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King Edward I (and last)

In 1979 I was in 8th grade. It’s almost impossible to imagine now what Van Halen did to 8th grade boys back then. We were all musical virgins, and then we weren’t. And they didn’t ask permission either. Our ears were held back against our will, and were ravaged. I remember hearing “Dance the Night Away” from Van Halen II on an 8-track machine in a car and thinking “thank you sir may I have another…” And then “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” came on and the guy driving the car suddenly gunned it to what had to be 100 mph, and I thought “well this is appropriate….”

Everybody wanted to hang with Roth, but dudes wanted to BE Eddie. The coolest dude on the planet. Handsome as the devil, with that iconic hair and that crazy guitar. If you counted up all the time 13 year-olds mimed to “Eruption” in front of their bedroom mirrors, it might add up to decades. If you could turn a bomber pilot’s descent to their target into an opera, this is what it would sound like.

Every kid who ever picked up an electric guitar after this wanted to play “Eruption”, which caused a mass exodus of guitar teachers who couldn’t teach it to them. (And then the smart-asses started showing up with acoustics and saying…..”okay, can you teach me “Spanish Fly” instead?”)

He just made sounds that nobody ever made before. Just made them up on the spot. His earth-altering solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was one take, and he never got a dime for it, because he couldn’t be bothered to ask.

Everybody tried to copy him. Everybody sounded like shit trying to copy him. Eddie told a great story about being in a record store when “Beat It” came on and kids scoffed saying the guitar player was trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen and Eddie tapping them on the shoulder and saying “it was me!”

“That incredible virtuosity combined with that beautiful smile allows me to forgive him for letting David Lee Roth stand in front of him.”

–Pete Townshend

So yea, there was that. Perhaps the greatest guitarist who ever lived might have surrounded himself with guys a little….er….deeper than Roth or Hagar, but you can’t argue with success. Both iterations of the band sold a gabillion records. And no matter who was screeching out front, you knew it was a Van Halen record. Because of Eddie.

(I’m a Roth-era guy myself, but you always remember your first. No disrespect to Sammy. But whenever I start to get all uppity about “Eddie deserved better than these knuckleheads” I just put on “And the Cradle Will Rock” and when Roth deadpans “have you seen junior’s grades?” I instantly change my mind and feel like the two were a match made in rock and roll heaven. I don’t feel that way when Hagar sings about aliens. So suck it PT.)

Who knows what was going on with Eddie? All kinds of crazy stories. Drinking. Drugging. Smoking. Guitar picks on the tongue and electro-magnetic fields. Losing his teeth. Then the cancer diagnosis. Removed a third of his cancerous tongue. There were Salinger-esque stories of him creating music every day…..and sticking it in a drawer. Then more rumors. The band was coming back. With Hagar. No, with Roth. With the guy from Extreme? With BOTH Roth and Hagar. After a while we were all punch drunk, so when Eddie announced that he had bounced bassist Michael Anthony from the band and replaced him with his own son, everybody just sorta shrugged and said “of course he did”. A few more money-grabbing tours….featuring some musical train-wrecks caught on YouTube, a mediocre new album that sorely missed the touch Anthony brought to the band with his background vocals, and then it just sorta petered out.

In short, it hasn’t always been graceful.

Nobody had really been thinking much about Eddie Van Halen these days.

And then the news came. Like it usually does these days. Social media. First one post. Then another. Then my feed was filled. He was gone. As if 2020 hasn’t sucked a big enough bag of dicks already.

It immediately brought me back to 8th grade. It was our soundtrack. It cut through all the teen-angst and bad hair and acne like a power-saw…..”have you seen junior’s GRADES?….” and then Eddie was off on another sonic bender and for 3 minutes at a time all was right with a world kids would never understand.

Fuck cancer. Fuck 2020. All hail King Edward I.

In a bit..


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