Mar 09th 2011
Sammy Hagar's book "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock" - which comes out later this month - is apparently quite the tell-all. Normally, I wouldn't care. Outside of the lone tolerable record he made with Van Halen, '5150,' Hagar's music has little appeal to me. Admittedly, I only tried a few of the solo records from the '80s and time changes things, but I've never felt compelled to revisit his catalog.
Regardless, I may have to hold my nose and buy this book. Why? Because although the release purports to be his memoir, the newsy parts of the book appear to focus on Sammy's take on Eddie Van Halen, whom I'd love to see write his own memoir, but I'm not holding my breath.
In an excerpt from Rolling Stone Magazine that you can see online, Sammy provides a harrowing take on the guitar hero's lifestyle. It depicts Eddie as a bottle-smashing alcoholic with wine-blackened teeth submitting to having pieces of his tongue sliced off for a cancer treatment - and he blames his contraction of the disease on putting his guitar pick in his mouth while he fingerpicked.
Call it generational, but for some reason - maybe because I was an adolescent American male in the mid '80s - I've been a fan of Eddie's from the moment I became aware of his existence. Which I date to sometime around Dec. 31, 1983. Why yes, that was the date of MTV's world premiere of the "Jump" video. While that $600 video constituted no one's finest hour, it was enough for me ... And a few months later after I'd become the proud owner of Van Halen I and Van Halen II - which both remain something beyond essential rock guitar listening - and it was all over.
Eddie's playing had it all - charm, humor, technique and it seemed effortless. Watching videos of EVH playing guitar was like watching Jordan play basketball. It just seemed too easy. Or as Living Colour's Vernon Reid once said of Eddie: "He plays guitar like the rest of us breathe."
Less than a year later, I had became one of thousands of fashion-challenged kids circa '85 who would wear their "No Bozos" T-shirts to their guitar lessons. Eddie had made the shirts famous while appearing in rock magazine ads for Ernie Ball guitar strings. They'd suddenly appeared in the mall a short time after.
And if Eddie's guitar playing wasn't enough, he also could play while hanging from a rope, as demonstrated during the "Panama" video, and was married to "One Day At A Time" star, Valerie Bertinelli. For a teenage boy, this was about as impressive a resume as it seemed possible to develop.
It's mildly embarrassing to remember all this now, - a lot of people see Van Halen as nothing more than another collection of thud-rock hair farmers, not hardly.
And seeing how depressingly low EVH appears to have fallen - to date, no one from Van Halen's camp has denied it - is something beyond sad.
Not only because of what it means on a human level, - Eddie has a 19-year-old son and is 56 himself, seemingly with years left in a viable career - if he wants them - but it's a sad, sobering reminder that there's far more to life than playing fast guitar solos and wedding TV stars. And for years, Eddie had lived inside a timeless chamber of musical greatness and carefree living. All you had to do was crank up "Mean Streets" from the band's "Fair Warning," and a part of you feels 15 again.
After this revelation, thinking about Van Halen just won't be the same.
On a brighter note, in October 2007 a friend of mine ended up working the 'follow spot' on Eddie's brother, Alex Van Halen, during the band's reunion tour with David Lee Roth during their stop in Kansas City, Mo. In the lighting world that rates as a pretty easy gig, as drummers tend to remain seated. So my guy - he's the same age as me and a guitarist of some note - was perched about 50 feet above the stage all night.
In talking a few weeks later, I asked him - of course - about Eddie's guitar playing. His reply 'He's the same. It still just flows out of him.' I asked him if Eddie had lost anything from his dizzying chops. My buddy said it sounded perfect to him.
So, let's hope that the next time Eddie's in the news, he's doing so - as he has for years - for his music, and not in his personal life.