The last day or so I’ve been reading testimonials and hearing stories from different people about Eddie Van Halen and his band. These accounts have come from famous and regular, everyday people, and it just goes to show what a long reach this one man and his band had and how they affected so many lives. Mostly it was because of their music, whether it helped someone get through a hard time or altered how they saw music and played the guitar. Some stories were more personal, how people met Eddie and what he meant to them in those moments. I have a few stories to tell, too, and they’re personal, although I never met the man or the band. The closest I came, physically, was standing about ten feet away from Sammy Hagar as his solo band played live in Lake Tahoe in 2013. But I did see Van Halen, and I have rocked their albums over these many long decades of my existence. Here’s a few moments that I will always treasure.
October 22, 1980:
My dad thought it was a good idea to take me and my older cousin to see Van Halen when they played here in Lexington at Rupp Arena. He was a rock fan, I was a rock fan, my cousin was a rock fan, so it was a no-brainer. Thing was, I had just turned 11 years old, and I was not prepared for the debauchery that played out before my young eyes that night. I saw people get drunk and pass out. I saw women whip their tops off and shake their naked tits. I saw people lose their minds, screaming and shouting and dancing their asses off. Most importantly, I saw one of the greatest rock bands of all time strut their stuff in their prime years. I can’t remember many individual songs (“Dance the Night Away” I remember, and “Everybody Wants Some!”) but I do remember Diamond Dave jumping around like a maniac, doing his toe-touches, and Eddie simply fucking wailing on that guitar. Later that night, my dad confessed to my mom: “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken Kelly to see that.” Maybe he shouldn’t have, but I will always, always be glad he did. That concert set the course for the rest of my life.
Sometime in the summer of 1982:
13 year old Kelly was fond of cruising around on his Huffy Dirt Bike, riding the neighborhoods, raising the kind of hell only a 13 year old on a bike could. I used to carry this small cassette recorder with me. It had one speaker and a headphone jack. I never used the jack. I would blast the music I loved as loud as I could as I rode around, a nuisance to the whole neighborhood. That summer I played Diver Down until I wore that tape out. It was a great summer, the wind in my hair, the cool breeze blowing in my face, and “Dancing in the Streets” blaring full-blast, all static and feedback. It was the soundtrack of that summer of ultimate freedom.
Kelly was 15, watching MTV, when his unsuspecting eyes fell upon a brand new video by Van Halen. His brain was melted, forevermore. “Hot for Teacher” came on and it completely blew my mind. This video had it all: comedy, hot chicks, ripping guitar riffs, kids playing younger versions of the band, more comedy (the “choreographed” dancing never fails to make me snort with laughter) and even more hot chicks. Wow. Wow! This was the video of my adolescence, that perfect moment when music and sex combined and created a whole new world for a young fella who was a totally fat nerd with no hope of ever getting a girlfriend. But Waldo could, so maybe I could, too! Fun and awesome, the perfect epitome of Van Halen when Dave was at the mic. Still my favorite video of all time.
I was driving my much-beloved Gold Duster to work at the local drug store, Begley’s. They hadn’t been bought out by Rite Aid yet, so the experience there was still pure and “small town.” It was my after-school job and I really liked it. In fact, that’s how I paid for the car I was driving. Well I was on my way when the local rock station (WKQQ) broke in with a surprise: they had the new Van Halen song from the new album, with new lead singer Sammy Hagar. I was happy but skeptical. And then “Why Can’t This Be Love” came blasting through the speakers. At first, I was hesitant. By song’s end, I was singing along. Holy shit, this was great! Different, but great. The essentials of Van Halen were still there, modified and given some more harmony and yes, pop, but it wasn’t that much different than “Jump.” Soon the new album came out, and 5150 on cassette was a permanent fixture in my tape deck. The Van Hagar era had begun, much to the chagrin of many, but much to the delight of 17 year old Kelly.
Sometime in the Spring of 1992:
I was in my last semester of college, about to graduate. Van Halen had fallen off my radar for much heavier music. By then I was all about Thrash, and while I still adored Van Halen, I wasn’t buying their records anymore. I was sitting in my apartment with MTV playing (yes, the fabled days when they still played music videos—and don’t let the people who wax nostalgic about those days put you off: MTV was truly magical up until the late 90s and a vital part of the music experience) when the new Van Halen video came on. Piano music, but really catchy, and I was instantly drawn to the screen. It was “Right Now,” a magnificent song and video that still makes me cry whenever I see it. “Catch that magic moment, do it, right here and now,” indeed. Eddie surprised the hell out of me and the whole world. An amazing and unforgettable song, far from the “Atomic Punk” days, but still in step with who the band always was. That song informed the next few, tumultuous months of my life, when I would see my future plans fall completely apart and melt into oblivion, when my career path was destroyed, and my life was forever altered. It was for the best, I suppose, but it was one of the toughest times of my life. That song got me through it. Well, Pantera and Skid Row pitched in with a little help, too.
October 6, 2020:
I was sitting on my couch, debating which horror movie I was going to watch next, when I got a Twitter notification. “RIP Eddie Van Halen.” My jaw dropped. At first, I didn’t believe it. Hey, sometimes hoaxes happen. I checked the article it linked: TMZ. You couldn’t always trust those bastards, so I held my breath. And then…the articles came flooding out. Wolfgang’s tweet made the rounds. I couldn’t believe how devastated I was. I read Wolfgang’s tweet and broke out crying. I was crying over a dead guitarist! What was my problem? I immediately went to YouTube and programmed two hours’ worth of Van Halen videos. I sat there and laughed, cried, sang along, and remembered so many good times. It was then that I knew why I cried, and why I cried yet again.
Music is important. To some it is just background noise, something to dance to, to party to, to use as you hit on girls or guys or it provides cover. But to some of us, music is the fucking world. It connects, it gets you right in the gut, in the heart, and in the brain. It shakes your soul and shakes your ass even harder. It is the language of the universe.
Eddie Van Halen and his band were tapped into that cosmic power. Yeah, I know how that sounds and I don’t care. Music is magic. Music is mystical. It connects us to life and, ultimately, comforts us in death.
So thank you, Eddie Van Halen. Thank you for all the fun, all the rocking, all the smiles and all the boogying. “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” Why, they’re right there waiting for you, on your stereo or on your computer, ready to be streamed. Just push play, baby. Eddie will live forever, and his music will echo through the universe. 11 year old Kelly thanks you, Eddie, as does 51 year old Kelly. I will be eternally grateful.
Now, put on the first album, and crank that shit loud!
RIP Eddie Van Halen
Kelly is the author of dozens of stories and dozens of reviews. He likes to write, he likes to read, he likes going to the movies, and he loves to laugh. He hails from the wilds of Kentucky and if you'd like to see more of his work, check out his website: www.kellymhudson.com or on Amazon