Van Halen

The VH saga continues. Welcome to Chapter IV, the Peppermint Patty years.

Eddie Van Halen's son looks like Peppermint Patty. There's no getting around it. I wish things could be different — as do, presumably, fans of Van Halen. This weekend, the long-beleaguered pop-metal behemoth pulls into the Pepsi Center with its disembalmed original frontman, David Lee Roth, for a long-threatened and oft-aborted rehash of those early-'80s glory years, the era before the jovial, tequila-hawking asshat Sammy Hagar took over and turned the band into wusstastic chart-toppers.

Rothian diehards are undoubtedly elated. But the thorn on this particular rose lies in the absence of beloved bassist Michael Anthony, the bear-like dude with the Mickey Mouse watch collection and (lasciviously) angelic harmonies, kicked to the curb for I'm sure just totally rational reasons and replaced by...Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang. At sixteen years old, the kid looks well-fed, content, beatific and a lot like Peppermint Patty. Even so, this is far from the most ludicrous and offensive bullshit reunion maneuver a rock band has ever foisted on its horrified fans. No iconic dead frontmen replaced via reality show, etc. Doesn't even make the Top 20. Yet Wolfgang's promotion has the distinct, surrealist, forehead-slapping ring of Van Halen and Van Halen alone, a band that for nearly thirty years has mingled thrilling debauchery (the libidinous Roth years), wild success (Hagar's lucrative but frequently banal string of four straight No. 1 albums) and breathtaking innovation (Eddie's violent six-string virtuosity throughout). Unfortunately, just as resonant are the bitterly acrimonious disasters — the breakups, aborted reunions and yawning stretches of inactivity, plus a universally ignored one-album dalliance with Extreme bellower Gary Cherone — in recent years that now threaten to permanently tar the band as a dinosaur-act punchline.

Van Halen IV
Van Halen IV

It's a sordid and gripping history that Ian Christe was surprised to learn hadn't been told yet. So he decided to tell it himself and penned an exhaustive, 300-page biography of his own titled Everybody Wants Some. As surprised as he was that Van Halen's full story hadn't been told, he was just as troubled. It suggested that people no longer cared. "The memory of Van Halen, I think, is starting to fade," he notes. So Everybody is as much a heartfelt plea as a straight historical account: Do not forget the band. However sad and volatile and hapless the members may appear now, they were great once — truly monolithic, truly influential. Now they've returned just in time to preserve a legacy they almost entirely wasted.

Not that they'd discuss this with Christe personally. The biographer's requests for access to all three musicians (Michael, Eddie and Alex) and all three singers (Roth, Hagar, Cherone) were either regarded with suspicion or ignored entirely. "I didn't want to spend seven years waiting for the stars to align," Christe says. "That's when I dug out the pre-existing 10,000 Van Halen interviews in the world. Pretty much, I've got a tiny Van Halen library — spindles of DVDs, just hours and hours and hours of entertainment. And I culled it from that, and treated it as if I was writing a book about Thomas Jefferson, based on historical evidence."

Comparing the band to Thomas Jefferson is, of course, another clue to its current cultural standing. But Everybody will hopefully raise the group's profile, highlighting the good, the bad, the ugly — which Christe is especially skilled at detailing. He displays a sure hand in sketching out the band's genesis — Alex and Eddie, fresh off the boat from Holland and set loose in California, start a beer-soaked party-rock band as Eddie morphs into a mesmerizing guitar god — and delightfully recounts the sordid "three-panty operas" that typified Roth's loopy lewdness.

Christe's prose truly takes flight when Roth flames out after career apex 1984 (the one with "Jump" and "Hot for Teacher," ah) and Hagar shows up. Hagar vs. Roth is, of course, the defining, polarizing rock-and-roll argument; Christe's allegiance is not hard to discern. It's great fun watching him barely conceal what seems to be a remarkably profound distaste for Sammy, with his propensity for corny power ballads and inelegant Cabo Wabo tequila tie-ins. "If it wasn't for my deep professionalism in all ways..." he muses. "It would be really funny to come out with a book called I Hate Sammy Hagar." You feel bad for Sammy sometimes, both in terms of this book and general public opinion, though it's hard to defend the guy when Christe can level a brutal insult merely by writing a bias-free, 100 percent factually accurate declarative sentence. ("'Up for Breakfast' was a raunchy dirt-road rocker with sexual metaphors by Sammy based around breakfast food.")

But Everybody's final third is harsher and darker still. With the usual caveats involved in this sort of thing — the perils of openly empathizing with multimillionaire, knucklehead rock stars who strike even their most devout fans as profoundly unpleasant people and rose to cultural infamy largely by, to quote the Dude, treating objects like women, man — it's easy to feel sorry for all these poor bastards. When Van Hagar goes irretrievably sour and the band enters a tailspin of botched reunions and rehab misadventures, Christe abandons his historical distance and turns the book into a lament, a plea: Stop fucking up and play music.

The book's highlight is the band's nadir: a blow-by-blow account of the atrocious debacle that was Van Halen's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last March. The boys couldn't get it together enough to appear on stage together: Eddie wound up in rehab again, and only Sammy and Michael Anthony showed up to accept the award, jamming on stage with Paul fucking Schaffer and leaving the Roth-era tribute to the helpless, atonal Velvet Revolver. It was devastating. "Yeah, that was a disaster," Christe concurs. "It was so sad. I kept expecting Roth to come jumping out of the wings. That's a perfect example of how the absence has just hurt them so much."

The ray of hope here? Wolfgang. Christe sees a poignancy in Van Halen's resurrection involving a teenager, someone to represent both the childlike glee of original fans and the new generation that has yet to discover the band's majesty but needs to learn. "A lot of people feel thwarted," he says of the modified lineup, "because you want it to be this 'Spirit of '84' event. It's gonna be its own thing."

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