I’m glad I’m just a little too young to have experienced David Lee Roth leaving Van Halen in real time. I’m sure it would have broken me as a teenager. I know my brother was forever scarred. It would have been my Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, or Colts to Indianapolis, or Oakland’s...well, Oakland.
But then I don’t have to. I’ve seen it and felt it numerous times in sports.
The first iteration of Van Halen, the only one that matters, was teenage recklessness, exuberance, and horniness come to life. It was loud, it was chaotic, and it was a blast for the sake of being a blast. It didn’t need to mean anything, and it most certainly didn’t, other than turning it way the fuck up. “David Lee Roth” must translate to “empty good time” in some language. Whether Eddie Van Halen’s finger-tapping style was actual virtuosity or just a cheap parlor trick, it was most certainly unique and easily identifiable. You know when you hear him.
Van Halen was for the fans in the upper deck. It was whatever cult sports following of your childhood you’ve lost. Boston Garden or Chicago Stadium or Oakland Arena. It was when being a soccer fan involved a bar illegally opening at 6 a.m. for you and six Irish guys who hadn’t been to bed from the previous night, not the displaced NFL Sunday brunch it’s become. It was for those who didn’t mind spilling a beer to celebrate or fight or both, because they’d just get another one anyway.
But then, after a while, your money and your fandom and your devotion isn’t enough for these guys. Suddenly it’s about corporate suites and sponsorships and executive levels. It’s about a secret club you’ll never be a part of. That’s what Sammy Hagar replacing DLR was about. Suddenly Van Halen wasn’t writing songs for us in standing room and the top row. It was for the suits and sweaters in those corporate suites. Panache was replaced by accessibility. Attitude shifted out for appeal.
Plenty of old Van Halen has become arena anthems. “Panama” or “Jump” or even the opening drums of “Hot For Teacher.” But “Right Now” is the true marker. How many times have you heard that thing in the last minutes of a game in an arena or stadium? That song fucking sucks. Prototypical Hagar schlock – pandering, manipulative, devoid of any flair whatsoever. It was written specifically to be the kind of thing modern arenas play with three minutes left.
Van Halen went from the soundtrack for people pregaming in the parking lot of a demolition derby/WWF house show to something some disphit would get himself revved up for an interview to be a stock trader. Or to psych himself up in his Acura to ask his girlfriend’s dad for her hand in marriage, so he doesn’t get fired from the firm. Utter garbage.
Also, you can’t ignore the similarity in Eddie ignoring what was right for nepotism, hiring his son to play on the VH reunion tours instead of Michael Anthony. That’s a power sports owner move.
I’ve seen Van Halen’s transformation into the “meh’ with every construction of a new, faceless arena or stadium with a corporate name. I’ve seen it with every sponsored TV timeout promotion. I’ve seen it in every scoreboard-prompted chant. I’ve seen it in THE WAVE. Fucking 5150 is THE WAVE.
Thankfully, we still have the music from when it was proper. All we have of our previous sports fan experiences are the memories, which get harder to hold onto as the years roll on. Eddie Van Halen will be remembered, rightly, as a guitar god. There are many who will tell you it’s a real shame that wasn’t enough for him.
As long as we’re on a rock kick, check out Rachel Nichols’ dress during Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
We all dream of being Stevie Nicks at one time or another. So few get the chance to live it out. Get it, Rachel.