Eddie Van Halen: Freak of the Week
CAN SOBRIETY SAVE THIS GUITAR HERO?
The history of rock and roll is filled with the ups and downs experienced by the artists who make the music we love. Their failures are just as important as their success; they serve as integral parts of the fabric of rock music and add to its draw. Pick up any biography written about your favorite rock group or artist and dive into a world where backstage dramas, unforeseen tragedies, embarrassing clothing and hair-styles, and bad business decisions rule. Quite often, the most talented folks who burst on to the music scene leave us too soon. The rest of them get to hang around long enough to self-destruct in front of our eyes. Yet their music persists and concert venues continue to fill up with fans who choose to come along for the torturous ride.
This week’s installment of Freak of the Week features a man that many people would consider one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. Eddie Van Halen, 52, was born in the Netherlands, but his family moved to Pasadena, California when he was seven. Originally trained as a pianist, Eddie started to play the drums along with his older brother, Alex, who played guitar. Once Alex proved to be the better drummer, Eddie switched to the guitar and the rest was rock and roll history.
Eddie’s band, Van Halen, dominated rock radio in the late 70s (a dominance that carried over to MTV in the 1980s.) Even when its original lead singer, David Lee Roth, left the group at the height of its success, it continued to thrive. In fact, the four albums they produced with (new lead singer) Sammy Hagar reached number one on the Billboard charts. What set Van Halen (the band) apart from its peers, and allowed it to maintain its popularity (despite a change in personnel,) was Eddie’s unique guitar style.
Here’s what wikipedia has regarding Eddie’s playing:
His innovative use of two-handed tapping, natural and artificial harmonics, vibrato systems, and speed picking – combined with rhythmic sensibility and a melodic approach – have influenced an entire generation of guitarists.
Whilst relatively commonplace today, Van Halen’s ground breaking techniques were originally a closely guarded secret; before the release of the band’s eponymous first album, the guitarist would often play solos and more complex riffs with his back to the live audience. This was done at the advice of his bandmates to prevent any guitar players from stealing his style and technique before the album came out in 1978.
So where did he go wrong? On the eve of Van Halen’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Eddie publicly announced that he was voluntarily checking himself into rehab to deal with an undisclosed addiction. It is no secret that Eddie is a drinker. Former vocalists Hagar and Roth have spoken about his drinking and the difficulties it has created in their relationships with him.
In recent years, Eddie has faced bouts with mouth cancer, hip replacement surgery, and the end of his 24-year marriage to (the eternally cute) Valerie Bertinelli. The only new music he has managed to produce was for a porno that one of his friends directed. To say Van Halen’s fans are anxious for some kind of comeback is an understatement.
This latest setback not only keeps him from attending the induction ceremony, it also puts on hold the long-awaited reunion with David Lee Roth. On a positive note, it appears that Eddie might have sought treatment in order to ensure a decent tour for his fans. The last Van Halen tour (with Sammy Hagar) ended on a bad note, with a drunk Eddie destroying his guitar on stage.
So Eddie, you have certainly earned the title: Freak of the Week. Take your time and get sober; your fans are counting on it. If we are lucky, it will be just a matter of time before we see you sharing a stage again with David Lee Roth and his ass-less chaps.
Rock and Roll!