammy Hagar had rejoined the group and that they hit the road again. When I thought about it, these guys have been off the map for at least five years now; I remember reading a story about the whole Hagar/Cherone/Roth switcheroo in some horrendous entertainment magazine when I was getting my hair cut in Seattle, and it’s strange to think that was five years ago, but it was.
I remember in Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City where he talks about metal bands that are lifestyle bands, and I agree with him, especially since Van Halen fits that bill. I remember a time in maybe junior high, when a Van Halen poster meant you were a badass, a Van Halen t-shirt evoked this image of total parties and insane times. I think the first Van Halen I ever really heard was 1984 which had a picture of an angel smoking on the cover, and I remember when I got it at the Concord Mall and my friend Jim Manges told me I shouldn’t show it to his mom because she thought it was Satanism. (To be fair, she thought everything was Satanism.) But I always envisioned Van Halen fans as being like the bikers at Altamont that kicked the shit out of the kids, the kind of people that played a lot of pool in dingy bars and rode Harleys and had chicks in bikinis around them all the time, and drank Jack Daniels straight out of bottles like it was iced tea. I listened to that album a lot, and it was cool music, but not exactly as heavy duty as I depicted. I mean, it even had a synthesizer intro track, and everyone knew back in 1984 that only new wave bands played synthesizer, right? But I knew somehow that all of those OLDER Van Halen albums were totally hardcore, even though I never heard a note of them.
Well, Van Halen made a huge transformation when Diamond Dave left and they brought Sammy Hagar onboard. I wasn’t one of those people that called them Van Hagar and hated Sammy and said they were a bunch of pussies, but that album 5150 was probably closer to an Asia album than a Megadeth album. I mean, I liked it, and I listened to it, but the dream was over as far as VH being a party band. I mean, wearing one of their T-shirts could get your ass kicked.
But, I guess somewhere in the bowels of Long Island, people still think Van Halen is “heavy”. I don’t know. This is one of those things like people thinking that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a lot of blood in it, or swearing their friend had a Boba Fett with a working rocket pack dart. It’s like an urban legend of music, a perpetuated myth that took off on its own. And to give credit where credit is due, it’s probably all David Lee Roth’s fault. If you read his book (and who know what stories are true and what ones are bullshit) he talks a lot about crazy stuff on the road, pranks he pulled and women he bedded and stunts they tried. Because of his crazy interviews and stealth marketing, Van Halen became a festival of debauchery, long before the days when music videos and Courtney Love antics did this to bands.
So I went back and listened to a lot of this older Van Halen, that I thought must be the magic key to loose chicks and wild times back when I was in the 8th grade. Guess what? It’s all pretty tame. I mean, “Unchained” is probably the hardest rocking of that era, and stuff like “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” are classic AOR staples, but so is the entire Boston catalog, and you hear all of them in elevator music these days. But the you’ve got stuff like “Ice Cream Man” and stuff, so I don’t know.
I was going to go on with this, but I’m bored and it’s late and I don’t really care.