Sunday’s Grammy Awards may have received some of the show’s best reviews in years (even though viewership plummeted to an all-time low), but hard rock and heavy metal fans were not happy with the broadcast’s tribute to Eddie Van Halen. He wasn’t mentioned at the top of the show when Little Richard, John Prine, and Kenny Rogers were cited as examples of people we lost in the past year, and when the In Memoriam segment came, it featured a mere 20-second clip of “Eruption” against a shot of his Frankenstein guitar on a stand. (By contrast, Kenny Rogers received a two-minute tribute by Lionel Richie.)
As it turns out, the Recording Academy did at least try to put together something more substantial. In a tweet the morning after the ceremony, Wolfgang Van Halen said he was approached about playing “Eruption” on the broadcast. “I don’t think anyone could have lived up to what my father did for music but himself,” Wolfgang wrote, explaining why he declined. “I didn’t realize they would only show Pop for 15 seconds in the middle of four full performances for others we had lost.”
“What hurt the most,” he continued, “was that he wasn’t even mentioned when they talked about artists we lost in the beginning of the show. I know rock isn’t the most popular genre right now (and the academy does seem a bit out of touch) but I think it’s impossible to ignore the legacy my father left on the instrument, the world of rock, and music in general. There will never be another innovator like him.”
We don’t know if they approached other guitarists after Wolfgang opted out, but it’s easy to understand why they couldn’t find anybody. How could any guitarist, no matter how skilled, play “Eruption” and not seem like a poor Van Halen imitator? It’s Eddie’s signature solo that goes all the way back to the first Van Halen album in 1978. It can be duplicated by skilled guitarists, and there are plenty such attempts on YouTube, but nobody plays it like Van Halen himself.
Here’s video of “Eruption” from the final Van Halen concert, which took place at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl on October 4th, 2015. As always, he slips snippets of other songs into the mix, including “Little Guitars,” “Mean Street,” “Spanish Fly,” and “Cathedral,” but it all builds to an incredible climax of “Eruption.” At the nine-minute mark, the band returns to the stage and kicks into “You Really Got Me.”
In a perfect world, Van Halen would have ended with the mega stadium tour they were planning in 2019 that would have featured the return of Michael Anthony, and Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth taking turns on lead vocals. But they had to scuttle the idea when Eddie’s cancer returned. But at least he lived long enough to make one last album with Roth and play three arena tours with him between 2007 and 2015. That was a better gift to the fans than anything the Grammys could have put together.