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Q&A: David Lee Roth Vents About Van Halen's Future

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And in the interim I've written and recorded an entire album of material with a fellow named John 5. It's called Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bar & Grill, and it was designed as a jukebox musical after seeing what the South Park fellows did. Those fellows are ardent Van Halen fans – they're been to Vegas and L.A. variously on the last tour. I saw the play [Book Of Mormon] and went home and we started putting together what I guess is called a jukebox musical, but it's not particular to Van Halen. Indeed we can create Van Halen material as the interstitials, but we have 15 songs ready to go, and it's my story. Indiana kid goes to the big city, sells his soul to the devil. Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets Dave. It's knockout stuff.

The "Jump" remix is part of an approach I wanted to take of, "What if we take a specific song and update it both in terms of time period and neighborhood, and you use that throughout the play?" The way "Jump" sounds originally is very different than the way it sounds on this latest version. You can turn it country, you can make it a very sad song. I was also thinking to take this material to one of our finer filmmakers and see if the whole package might be used. That being said, it's not heavy metal, and no, it's not dance music. It's R&B-based, a lot of B3 [organ] and a lot of girl-friendly . . . It's rock, but think early Rod Stewart, perhaps, arguably the best years, [or] "Tumbling Dice" if you're thinking in terms of classic. So who knows where that's gonna go.

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Van Halen, 'Van Halen'

But Ed has his own vision, I'm assuming. We haven't really been able to speak about it and it's a disappointment, just as not having a chance for a reunion of the original band. Clearly, vocals are every bit as much a component of success as a rhythm section or a guitar solo, and there's an old expression saying, "They don't go home singing the lighting show, they don't go home singing the production." You're right, they sing my words and my melodies. And what we have at our fingertips is arguably one of the greatest high tenor voices ever – that was in Michael Anthony. In our tiny little corner of the universe, that voice is as identifiable as the high voice in Earth, Wind & Fire, as identifiable as the high voice in the Beach Boys. Van Halen is an indelicate house blend of both – that's intentionally. So I would always look forward to that reunion, and I would always look forward to writing a whole variety of material. I've offered the fellows, come on out here to the land of the gods. And if you don't want to make it that far we'll make it halfway – Konishiki [his friend and former champion sumo wrestler] has said he'll lend me his house in Hawaii, Let's go woodshed. But so far there hasn't been any response, so hope and faith are not actual tactics and strategies – they're strippers from Albuquerque.

Let's focus on the positive first. Would you want to take those 15 songs with John to the stage?
Absolutely. That's what it's aimed at. It's autobiographic. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bar & Grill" is the opening theme song, and it's about an Indiana kid who goes to sleep – think The Wizard Of Oz – and the characters in his life, the butcher, the baker and the newspaper guy, pop out of posters and sing him a song called "Giddyup." And he finds his way to all the good things in life, having discovered rock in the Sixties, and there's a song titled "Alligator Pants" – yes, I own a pair, I wore them for the last two tours. And things go horribly left-of-center wrong, of course, when you sell your soul to the devil, and one of the tunes is called "The Shit That Killed Elvis." So yeah, it's pretty stellar material. Again, I've offered it up to the Van Halens, but I seriously doubt there are going to be any takers there. As I've said, we haven't written a new song since I left in 1984. Almost everything on that record [A Different Kind of Truth] is from before we recorded the first album or out or about somewhere in that time frame. Wait, what am I saying? "Stay Frosty" is brand new, and I wrote that whole song myself. I wrote the chord structure, played the guitar, the vocals, etc. Therein that was remanded to the back side – well, it's not a record anymore, side B, next to the last of whatever. It's an update, thinking symmetrically – "Ice Cream Man," "Stay Frosty," I get it [laughs].

You clearly have a lot you want to do individually. Where will this go for you?
Well, I was just on the phone yesterday with John, and we're now beginning to explore what that means. It's been a year since our last tour with Van Halen. There's virtually no impact or contact in terms of writing new material, and given that I don't have the opportunity to work with original material I invented a whole new website show, Tokyo Hi-Power Style and all the music you hear there is my personal collection. That's all floor, and it's kind of talk radio but with that kind of a musical background, and half of it is in Japanese.

That's heavy lifting, conducting recording sessions completely in Japanese. So I'm pursuing with a vengeance. I went to the Sumo tournament with Konishiki as my teacher, and we went not only to the tournament, but we went to the beya, which is the gym. And we had what in music is called an encounter, question and answer, back and forth. And I asked them, "What inspires you? What compels you?" And variously one would say, "I do not want to dishonor my parents." Another said, "I would like to be a great champion." We went around the circle, and one of them said to me, "Dave-san, what inspires you?" I said, "Fear and revenge." They asked, "Revenge against who?" I said, "People who have a whole lot more talent than I do and then threw it away. Sometimes friends of ours have Maserati-style talent and they treat it like a fucking lawn mower." And they all laughed.

I said, "Then there are folks who have lived much faster and got much farther down the track. Now my wristwatch seems to be moving forward faster and my knees seem to be going slower." Everybody sort of nodded. It's revenge against my wristwatch. And fear that I might not have all the time that I wish I could in order to do what's in my imagination. I don't think what I'm imagining is preposterous. I don't think what I'm imagining is undoable at all. Maybe I'm audacious, but I can't really even smell it. Let's get after this, like Grandma Roth said. I'm furious to beat the clock here. And whether or not I do last to 93, I want to live a life well-lived. And I do it with a sense of humor. I brought up something in an interview with one of the magazines here in Tokyo. I said, "I wish Bon Jovi would've given me a call before he recorded all of his hits, because the lyrics would've been smarter, the melodies would've been much more smashing, and they would've sold a lot fewer records." Fighting spirit, Steve-san. It's a goddamn war every day in the music business in one faction or another. I have a taste for that. I like conflict, and I can admit that now. "Come on, let's get after this. Where's the next war, guys?"

What is there left to accomplish that you still want to do musically?
I don't know that it's so much to accomplish as it is to get with a team or a group, to get with other folks and have an idea and a vision and to be busy all the time. My favorite expression of Andy Warhol's was, "I think to be busy is the best thing in life." And I can heartily agree now and just get on horseback, and if you have to change your direction in momentum, so much better than sitting and thinking about and deciding and not even going. For me, 60 is the new 80. You oughta see my X-rays. So get going, start heading north. And whether we accomplish anything or not becomes beside the point. The goal is to get with somebody and get with a group or team or a squad and get going on something that everybody's contributing to. I believe in that for me, probably for most folks, more than ever. You might be surprised to hear that from somebody – when you say lead singer, you think that's a solitary vision, a self-centric kind of positioning. "How many lead singers does it take to put in a light bulb? One. You're supposed to hold the bulb and let the world revolve around you." As achingly true as that might have been periodically in my life, I can follow just as good as lead. But I do want to be on that boat.

Would you want to work with another group of musicians?
Certainly, absolutely, and we can sit here for another hour and go through the list. It doesn't matter the kind of music, it doesn't matter whether it's a cowboy hat or a yarmulke. I don't care if it's outer space or pop, the spirit is the same. There are only so many letters in the alphabet. When I talk to young musicians or authors and they ask for advice, I say, "You gotta learn all the letters of your own personal alphabet. With music, you need to know all the different kinds of music and everything in and around your given instrument." They say, "Well, why would I want to learn somebody else's alphabet?" "Son, you're not gonna invent any new letters in the alphabet, but if you do learn all of them and you can start creating words with them, well, last I looked, the Bible is written in the identical alphabet as all of my favorite pornography. At least you can make an informed choice." [Laughs] Which way is the porn store?

It will be very interesting to see what happens with all of these merging interests you have. You mentioned Coachella. Would we ever see Van Halen on that type of stage?
Alex and I have been begging to become part of that, and Glastonbury and Reading and Hyde Park. We keep being shuttled into the heavy metal world, and that's a very exclusive neighborhood, but here we are – we're back knocking on the doors begging for Bonnaroo and begging for Lollapalooza and Coachella, not even as an advancement of career, but there's a whole new audience who doesn't know and doesn't give a shit about Van Halen, and that's exactly the best audience to sharpen your spirit on. That will compel you to the very best that you have. I can't wait for those opportunities and wish us well. We've been asking for those shows since I've gotten back with the band six years ago, and I'll be very curious to see where we wind up come next season.

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

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Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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