“Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.” ―Percy Bysshe Shelley
I’m not a listener of Howard Stern’s radio show, but I do follow him on Instagram and have seen bits & pieces of his recent interview with Wolfgang Van Halen. Following that interview young Wolfgang released a poignant video tribute to his father, and that is the kick in the pants I needed to proceed with my own eulogy, something that has been on my mind for weeks, but y’all know how I get. I really thought I’d be much more prolific in the midst of a global pandemic, but instead I’ve gone in the opposite direction, not reading or writing nearly as much as I should have the past several months.
At any rate…
We lost Eddie Van Halen about a month ago, and as I have done in the past with Whitney Houston, Robin Williams, & Glenn Frey I feel it necessary to do a bit more than just note his passing in the RIP portion of The Sammy Awards. Hero worship isn’t my cup o’ tea for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that so many creative geniuses…actors, writers, musicians…are flawed human beings just like any other person. However, as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to have mercy and overlook such things, choosing instead to focus on the talent and an individual’s contribution to the world. The cool thing about these folks is that they leave a legacy the rest of us can enjoy forever. We read books written by people that died centuries ago. There are movies & TV shows whose entire cast has been gone for decades, yet we still watch. Music may go in & out of style, constantly evolving thru the years…but for most of us once we become fans of a particular band, performer, or genre we are fans for life. Personally, though I am openminded and occasionally hear new stuff that I enjoy, when I settle in with my ear buds & Amazon Music app (as if Bezos needs a free plug) I almost always end up chillin’ out with tunes I’ve listened to countless times over many years…and I’m okay with that.
I don’t remember exactly when I became a Van Halen fan, but it was probably when I was about 12 years old and their mega hit album 1984 hit the shelves of my local record store. MTV was still fresh & fun and actually aired music videos, and everyone remembers David Lee Roth doing air splits in spandex pants. Jump was and always will be Van Halen’s signature song, but they were so much more than that. They were bigger than Roth, who thought he was good enough to go solo not all that long after the success of 1984. He was wrong, because he didn’t understand what all of us eventually came to realize…the core of Van Halen was Eddie himself. To be honest I enjoyed the second incarnation of Van Halen even better because Sammy Hagar is a much more talented vocalist than Roth. I hate the fact that Eddie & Sammy had a falling out, but I appreciate the fact that they made peace months before Eddie’s death. Still, it pains me to think of the two+ decades of fantastic music we missed out on.
I was blessed to see Van Halen on their Balance tour shortly after I graduated college. I’ve heard many of my contemporaries jokingly say that they’re glad social media wasn’t around back then to capture some of our more unsavory exploits, and I understand the sentiment. However, I wish I had more photos & videos of such fun times. The magic of The Internet allows me to know that Van Halen played at The Charleston (WV) Civic Center on Sunday April 23, 1995 (the same day Howard Cosell died). They opened with The Seventh Seal (which is the fifth best song from the Balance album at best), closed with Right Now, and played a two song encore of Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do and Panama. They didn’t even perform Jump. It’s hard to believe that night was more than 25 years ago, and I would love to have pics & videos of it, but sadly it lives on only in my memory. I may not have gotten to see Van Halen at their peak, but I’m so thankful I got to see them in concert.
History tells us that the band would break up shortly thereafter. Van Halen brought in Gary Cherone to sing on one album, but it just didn’t work out. Cherone is a fine performer, and I don’t hate Van Halen III, but Hagar’s departure and the years that followed were all products of Eddie’s “demons”. Van Halen reunited with Roth, then with Hagar, then with Roth again, but most fans acknowledge that, for all intents & purposes, Balance was pretty much the end of the road. The band never produced anything noteworthy afterward, although what they gave us in those first two decades is more than enough, and thank God for that.
In keeping with the general premise of Superfluous 7 I have decided to offer up…in no particular order…my favorite Van Halen songs. But since the band’s legendary career is almost always thought of in two distinct eras I have decided to present seven Roth tunes and seven Hagar tunes. What they all have in common is Eddie…in my opinion the best rock guitarist of all time. Just click on the song & listen to…..
from the home office in Amsterdam, Netherlands…..
The (Supersized) Superfluous 7 Favorite Van Halen Songs: