Not too long ago, a Van Halen fan, on Facebook, posed the often asked question: Sammy or Dave? My response was “Eddie.” I stand by that.
Between the pandemic and furlough of the spring and this summer and fall’s school situations and distance learning, I have not been much of a writer these past seven months. In fact, since March 17, the date my furlough from work began, I have only posted six pieces of new material on this website.
All that was about to change. Becky and Simon are getting their school routines down, and Finnegan has fallen into a pretty good schedule with his distance learning, so I finally saw myself poised to really get back at it.
I had begun a piece on the forthcoming Bruce Springsteen album last week, knowing that I wouldn’t want to publish it until I could include three of the new tracks (so far, Bruce has just released two). Then, this morning I sat down and began a piece on the announcement that AC/DC has reformed and will be offer a new album and tour in the not-too-distant future, which is another piece that will need at least one single release before I can put it out. I also began plotting a week of notable cover songs that readers might have missed.
I was set to work on those three pieces this afternoon when Finn and I got home from grocery shopping. Those plans were all made before my brother Steve texted me with the news.
“Eddie Van Halen dead” was all the text read, and the grocery store began to suck.
While I would later learn that Eddie was only 65, I won’t say I was surprised to get the news. Other fans might agree that hearing that Eddie died was not unlike hearing that a friend with a bad drug problem or a penchant for drinking and driving has died; his decade-long battle with cancer had been widely reported, and, while we hadn’t heard much about it the last few years, we hadn’t heard much from him in the last few years, and you just had to wonder if that didn’t mean things weren’t going too well.
Still…Eddie Van Halen dead. It didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks, like the deaths of Tom Petty and Chris Cornell had, but it left me feeling like it had felt the same.
I have never lived in a world without Eddie Van Halen, and that’s what the feeling said to me. There would never be another Van Halen album; the last time I saw the band live, in 2012, would always be my last time seeing them. They would never regroup with Sammy for one last album and/or tour. All of this seemed more important than getting the right kind of kitty litter and zip ties.
Eddie Van Halen came into my life when I was 12, but it wasn’t until two years later when I began to realize just what he was going to mean to me as a guitarist. In fact, he was the first musician to show me just how important a musician could be. I’d listened to VH I; Steve had it on vinyl, and the local radio station played its hits and songs of note. I was also familiar with the notable songs from VH II, but, despite the greatness and virtuosity of Eddie’s work on those disks, it wasn’t until the first single off the third album that he truly began to make his mark on me.
This wasn’t because his playing on the first two albums didn’t warrant such note; rather, I was 12, and then 13, and rock and roll music was all about the singers and the lyrics for me. Like I said, it wasn’t until Eddie got in my face, in my ears, and his guitar said, “Hey, check this out, kid; there’s more to pay attention to here than just the singer and the lyrics.”
Steve, that same brother who sent me the text today, was a runner, and in the spring and summer he ran road races. This one Saturday morning in the spring of 1980, he was running a race in the town of St. Albans, which happens to be the same town that the rock radio station we grew up with is located. That morning, that station, FM 105 (WKLC, known as Rock 105 these days), was doing a remote from the race.
In the middle of songs I’d heard countless times, from the likes of Zeppelin, Boston, and The Stones, the DJ announced that he was going to be playing the new Van Halen single. I can imagine that I thought it was pretty cool that he was going to be playing some new music, but there’s no way I was as excited as I would have been if he’d have said he was going to be playing a new track from KISS or Styx.
Now, let me tell you this: I was a huge KISS fan, and I was pretty big on Styx. Truth be known, up till then there were a lot of bands higher on my list than Van Halen. That was all about to change.
Fans of the band know that that third album was Women and Children First, and the lead single was “And the Cradle Will Rock,” and my lands, but how that cradle rocked.
I’d yet to see my first concert, and I don’t ever recall hearing music as loud as I did that day, and if you’re gonna play a song loud, “And the Cradle Will Rock” is just about as great a song as any.
That DJ played that song, and, man, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have had few moments when music changed me more than listening to that song did.
When I say that I had been all about singers and lyrics up to that point, I’m being completely honest. I didn’t know enough about music to see any deeper than that. On that Saturday morning, Eddie Van Halen opened my eyes and ears to what all music could be, and I have never forgotten what an impression it made on me.
From that point on, Van Halen has been one of my favorite bands, and I’ve always considered Eddie to be the greatest hard rock guitarist of all time.
As for the Dave versus Sammy question, I like both versions of the band. Overall, I think the music they made with David Lee is better, but I like Sammy better.
I was fortunate enough to see the band play live with both lead singers, on the band’s first tour with Sammy, in 1986, then with David Lee in 2012. Both shows were excellent. I’m only sorry that I didn’t get to see either incarnation during my sober years; I think it would have been that much better, no matter who was handling the vocals.
It would be easy to base a post on some of Eddie’s more notable guitar songs, like “Eruption” and “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”; rather than that, I thought I’d share a few songs that you might have missed along the way.
So, friends, these are just a few of the songs I’ll be listening to today. They’re among some of my favorites from the Van Halen catalog, and if you’re a fan of rock and roll music I’d hate for you to miss them.
Rest in Peace, Eddie Van Halen, and thanks for pointing me down a pleasant road.