GODDAMN YOU 2020 WITH ALL THIS CELEBRITY DEATH, MAKING 2016 LOOK LIKE A PARTY RIGHT NOW.
No. No no no. I saw the news while wrapping up things at work this afternoon. Eddie Van Halen died of cancer today (via Stephen Thompson at NPR). NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
In a band known for its instability — due in part to a rotating cast of lead singers that most notably includes David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar — Eddie Van Halen and his brother, Alex, remained constants, appearing on 12 studio albums that reached across five decades and sold tens of millions of copies.
No matter the singer, Eddie Van Halen's high-flying guitar sound — heavy on tapping, with both hands on the neck of the instrument — was deeply influential, but also hard to imitate. He grew up obsessed with Eric Clapton, only to himself become a lodestar for generations of guitarists.
To explain how hard this hits: Dudes, I am a wild white boy who grew up in the mean streets of suburbia, off the shores of the Gulf Coast in North Pinellas County, where 98 Rock was our oracle and hard blistering guitar noises our tonic.
I am not exaggerating to say in my day, in that place, the bands you listened to were Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. The Tampa Bay area was/still is a heavy metal Mecca. Half the garages between Palm Harbor to Gulfport had 15-year-olds teaching themselves "Eruption."
My teen years was spent listening to that music, between Halen and Hendrix and Zeppelin and AC/DC (and also Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, U2, the Police, the Hooters (yes, they were a band)... I have diverse taste). Driving back and forth on Gulf-to-Bay, windows down, blasting "Panama" or "Everybody Wants Some!" Well, okay, I didn't cruise all that often, but I knew guys and gals who did.
Christ. CHRIST GOD NO. This has been a shitty year for celebrity deaths just like 2016 and now I'm getting sick just thinking of the similarities...
In the meantime, I need to regroup. I was planning on a Bruce Springsteen album ranking this month but now, forget it, I gotta give my respects to Van Halen... (breaks out the CD collection) Huge heads up: I may be one of the few people who ranks Women and Children First as the band's best album.
I leave you with this legacy of the Van Halen juggernaut:
Whose side did you take, Halen or Roth? A shibboleth for a generation. I took the diplomatic approach: I bought and listened to Van Hagar (5150 and OU812) and Roth (Eat Em and Smile and Skyscraper). I have no idea what Van Halen was doing from Balance onward, but I ended up siding with the band.
Oh crap, just watching that Airheads clip... Lemmy died a while back. Oh GOD HAROLD RAMIS DIED TOO. DAMMIT I'M CRYING HERE.