Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hey, Didn't You Used To Be Eddie Van Halen?

Van Halen rules!

Van Halen's first album came out in 1978, my freshman year in high school. I remember the day too, my brother bought it while we were visiting my Grandmother in Modesto and he slapped it on the turntable as soon as we got home. "Running With The Devil" came on and there was this killer guitar sound coming out of our speakers. I'd never heard such power matched with such smooth playing. Then "eruption" came on and my brother and I looked at eachother with our jaws dropped, who the hell is this guy? More importantly, what planet was he from? We wanted to listen to that again but we were too stunned to pick up the needle and we ended up listening to the entire first side, my brother and I had transformed into the apes at the beginning of the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey". Now, I had started to learn to play the guitar this very same year but I wasn't good enough to understand what had just happened. The next most powerful memory was a Monday afternoon guitar class (the is back when they had money for guitar classes in high school). Black Sabbath had played a show up in San Francisco and all of the "Hot" guitar players had gone up to the show. That Monday they didn't play their guitars in the back rooms, instead they brought in their boom-box. Not to listen to Sabbath, not at all, Van Halen had opened the show in San Francisco and these guys weren't ready for it. They sat in the back and listened to "Eruption" over and over and over again. I wasn't cool enough to hang out with those guys but I was lucky enough to be on good terms with Christian Nesmith, Michael Nesmith's son, and Christain had seen Van Halen a few times already. He saw that I was shut out of the crowd and quietly pulled me into a side practice room. He then proceeded to show me the correct way to do the hammer-ons that the "cool" guys were desperately trying to learn in the other room.

I owe a big thank you to Christian Nesmith for that. He'd prematurely ushered me into an exclusive club of uber guitar players. Since I'd learned the proper mechanics, once I'd progressed as a musician I could employ the technique as smoothly as Eddie did.

Eddie Van Halen became my role model, not just because he's a great guitar player but because he was a great guy. My brother and I devoured rock music magazines, every month we bought Cream, Hit Parader, Rolling Stone and Guitar Player Magazine. I found that the great players tended to be cagey in interviews about their music and their technique. The giants of the day, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, seldom did interviews at all and since everyone else idolized them they did the same. Not Eddie, he'd talk to anybody (which he'd later regret) and Van Halen was always somewhere in those magazines every month. The fact that David Lee Roth was a motor-mouth just enhanced the whole thing. Eddie was happy to share his secrets in print and often did just that. Eddie was a family guy too, he was close to his parents and his brother and he wasn't ashamed to say so. He is an all-around good guy and I admired him and emulated him. I loved that his main red & white striped guitar was a beat-up piece of crap [ no, really, he had bicycle reflectors screwed onto the back and it has cigarette burns all over it], while everyone who came before him played expensive name models. I loved that he'd just throw his guitar case into the back of his pickup truck, much to the horror of an interviewer. Eddie was low-maintenance and had a good sense of humor about himself. He was always out ther doing something.

Then he found out he had cancer, it was a tense time. I'd lost Randy Rhoads and I remember how much that hurt and now my hero was sidelined. Thankfully, Eddie'd beat it in a year. Yet today it's hard not to say that we'd lost him. Since the ill-fated Van Halen 3 album, Sasquatch has been more visible than Eddie Van Halen. To be fair, he's had a divorce and he's lost his mother and I know that's got to be hard. It seems that Eddie has become sort of a hermit, staying at home and loosing himself in his studio. In a time when music is so empty, one of it's brightest stars sits behind locked doors playing with himself. I'm not sure what happened, maybe they treated Eddie with Krytonite, but it's hard to believe that he's the same guy anymore. The same guy who'd pop up here and there, special shows and other artist's songs is a phantom, a rumor generator.

A few weeks back, Eddie started popping up again. There he was with Kenny Chesney and a week or so later he's playing new music at a small festival. Music from an upcoming soft-core flick. The Van Halen world was a-buzz in cyber space, some happy and some not, I was happy to see a guy I recognize back out doing what I love him for. He still has a long way to go to live up to the standard he himself had set.

I know he will do it, Van Halen rules!

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