A slightly different format this week. All because I took the girls to the library yesterday, as I always try to do on the first day of a school break. I want them loaded up with books and videos for even just a long weekend so that there’s no complaining about not having anything to do and being bored. I checked for some books on my list and saw that [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] was available, so I grabbed it. I began reading it at about 4:30 in the afternoon. I took a break for dinner and some work around the house then sat back down and didn’t stop until I had finished the book at about 12:45.
Obviously this was an entertaining book!
It’s written by Noel Monk, the tour manager of the band’s first tour in 1977, when the headlining act was Journey, who were touring with Steve Perry for the first time. After that tour, Van Halen asked Monk to take over as their band manager, a role he filled until he was dismissed in 1985.
This fits the classic “rock ’n’ roll tell all” format. He details all the craziness of being on tour, from the girls and drugs to beating the crap out of t-shirt bootleggers; the whirlwind ride the band was on from ’77-84, when the pretty much toured-recorded-toured-recorded endlessly; how the band handled fame and how their success caused rifts within the band early on; how they dealt with the first disappointing selling album of their career (Fair Warning) by paying radio stations across the country to play it; and then a deep dive in the last 18 months of the David Lee Roth era, when the band reached its highest level of commercial success but was literally falling apart because of insane drug usage and a huge rift between DLR and Edward.
Why write this book now? Good question! Turns out when Monk was fired, he sued the band. Part of their settlement was a long blackout period in which he couldn’t write, talk, or film anything about his relationship with the band. Apparently that prohibition lasted for roughly 30 years.
Knowing that, you have to take most of what he writes with a huge grain of salt. Is he still bitter and trying to make them look bad? Other than Michael Anthony, everyone in the band comes off looking pretty shitty, although Eddie less so than Alex and DLR.(fn) He shares some pretty staggeringly bad stories about the band. But, come on, they were a rock band in the 1970s and 80s. Even if he stretches the truth a bit, or tweaks facts to make the guys look bad, I’m pretty sure his story isn’t that far from the truth. I doubt the band has too much room to argue, regardless of what really happened back then.
If you’ve ever been a fan of Van Halen, or just enjoy insider books about bands, this is a must read. Just be warned, you might not move for roughly eight hours until you’ve completed it.
With that in mind, today’s playlist consists of some of my favorite DLR era Van Halen songs.
“Runnin’ With the Devil” – One of the all-time great side one, track ones on a debut album. Musical memory can be funny, but I’ve always sworn that I remembered hearing this song around the neighborhood we lived in when it first came out. I was only 7, so I surely wasn’t listening to Van Halen. But there were teenagers around, including high school sisters that often watched me after school. So it’s not unreasonable to think I heard this often back in 1978.
“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” – Lotta’ commas in that title. Some folks have suggested that Van Halen was a mid-point between heavy metal and punk. I’ve always thought that was a stretch; they certainly had metal roots, but were too firmly rooted in the mainstream to be punk. You hear some of the menace of the punk world in this song, though.
“Dance the Night Away” – DLR asserts his preferences here, on a song that was made for the Top 40, but still rocked.
“Everybody Wants Some!” – Great song, made greater by its use in [Better Off Dead].
“(Oh) Pretty Woman” – I remind you all every summer how I love Diver Down. For a band that released a lot of covers early in their career, this is the finest. A roaring beast of a song that sounds nothing like what Roy Orbison had written nearly 30 years earlier.
“Panama” – The greatest Van Halen song ever. No arguments allowed. Everything they ever tried to do is perfected in this song. Cars, girls, big drums, caterwauling vocals. Well, there was one notable exception: there’s no massive EVH guitar solo to anchor the song down. They get away with that, though, because his romping riff that kicks off the song, and carries all the way through, is as big and recognizable as any of his legendary solos.
“Hot For Teacher” – 1984 is pretty clearly their best album, although I really can’t stand Jump. Where “Panama” was their best song, this one was not too far behind. It added that DLR sense of humor and shtick. Even 30+ years later, DLR yelling, “OH MY GOD!” at the song’s close makes me laugh. Pretty solid video, too, especially if you were 13 when it was released.