Eruption: A Tribute to Eddie Van Halen
Written By Dan Hickman • Toy Editor • Writer
It was in my seventh grade year of school at the tender age of 13 that I discovered Van Halen. By discovered, I should say was introduced to. My cousin Warren, who was four years older than me, was playing the newest Van Halen album, 1984, while I was at his house. I had really started getting into music in fourth grade, but outside of radio had little exposure to the variety available. Like most kids, I felt music was just something that you listened to in the car. That day, though, my eyes were opened and I honestly thought, “What have I been missing out on?!?”
Even though “Jump” was their top single off that album, I immediately fell in love with the haunting melodies of “I’ll Wait.” I was even more shocked when Warren told me that this was a hard-rock band and that the lead guitarist was playing KEYBOARDS! At that point I knew I wanted more. He patiently helped me memorize each band member's name and instrument and *gasp* trusted me to borrow his other cassettes. He strictly admonished me that I was to listen to them in order of release and if I didn’t, he’d kick my butt. So, out of fear for my life, I did what I was instructed to do. I took this treasure stash home, borrowed my mom’s cassette player, went to my bedroom and proceeded to become educated in the ways of (in my humble opinion) the greatest rock band ever, which included the most amazing guitar playing I’d ever heard in my life.
I popped their debut in my player and waited for “Running With the Devil” to start. I was blown away by the music and David Lee Roth’s raspy vocals and when “Eruption” played, I was hooked. I’d never heard guitar played like that before and no sooner was their cover of The Kinks' “You Really Got Me” finished, I realized that yes, they’d really got me. I spent the afternoon listening to as much as I could and kept going back for more. Each new cassette was like a hidden jewel. Did I love every song, nah, but there was so much to like that the few I didn’t care for hardly seemed to matter. By the time I got to Diver Down I knew that I’d be buying all of these and every single piece of music they made from then on.
Later that summer, my cousin got tickets to see them in Buffalo on the 1984 tour. (Unknown to us at the time it would be Roth’s final tour with the band for quite some time.) Warren surprised me with a ticket and the rest was history. I was hooked. I made it my mission to learn every lyric and air guitar note to emulate the master technician. To this day I’ve never learned to play guitar, but I’ll beat you any day of the week at Air Guitar or Guitar Hero Van Halen on my Xbox!
I remember watching Eddie play live and couldn’t wrap my head around how fast and how skillfully he played. To me, it was the work of an artist, and it was pure magic. Then came the crushing news that Roth and Van Halen were parting ways. It never occurred to me that there would still be a “Van Halen” without Roth. Then, to my amazement, Guitar Player magazine ran an article with the big news that The Red Rocker, Sammy Hagar, would be the new lead singer. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this at first because to me VH was and would always be: Eddie, Alex, Dave, and Mike. 5150 was released and all my fears melted away. Even with a different singer, Eddie’s magic was still unmatched and having another guitarist allowed him to do even more incredible keyboard work.
I learned the joy of arena rock because of Van Halen. I grew and matured with them, as their music grew and matured with Hagar for more than a decade, briefly with Gary Cherone, and then again with Roth and in later years, with Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass, replacing Michael Anthony, who parted ways with the band to work with Hagar on some projects. I knew of Eddie’s struggles with addiction and his battles with cancer over the years. Still he fought on and continued to play powerful guitar. There are many who feel that he has been surpassed over the years by other guitarists and there are many who will disagree with me when I say that Eddie was the greatest guitarist of all time and that’s okay. All I know is that today, we learned of the passing of a legend. We never think of our musical/sports/entertainment heroes growing older or dealing with life-altering circumstances. But one day, the music stops, the film reaches the end of it’s reel, and the cleats sit alone, dusty and unused. On those days we stop and remember how those heroes made us feel and the joy, excitement, fun, and impact they had on our lives.
From the age of 13 through today, Van Halen has played an integral role in the soundtrack of my life. Rest In Peace, Edward Van Halen. You will be missed, you are loved by all of your fans, and your music will live forever within us.
October 6, 2020