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Van Halen's Split Personality: Rolling Stone's 1984 Feature

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When the music was dredged up last year, Dave wrote the words the way he usually writes, cruising with the top down in his Mercury convertible through the canyons around L.A. He had jotted down a phrase one night while watching a television news report about a man about to jump off a building. There's always somebody in the crowd, he thought to himself, who yells, Go ahead and jump!

The boys put together the video for "Jump" after playing the Us Festival for $1.5 million last summer. After it became one of the most popular videos ever on MTV, Van Halen received a call from Yes, Eddie says. They wanted to use the same director, the guy who had captured the band's sexiness so unpretentiously.

But there really was no director. There was just the band, which set up the camera shots, one 16-mm hand-held camera, a bare stage, a few runs through the song with Dave changing clothes as often as he could, and then editing by Alex and the lighting director. "Oh, about 600 bucks," hoots Dave when you ask how much their video cost. It's ingeniously simple, just a string of deliriously flirtatious moments.

"We didn't want any of the stuff, like, standing on the edge of a cliff with a picture in the background or fireballs thrown at you," says Alex. "We just wanted personality."

With the video's success paving their way, Van Halen started a tour in January; it will run until November, winding back and forth across the country, over to Europe, over to Japan. They play mainly to audiences of teenage boys exploring the mind-bending properties of beer. So from now until Thanksgiving, it will be possible on almost any given night to find Van Halen playing to a sold-out house, the vomit of 20,000 teenagers all over the floor.

Alex Van Halen thought California sounded like a bread spread, like mayonnaise, when their dad said they were pulling up stakes in Holland and moving there. Alex was only ten, Eddie only eight, when their mom, Eugenia, who's Indonesian, decided she wanted to join her relatives in America. Jan Van Halen, a professional jazz musician, had-played with circuses across Holland. When the Van Halens crossed the ocean, the only major possession they took was a piano.

When the boys were still little, Jan would take them on tour. Alex, who lost his virginity after a gig when he was just nine, started to fill in on drums when he was thirteen. "Just duck your head down," his father would say, so nobody in the clubs could see he was only a kid. Ed and Al studied piano for sixteen-years, then Eddie picked up the drums. But when Alex wanted to play the drums, Ed turned to the guitar.

"Eddie," Eugenia would call up to her son, "why do you always have to make that high, crying noise?"

But Eddie just stayed up in his room with his guitar. "Everybody," he says, "goes through teenage growing up, getting fucked around by a chick or not fitting in with the jocks at school. I just basically locked myself up in a room for four or five years and said to myself, 'Hey, this guitar's never gonna fuck me in the ass.' What I put into it, it gives me back."

Sometime around 1973, Eddie and Alex decided to attend Pasadena City College to study music theory. (One of their teachers, Truman Fisher, remembers Alex as an excellent student, though he'd only finish half of an assignment.) Michael Anthony, a trumpet player and bass guitarist, had also enrolled in the music department. Dave Roth, whose close-knit family had relocated from Indiana to California, was taking some theater courses.

Back then, Eddie and Alex had a band called Mammoth, which had replaced their first band, the Broken Combs, in which Alex played the saxophone, Ed the piano. In a deal that got them a PA, they also got David Lee Roth, who'd been singing with a rival band called the Red Ball Jets.

One night, Michael Anthony's band, Snake, opened for Mammoth. "I remember standing on the side of the stage," says Michael, "watching Edward and Alex play, and thinking, 'Wow, these guys are good.' Then Dave came up the side of the stage, and I forget what he was dressed in, some kind of a tux vest, but that was it, with a cane and a hat. He had long hair. I don't know if he had it colored, but I know he'd done something weird to it. And he said, 'How do you like my boys?' And I just went, 'Jesus Christ, get this guy away from me.'"

But soon they hired Michael away from Snake. The Van Halens wanted to name the new band Rat Salade, but Dave thought it would be classier to call themselves Van Halen, leading people thereafter to assume that Dave is actually a guy named Van.

Their first gig, as Michael remembers it, was a private party. "The first show I played with the band, I was wearing gold lamé pants and vest, and Ed was wearing silver lame. I mean, this is a backyard party in Pasadena."

From the start, Dave insisted that they think big. In 1977, Warner Bros, vice-president Ted Templeman saw them at the Starwood club in L.A. and almost immediately offered them a contract. "I saw their set," says Templeman, "and there were like eleven people in the audience, and they were playing like they were at the Forum."

Their first LP came out in 78, the first single a translation of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" that sounded, as Eddie likes to say of their music, "like Godzilla waking up." The album sold over 2 million copies. Dave soon took out paternity insurance, and they started demanding that all brown M&M's be removed from the caterer's candy bowls backstage. In subsequent years, Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down and 1984 sold more than a million copies each.

So they became millionaires. Eddie, who used to drive to rehearsals with the doors to his car wired shut with guitar strings, now owns two Lamborghinis.

Ted Templeman, who produced all six of the band's records, remembers one night when Dave came into the studio with a copy of People magazine. The girl on the cover had won something like a $3 billion settlement from her Arab husband. Dave said, "Jesus, man, you could buy anything with that."

"No, Dave," Ted countered. "You couldn't buy happiness."

And Dave said, "Maybe not, but I could buy a boat big enough to sail right up next to it."

Alex van Halen is stretched out on a sofa backstage at the Cincinnati Gardens, sound asleep with Def Leppard's Pyromania turned up so loud that people a mile away are evacuating their homes. Scrunched up cans of Schlitz Malt Liquor lie on the floor. Michael Anthony is wandering around the hall. Dave is doing hamstring stretches on the floor, with his two midget bodyguards nearby.

Eddie is in a little room with a sign on the door that says TUNING. For hour after hour before a show, Eddie just sits in there and plays his guitar. Pass the door and what sounds like the solo he played on "Beat It" comes screaming out.

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