First of all, Van Halen doesn’t care for that name, Monsters of Rock, or for that Godzilla-with-a-guitar logo. Listen to the band’s lead singer, Sammy Hagar: “I don’t like the handle. I don’t like the cartoon-Godzilla thing that’s been tied in to it. That isn’t what Monsters of Rock means. It means bands of stature, which is a little bit more flattering than the Godzillas and the Mummies and the Frankensteins of rock, the ugliest fuckers in rock.”
So let it be said here and now that the members of Van Halen are not the ugliest fuckers in rock. But this summer they might well be the most monstrous. They’ll be leading Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock Tour, a hard-rock juggernaut that sounds a little terrifying to all but die-hard head bangers. Five bands: Van Halen, the Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica, Kingdom Come. Ten hours of bone-crunching hard-rock music. Up to 100,000 teenage metalheads standing in the hot sun for an entire day, staring at a 10,000-square-foot stage and listening to 250,000 watts of sound.
Think of the atmosphere. Think of the insurance premiums. Think of the drum solos. Think of the parents’ groups condemning the whole thing. Or think of the box office: seen by an estimated 2 million people in 22 stadiums across the U.S., the most expensive tour in rock history will almost unquestionably become the biggest-grossing tour of the summer by the time it bashes to a close.
And the star attraction is the biggest hard-rock band of our time; the band that includes the genre’s most envied and emulated guitarist but sometimes sounds more like a Top Forty pop-rock band; the band that replaced a flamboyant, seemingly irreplaceable lead singer with a journeyman singer-songwriter and kept right on rocking; the Ultimate Party Band, riding on years of stories about backstage excesses and hotel-room bacchanalias.
If the members of Van Halen are at all worried about going onstage after four younger, often harder-sounding and maybe hungrier bands, they don’t show it.
“The way I look at it, those other guys are all gonna make it hard on each other,” says Sammy Hagar with a laugh. “It’s not a competition. Even if it were, I still wouldn’t fear it, but it’s not. It’s an event. I hope the other bands try so hard they do a great show and every person who walks out of that coliseum goes, ‘That was the greatest show I’ve ever seen in my life.’
“I’m sure there’s a hardcore Metallica fan out there who’s gonna go, ‘Oh, Van Halen stunk. They did a ballad.’ But we’re such an individual band it would be like looking at a fruit bowl and saying the apple’s gonna make that orange taste bad.”
Alex Van Halen has a food metaphor of his own. “The way I look at it,” he says, “this tour is kinda like one big sandwich, you know? Which is the best, the first bite or the last?” He laughs hoarsely. “Who really cares, as long as you eat the whole thing?”
“Van Halen wanted to make rock & roll history, basically,” says Louis Messina, the head of the Texas-based PACE Concerts, who is the promoter of the Monsters of Rock Tour. But Van Halen didn’t want to sweat the details, so it’s Messina who has to ensure that the tour makes the right kind of history. He is booking the stadiums, arranging for security, serving as a liaison between Van Halen and local promoters and spending plenty of time calming parents’ groups, community leaders and anybody else frightened by the idea of having five hard-rock bands come to town.
It hasn’t always been easy. “In Cleveland,” says Messina, “they gave us Cleveland Stadium, but then they decided we couldn’t have the stadium because they didn’t want anybody on the field where the Indians play. So we’re doing two days in Akron instead.”
But most areas have been receptive, says Messina, who has promoted the Texxas Jam, an annual open-air hard-rock concert, for a decade (and who wants to make the Monsters of Rock an annual event). “From ten years of doing the Texxas Jam,” he says, “we know how it works. We require more security than normal stadium shows, and we take the precautions that have to be taken.” He doesn’t expect this tour to be especially rowdy. “None of the bands are problem bands,” he says. “They aren’t the bad boys of rock — we’re just selling eight or ten hours of straight-ahead rock & roll, and we’re very good at producing these shows.”
But as Van Halen gathers in a small North Hollywood soundstage, it isn’t worrying about logistics. The first date on the Monsters of Rock Tour is a month away, and the band is getting ready. The room is crowded with the usual instruments and equipment cases, with a few distinctive Van Halen touches: Eddie Van Halen’s striped guitars, the two huge bass drums in Alex Van Halen’s elaborate setup and the posted flyer for THE WORLD’S LARGEST WET T-SHIRT CONTEST.