Eddie van Halen recently passed away. And so, yet another of my former idols bites the dust. Seems like most of my old pop and rock idols have died and those few that are still around are no longer active in any (to me) meaningfully creative way. The eighteen-year-old version of me was a huge fan of Van Halen and while more musically gifted friends of mine successfully reverse-engineered his licks and solos, I spent many, many hours listening and playing air guitar to Eddie van Halen’s amazing music.
I think that thanks to being able to play at least a little guitar myself, I always felt that my miserly talent still let me appreciate Eddie van Halen’s virtuosity more than if I hadn’t played at all. I’ve had this mindset throughout much of my adult life. Thanks to having dabbled in so many different fields; designing, cooking, coding, painting, teaching, bartending, writing, filming, etc, I can empathize and be cognizant of both the talent and all the tremendous amount of work it takes to excel at anything you set out to do really well.
In 1981, while visiting Los Angeles with friend Jonas Jarhäll, I bought a used, velvet red, Gibson SG Junior, from 1963 or 1965 at an obscure guitar shop somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. I want to remember paying $400 for it. I brought the SG back with me to Sweden and both loved playing on it and having it hang so beautifully on the wall of my first small apartment.
After my only gig as an “axman” at Christmas party for our local scout troupe, my SG was stolen and I never again bought an electric guitar. Perhaps the bereavement initiated my waning interest in Van Halen and the hard rock genre. In any case, after a concert with Eddie van Halen, Alex van Halen, Michael Anthony, and David Lee Roth during the legendary Monsters of Rock in Stockholm in August of 1984, I eventually moved on to other, more challenging and interesting musical genres.
I certainly read about the departure of frontman David Lee Roth and his replacement Sammy Hagar. But I didn’t continue to buy the band’s records or go to their concerts. As I said, I had moved on. Like in times gone by, much of today’s rock music seems so predictable, stale even, and still caught in a web of clichés, myth-building, bad hairdos, and self-destructiveness.
Today, youngsters call groups like Van Halen “Hair Bands” and marvel at how much work went into their hairdos. Quite interesting how a lot of us men of that era, myself included, wanted to be perceived as masculine and bursting with fertility, yet we had no qualms about spending hours effeminately caring for our hair.
Late last night, I wrote the above comment below the New York Times’s obituary column about Eddie van Halen and now I’m wondering if I might actually still have that bootleg tape somewhere. That would certainly be a wondrous trip in the time machine.