Roth-Hagar isn't a VH reunion

Van Halen the man needed for Van Halen the band

Pop Music

May 04, 2002|By Tony Hicks | Tony Hicks,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Van Halen isn't necessarily the most relevant of topics here in the 21st century. After so many reunion false starts over the past five years with former front man David Lee Roth, only the diehards still keep alive the idea of anyone in VH, past or present, doing something that matters.

But they were the ones celebrating when Roth and fellow VH exile Sammy Hagar announced recently that they're hauling their receding, yet still bleached-blond, hairlines on the road together.

Left behind in the snickering or the excitement (depending on your point of view) was a somber point: Eddie Van Halen's career is probably done.

Aside from the ugliness of rivals Roth and Hagar having to pool resources and cheapen the Van Halen name further, the merging symbolizes the end for not only a once-unstoppable rock band (from 1978 to 1984), but the decade's most important rock guitarist.

Van Halen, the man who spawned a generation of wannabe guitar heroes, has battled cancer the past couple years, while also flirting with rumors of a Roth reunion. One might be just as dire as the other.

But Eddie Van Halen's place in music history is undeniable, no matter what your take is on the band itself and its music. He's the one directly responsible for all the hair-metal guitar gods we love to make fun of now. Van Halen came along when disco dominated, a player with amazing technique who had to play with his back to the crowd in his club days to dissuade copycats. It didn't work.

Guitar gunslinger

Van Halen launched the era of guitar gunslingers with his signature "Eruption," from Van Halen I, a solo of such speed and ferocity, it still has no equal 24 years later. By the mid-'80s, every guitarist had two hands up the neck, doing the two-handed tapping that made it sound like they were playing with four hands.

At least that was the idea. As Van Halen can take credit for raising the bar on guitar playing as no one had since perhaps Jimi Hendrix, he can also be latently blamed for a lot of really bad music from a lot of really bad bands.

Now, lest this sound like a baseless obituary, it's noteworthy that no one is saying anything negative about Van Halen's health. The official line is that he's recovering just fine. But there's no denying that the wheels are definitely off the wagon (not that the band hasn't been dead creatively since the salad days of the mullet).

Warner Bros. recently dropped Van Halen after nearly 25 years, the band let go of longtime employees, and VH bassist Michael Anthony has committed to Hagar's side project with Journey guitarist Neil Schon (wait - this is still 2002, isn't it?). These aren't the actions of a band gearing up to retake its arena-rock territory. For the record, the 21-gig Hagar-Roth late May-June tour will hit venues throughout the Midwest and West.

Van Halen must be sick to be so quiet through all of this. He once wanted to work so badly, he hired the singer from Extreme. Why let his former front men get all the nostalgic summer concert dollars?

A sad final act

A reunion was probably a bad idea, but anyone who saw Van Halen in its heyday with Roth can attest to the band's stunning live abilities. It was like lighting a torch to an arena full of fireworks and watching a two-hour chain reaction.

Why does this matter in 2002? It probably doesn't, except for those of us secretly accepting that we'll always pay to see a 15-minute blistering Eddie Van Halen solo, no matter how goofy the singer and outdated the concept.

I don't know if Sam or Dave has taken a gander at the charts the past decade, but neither is exactly a rock heavyweight anymore. If they're getting heavy, it has nothing to do with CD sales. When these guys still sold records, they hated each other. Now they need each other.

This is a sad final act for a once-great band. With Roth doing almost all VH songs, and a big encore with Hagar, it's nothing more than a parody. Hagar should keep selling his overpriced tequila and Roth should do whatever David Lee Roth does now. Leave the VH legacy alone, at least until the guy with the last name says otherwise.

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