I don't usually say anything about celebrities and their lives here unless they are directly related to cycling. But I do veer into guitar territory here on rare occasions, being that I am Guitar Ted after all. One shouldn't be surprised then that I have an affinity for guitars and musicians that play the instrument. Obviously, upon the death yesterday of Edward Van Halen, I have a few thoughts to share.
Typically celebrity deaths don't affect me. I just note the achievements or historical significance of the person and move on. I generally don't have any emotional ties to such individuals. That said, when I opened up Twitter Tuesday and saw Van Halen trending, I had to see why. When I saw that it was being reported that Edward Van Halen was dead, I audibly gasped. That reaction actually surprised me. I had to stop and consider that.....
|Artwork for Van Halen's debut album in 1978.|
My dad had me doing a chore that Summer of 1978. We lived in a late 19th Century wooden home that had a native limestone foundation. It had a cellar, the type of which would have made for a good creep show episode. There were spider webs everywhere. Mostly Wolf spiders, the big, hairy black ones that make those webs that look like a vortex into Hell. Those things were all over that basement. Well, my dad had me clearing that all off so he could paint some foundation sealant on the walls. It was hot, humid, dank, dark, and full of spiders. Ugh! I had to carry everything out of that basement to the back yard, clean it off, and clean off the walls. To lessen the pain I set my boom box up in the back yard blaring tunes from an FM radio station somewhere.
Of course, most of those tunes were in the style of the then popular trend of disco. Gah! I HATED Disco, but what are you going to do in 1978. I couldn't play my LP's, and there certainly were no live bands in the neighborhood, so the flavor of the day was better than nothing. Suddenly I heard this blast of heavy guitar and this maniacal scream. What?!! I actually stopped to listen at the risk of getting yelled at by my dad for work stoppage. I listened to the entire song. The DJ at the end said it was "Dance The Night Away" by Van Halen. Now, at the time, no one named a band by a surname, so naturally I thought this singer was named "Van Halen". I went to the record store first chance I got afterward, spent my hard earned bucks on Van Halen's first two albums, and learned that no- Van Halen was the surname of two of the members of the band, but not the singer. Okay. Weird, but whatever. This band was awesome, and they were from America. (A big deal to me back then)
There have been only a few songs in my life so far that hit me like that Van Halen tune did. One was when I heard "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Ozbourne's Blizzard of Oz. I heard that one on a commercial on the radio, and I jumped up straight away and purchased that album based on what I heard in a 30 second radio ad. Another was when I heard "Band On The Run" on a crackly AM radio station. I thought it was three different songs! When I heard that it was none other than Paul McCartney and Wings, I bought the 45rpm single the next day. Of course, the whole guitar thing for me was sealed when I came downstairs late one evening to ask for a drink of water in 1969 and saw some Black guy playing guitar with his teeth on the television as my parents were snoozing on their couches. I never did get that glass of water, but I was sure going to be like Jimi some day. I knew that much then, although I didn't figure out who that was till years later.
So, anyway, the Van Halen deal was a big, big deal for me. I saw them play once, with Sammy Hagar as lead vocalist, and it was magical. (I saw former VH vocalist, David Lee Roth, with Steve Vai the same year, also magical) I love Van Halen's music, and of course, everyone knows Eddie made guitar playing go into an entirely new direction when he hit the scene. If you are not familiar with his musical genius, I would point you to what I think is the most quintessentially "Van Halen" guitar solo Eddie ever laid down, and it isn't even on a Van Halen recording. It is on Michael Jackson's "Beat It". Everything Eddie was all about to the guitar playing world is packed into that one solo.
Obviously there is so much more depth to Eddie's repertoire. The sweet 12 string intro to "In A Simple Rhyme" comes to mind. Or the ratty acoustic slide guitar of "Take Your Whiskey Home" is another side to Eddie many do not think about. Then you have "Jump", the big hit with Eddie on keyboard! The list could keep going on. Van Halen roared from the late 70's, went on unabated into the 80's, and went straight through into the 90's, and then kind of faded from popularity. However, the name "Van Halen" is now firmly cemented into most folks minds as "rock guitar virtuoso". He and his home painted, cobbled together guitar are synonymous with a certain era of rock and roll music. Not many musicians can claim to have taken popular guitar based music into an entirely new era with influences still seen and heard today. Eddie Van Halen can claim all of that and more. Godspeed, Eddie. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family, friends, and fans everywhere.
Thanks for indulging me on this post today.