By Drew Ailes
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By Kyra Scrimgeour
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By Tom Murphy
You've got to hand it to Sammy Hagar. A man less sure of himself might have crawled under a rock in shame after being ignominiously dumped by Van Halen in 1996, a full decade after replacing David Lee Roth as the mega-band's lead singer. (The three other members of the group--Eddie "Husband of One Day at a Time star Valerie Bertinelli" Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony--initially announced that they were getting back together with Roth, who joined them for two tracks on Van Halen's Greatest Hits, Volume 1 CD, put out last year. Roth was subsequently ousted in favor of Gary Cherone from the quartet Extreme.) Hagar, however, responded to this humiliating turn of events by proudly telling his tale of woe to MTV and other national media outlets and by issuing Marching to Mars, a jaw-droppingly dreadful solo album that nonetheless has sold rather well. (Both the disc and its lead single, "Little White Lie," are still on assorted Billboard charts four months after their release.)
In a conversation with Westword, Hagar insists that he has no interest in revisiting the Van Halen drama, but immediately after making this claim (and with virtually no provocation), he goes into colorful and profane detail about it, divulging several new particulars. He also makes it plain that despite receiving consistently lousy notices over the course of his quarter century in the rock-music game, he still has a mighty high opinion of himself. Read on to see if he can convince you, too.
WW: In a way, the Van Halen situation seems to have been beneficial for you. I'm reminded of the way Jane Pauley was pushed off the Today show in favor of Deborah Norville and how Jane Pauley came out of it smelling like a rose. Do you see any correlation there?
Hagar: To be honest with you, I don't even know who those people are. You're probably going, "Come on, Sammy," but I'm telling the truth. I don't watch TV. It fucking drives me crazy. If I sit on the couch and watch TV, I'm either going to sit there in a stupor for two or three hours, or I'll get pissed and turn the thing off.
WW: So you wouldn't shoot it, like Elvis?
Hagar (laughing): No, I wouldn't shoot it. I've got a pretty expensive TV. Maybe in a hotel room, though. Still, I understand what you're saying, and I think I probably did benefit a little bit. But I got hurt as well, because any time a guy like Eddie Van Halen is saying bad things about you, you're going to have people saying, "Fuck Sammy Hagar. If Eddie says he ain't cool, then he ain't cool." But you'll also have an element of Van Halen fans--and certainly Sammy Hagar fans--who'll go, "Wait a minute. We like Sammy." And then I came out and told my side of the story, and anyone who saw both of us speak our piece on MTV probably realizes who's telling the truth and who got fucked on this deal--and it sure wasn't Eddie. Being more honest and more truthful and sticking to the same story worked for me, but the whole thing has been very negative for all of us, because true Van Halen fans are sitting on a fence right now. It's like a divorce. They're like, if we go to Sammy's concert, we'll feel like we're cheating on Van Halen. And the same thing goes for them. When they go out, they're going to have a rude awakening. Without Sammy out there, it's not going to be the same band. People aren't just going to sit there and watch some cat who they don't know singing "Right Now." It's got to be weird.
WW: Do you feel any sympathy for David Lee Roth?
Hagar: Fuck, no.
WW: He got jobbed, too.
Hagar: Yeah, but unlike me, David Lee Roth quit the band, because he thought he was the guy; he quit the band and tried to fuck them. He was a bad guy. He said shit about that band and about those guys that was bullshit--and I know, because I was in the band then. We had a wonderful time with each other for ten years. But then these guys--I don't know if they got greedy or what, but they went and made some weird-ass decision because of their new manager to get David Lee Roth back, and I became the enemy. And to me, that's like walking in on your wife blowing her old boyfriend. You know what I mean? I'm like, "Wait a minute. I thought that shit was over." But that's what happened. These guys went and got Roth back behind my back, because I didn't want to come down to work. I had a brand-new baby and I didn't want to do a greatest-hits record, so they went and got Roth back and told me about it later. And that's grounds for divorce. So the point is, it's a different scenario. I don't feel sorry for Roth, because he chose his trip, and I don't feel sorry for myself, either. But for them to get him back, as far as I was concerned, was giving him another lease on life. That guy was history, you know? I don't have anything against him--I just don't respect him as an artist.