I Forgive You Eddie
// June 4th, 2012 // Main
I Forgive You Eddie
Preamble (or is that ramble?):
Valerie Bertinelli was born on April 23rd. I was born on April 24th. No matter she is my senior by nine years, because everybody knows age means nothing once you clear high school. Considering her popularity with the sitcom “One Day At a Time” from 1975 to 1984, there is little doubt thousands of other prepubescent boys felt the same as did I. But I knew I was the one for her. Those other guys could never adore her as I could. I knew it just as sure as I knew the Coyote would never catch Road Runner. Some things in life just…well, they just are. It was destiny. I just had to figure a way to inform the lovely Ms Bertinelli of our cosmic connection, and don’t think I wasn’t trying to figure a way to do that very thing.
So, then, you can imagine my horror when, in 1981, I learned that the love of my (then) short life married Eddie Van Halen! What the fuck, over? She married a guitar player? Seriously? And not like, you know, some classical guitarist who played for uppity people who dressed formally and offered polite applause at the end of each 17 minute interpretation of some classical piece of music. Civilized. That’s at least respectable. Hell, had that be the case I might have been somewhat understanding. No. This dude was (from what little I knew of him at the time) some hard rock fret burner – probably just another flash in the pan, because even at my age I knew most hard rockers burned out. I was twelve. The fantasy was over, only I didn’t see it as fantasy. Remember we were connected through fate as far as I could tell. I managed to go to sleep at night by telling myself the whole misguided venture would end in divorce. I was young, but Mom let me watch late night TV sometimes, so I knew the deal. In fact this could prove to be a good thing. She will be in shambles, having been taken advantage of by this hard rocker dude, and I would swoop in on my white horse and save her. Actually I planned to borrow my Grandpa’s horse for my heroics, and he was brown…nevertheless…
As you have likely figured, I got over it, at least mostly. I’m pretty sure it took the likes of Christie Brinkley or someone similar to heal my wounds. I honestly don’t remember, but heal they did. I had a lot to look forward to after all. Soon I would finish the 8th grade and be in high school. Hell, I’d be driving in the near future, and when one is mobile, one’s possibilities are endless. So let’s flash forward…
…to 1984. I turned 15 on April 24th, 1984 and, a few months later I attended driver’s education and obtained my license to operate a motor vehicle. Of note is that I achieved the legal right to drive shortly after my birthday with the promise to attend driver’s ed in the summer. Amazingly, though, that glorious achievement is almost a side note. What is of note began in December, 1983 or January, 1984 depending on the source – doesn’t matter.
As a kid I used to lock myself in my room for 4 hours every Sunday and listen to Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40. I recorded the songs I liked on cassette tapes. If you were born after 1987 you won’t understand, and I’m not going to take the time to explain – you’re just too young. Sorry. I’d record and listen to my favorites over and over. Not really an obsession, but close. Anyway, we all know the song “Jump”, by Van Halen. That song was climbing the charts in early 1984 and, by the time I hit driver’s ed that summer, the album (that’s a great big piece of vinyl with music on it for the young readers) “1984″ was dominating, and I’m mobile now, with Mom’s occasional permission of course, so rather than lock myself in my room and listen, I can actually get in the car and drive and listen, which is as we know better than crack Cocaine, especially to a newly-christened freshman. I fell completely for “1984″, but as I was doing so, I felt conflicted. It was as if (almost) I was cheating on my first love. I was betraying her, knowingly. This album was (damn the irony) the mastermind of that bastard Eddie Van Halen — the son-of-a-bitch who stole my girl. I knew it, and yet I was completely immersed in every song. 1984, the year and the record, changed me. I found a new girl, one year my junior, to obsess over, and I fell hard in love with the guitar. I blame Eddie Van Halen for both.
Of course we know that was the last album with the Van Halen I was compelled to love. It only made it to #2 on the charts because Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was entrenched at #1. Seems Eddie, the musical mastermind of the group, and David Lee Roth, the shiny front man, were at odds over the band’s direction. Eddie wanted to continue to experiment, just as he had done with “1984”, and Diamond Dave wanted to get back to the hard rock style heard on each of their previous albums. Now, for reasons that should be obvious by now, I always blamed Eddie for the breakup. The truth is Roth quit. Well, the complete truth I will never know, but I do know they never really liked each other. We all know what happens when egos such as the egos put on display by two successful musicians collide. It ain’t pretty. Alex, the band’s drummer, and Eddie’s brother, once said in an interview that he and Eddie never liked Dave. He said the only reason they let him in the band (while they were still playing back yards in Southern California) was because he had a PA system. Ed was both playing and singling lead at the time. Alex advised his brother they’d have a better chance of success if Ed gave up singing and focused full time on guitar. Dave’s dad was a physician. He had equipment and a consistent (and free) place to practice. But Dave was (and continues to be) a showman. Eddie was (and is) a musician’s musician. Frankly, young as they were, and as immediately successful as they were once finally discovered, I think it’s a miracle they lasted through 6 albums.
Now, Dave had some solo success, and Van Halen just kept on rocking. Van Hagar, as they became loosely known with Sammy Hagar on vocals, was, in fact, extremely successful by any measure. I will be kind to the Gary Cherone years and just acknowledge that, you know, it happened. But Dave was never “Dave”, and Van Halen was never “Van Halen” after the split. Dave was overly, well, “Diamond”, and Van Halen became polished – too polished. Prior to “1984″, Van Halen was rough around the edges by design. They didn’t cover up or make any attempt to hide mistakes on their recordings. Ed once said they wanted their music to be real, and it certainly was, especially during those first 6 albums. The polish that came with Hagar wasn’t enough to overcome Ed’s brilliance, but it alienated fans of the original band, like me. It wasn’t that it was bad. Clearly it was anything but bad. It just wasn’t Van Halen damnit. And nothing else was either.
Van Halen has always been, mistakenly in my humble opinion, classified as “hard rock”. No. Early Metallica is hard rock. Better yet, think Slayer. Speed Metal. Hell I guess it has to be classified as something, ‘cause that’s what people do – we classify stuff, so whatever. For me, though, Van Halen was a middle ground. It wasn’t “Heavy” metal, but it was heavier than, say Bon Jovi (I just thew up some). There is nothing ‘thrashy’ about it, but those riffs, and that crunch – Ed’s ‘brown sound’. And it wasn’t cheesy either, like so much of Poison, Cinderella, and even Motley Crew could be. For whatever they were (or still are), I like each of those bands any plenty others, but Van Halen left a huge void in Rock N Roll when they split, and so from 1985 until 2012, save a few respites like Guns N Roses and, well, fuck it, thank God for Guns N Roses, because that’s about as close as anybody came, and they couldn’t get along either.
So traditionalists rightfully started salivating when the band announced late in 2011 that it would be on tour with the original members in 2012, and the follow up announcement of a studio album, “A Different Kind Of Truth”, sent plenty of my brethren to I.C.U. Please note that one original member is missing. Michael Anthony, the group’s bass player, also feuding with Ed over some damn thing or other, was left off the reunion card. It isn’t that I fail to mention him as a slight. View it instead as a nod in favor of the band’s new bass player, and Ed’s kid (Ed and Valerie’s kid) Wolfgang. So the tour is announced and the CD (although you can buy the Vinyl version if you’re a purist) is released and let me tell you people this: “A Different Kind Of Truth” fucking rocks! If Anthony’s backup vocals are missing, his bass playing surely isn’t. Wolfie can play, and with Ed for a dad why not? It’s the best collection of music released since Guns N Roses debut album was turned out on the unsuspecting public in 1987. Don’t argue with me about that or I’ll kick your ass.
By the way, Ed and Valerie did get divorced just as I predicted, however I’d long since moved on, never forgetting her but recognizing we were worlds apart – too much water under the bridge. I will always love her and you know, never say never I guess, but Ed won me over. What can I say? The band is back together, the really big show is coming to Oakland on June 3rd, 2012, and I’m there in a chair, because I’m old now, but I’m ready do rock it. Can Van Halen still deliver?
Oracle Arena. I arrive gloriously on my motorcycle at 5 o’clock for the show that starts at 7:30. I mill around the place, outside, register to win a Harley Davidson from a local radio station, and make my way to the East Entrance. I’m 4th in line and wait for about an hour for the doors to open. Once inside, I spend 40 bucks on a t-shirt and make my way to the floor. Yes, the floor. The last time I spent that much money on a thing it had wings. So I find my seat and scope the place out, locate the restroom and the concessions (because I’m old and could need either at a moment’s notice) and settle in. Oracle isn’t huge, but it’s plenty big. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a show this size – that being Usher, but don’t tell anybody.
Oh, I had to check out the audio stuff too. The sound engineer is typically center stage at the back of the arena. To be honest I found it a little sparse. I’ve been to shows – ZZ Top comes to mind – where I swear you could power a 757 for a cross-county flight with the power it must have taken to light up all that hardware. This wasn’t the case for this show. As you can see, there are just a couple boards. The lighting gear sat on two tables behind the mixers. Later, two huge walls of amplifiers were revealed on stage, but as I’ve heard Eddie say before, it’s very (and surprisingly) minimal.
Back at my seat I’m watching the people assume their positions. Because we’re all old and thus somewhat friendly I can say the following about my neighbors directly to my right: Nice people, but in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guy, clearly a professional of some sort or other because he was dressed too proper (even if casual) for Rock N Roll, was one of maybe 2 people in the arena to keep his seat while he was there. His wife was the other one. During the intermission between the opening act and the headliner, I left for a frosty beverage. When I returned, I’m pretty sure he was asleep, and I am certain I woke her ass up as I went past them. Why are they here? Did they really pay as much as I paid just to drop by and take a nap?
Directly to my left sat another man and his wife. Actually, his wife was the only one there when I came back from my beverage hunt. She said, “my husband is going to sit in your lap when he gets back.” I said, with a friendly smile and laugh, “uh, wanna bet?” She was probably once thin and attractive like me, but, like me, the years are adding up. Her husband arrived and did not sit in my lap. He didn’t attempt it either, thankfully. A guy about my age with less hair (and that ain’t easy by the way) but who clearly enjoys a good number of hours a week at the gym. I should be so motivated.
And I sure as hell don’t want to forget to mention this guy. Yes, the guy from the Clint Eastwood movie “Every Which Way But Loose”. What the hell is his name? Geoffrey Lewis! That dude. Yeah. That dude and his wife were directly in front of me. Okay, so it wasn’t him for real, but I swear the dude looked just like him. He even wore his cap all cocked off to one side and would turn it backwards every now and then. I mean, it could have been that guy. It wasn’t, but I did a triple take because the resemblance was so close. His wife didn’t look a thing like Sandra Locke though, so I didn’t bother looking around for Clint.
The rest I saw close by were as you might expect for a show headlined by a band that peaked 30 years ago. Lots of middle-age folks. Plenty of dads with their newly teenage sons, showing them what Rock N Roll concerts are all about. I found myself wishing my kids were old enough, but at 6 and 2, not yet. Plenty of ladies who match the description of my row-mate to my left. Once attractive, perhaps still somewhat, but certainly not what they once were. That’s my crowd – no worries. I’m not throwing stones, at least not at them. Now, those who refuse to age gracefully are a different story. And this goes for both men and women. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Rock on. But have sense enough to know if you don’t have it and thus spare us your completely irresponsible flaunting. Of course there were the trophy dates, and it did not escape me that these ladies were, generally speaking, somewhere between rows 1 and 10. Their ‘Ken-Doll” escorts (do I have that backwards?) were clearly proud of their sidekicks, and there were few (if any) wedding rings in that crowd. To my surprise, the obviously 30 and under crowd was well-represented, but I am sad to say the early 20-somethings were scarce. They are either not smart enough to know or simply don’t care that their bands of choice once patterned themselves after a band that probably patterned itself after Van Halen. Holy shit I’m old…
Finally, I’d like to make mention of the wall of beef. I watched them, worriedly, as they made their way down the aisle. There were an even 10 of them – a family I assume. Each was wearing the largest Van Halen t-shirt of its kind. They were happy. They were drinking. And they were…big. Once again, not throwing stones here, because I could stand to shed a pound or 10, but collectively, these folks could have put any average NFL running back into the hall of fame if you know what I mean. And when it came time to cut it loose, let me tell you they were ready. Hell, they were dancing to the piped in crap they play before the show and during intermission. The one I pegged as the father had worked up a good lather before they dimmed the lights. His wife, I assume, was at a Van Halen concert 30 years ago in Oakland. She photocopied her ticket from that show, blew it up, and laminated it. She displayed it proudly. Good for her I say…until Kool And The Gang took the stage. I’m relieved enough to say I’m glad my kids weren’t there to see it.
Oh, and speaking of — Kool doesn’t suck, and neither does the Gang. While there were only a few of the original members on stage (the ones with gray hair I’m sad to say), they put on one hell of a show. Lots of people have questioned the wisdom of a band like Kool And The Gang opening for Van Halen, because remember, people like to categorize stuff and would never pair the two. And I must say the crowd was a bit slow to respond. As for me, I was in to it right away. Any time you have a horn section you have my immediate attention, and Kool And The Gang has one hell of a horn section. By about the third song the crowd was in to it too. The place was hopping, and the wall of beef was doing something similar to the wave I’m pretty sure. Maybe it was a sideways wave. I do not believe anyone was injured. They played for a solid hour, non-stop, and covered all the recognizable stuff you’d expect. It was my 3rd time to see them live in various incarnations. They can play, still, and you won’t be disappointed.
It took the crew 30 minutes to break down the stage and prep for the headliners. I took this time to stand in line for nearly 20 minutes trying to obtain a 12 dollar beverage. At 7 bucks, water didn’t seem worth the trouble, or so I reasoned. It was upon my return that I unfortunately woke the otherwise nice people sitting to my right. I wasn’t in my seat for long when the lights when down and the place truly came alive. Let me say that, for a bunch of 40-somethings and above, we can still make some noise, and I had to smile. The roar of an arena crowd like that can give a guy chills, even if he’s not the guy on the stage.
Van Halen’s entrance wasn’t exactly what you’d call grand. I mean, it wasn’t like the movie “Rock Star” where the guy is lifted up by hydraulics to the top of the stage. They just, I don’t know, kinda assumed their places. In fact the stage itself wasn’t very spectacular at all, with the lone exception of a giant screen that spanned the length of the stage and would have made Jerry Jones jealous. Just a couple relatively low platforms, some stairs, maybe 4 or 5 of them, leading up to the drums, and a slick wooden surface put in place so Diamond Dave could do his thing. The screen made every seat in the place a good seat. It’s that big. From what I could tell there were four cameras projecting images. There was one stage left, one center, one stage right, and a final one behind the mixers at the back of the arena. All in all it was very nicely done. Gotta remember this crowd has cataracts and would probably benefit from surgery.
Now as I’ve said, I’ve been to a few shows in my time. But I have to confess the volume startled me. I’ve seen country shows and rock shows. To be honest, the loudest, and probably the most poorly engineered for sound quality, was Hank Williams Jr. ZZ Top was loud. But this was loud. This was really fucking loud. Oh it was glorious. Yelling at top voice to the person next to you would be 100 percent worthless. If you need to communicate during a song you use sign language or you’re fucked. Period. Did I mention it was glorious? Not only was it loud, but it was good quality. It was a perfect mix of bass, drums, lead, and vocals. It was the best sound quality in an arena I’ve ever heard. And it will knock you on your ass if you’re close enough and not prepared, as I was not prepared. I actually had to blink my eyes and regroup. The wall of beef was not affected as far as I could tell.
I found out as the show progressed that the couple to my left was using Mother Nature’s glory to enhance their experience. I knew I recognized that smell…a little twenty twin twin perhaps? It turns out dude is exactly my age and so, he graduated high school in 1987 just like me. He’s a lawyer of some sort or other although he doesn’t look the part, and Van Halen, to him, is the last of a dying breed. At one point he said (between songs of course because otherwise its way to fucking loud), “You know dude, we’re lucky to see this.” I’d already come to the same conclusion so I nodded my agreement. He put his hand on my shoulder and I put my hand on his shoulder and, as if we’d practiced it, we both put up the pointer and pinky as defiant rockers do. I screamed “Rock and Fucking Roll!!!” I’m not sure if he did, but he screamed something. By then the next song was up so who knows?
I should point out too that Van Halen knows the deal. People are definitely there to hear those old songs, and even a few of the new ones, and everything was covered. They performed at least 5 cuts from their debut album in 1978, at least 3 from “Van Halen II” released in ’79, a couple from “Women And Children First” released in 1980, a couple from “Fair Warning” from ’81, one from “Diver Down” in ’82 – not counting “Cathedral”, and a solid 6 from “1984”. Of course Eddie took the stage solo for “Cathedral” and “Eruption”. The encore was easy to guess since two hours into the show they hadn’t played it. “Jump” was indeed the finale, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t cry. Just a little. Nobody could tell. And I’d be willing to bet I wasn’t alone. Lawyer dude was probably in tears for sure. Or maybe he was too stoned. It was sure as hell too fucking loud to ask him.
They did 3 from the new stuff. Let me say it again. “A Different Kind Of Truth” is the best Rock N Roll album (okay, CD, whatever) to be released since Guns N Roses debut in 1987. I’m not dissing the other stuff, because there was plenty of good Rock N Roll with the Alternative stuff from the ‘90s, but where so many of those bands are gone forever and in many cases hardly missed, Van Halen, at damn near 60 years old not counting Wolfie, can still bring it. Not only that, but they’d blow anybody off the stage at any age. I’m completely certain of that, including Nirvana, and including Guns N Roses.
So, I have to forgive Eddie. I have to forgive him for stealing Valerie, at least mostly, because, you know, there’s a part of me that will always be pissed at him for that. Knowing that it takes two, I have to forgive him for whatever his roll was in the initial breakup. The way I see it that breakup cost me and countless others 3 decades of solid Rock N Roll, and while the new stuff is really that good, you just can’t make up for 30 years of rock with one CD.
Ultimately he is forgiven because of this thing that happened this morning as I’m leaving for work sporting my new Van Halen t-shirt. My daughter asked me why I went to see “that guitar player”. I told her it was because his music meant a lot to me when I was young and that at least in my opinion he is the best Rock N Roll guitar player who ever lived. I told her it was important to me to get to see him play because I never thought I would have another opportunity to do so.
The best way I know how to describe it? I don’t know. I’ve thought a lot about it over the last 24 hours. When I walked out of the arena, I couldn’t tell for sure if I’d just been born again or if I’d just given birth. What I mean is that 20 years ago I felt like I felt last night, and I was completely exhausted, and it was good.
I have been to the mountain top. The music there is really fucking good and sounds like a jet engine playing a chord progression. The lead singer up there can still work a crowd, and the guitar player is Eddie Van Halen. Could Led Zeppelin have been any better? Maybe. I’ll never know. I wish I could find out, but for my generation, Van Halen still out rocks them all. Lawyer dude agrees.