Eddie Van Halen: Balancing Act
IT’S FUNNY,” Eddie Van Halen says as he kicks back inside the comfort of 5150, the combination recording studio, bunker, video arcade and playhouse next to his home above the San Fernando Valley, in California. “We just got back from a European promotional trip, and this one German journalist said to me, ‘Now wait a minute. I’m no psychologist here, but nobody just does that to their head.’ “
It seems the baby-faced guitarist with the flowing tresses and that winning grin has been replaced by a guy who resembles – depending upon whom you ask – the hippest highway patrolman in the world or a handsome new member of Los Lobos.
“At the time, I couldn’t explain it to him, so I told him I lost a bet,” says the 40-year-old Van Halen. “Later it made me think about the whole thing, because the truth is, cutting my hair off did come at the end of an unbelievably heavy time for me. Our manager, Ed Leffler, died. Then Sammy Hagar was off doing his loony fucking solo career. So we were managing ourselves, and I’m going nuts because I’m getting the bullshit phone calls Ed must have gotten that we never heard about, like ‘Hey, Eddie, would you like to host Star Search?’ I was sitting around here with Tim Collins, who manages Aerosmith. This was probably one of the last nights that I drank – because I’ve stopped drinking – but I was guzzling a bottle of wine down, and finally I said to Tim, ‘I’ll be right back.’ I walked down to the house, grabbed my Norelco shaver and just shaved my head. Cut it completely off. I looked like an Auschwitz victim. I guess everything in my life all came to a head, literally. I was losing it. I was so frustrated and pissed off that I just didn’t know what else to do.”
Amateur hairstylist Eddie Van Halen is the single most admired, influential, revolutionary guitar slinger of his generation. Bursting onto the scene in an era of New Wave and punk, Van Halen swiftly found their metallic constituency with their multiplatinum 1978 debut, Van Halen. Never the critics’ darlings, Van Halen were clearly the people’s choice. Van Halen Mach 1 consisted of the Holland-born brothers Van Halen – Eddie and big brother drummer Alex – bassist Michael Anthony and Überfrontman David Lee Roth. In the beginning the band seemingly profited from the combination of Eddie Van Halen’s groundbreaking “hammer on” guitar riffing and Roth’s campy rock-god-meets-borscht-belt shtick. Touring, recording and partying tirelessly, Van Halen took the coveted hard-rock baton from Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. And by the time Van Halen released 1984 – which featured such future FM staples as “Jump” and “Hot for Teacher” – they were the biggest band in the land.
Behind the scenes, though, there was no love lost between Roth and his colleagues. Inspired by the success of his 1985 solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, the increasingly tarnished Diamond Dave went solo that year to ever-decreasing demand. A bitter battle of the bands ensued with no shortage of name-calling coming from both sides. Before long, Eddie Van Halen drafted journeyman rocker Sammy Hagar as the band’s new resident mouthpiece. The result was one of the very few commercially successful lead-singer transplants in recent rock history.
The 1986 debut of Van Halen Mach 2, 5150, went on to sell nearly 5 million copies. That band established a track record that has continued with all of Van Halen’s subsequent releases: 1988’s OU812, 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (F.U.C.K.), 1993’s Live: Right Here, Right Now. Furthermore, Van Hagar became something of a giddy mutual-admiration society. And despite all sorts of recent drama in the lives of the band members and the recent rise of a grungier breed of monsters of rock, Balance – Van Halen’s latest album – looks like yet another smash, having recently entered the Billboard chart at No. 1. Not bad for an album that ranges from the John Cage-style piano abuse of “Strung Out” to the unapologetic power pop of “Can’t Stop Loving You.” Wherever Van Halen fit in the world of rock 1995, Eddie Van Halen is not worried about being seen as a rock dinosaur. “Hey, dinosaurs are great,” he says. “Dinosaurs are huge, right?”
Along with the acclaim, Eddie Van Halen has earned a reputation as a world-class drinker. On my way to his house, I stop at a Sunset Strip liquor store for a soda, and there above the door is a giant blowup of a hammered-looking Eddie Van Halen between similar photos of Keith Moon and Liberace. Farther to his left is a shot of Rick James. Proudly, Van Halen says he’s now gone five months without a drink – four months better than his prior record. And despite a documented and worrying tendency to be newly sober around the release of a new album, Van Halen seems confident that “this time it’s for real.”
When I arrive a few minutes early to 5150 the next morning, Van Halen is out driving his 4-year-old son, Wolfgang, to school. Wolfie’s mom, actress Valerie Bertinelli, who married Van Halen in 1981, lets me into the place. It’s Valentine’s Day morning, and Bertinelli has been surfing the Internet, checking out comments regarding Van Halen on America Online. So far, she says, only one fan has figured out who she really is.
Billie Eilish Slams 'True Idiots' Criticizing Her Femininity and Style
- 'LET WOMEN EXIST!'