Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Everybody Wants Some

I just finished reading Ian Christe’s book Everybody Wants Some, a history of Van Halen. I heard about this on the Talking Metal podcast, which is abuzz with news of this original-lineup reunion, minus Michael Anthony on bass, replaced by Eddie’s 16-year-old kid. Weird. Anyway, Christie wrote one of the 700 “history of metal” books that came out a few years back. When he was writing, he got in touch and wanted to stop over and photocopy all of my old zines, but we never hooked up, and actually I never read the book. So I picked up this one, touted to be the first definitive biography of the band, and got to work.

I’m going to start by saying the book is not that great, but it’s up in the air how much this was the author’s fault, and how much of the blame goes on the subject. The history of Van Halen starts with this whole interesting SoCal garage band culture, and these two Dutch kids teaming up with an outspoken Jewish son of an opthamologist, and then hits this mid-point where they are on top of the world and the whole thing implodes. But then the second half of the book is all of these years of dicking around with Sammy Hagar, and toward the end, it’s Eddie locked in a home studio, with a third of his tongue cut out from cancer, his parents dead, his wife gone, about 800 attempts at rehab, three fired/quit singers, a hip transplant, and a brother with fucked-up, inoperable neck trauma.

So at the end of the book, I’m thinking “where the fuck is the high note here?” I mean, it talked about all of the times the VH brothers broke off and tried to reconcile with Roth, with both sides saying the others were poisoning the well. And yeah, they’re back together now. But there’s a chance they will be broken apart by the time the ink dries in the book, and meanwhile, only about 12 people even care. Meanwhile, Michael Anthony the human alcohol filter is set up as the fallen silent hero or some shit, with his bass tracks mixed down, some studio tracks played by EVH, his bass solo snipped from the live set, and finally being told he had to relinquish all rights to all songs and trademarks and take a huge pay cut if he wanted to tour. And next time around, he’s fired. All of the old metalheads identify with Anthony’s party lifestyle, and who gives a fuck if Eddie can eke out Eruption while he’s sitting on stage in a wheelchair looking like the fucking cryptkeeper.

The book had one fundamental flaw which was also a benefit: it appeared that Christie did not have access to any of the members of the band. Most of the quotes were lifted from interviews with magazines or on tape, and there was no buy-in from any of the major players. (I might be wrong on this, but it sure read that way.) So that means there wasn’t any new dirt I didn’t already know. But it also meant that someone didn’t come in with an agenda and bumrush the book. Anyone in the band’s history (with the exception of Gary Cherone, who isn’t big-headed about it, probably because he was in the band for like three weeks) would completely dominate something like this, and if you only know one side of this story, you don’t know any of the story. Case in point: go pick up a copy of David Lee Roth’s Crazy From The Heat book. Now, I love this book, because it’s Roth the showman and storyteller, laying it down and getting into some really crazy shit about the road, his family, and everything else. But when I read his side of the VH split story, I wondered, “how much of this shit is true?” It wasn’t that his story was unbelievable, but I knew there were two sides, and his was going to be giant and overdramatized. And so by not doing an official Van Halen family biography, he sidesteps that problem, but also misses a lot of juice that would have justified the reading time.

Aside from the subject matter, Christie’s writing tries a little too hard in places, and didn’t hold me. It was competent, but it wasn’t a thickly textured tapestry of incredible stories and details. And why treat a band with such fucked up and incredible history just like you would if you were writing a Jewel biography? There wasn’t enough depth to blow me away, and when you’re writing about a band that (at least back in the day) was supposed to blow you away, it just didn’t mesh.

That said, there was a lot of information about Hagar-era Van Halen, and it made me think back to the years I listened to the band, back in high school. 1984 was my introduction as a junior high kid, when it was all over MTV and pop radio. And then I got into 5150 and OU812, even though everyone else wrote off Van Hagar and went on to other, heavier things. While I was reading this book, I put OU812 on the iPod during my drive to work, and was surprised at how that set of tunes totally set the stage for the summer of 1988 for me. I loved my Metallica and VoiVod and Grim Reaper, but I also had that tape in the player quite a bit, and it still takes me back. Those songs are seared into my brain, and it’s always comforting to give them another listen.

Anyway. Just started reading a Houdini biography, and I’m trying to get off the bio kick to get back to some good fiction…