Life can be strange, especially in 2020. We’re always moving so fast, we often don’t take the time to enjoy the here and now. We miss out on some of it and justify it by telling ourselves this’ll make for a better tomorrow. That same life force somehow finds a way of making us pause and take notice of the world we live in and the things that matter.
For many of us, Tuesday, October 6th, 2020 was just another day. It started off like any other, but as the day went on it was clearly different… something just seemed off. It was just after 12:30pm when a friend texted me asking if the rumors were true that Eddie Van Halen had died? I had no idea… so immediately turned to the normal sources for unverified gossip masked as news (Facebook and Twitter). Oddly, I didn’t see anything just yet. So I then tuned-in to KLOS, they always seemed to be up on breaking rock music news. I was shocked when I heard them talking about it because the rumor had become reality.
It was about 1 pm and as I listened to the broadcast, it took on the feel of one of those surreal moments in life. Moments like when the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up, or when we heard we lost Bowie or Prince… it gave me shivers. I knew this was going to be one of those days. KLOS rolled into non-stop Van Halen music.
After I had a minute to digest what was going on, it gave me a moment to sigh and ponder the brevity on life. No matter who tributes are for or who plays it…. just knowing why a tribute is happening makes me reflect and a little sad… I guess that’s the point, right?
I then noticed more and more news sources picked up on it, and by then the internet was buzzing, the news spread like wildfire.
It was an afternoon that seemed to last a lifetime. As I followed the news and the broadcast, larger than life names started to call in to KLOS to talk about the life of Eddie Van Halen. Tommy Lee, Taylor Hawkins, Gene Simmons and Matt Pinfield took to the airwaves to tell their stories and how they remembered Eddie.
Sadly, Eddie had been battling a variety of illnesses over the years; he had been diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2000, but it was his battle with throat cancer that took his life. If there was any comfort, it was hearing that when he passed away, he was surrounded by his loved ones at the hospital.
Music fans everywhere were expressing shock and sadness at the passing of the beloved guitar legend.
MESSAGE FROM WOLFGANG
“I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much, Pop.”
We’ve followed the news of his battles with cancer, but it’s still a gut punch when we lose such a music icon.
To understand why this loss hurt so bad we need to look back to the beginning. Van Halen (the band) is now part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but back in the early ‘70s in Pasadena, CA, Eddie and his drummer brother Alex had just joined forces with vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony.
Their early band names included The Trojan Rubber Company and Mammoth before settling on Van Halen. Roth has been credited for the band name; he once said he thought their last names were just cool and thought it would give them a legit sounding edge. Roth was right. After years of playing backyard parties and every show they could find, life was about to blow up for the quartet.
The Van Halen brothers were musically inclined from their youth and creating a band seemed to be a given. When their foursome started playing clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood, they promoted themselves heavily and gained a following. Soon they were playing the Sunset Strip and clubs like the Whisky a Go-Go. Music legend Rodney Bingenheimer saw them and was impressed enough to bring Gene Simmons of Kiss to check them out. Simmons produced a demo tape for the band, but gave up after his own management said Van Halen would not make it.
Van Halen pressed on and found support with Warner Brothers, who would release their self-titled debut album. “Van Halen” shot up the charts and found heavy metal and hard rock fans.
You couldn’t go to any high school or college party without hearing “Jamie’s Cryin,’” “I’m the One,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love”, and oddly a much slower song “Ice Cream Man.”
Seriously, back in the day, you couldn’t go anywhere in SoCal without hearing “Runnin’ with the Devil” or “Eruption / You Really Got Me.” Those songs were like the Pied Piper’s theme songs that became anthems for teenage America.
The band toured with Black Sabbath and headed back to the studio for “Van Halen II” which gave them their first big hit single, “Dance the Night Away.”
Eddie’s excellent guitar skills and Roth’s front-man flair garnered them attention (and perhaps laid the groundwork to the future break up).
Their non-stop touring and recording an album each year took its toll, plus Eddie and Roth wanted different musical styles which assisted with the conflict.
They performed at the massive Us Festival in 1983 and were paid a staggering $1.5 million for the performance, plus had that legendary m&m concert rider story.
Still riding high, they released the epic album that everyone must own, “1984.” Don’t we all know the lyrics and video for “Jump?”
With MTV on their side, they found further success with “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher.”
The only thing that stood it their way for the #1 spot on charts was that little album “Thriller” by some kid named Michael Jackson.
The highest of the highs for Van Halen…. brought the lows. Tensions were high and reasons for the break-up are varied, but Roth was out.
Roth would go off to record his solo hits “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo.”
Van Halen brought in Sammy Hagar to take over vocal duties. Hagar was fresh off his success for “I Can’t Drive 55” and Van Halen came out of the gate with “Why Can’t This Be Love?”
Some people loved the change, others did not. Sammy was Sammy and Van Halen was Van Halen with Roth. Change is hard.
The change was immortally personified by David Spade in his feature film “Joe Dirt” when he referenced the change as “Van Hagar.”
The Hagar-fronted version of Van Halen released “5150” in 1986 and continued to be successful. In fact, all four of their studio albums would hit the top spot on Billboard charts, more than a dozen hit singles, and a few Grammy nominations followed, included a win in 1992.
We turned to KLOS since they are the pulse of Rock in SoCal and beyond to get their perspective on Eddie as a person. To understand why this loss seems so personal.
KLOS & VAN HALEN
“For KLOS, EVH is not just a guitar legend, he’s a hometown hero. We felt compelled to deliver an audio experience and on-air tribute-eulogy that super-serves our SoCal rock community in an era when we can’t come together in solidarity to mourn our great loss, and deliver a tribute worthy of a hometown hero who transcends our music, our community and our rock culture …”
Keith Cunningham | Program Director KLOS
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Circling back to Eddie and the band, unfortunately, drama reared its head and Hagar departed in 1996. Apparently, a compilation album pushed things over the edge, which of course could be difficult when two lead singers had found fame with the band and strong personalities existed in said band.
Van Halen briefly reunited with Roth after discussions about the compilation album. The original four made their first public appearance in 11 years at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards and it bumped the compilation album to the #1 spot. But, rumors swirled that Van Halen was auditioning other singers as well, so Roth said adios to an official reunion. Perhaps the story about backstage drama at the VMAs was also to blame…?
With Roth and Hagar out, Van Halen brought in Gary Cherone, who previously fronted the band Extreme. They released “Van Halen III” which has been called more “experimental” than previous work. It did not have quite the success of past albums, but did give us “Without You” and “Fire in the Hole.” Although no band drama was involved, Cherone left Van Halen the following year.
Van Halen the band was then on hiatus while Eddie had treatment for cancer and hip replacement surgery. Rumors of other possible lead singers surfaced and some music was worked on, but nothing solid came out until 2004 when they released a new compilation disc which included new songs with Hagar. The band toured through 2004 and while financially successful, the members were struggling. Eddie’s alcohol intake was not in the best interest of the band and Hagar vacated after saying things were not being taken seriously on the road.
Another Roth reunion rumor made news in 2006, plus Anthony was out and replaced by Eddie’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, but nothing concrete happened until their 2007 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite Roth, Hagar, Anthony and the Van Halen brothers being included in the induction, only Hagar and Anthony were the only ones to show up. A tour did finally launch in late 2007 with Roth at the mic, but after some sellout shows, Eddie had to make a visit to rehab and the remaining dates were postponed.
After years of rumors, the band released a new studio album with Roth in 2012 titled “A Different Kind of Truth.” The supporting tour became a huge success with all dates selling out, or close to selling out. Unfortunately, there were shows postponed due to band fatigue that never got rescheduled. Around this time, Eddie was diagnosed with diverticulitis and underwent surgery.
Once again, the band planned to embark on a massive tour with Roth in 2015 and perhaps create another record, but nothing has been posted on the band’s website since 2015. And now here we are…..
As a footnote to the band drama, Eddie and Sammy did iron out their issues before he passed. Both men took the higher road and plain of brotherhood.
In the end, life has a way to show us it’s not the length of a life that will make a person a legend. It’s the depth of a person’s character, and most importantly… the positive impact the person has on others. It’s those attributes that makes a person’s life legendary. For that, Eddie Van Halen will always mean the world to many of us… and in our hearts, he will be forever young with an infectious smile and playing his guitar.