Van Halen: Can This Be Love?

After the sour grapes of David Lee Roth, Van Halen finally finds happiness

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Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 477 from July 3, 1986. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

"No Daves Allowed." "David Who?" "Dave Sucks." You see them at nearly every stop on the current Van Halen tour, glant banners made by young fans, mostly out of Mom's old white bed sheets. The kids hang them from the balcony, parade them around the arena to thunderous applause and throw them at the stage in big knotted bundles, hoping someone in the band, usually the new singer, Sammy Hagar, will unfurl them for everyone to see. Some of the banners have a huge Van Halen logo roughly executed with orange Magic Marker. Others just state the obvious: "Van Halen Kicks Ass." But the ones that get the biggest roar have a single, unmistakable message: David Lee Roth, the former lead singer of Van Halen, is not welcome here.

As far as the 19,000 Van Halen maniacs in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena tonight are concerned, Roth — who left the band last year — will not be missed. "This sign gets some kind of award for the most information on the smallest piece of material," bellows Hagar from the stage as he unravels his fifth banner of the evening, a modest flag the size of a tablecloth, crammed with the Van Halen logo, the names of all four band members and a few dozen fans' signatures. "It says basically that Detroit loves the idea that I'm in this band." Guitarist Eddie Van Halen peers at the banner over Hagar's left shoulder, breaks into a wide, loopy smile and nods his head in agreement.

There's a lot to love about the idea of Sammy Hagar fronting America's top whomp-rock band. A veteran of fourteen years on the road, the thirty-eight-year-old Hagar has everything it takes to make these Detroit rock & roll animals go berserk. Like Roth, he's a master of sexist slapstick. He's never too busy to stop and smell the lacy bras and candy-colored panties constantly being thrown onstage, and tonight he yells "fuck," "shit" or some macho locker-room variation thereof no less than forty-two times during the band's two-and-a-half-hour set.

Hagar is also one hell of a yeller, ripping into old Van Halen standbys ("Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love," "Panama") and such megametal cuts as "Good Enough" and "Get Up" from the band's recent Number One LP, 5150, with equal banzai gusto. And the way he works the room, you'd think Hagar drank rocket fuel for breakfast. He's constantly doing high jumps from Alex Van Halen's drum riser; he sings his own 1985 solo hit "I Can't Drive 55" from a lighting rig about fifty feet above the stage (without a net); and he vigorously slaps and shakes every hand in the front-row crush in a show of party-rock solidarity. When he's not pressing the flesh down in front, Hagar is giving Eddie Van Halen big bear hugs or taking brotherly swigs from bassist Michael Anthony's Jack Daniel's bottle. He is clearly a man who loves his work and his co-workers.

And he does it all without taking any swipes at his predecessor. Well, almost. Three nights later in Pittsburgh, Hagar brings a hefty, freckle-faced kid onstage to sing Van Halen's biggest hit to date, the 1984 Number One smash "Jump." The kid is good, too, belting out the words with conviction if not a whole lot of melody. Finally, Hagar ushers him offstage to a standing ovation and turns to a video camera in the photo pit that is recording all the action. "See that, Dave?" he shouts at the camera, furiously poking his finger at the lens. "That guy sings the song better than you!"

Hagar, who admits his mouth sometimes moves faster than his brain when he's onstage, made a crack like that once before on this tour. According to Eddie, "When he brought the guy up to sing 'Jump,' he said, 'That was actually better than the other guy.' " After the show, the rest of the band gave Hagar a friendly little lecture about needling Roth onstage. "We all said, 'Come on, you don't have to go that far.' "

David Lee Roth and the four members of the new 5150-model Van Halen have been trading insults and accusations in the press since last summer when Eddie Van Halen publicly bid Roth goodbye and good riddance in Rolling Stone with the memorable line: "Twelve years of my life, putting up with his bullshit." Roth, a master of verbal volleyball, returned Eddie's serve, describing the band's complaints about his overbearing ego, dictatorial manner and tiresome showbiz jive as "mindless word-drool."

He has also taken a few well-aimed shots at his replacement, although the two singers have never met in person. Roth was quoted in the heavy-metal magazine Circus as saying, "Every night, Sammy Hagar's gotta sing 'Jump,' and I will never sing a Sammy Hagar song." (In fact, Hagar rarely sings "Jump" onstage; as in Pittsburgh, he brings up a special guest, usually a fan or local celebrity, to do the honors most nights.)

The torrent of abuse from both sides has taken its toll. Eddie, sipping a breakfast bottle of Heineken in a Pittsburgh hotel room and stubbing out his first cigarette of the morning, winces slightly when Roth's name comes up. "I said a few things in anger, you know, that I should apologize for," he admits a bit sheepishly. But Eddie insists he was truly distressed by Roth's departure. "I cried, I was bummed," he says bluntly. "I slagged him in the press because I was pissed and I was hurt. The thing was, Dave is a very creative guy and working with him was no problem. It was living with the guy.

"And that's what I meant by all the years of putting up with his bullshit. I didn't mean musically. But, boy, it just freaked me out. He left us hanging."

Eddie's bitterness about Roth, as well as that of his older brother, Alex, and Michael Anthony, suggests the four founding members of Van Halen fought it out longer and harder than most bands — and, miraculously, were able to keep a lid on it for more than five years. Even Ted Templeman, who produced all of the band's albums with Roth, seems very surprised by the venomous character of the charges and countercharges flying back and forth between Roth and the other members of Van Halen. "I never saw any of that," he claims. "I would say, 'Guys, we were in there for seven years, we never had any fights — what was it?' They said, 'Hey, we used to fight it all out in the basement before we got with you.' So I said, 'What the fuck's the matter? So does everyone else.' "

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From The Archives Issue 56: April 16, 1970
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