The story goes like this: Back in 1979, a friend of mine was inspecting my record collection and stopped abruptly at the V's. He swooned over the first album in that section, alphabetically. He raved, he plotzed, he sang praises most high. "Oh that," I said somewhat dismissively. "It's pretty good." It was then and there that my friend engineered a trade: his copy of Led Zeppelin 2 for my Van Halen 1. I accepted his terms. I felt that I was easily getting the better part of the deal, "Whole Lotta Love?" "Ramble On?" "Moby Dick?" This was certified rock and roll history I was holding, not some screeching debut by some southern California hair metal band.
A really good southern California hair metal band. With a guitarist who I already had to admit could make music and sounds like I had never heard before. His technique of playing with both hands on the neck, sometimes displaying a knowledge of music beyond the garage was already making him a legend. But he was no Jimmy Page, right?
Six years later, it would be those screeching riffs that would be used by Marty McFly to impress his father that he had come from a distant planet to melt his face. The idea that Eddie Van Halen was an alien was perhaps not unfounded. How else to explain this virtuosity?
A lot of people don't remember hearing Eddie speak, perhaps because he was often drowned out by his lead singer's bravado. I do. I can remember all the times he rolled his eyes and had just a few words to express the frustrations of being a guitar god sometimes obscured by a Warner Brothers cartoon villain in assless chaps.
And he married Valerie Bertinelli. This had the effect of both making me righteously jealous and elevating his status. Eddie Van Halen could do it all, and no one knew that better than my good friend and college roommate Darren. He had seen Van Halen live, and had the T-shirts to prove it. Darren wasn't from Oklahoma, he was from Rocklahoma. He is the one who gifted me with the story about how Eddie and his bandmates spent more on beer than they did on the rest of the production of their video of "Hot For Teacher."
When Yosemite Sam and Eddie parted ways in 1985, it was Van Halen that thrived and survived with a slightly less cartoonish front man. It was in 1988 that I had my closest brush with seeing them play live. I was in the emergency room the night before they played just up the hill at Folsom Field in Boulder. I had torn three of the four ligaments in my left knee and I was asked to wait while the flurry of pre-concert ODs and fight victims were brought in. The next day, as I laid on the couch in my apartment not far from the stadium, I awaited reconstructive surgery, I could make out many of the songs coming through in waves.
A lifetime later, my son and I came within a forty minute drive of heading out to Red Rocks to see the recently reunited lineup of Van Halen.
We didn't go. Maybe because I was too old, or maybe because I was holding out for the Led Zeppelin reunion. But I regret it.
Especially now when the news of Eddie succumbing to cancer came across the waves. It created a profound silence in my life, which could only be cured by playing "Eruption" at maximum volume on my home stereo. For a moment, I was seventeen again, and I hope that wherever my copy of Van Halen's first album ended up, that it got a spin. Edward Van Halen not only stomped on the Terra, he rocked it. Hard. He will be missed. Aloha, Eddie.