The Van Halen Book You've Been Waiting For

Michael Anthony, Valerie Bertinelli, and Eddie Van Halen on the "1984" tour.
Michael Anthony, Valerie Bertinelli, and Eddie Van Halen on the "1984" tour. Photo courtesy of Noel Monk/Dey St. Books
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
By Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden
Dey St. Books, 352 pp., $26.99

Early in his career as an employee for a new band called Van Halen, Noel Monk walked into a dressing room to see members of the group pouring bottles of condiments on two nude, writhing and very into-it ladies known in groupie circles as “The Ketchup Queens.”

This incident is telling in that it's only one of many, many such bizarre scenes Monk would witness with the band during his seven years with the Southern California rockers, initially as road manager and then manager, from 1978 through '85. His memoir — brutally honest and at sometimes shocking — is finally out, now that whatever statute of limitations after the band fired him has expired. Van Halen fans will be discussing and debating it with the same attention to detail as Eddie’s finger-tapping work on “Eruption.”

Monk’s assessments of each member of Van Halen, steady throughout the book and from their earliest gigs before their debut came out to the world-domination of the 1984 album, run thus:

Book cover courtesy of Dey St. Books
David Lee Roth: A wildly effective front man and a champion of the VH brand despite his vocal limitations, and with a keen nose for business and promotion. But DLR was nonetheless a petulant egomaniac oblivious to his boorishness who reveled in acting like a jealous, spoiled child while humiliating others and holding court. He once asked Monk to call a girlfriend and tell her that Roth had inadvertently given her the clap he contracted from another assignation. Monk declined.

Eddie Van Halen
: A rare, insanely talented guitar player always trying to further his craft, he was nonetheless naive, demanding, and given to whining and letting others clean up his messes. Had such a coke issue that in the day of his wedding to TV actress Valerie Bertinelli (who is sweet but also naive), Monk found the bride holding her new husband’s head over a toilet as he puked his guts out between the ceremony and the reception. Also thought seriously that he could get a girl pregnant simply by receiving a blow job.

Alex Van Halen: Competent drummer who partied the hardest and could consume insane amounts of drugs and alcohol, but also a behind-the-scenes schemer. Also jealous of Roth and his little brother’s ascendancy in the group.

Michael Anthony: Decent bass player whose trademark backing vocals made much of the Van Halen sound. Quiet, unassuming, nice and dependable, he was the only band member who stayed with his wife and didn’t go over the top imbibing. So nice (or frustratingly placid) that when the rest of the band presented him a document cutting him out of a lot of profits, he signed without complaint.

The best parts of the book tend to come early, as Monk writes fascinatingly of the band’s early days and their drive to make it big. When they show up late to their first important record-company meeting, sweaty and breathing heavily, Monk writes it off as rock-and-roll debauchery. When he later finds out that the band’s car had broken down and they ran for miles so as not to miss their big break, he is impressed.

It would be one of the last times the group showed such humility.

click to enlarge David Lee Roth and Alex Van Halen on tour in South Africa. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NOEL MONK/DEY ST. BOOKS
David Lee Roth and Alex Van Halen on tour in South Africa.
Photo courtesy of Noel Monk/Dey St. Books
Late in the narrative, Monk calls Van Halen a “DEA” band – drugs, ego, alcohol. And indeed, he comes out as a teacher trying desperately to keep his unruly class in order, much like the poor instructor at the beginning of the “Hot for Teacher” video. When their album 1984 finally provided the band with the “masterpiece” they had been working toward and became a huge hit (showcasing Eddie’s new obsession with synthesizers), the group was already running on fumes.

In Monk’s tale, he was able to negotiate business deals for the band – including a doubling of their initial contract royalty rate and the creation of their own merchandising arm – that would generate tens of millions of dollars (and still do) for the group. Yet in all his years with the band, he himself had what essentially was a month-to-month contract, with no such points or pieces of the pie. His go-with-the-flow attitude would prove a mistake.

By the time he is formally dismissed by three-fourths of the group — in his own living room — the original band was already fracturing. Roth started (successfully, at first) a solo career and the members could barely stand to look at each other.

And despite the years of Van Hagar (or Van Cherone) and the various reunions and aborted projects, there was no touching the original Van Halen during their run when Noel Monk was their manager. And this book has all the down and dirty details.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero