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:

RIP Eddie.


Peak America: David Lee Roth performs with the Boston Pops on the 4th of July

Saturday is the 4th of July. On Sunday, Van Halen kick off their 2015 tour. On July 4, 2004, David Lee Roth played with the Boston Pops in the greatest 4th of July performance of all time. I’m not saying it’s the reason I ended up moving to Boston nine years later, but let’s just say as a matter of fact it is.

David Lee Roth is a ludicrous human being. He was the frontman for one of the biggest rock bands of all time, split with them when they were at their most popular, spent the next 20 or so years releasing solo albums of varying degrees of success, put out an entertaining autobiography, got arrested in Washington Square Park for purchasing $5 worth of pot, reunited with Van Halen, immediately got booted from Van Halen, toured with Sammy Hagar, somehow became the person chosen to replace Howard Stern, got fired from that gig and eventually reunited with Van Halen again, although — since they’re Van Halen — his return signaled the end of original bassist Michael Anthony’s time in the band, as Eddie Van Halen brought in his son, Wolfgang, to play bass. The latest incarnation of Van Halen has actually held together, although fans always assume the whole thing could blow up at any moment.

In the summer of 2002, I attended the Hagar/Roth show in Scranton, Pa. Hagar opened and was a good time despite his Hard rock Jimmy Buffet shtick. Roth closed and strutted out with platinum blonde hair and a skin-tight pink jumpsuit. His performance was … not well received by the crowd. My buddy Mike and I had purchased David Lee Roth T-shirts. On the way out to the parking lot after the show, a guy behind us started singing a reworked version of Roth’s solo song “Just Like Paradise,” changing the lyrics to, “This must be just like David Lee Roth sucks ass.” And in the only instance of anyone finding Mike and I intimidating in our lifetimes, the man’s significant other said to him, “Honey, shhhh! There are Roth fans ahead!”

Anyway, getting back on track, Roth’s performance with The Pops. Or, as the bald guy who introduces Roth to the stage says, “I think it’s time we make the Pops … Rock! What do you say?”

This guy rules
This guy rules

“Jump” kicks in. Roth comes out. No platinum blonde hair this time. No pink jumpsuit. Classy attire for a classy occasion. Most of the crowd, either waving American flags or wearing clothing featuring American flags, do the only proper thing when “Jump” is playing and jump along to the song. At one point Roth joins the conductor of the orchestra so they can sing a few lines together.

These guys also rule
These guys also rule

Roth is in fine voice. Well, for him. Roth’s strength as a live performer is less his singing and more his spinning jump kicks, of which he does several (one of my favorite parts of his autobiography is when he makes it known that those kicks are not just for show, but are in fact an ancient method of kicking a person off a horse). Roth’s other strength as a live performer is his ability to twirl a mic stand, which he does during the guitar solo. When the War to End All Wars occurs in the next 15 years, Roth will be at the front of the side fighting for the good of humanity twirling away. You know this to be true.

As the song nears its end, members of the orchestra begin leaping out of their chairs. Roth pulls out a few more jump kicks. He looks to the sky, his arms outstretched. A job well done? A fireworks display properly opened for?

For those about to rock (we salute you)
For those who have successfully rocked (we salute you)

Damn right it was. Bowzebowzebop.

Brian Cougar

Peak America: David Lee Roth performs with the Boston Pops on the 4th of July