Van Halen At Staples

You didn’t have to grow up in SoCal to get Van Halen, but it HELPS! Van Halen wasn’t a band that moved to L.A. to make it. They grew up here! I never went to one of the infamous Pasadena parties, but I did see their moniker outside Gazzarri’s, at the intersection of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica, atop the Starwood. Local bands don’t break through, they don’t graduate. They’re here forever and then they fade away. Not Van Halen. Their demos were produced by Gene Simmons. A crude take of "Runnin’ With The Devil" got a bit of airplay on Rodney’s show on KROQ, they opened for Nils Lofgren at the Santa Monica Civic and then they BLEW UP!

This was before MTV. This was before national anointment. Suddenly the first album was all over rock radio in L.A. Critics reluctantly gave them plaudits. It was time to pay attention. But the apotheosis wasn’t achieved until 1984, with "Jump". Suddenly Van Halen went from journeymen to SUPERSTARS! "1984" was the first Van Halen album I bought, I was finally caught up in the mania, and I heard it every night at the Rainbow that summer of 1984, when we’d venture down from the Sanctuary house to hang with the denizens of rock and roll, castaways like Richard Cole and stars like the Scorpions. Van Halen was the soundtrack of our lives. It was the pulse. "Jump" was the hit. "Hot For Teacher" had the legendary MTV video. But my favorite track was "I’ll Wait". Last Tuesday night they played "I’ll Wait".

I saw Dave with Sammy. He was positively awful. Off-key, unwatchable.

I saw Sammy with Eddie and Alex. He was the same shtickmeister he was solo. He showed no respect.

Years have proven that Eddie’s the difficult one. And his craziness has been on display for a decade, thanks to the Internet.

In other words, I was trepidatious.


Really, the gig should have been at the Forum. That stinky old smoke-filled arena, where all the acts played in the seventies and eighties. Staples is too clean, too industrial. There are no notes, no monster riffs embedded in the walls. Until some thunderous sound causes a few skyboxes to fall, the building will still be considered the home of Britney, of ‘N Sync, but not of rock and roll. And Van Halen is positively rock and roll.

This was not the boomers. And this was not the youngsters. This was Generation X. The real Gen X’ers, now over forty, whose future was usurped by the baby boomers. Mostly guys. Who you could tell were not completely happy with their lives. They’re salesmen, or dentists. But at heart, they’re rock and rollers. These people had come to genuflect, to believe. If there was anything left to believe IN!

And, there most certainly was. Mr. Edward Van Halen.

Have you gone to an arena show recently? Have you seen the monster Hi-Def screens? Imagine Eddie’s guitar sixty feet long, his vein-bulging hands working the fretboard. This was the TRUE guitar hero. Remember when kids stayed in their rooms and practiced, hoping their skills would lead them on stage, to adoration and riches? That dream is gone. Today’s kids flick switches on a plastic axe attached to a video console. But Eddie had practiced. And this hard work, combined with innate talent, has resulted in a wizard, someone you fear is going to fall off his perch, but never does.

Yes, Eddie’s clean. He hasn’t worked out, he looks like he hasn’t eaten this year. He’s still smoking. But when he starts working his way up and down the neck, tapping away, you’re ECSTATIC!

They say the signature Van Halen song is "Eruption". And I agree the first album contains the legends, maybe because they were the beginning, maybe because they started it all, but for me it’s "Runnin’ With The Devil".

They played that. It was like being inside a giant car radio. How many times did you cruise the boulevard looking for action as the track poured out of the stereo in the dash?

And "Jamie’s Cryin’". She’s been in love before, and she knows it should be more than a one night stand!

But in the late seventies and early eighties there were a bunch of girls, both skinny and fat, tall and short, pretty and ugly, who were just DYING for a one night stand with ANY member of Van Halen. It was the humor, the exuberance, the FUN! You want to know why today’s fortysomethings wanted to be in this business? VAN HALEN!

They wanted to go on the road, stay up all night, get high and get their dicks sucked. And if you don’t believe this, if this offends you, then you just don’t understand rock and roll. Rock and roll is about cutting loose, riding in that convertible with the wind blowing your hair back, feeling like you’re SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD!

Not that David Lee Roth drove a convertible. As a matter of fact, he steered an Opel Kadett station wagon. Today’s kids don’t even know what that IS! I’ll tell you, it’s hipper than a Chevy, but still a piece of shit. You pick up your girlfriend, feeling every hair must be in place, your personality must be shined, because it’s all about you, your car is getting you NOWHERE!

Dave told the story from back then. Of playing in Pasadena with his buddies. Of driving to gigs in this minor machine. Of making out in it with his girlfriend of almost four years. He even told how he met her, at a party. Do you remember meeting your first girlfriend? Where is that story in today’s music?

It’s all bluster, it’s shoegazing, it’s too rarely honest. It doesn’t own its middle class roots, it kicks them to the curb. But that’s who we are, both Van Halen and us, middle class. Neither rich nor poor. Just members of the fabric.

"Ice Cream Man" was a highlight of the evening. Who knew David Lee Roth could play the guitar so well? And sing!

I don’t want to say every song worked. My absolute favorite, "And The Cradle Will Rock", was mixed improperly, it didn’t gel. And anything with keyboards on hard drive was curiously flat. But watching Van Halen, you believed again. Even though the songs were all old. This was us. Way back when. Today’s kids don’t get it. Oh, they want to get it. That’s why classic rock dominates, but they’ve got no experience of music ruling the world, of it being the most important thing in EVERYBODY’S universe, of the radio being a religion.

But the people at the Van Halen show remembered. And listening to their old buddies render their classics brought them back, to when their lives were full of possibility. Things may not have turned out so well, but to be able to hear this music, it was enough. Enough to get them through.

That’s what the music was. Sure, the money was good, but acts did it to get on the train. More literally, the bus. They wanted the lifestyle, the studios, the groupies, the aforementioned FUN!

Yes, rock and roll used to be fun.

It no longer is.

We’ve got crying executives. Steve Jobs is a bigger star than anybody debuting in the twenty first century. It’s not about the music, everything but.

But back when records spun on a Garrard, a B.I.C., a Technics if you were lucky. When you had a stereo as big as the ones sold by Judge Reinhold in "Ruthless People". You cranked it and your problems fell away, you felt powerful.

Last week at Staples those days returned, like a long dormant satellite reawakening and sending signals back to Earth.

Don’t go if you’re not a fan. This show is not for you.

But if you remember the power of an electric guitar. If you don’t listen at any volume less than 11. If you think rock and roll can save your soul… THEN BUY A TICKET!

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.