There was a period in high school and college which I tend to romanticize a bit, imagining myself constantly armed with a guitar over my shoulder. I further imagine entire groups of people who knew me during that time who recall me as a guitarist first, and a total dick second (unlike now where the latter is more consistent with popular opinion).
I didn’t try to copy Eddie’s playing style as much as I did his attitude. Hell, for a period of time, I would place a lit cigarette into the top of my guitar, despite the fact I’ve never been a smoker. But Ed did it and it looked brilliant.
I always got the impression that behind that goofy smile, EVH was driven by a desire to humiliate and demoralize his guitar playing “peers.” He knew no one was going to out-innovate him. There’s only one “Eruption”, one “Mean Streets”, one “Cathedral.” He was Michael Jordan and the rest of us were Craig Ehlo.
But then it all sort of faded away. I think many will say it was Nirvana and grunge that killed Van Halen. No – grunge killed hair metal. To put Van Halen in that category is simply ignorant. Van Halen was unabridged American rock and roll, made up of equal doses of volume, virtuosity, alcohol, and unprotected sex, served in three and a half minute increments.
No – what killed Van Halen was Eddie’s desire to be a legitimate songwriter. And by extension, the inclusion of Sammy Hagar.
Don’t get me wrong – Van Hagar made one pretty great album (5150), and a handful of likeable songs. But what they stopped doing was routinely whipping it out and getting into a measuring contest with everyone within a five mile radius. Mind boggling riffs gave way to beginner level keyboard tunes. Eddie became a one trick, finger tapping pony.
Here’s an interesting fact. Over seven albums with David Lee Roth, Van Halen wrote five songs with the word “love” in the title. The most famous of which was called “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, and the last one – “So This Is Love?” – clearly ends in a question mark. In between, they wrote about feeling your love, being out of love, and the silliness of women who were in love.
Over four albums with Sammy Hagar, the band crapped out five “love” songs as well, with profoundly wussy titles like “Love Walks In”, “When It’s Love” and the musical turd-in-the-punch-bowl known as “Can’t Stop Loving You.”