(cue John Bligh's obligatory "Van Hurtin'" comment)
Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Van Halen's eponymous first album. Yes, you read that right, thirty fucking years, so dust off your vinyl, drop the needle to the groove and rock out with yer cock out to "Jamie's Cryin'," "I'm the One," and the superlative "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." And fan of the album though I may be, let me state two things:
1. Van Halen's cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" is a prime example of a cover version adding absolutely nothing to a song that was perfect the first time out of the gate, and their cover is just an excuse for flagrant guitar wankery. I know that can be said of much of Eddie Van Halen's stuff, but it's appropriate in songs generated by his own band; hell, over-the-top "big" rock is kind of their thing, but it goes on a seminal Kinks piece in exactly the way that tits don't belong on a trout.
2. The following year's VAN HALEN II is a superior effort in every way, and is by far my favorite in their discography.
Admittedly, I came to the Van Halen party fairly late, disdaining them when they first came out because they topped the list of contemporary artists that many of the douchebags I grew up with worshipped, and, not liking much of what they enjoyed, I figured Van Halen simply had to suck by association. I felt David Lee Roth was a douche of the highest order — a fact later borne out by his tailor-made-for-the-young-MTV, nauseatingly "Ain't I cute?" early solo work, especially his add-nothing-to-the-original version of Louis Prima's "Just A Gigolo" — who embodied every obnoxious "cock rocker" cliché,
Michael Anthony was a colossal “who cares?” on bass — an opinion I still hold, by the way; he’s the luckiest guy in rock this side of Ringo — , hound-faced Alex Van Halen providing drumming that was merely adequate at best, and Eddie Van Halen, hailed by many of my contemporaries as “the world’s greatest guitarist," always seemed to me to be a guy who only got into such crazy guitar noodling because he couldn’t achieve the same sounds with his dick.
In short, I thought they were pointlessly overrated and a total fucking joke. Just another flashy pop group to make the boys pump their adolescent fists while indulging in testosterone-glazed male fantasies, while the girls screamed and dreamed of having their fresh out of the box eggs fertilized by these long-haired pagan music gawdz.
Then the fall of 1986 rolled around, beginning what I now refer to as my “lost” year, a time where all I did was shamelessly drink, crank some righteous tunes, get stoned out of my mind, and have some strange pussy writhing atop my face all day rather than going to class like I was supposed to, as well as serving as some sort of a responsible role model in my capacity as an R.A. (Resident Assistant). During that year (and a bit of the previous one) my musical horizons were expanded by the influence of several people, one of whom was a freshman stoner I’ll rename as “Michael Ellis,” just in case he’s holding public office these days (highly unlikely); if you were there at the time and knew the male denizens of my hall you’ll know exactly who this guy was, especially if you remember his close association with Phil the Ska-Man.
Michael could have been the living embodiment of the California surfer burnout if he’d come from the west coast, but I think he hailed from Long Island, and his musical sensibilities definitely reflected what suburban teenagers on the East Coast had listened to since the mid-1960’s, a post-acid era grab bag of stuff passed down from parents and older siblings, as well as what few obscurities they discovered on their own. Michael’s playlist of faves consisted of familiar standbys — the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors (a band from whom I can tolerate perhaps six songs) — and I grew used to the sounds emanating from his shared dorm room coming off like what would happen if you let a very stoned high-schooler deejay on a “classic” rock station (which in effect is what it was).
Then one afternoon, after taking a few serious pulls from my bright purple bong, I heard some particularly tasty guitarwork kerranging out of Michael’s room and walked in to ask what it was. Bleary-eyed, he looked at me like I’d just grown an extra head — which, to be fair, from his perception may have seemed the case — and exclaimed, “Dude! You don’t know Van Halen? Van Halen??? Dude, I cannot fucking believe that a music guru like you does not know Van fuckin’ Halen! Aw, man, we gotta smoke some bowls and correct this error!”
Michael spastically rummaged through his stash drawer, fumbling through an impressive array of well-used pipes, replacement bong bowls, an assortment of large and glueless rolling papers, before finding a marble-sized chunk of very dark hashish. He skillfully crumbled some into a nearby wooden dugout pipe, covered the claylike treat with some skunky bud that was as bright green as Kermit the frog’s pond-dwelling balls, and then sparked up the psychedelic wonderment.
Not a word was said until we’d finished the bowl and allowed some its bounty to take effect, and when it did Michael picked up the turntable’s needle and dropped it onto a track that instantly played off of the very good high that was wending its way through the convolutions of my brain. The abrupt and nervous opening licks of “Light Up the Sky” were like being at ground zero during a NASA space launch when the ignition began, and then the pregnant pause as the man-made holocaust of exhaust fuel thrust a phallic vehicle into the waiting sky, on a course to penetrate the firmament and journey into the unknown with its metaphorical nuts trailing behind.
The sheer power of the piece evoked colorful and violent mid-air or deep space dogfights between impossibly swift vehicles, each discharging payloads of plasma, missles, blaster beams, what have you at one another, raining flaming debris onto unlucky onlookers who’d rather perish than miss such a mind-blowing display. Eddie Van Halen’s crazy guitar virtuosity seemed to have been put upon this Earth to paint such a tableu, while Roth’s alternately shrill and sotto voce delivery lent just the right balance of hysteria and ancient storyteller’s point of view to the song, and I wondered aloud how this awesomeness had eluded me. Michael simply asked, “Was it the favorite of your town’s assholes and loadies? Well, that explains it.”
We listened to the rest of what I found out was VAN HALEN II and then backtracked to the first album, where I discovered the three gems I mentioned at the start of this piece. Since that time I’ve come to have a great fondness for some of the songs from band’s early period — roughly VAN HALEN through FAIR WARNING — and even enjoy the frat boy obnoxiousness of “Hot For Teacher,” but after that David Lee Roth left (or was kicked out, depending on who you listen to) due to tension between himself and Eddie Van Halen, and embarked on a pitifully clownish solo career, thus utterly excising the entire point of Van Halen: the Dave and Eddie show, a blessed fusion/pissing contest of two hyper-masculine, overly-theatrical rawk gawdz at their peaks.
David Lee Roth expresses his opinion of Michael Anthony's skills with a rectal methane salute, while Eddie nears "the vinegar strokes."
So that’s my two cents on VH. Any of you got some stories you’d care to share?