Music has a magical way of whisking us down memory lane to destinations all but lost to the ravages of time. Hearing a long forgotten song for the first time in years can at times be a nearly out-of-body experience, bringing back a flood of memories and feelings that go beyond the ability of mere words to fully describe.
I have always been passionate about music. As a child, I used to go to sleep every night listening to the clock radio at my bedside. Later, when I got a phonograph, I would stack as many records as would fit on the stacking spindle to listen to as I drifted off to sleep. In the ‘80s, I became what was known as a “Walkman learner” because I did my homework and studied while listening to music. Apparently, for some people listening to music while studying helps filter out distracting noises and aids in concentration. Today, I listen to music all day while I work. I prefer music to television or silence, especially at meal time, and all it takes is the right song in the morning to get me up and on my way—no coffee required.
When I was about 19 years old, I stopped listening to new bands and popular music, instead opting to immerse myself in the incredibly deep and rich world of jazz. I got rid of all my rock music and replaced it with a library of jazz music that I have been compiling for over 25 years.
I never got into the ‘90s grunge rock scene, as I was too busy with Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Since the turn of the century, it seems to me that music has become formulaic, derivative, mind-numbingly tedious and generally irritating. In 2017, everything sounds like a combination of urban hip-hop and Stevie Wonder hooks set to a computer beat. Modern music has, for lack of a better term, been thoroughly negro-fied.
Thus, it is with no regret whatsoever that I consider myself utterly ignorant when it comes to contemporary popular music. In fact, this has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as now that I am approaching the half-century mark, I am able to rediscover the music of my youth, reconnecting with songs (and memories) for the first time in decades.
For example, when I was in junior high, I was really into Rush. I always thought Neil Pert was the real star of that band. So I was shocked when, after listening to Rush for the first time in years, I realized what an amazing bass player Geddy Lee is. In fact, I would argue he is one of the greatest rock bassists of all time. I can’t believe that I never noticed his playing when I was younger, but I am older—and possibly even wiser—plus my ear is much more developed, sophisticated and discriminating than it was when I was a pimply-faced parachute pants wearer in the early ‘80s.
Well, I had a similar epiphany recently, when for the first time in thirty years I listened to some (pre-Sammy Hagar) Van Halen records. To be honest, I was never really into Van Halen back in the day. I was always a huge (Bon Scott era) AC/DC fan, preferring Angus Young over Eddie Van Halen in terms of guitar styles.
I don’t remember owning any Van Halen albums except for 1984, which came out when I was in eighth grade. Yet, as I listened to each of their albums, starting chronologically with their 1978 self-titled first release, I discovered that I knew practically every song. It’s hard for young people today to imagine, but in the early ‘80s, all we had was FM radio and MTV (when they still played music videos). There wasn’t much of a choice back then. We pretty much listened to whatever was on, or at least I did.
Listening to Van Halen reminds me that bands used to actually play music, and musicians and singers had to be talented (not just sexy) to get a recording contract. Van Halen’s music is an aggressive kick in the balls to all the bullshit polluting the music scene today. Let’s face it, there is no music scene today. Like everything else, it has become an “industry,” with all the soulless corporate garbage and phoniness that entails.
But more than that, Van Halen’s music is still fresh, raw and utterly lethal. And in 1978, Van Halen had a sound like no other—people were totally stunned by their music. There is simply nothing like this happening in music today. And I doubt there ever will be again.
I always thought Eddie was the overwhelming force in Van Halen, but listening to them now, I am amazed at how tight Michael Anthony (bass) and Alex Van Halen (drums) are as a rhythm section. They are both outstanding musicians in their own right. And like all great singers, David Lee Roth’s vocals rise above the simple singing of lyrics. Reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, his voice becomes a fourth instrument (and let’s not forget that Dave also played a mean acoustic and slide guitar).
While watching some Van Halen videos on YouTube, I came across this comment from a user called 394pjo, who recalls:
I saw them as support for Black Sabbath at the Lewisham Odeon in South London back in 79 or 80 I think it was. No one had heard of them we were all there to see Sabbath, when they pranced onto the stage looking like sticks of candy and Diamond Dave shouting ‘hello Lewisham, the rock and roll capital of the world!’ some sections of the audience started booing them and shouting ‘go home yanks’ After they left the stage thirty minutes later you could feel the shock in the Crowd, I had been to a few great gigs but never witnessed anything as incredible as that, people were just looking at each other and gasping and it was like ‘what the fuck did we just witness?’ the crowd was completely blown away. When Sabbath finished their set 90 mins later the cheers were much less than Van Halen got.
I can’t begin to imagine what life must have been like for Van Halen back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The women, the dope, the booze, the craziness! Their music is a soundtrack for the lives of millions of teenagers who grew up in what today seem simpler and freer times. You know, the “good old days,” before blue-haired land whale feminists and skinny jeans-wearing metrosexual cucks littered the great American landscape. Back when every guy wanted to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen and grow hair down to the middle of his back. And the women who threw themselves at David Lee Roth still had pubic hair, real boobs, few, if any, tattoos and no pierced anything.
When I listen to Van Halen today, images of the Southern California I knew in my youth appear in my mind’s eye. Van Halen’s music conveys a sense of fun, positive energy and hopefulness. Their music reminds me that I wasn’t always this cynical and jaded. I actually even used to have fun and enjoy myself.
Where have all the good times gone?