One of my favorite things about Eddie Van Halen was the fact that, in basically every interview, he would point out that the last album he purchased was Peter Gabriel’s “So,” which came out in 1986. He was still saying this in 2015! Even if it was true, I never knew why he did this. Was it a way to cut off comparing himself to, or commenting on, modern music? Did he just think it was a funny anecdote? Or was it a way for him to remind the person interviewing him, “I am not like you.”?
I started listening to Van Halen in 1999, the year after they released their least well-received album, “Van Halen III.” I was a teenager at the time — Van Halen was not a popular group among the vast majority of teens in 1999! I, like many people, purchased an electric guitar because of Eddie Van Halen. He made playing guitar look so easy I thought if I just started tapping the fretboard and smiling something like “Eruption” would come blasting out of the amp. It did not.
I began visiting the Van Halen message board (I still do, on occasion, but not today). Here is what happens on the Van Halen message board, every day: People argue about who was the better Van Halen frontman: David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar? This is an insane argument, for two reasons: 1) it’s clearly Roth, and 2) you’re never going to convince someone who holds the opposite opinion that they are wrong. The world today often seems like a Van Halen message board.
It’s weird when you’ve been listening to a band for 20-plus years, which memories the songs and albums trigger. Reading the tributes to Eddie, who passed away at 65 on Tuesday, I saw a lot of people who were alive when Van Halen first broke out remembering shows and parties and where they were when they heard the first album for the first time (imagine this was your first album).
My memories, since I got into the band long after their heyday, are more individual. Listening to “1984” on 9/11 to try to get my head straight. Walking around the streets of Scranton late at night when I couldn’t sleep in college with “Fair Warning” playing on my Discman. Running along the Charles River the first warm day of spring with “5150” blasting in my earphones.
You probably haven’t heard this Van Halen song before. It’s a good one: