Coinciding with the band’s semi-reunion (Sorry, Ed; no matter how good Wolfie is, no Michael Anthony, no reunion), this is the first full-length bio of Van Halen’s brilliant but erratic history. From their origins as a popular southern California cover band and their rise to rock gods in the David Lee Roth era, to even greater mass popularity with frontman Sammy Hagar and steep ‘90s decline, Van Halen’s messy saga is comprehensively and neatly told.
Christe is clearly a great fan: in the preface, he even details his quest to (successfully) learn to play Eddie’s solo showpiece “Eruption” from scratch. However, this is no hagiography, as he uses a keen and often subjective insight into the band’s music only someone who has worn out more than one copy of Fair Warning or OU812 could manage.
Eddie’s amazing guitar innovation; Dave’s even more amazing ego and showmanship and war of words with Sammy; tense Alex, amiable Michael, and even hapless Gary Cherone – all the band members come alive here. It also offers amazing details that will surprise even hardcore fans - well beyond the true reason for the infamous “no brown M&M’s” contract rider mandate (which was all about gauging a promoter’s attention to details).
On the road, Christe notes that Van Halen “took rock hedonism to new levels” where “even the journalists who covered the band got laid.” (ahh, to be a music writer in the ‘70s…) The band’s excesses are more than detailed – mostly Roth’s rampant horndogness and Eddie’s frequent substance-abuse travails.
But Van Halen’s lifestyle was simply an extension of the band’s appeal to their teenage fans. If you wore a Rush shirt, you were a thinker. If you wore an AC/DC shirt, you were a hard guy. But a Van Halen shirt, meant you were ready to party, anytime and anywhere.
There are three types of music books: the autobiography, the biography and the clip job, which features mostly previously published material thrown into the cauldron of information and re-extracted. Everybody Wants Some is mostly the latter, featuring no original interviews with band members or truly close staff. It’s still one of the best of its kind, a credit to Christe, who also penned The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal.
Ultimately, the book is also about wasted opportunities and time. How much more music and how many greater albums and tours might fans have gotten if the five mainstays could have worked past years of infighting, egotism, substance abuse and inactivity? If there are two sides to every normal story, there are five sides to every Van Halen story.
“All the band members have bent the truth for convenience and used the media to stall the fans, mask their true intentions, forward their own plans and polish one side of a controversy,” Christe writes in one dead-on passage. “The truth is more muddled by emotion, personal politics and the haze of altered states than anyone can admit without upsetting whatever tender relationships remain, if any.”
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Van Halen’s upcoming tour is sure to be a monster of hard-rock nostalgia, having sold out most dates already. And this on only the fourth time the Van Halen brothers have attempted to reconnect with their motor-mouthed, high-kicking frontman since he left the group.
However, the fact that only Hagar and Anthony even bothered showing up to their recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame indicates that enough animosity still lives in Van Halenville. Anthony, not invited to the current party by the bitter brothers, is touring with party-time friend Hagar instead.
But who knows what next year – or next month – might bring. After all, warring countries usually have had a more successful and predictable attempts at keeping the peace that the famously fractious members of Van Halen. – Bob Ruggiero
Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, by Ian Christe, $25.95, 326 pp., Wiley