Noel Monk’s Van Halen Book

Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen

“How I Made It: Bob Lefsetz went from failed music manager to one of the most influential voices in the industry”

We put them in a movie. Then I was their lawyer. Then I became part of the management team.

I rescued their debut by getting Duane Baron to remix it, standing up to the band and telling them the initial mix was substandard.

And then I got fired.

I know where Noel Monk is coming from, but needless to say he had a lot more success in the game.

I’ve never read a book quite like this.

Most rock tomes are either fawning stories by those not involved, building their heroes up as they tell the “true” story…

Or they’re written by the heroes themselves, detailing their flaws but emerging at the end as the stars they believe themselves to be.

I’ve never read one written by the manager. Who lucked into the gig. After being the road manager. You see, the original manager, foisted upon the band by Warner Brothers, one Marshall Berle, didn’t show up. That’s half of EVERY job. Sure, there’s little reason to fly off to the middle of nowhere to go to the show, but your charges, the band, want to know that you care, that they’re on your radar.

We all want to know people care.

Which is how Noel Monk got the gig. By being competent and listening. After paying dues at the Fillmore East, Woodstock and on the road with the Sex Pistols. He got that tour managing gig from one Carl Scott. Which convinced me to buy the book after reading this story in the sample chapter. I’m intrigued by the behind the scenes guys. And Scott gave Monk the tour managing job for Van Halen, and the rest is history.

A knock-around band with a terrible deal whose record Noel did not even listen to before taking the gig, he just trusted Scott, who he believed was overhyping him, until he heard the music.

Now it’s hard to explain what it was like, before cell phone cameras, before MTV.

It was the wild west.

Sure, radio was important. But so was the road, you had to go out and convince fans one by one. Which is how it all started with Van Halen, opening shows for $750 a night. Even though their album exploded out of the box. Although this rarely happened, most times it was a long hard slog, until by seeming spontaneous combustion, you finally blew up, became a ten year overnight success.

Now, you succeed instantly or you fail. And you’re rarely rich. And all the perks of being a rock star have evaporated.

That’s right, you went on the road and did drugs and got laid. Constantly. Worst thing that could happen was a paternity claim, in this case dashed. Other than that…

You were on your own. You could do whatever you wanted. Destroy hotel rooms, act like an asshole, it didn’t matter, you got away with it.

Which is why rock stars were gods. The rest of us had to play by the rules. They did not. And never ever underestimate the power of sex. Never.

You could be the shyest guy in the world, but if you were in a hit band…

Hell, Noel tells the story of roadies lining up for blow jobs, dozens of them, so the two girls could get backstage passes. And don’t shoot the historian, it was a different era, but the funny thing is the girls were willing.

We were all willing. Before we got smartphones and became stars in our own movies.

Before that?

You had to slug it out in the trenches. And the people who succeeded were often unsophisticated. All they could do was this one thing. And unlike today, they hated promoting themselves. Sure, Van Halen was helped by David Lee Roth, the preening peacock who never found a mic or a camera or a mirror he disliked, but the rest of the band had no time for it. They thought the music spoke for them. And to a great degree it did.

Now it rarely does.

So the band goes on the road and blows headliners off the stage, and a year goes by and they have to cut a new album, and then go back on the road. They repeat this formula over and over again, with the LPs getting successively worse. And then Noel got them time off to record a classic LP that jumped out of the gate and made the band ubiquitous. Even months after release they played “1984” over and over again at the Rainbow, where Blackie Lawless and I spent every single night.

Yup, all the rumors are true. The debauchery, the laughs, the money, the fun…

You needed no college degree. You just had to have someone in the band with talent and a record company that cared and you were on the highway to heaven.

As well as hell.

You gain success and the fighting begins, fueled by more drugs and more alcohol.

So if you’re looking for gossip, you’ll find some, but this is not that book.

Yes, Eddie Van Halen taught Michael Anthony every note of his bass solo.

But even more interesting, the three others squeezed Anthony out of songwriting royalties, and Michael made no fuss, he just signed the proffered document. Anthony made no trouble and it worked against him. If you’re just doing your job, you’re screwed. You’ve got to interact, you need face time, or else you’re forgotten.

As for Alex Van Halen?

Well, he was Eddie’s brother. Even though they fought. And it was Alex who put the knife into Noel’s back, he was related to a superstar manager by marriage, this is always the beginning of the end. Want to know how to lose a band? Send them out with an act with a better, more together manager. But you don’t even need that, you see musicians talk and the world runs on gossip and if you’re not getting closer you’re getting farther away, keep your eyes open.

Eddie Van Halen is the guitar talent of a generation, but give him time off and he has no idea what to do with himself. He needs to play. And tinker in his hotel room. Take his guitar apart and put it back together. His axe was his first love. Other than Valerie Bertinelli, who is not quite the sweetheart she’s believed to be. She can toke up, she can snort. Then again, by the early eighties everybody was, why should she be any different?

As for David Lee Roth… Everything said about him seems to be true. A raving egomaniac. But one with a flair for lyrics, stage antics and promotion. You don’t have to have the best voice, you just have to be a star.

But the meat of this book is the grueling work of making it and then trying to stay there. Albums cut in three weeks, gigs done for the money. Living inside the hurricane with little perspective on life.

Then again, there are all those fringe benefits. The ones that normal rich people cannot get. Believe me, groupies are not lining up in Silicon Valley…

Warner Brothers forgets to pick up the band’s option. And when Noel tells Mo this, Ostin says:

“Listen Noel. You are a new manager. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Now sit the fuck back down in your seat and shut the fuck up.”

And Mo had the best rep of any music executive. But as someone once put it to me, even Mo had sharp elbows.

And the stories of fighting bootleggers, with both the courts and physical intimidation. This was the era when you got paid in cash, could carry around hundreds of thousands of dollars in your briefcase, because you couldn’t trust the promoter, this was not Live Nation, a public company.

And it takes a while for the band to realize all the perks are being charged back to them. All the limos, the parties, all the things you think the record company is doing out of the goodness of its heart…it is not.

There are some good aphorisms and lessons in the book.

1. “It’s amazing the way your world contracts when you go out on the road with a band.” Noel didn’t even hear Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” he was too busy on the road.

2. “What is it they say about sports? It doesn’t build character; it reveals character. The same is true of life on the road.” It doesn’t change you, it just peels away the layers of protection, you find out who people really are. And it can be really hard to get along with them.

3. “All of this came in handy when dealing with large segments of the music business, where tenderness is usually rewarded with an ass kicking.” I learned this early, when Bob Krasnow called to do a number on me. They only respect you if you can stand up for yourself and dish it back. You cannot make it unless you do this, nice guys do finish last in the music business, no matter what you’ve heard. It’s a street business, if you can’t play hardball, you’re gonna sit on the bench.

4. “Behavior that almost any normal person would consider depraved was part of the musical landscape and could be found on every tour of every notable rock ‘n’ roll band of this era.”

Bingo! That’s it! That’s why you should read this book!

If you’re an oldster, who was around back then, you’ll recognize the era, you’ll nod your head, you’ll contemplate how different it is today.

If you’re a youngster, this will give you a real, unvarnished version of how it was, forget the myths, this is reality.

Do the band members come across as angels?

No, but if you know talent, they never are. I’d say the band emerges relatively unscathed. Do you know how hard it is to form an act, stay together, get a deal and achieve stardom? Nearly impossible. It’s not for the timid, it’s not for those who play it safe, it’s for one-minded, less than fully-formed individuals who need to grasp that brass ring to fill a hole inside that can never truly be filled, despite being convinced that it can.

So if you’re looking for gossip, there’s more than a bit, and some true stories undercutting the rumors, but that’s not a reason to buy this book.

Yet if you’re a fan of Van Halen, it’s hard to put down.

But if you’re thinking of working behind the scenes, click to buy immediately.

Van Halen still tours.

Noel Monk has not managed a successful band since.

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