Authors: Ian Christe
Tags: #Van Halen (Musical group), #Life Sciences, #Rock musicians - United States, #History & Criticism, #Science, #Entertainment & Performing Arts, #General, #United States, #Rock musicians, #Music, #Rock, #Biography & Autobiography, #Genres & Styles, #Composers & Musicians
Copyright © 2007 by Ian Christe. All rights reserved
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey
Published simultaneously in Canada
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Everybody want some : the Van Halen saga / Ian Christe.
Includes discography (p. 285).
ISBN 978-0-470-03910-6 (cloth)
1. Van Halen (Musical group) 2. Rock musicians—United States. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
I still think that, whatever people say,
you’ve got to read the book.
—Edward Van Halen on how to do things right
For Eugenia Van Halen, Sibyl Roth, Gladys Hagar,
Carol Sobolewski, Josephine Cherone,
and Valerie Bertinelli
And especially Carole Ann Bailey Christe,
I didn’t think it would be fair to write this book without learning how to play “Eruption,” getting a good idea of the mental and manual speed of Eddie Van Halen plus appreciating how much work and practice goes into playing, if not developing, his style. Basically, I wanted to write this epic story about Van Halen with at least a tourist’s understanding of life in the land of big rock.
Like a lot of people, the first time I heard the guitar solo as a kid it sounded blatantly unplayable. I thought it was some kind of special effect, like a Star Wars laser blast, or a hi-tech synthesizer, or some combination of tape editing and video-game noises. That misconception only grew stronger with each successive challenge over the years—if no guitar hero could do better than “Eruption,” then it was virtually untouchable. Anyone who could play even a little piece of it—they were obviously gifted beyond belief.
If Eddie Van Halen was the best guitarist ever, the next logical position to take was not to care. Since the minions throwing themselves on the sword of “Eruption” were mostly empty sounding, as a heavy metal punk teenager it made sense to me not to bother. “Eruption” became the calling card of a certain kind of douche bag who hangs around guitar stores waiting to be discovered, bullying younger players in the meantime.
But ten years passed and there was “Eruption,” still retaining its magic, a brief postcard from some endless freak-out by Van Halen back in 1978, sounding miraculously fast and furious. On a whim, I leafed through a book of Van Halen sheet music and looked over “Eruption.” That’s when I realized it was even possible to play. I knew I could play the notes fast enough, but I had no clue where to begin—it seemed like trying to shake hands with the Tasmanian Devil. Guitar tablature uses an arcane system of notation to indicate finger slides, trills, and bent strings—and “Eruption” pretty much uses every trick in the book.
I feel much better writing this book after learning that “Eruption” was a carefully composed collection of techniques, not an off-the-cuff improvisation. Sitting down at home with my Jackson on my knee, I worked through the song, amazed with each tiny portion that I could extract from the version on
. When I finally pieced it all together after a few days work, it took me about twelve minutes to Eddie’s 90-second journey from razor blues to neoclassical tapping to outer space.
The glowing finger-tapping section turned out to be one of the simplest parts, as it’s all played on one guitar string. Memorizing the rapid-fire chord progressions behind all those notes, I’m sorry to say, took much longer. My progress was only hindered when I discovered over a thousand videos on YouTube of young kids blazing through the supposedly insurmountable “Eruption”—it must be the second most popular genre of video, next to clips of people falling off skateboards and animals biting people’s crotches.
I finally got “Eruption” under control, however, and feels great. I’ve applied the skills and shortcuts to my own playing—unlike the brilliant Eddie, I should add, who was summarizing all the little things he did to make regular songs sound special. I want to say the reason nobody has ever attempted to write this book before is there was never a writer who could play “Eruption.” Or maybe they all died trying.
The Rothozoic Era, 1950–1985
• May 8, 1953: Alexander Arthur van Halen born in Holland.
• October 10, 1953: David Lee Roth born in Bloomington, Indiana.
• June 20,1954: Michael Anthony Sobolewski born in Chicago, Illinios.
• January 26, 1955: Edward Lodwijk van Halen born in Holland.
• Winter 1962: Jan van Halen emigrates with his family to California.
• 1967: Edward gets $100 Teisco Del Ray guitar from Sears.
• 1971: Alex and Eddie Van Halen form the Trojan Rubber Company.
• Autumn 1973: David Lee Roth joins the Van Halen brothers in Mammoth.
• Spring 1974: Mike Sobolewski joins Van Halen, becomes Michael Anthony.
• May 1976: Gene Simmons “discovers” Van Halen at the Starwood, finances unsuccessful demo tape.
• May 1977: Ted Templeman rediscovers Van Halen, signs band to Warner Bros.
• February 10, 1978: Release of Van Halen; leading to tours with Journey, then Black Sabbath.
• October 10, 1978: Van Halen goes platinum.
• March 23, 1979: Release of Van Halen II; first headlining tour runs through October.
• March 26, 1980: Release of Women and Children First.
• August 29, 1980: Eddie Van Halen meets Valerie Bertinelli.
• April 11, 1981: Eddie marries Valerie.
• April 29, 1981: Release of Fair Warning.
• April 14, 1982: Release of Diver Down.
• May 29, 1983: Van Halen paid $1.5 million to play for four hundred thousand people at US Festival ’83.
• January 4, 1984: Release of 1984, featuring band’s first number 1 single, “Jump.”
• September 2, 1984: Final show by classic lineup in Nuremberg, Germany.
• December 31, 1984: David Lee Roth releases Crazy from the Heat.
• April 1985: David Lee Roth exits Van Halen.
Like the stories of other great Americans from Henry Ford to Walt Disney to Fievel the Mouse, the saga of Van Halen begins in an ancient land, far from the United States and its constant supply of hot water and electricity. As a narrator would say in the old movies: Among the windmills, tulips, and wooden shoes of lovely Amsterdam, Holland, there once lived a kindly musician named Jan van Halen.
Born in 1920, van Halen played saxophone and clarinet everywhere, from political events to radio orchestras to circus tents. During World War II, he was reportedly captured while fighting the Nazis, and forced to tour Germany as a prisoner playing propaganda music for the hated Third Reich. When he was released after the war, he traveled to Indonesia, where he met and fell in love with an Indonesian beauty, Eugenia van Beers. She was older, born in 1914, but they married and returned to Amsterdam, to Michelangelostraat, where a baby boy, Alexander Arthur van Halen, was born on May 8, 1953.
Mr. van Halen worked his horns in every venue imaginable, but a musician’s life was unsteady and nomadic. Shortly after the birth of second son Edward Lodwijk van Halen, on January 26, 1955, the young family moved to Rozemarijnstraat in Nijmegen, Holland. The proud father wanted his sons to someday become famous musicians, and he set the bar high for his second son—naming Edward Lodwijk after master composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
The van Halen house was alive with music. Always working on his tone, Jan played along with classical records at home, and the family always listened to his radio broadcasts together. When Jan joined the Dutch air force band, his little boys paraded through the house banging on pans and pot lids while their daddy practiced military marches. “The earliest memories I have about music are from our father,” Alex said. “You couldn’t help but be touched by music—we were surrounded by it.”
Since Jan didn’t have the patience to teach the boys about music, he sent them to lessons to become concert pianists. At six years old, Edward was already studying piano with a strict seventy-two-year-old Russian teacher. He and Alex remained in lessons, practicing Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, for nearly ten years. On one rare occasion when Alex didn’t feel like practicing, he recalled his mother placing his hands on the kitchen table and rapping them sharply with a wooden spoon.
When they were old enough, Alex and Edward joined their father at his gigs. Reaching his finest form, Jan joined the Ton Wijkamp Quin-tet, which took top prize at Holland’s esteemed Loosdrecht Jazz Festival in 1960. As they traveled all around Holland and sometimes across the border to Germany, the boys saw the practical aspects of a musical career firsthand, and on some of the more rustic and ribald nights they discovered the perks—Alex reported losing his virginity at age nine after one of his dad’s gigs.
Letters from Eugenia’s relatives told of a better life in the United States, and slowly lured the van Halens to try their luck in the land of opportunity. At the end of winter 1962, Jan and Eugenia gathered their two boys and the family’s Dutch-made Rippen piano and set sail on a nine-day Atlantic passage with little more than seventy-five Dutch guilders in their pockets. Jan played with the band aboard the ship to pay for the expedition. Eddie and Alex also showed off their piano training, passing the hat among passengers for tips. And so the musical urchins arrived in the New World, all seasoned and ready to work.
A familiar part of many immigrant stories, Jan’s first fateful move on reaching New York was to Americanize his surname, upgrading the antique “van Halen” to the slick “Van Halen,” symbolically starting over as a new man. After the stopover in New York, the newly minted Van Halen clan boarded a four-day train to California, in the corner of the country where the American dream was still available for no money down. They found a small bungalow in Pasadena where they would live together as a family for almost twenty years.
Bushy-headed Alex and little Dutch boy Edward arrived in California with the splinters from wooden clogs still in their feet. Speaking almost no English, they smiled and said yes to anything. The second English word they learned was “accident.” Edward remained extremely shy, and his bolder brother, Alex, protected him. The pair bonded tightly—comparing notes every day after school on what they’d learned on the playground. They began to blend in, riding bikes with neighbor kids, climbing into their tree house, and beating the hell out of each other.
Mr. Van Halen continued playing in wedding bands at night but kept several day jobs. He worked as a janitor, and when necessary walked five miles each way to wash dishes at Arcadia Methodist Hospital. He reinforced the boys’ enthusiasm for music, smiling as they played along with the radio on cardboard guitars, using empty ice-cream tubs for drums. California was living up to its promise of paradise—if only there were more kids in the family: “I always asked my mom where our bass player was,” Eddie said.