The Unbearable Lightness of Van Halen
I came across this interview
with David Lee Roth in today's Washington Post. Which sparked a number of meandering thoughts about Van Halen, Nirvana and music in general that frankly you're just going to have to deal with today.
First of all, I've never liked David Lee Roth. His big fat ego and desire for a solo career ruined Van Halen, the uber-group of my boyhood - a tragedy we'll touch on momentarily. But as much as I loathe him, the fact is Van Halen was never
the same without him. I'm sorry Mr. Hagar, that's just truth to power. Hell, as far as I'm concerned the band ceased to exist sometime in the mid 80's; you could no more Van Halen (good) without David Lee Roth (bad) than you could have pea soup (good) without peas (bad).
Damn, that's a weird analogy. Perhaps I'll submit it to whatever evil crowd of faceless shakedown devils
creates and distributes the SATs. Pea soup is to Van Halen as peas are to _________ .
Anyway, seeing that article reminded me of how sad I was when I heard the band was breaking up (this was before I know there would be - ugh - replacement singers). They were my favorite band, and I was crushed to think that there be no more Van Halen albums coming out. No more flashy videos. No more slashing guitar work. No more background harmonies. (A brief note: those harmonies, for me, are the distinguishing marks of the real
Van Halen. Cue up Dance the Night Away
or Jamie's Crying
or Running With the Devil
. Listen. Compare to post-Roth Van Halen tracks. Hear the difference? Hear what's missing? Damn right you do.)
Not really a big deal in retrospect, certainly nothing approaching the level of tragedy or epiphany. But for some reason, as I was recalling that time and those feelings, I thought to myself 'damn, I wasn't nearly as upset when Kurt Cobain died.' And really, I wasn't - just didn't have the impact. Because leaving the sadness of Cobain's self-destruction aside, the prospect of there being no more Van Halen songs simply upset me more than the prospect of there being no more Nirvana songs. Why?
Because Van Halen - the original Van Halen - was a better band than Nirvana. There ya go - it's on the record. And I'm sure there are many folks - music critics (self-styled or otherwise), alterna-rockers, hipsters etc - who think the above statement is gibberish. You know the kind of folks I'm referring to - basically people who don't like bands that are perceived as popular, as being for the masses, as having 'sold out.' The kind of folks who like claiming allegiance to obscure bands - not because they like the music the bands create, but because advocating for said band sets them apart, makes them different (and therefore 'cooler') than the rest of us. Well I have news for you people: Van Halen
has aged far better than Nevermind
. I'll generally surf past Smells Like Teen Spirit
on the radio - but I never pass up Ain't Talking 'Bout Love
. Throw in albums like Van Halen II
and Women and Children First
and Fair Warning
and...see what I'm getting at?
Or maybe you don't. Maybe you've bought into the Nirvana mythos, digested too much ink devoted to proclaiming Nirvana as an 'important' or 'revolutionary' band. (No, they weren't. They were talented certainly. And lucky. But they didn't do anything
that others - Husker Du, The Ramones, X, The Replacements - hadn't already done.) Maybe you can't admit that a band with someone as tacky as David Lee Roth in it could be better than a band with the iconic Cobain.
But they were. Really.
P.S. I never surf past MMMbop
either. Truly a great pop song. And I mean that.