I’ve never stood atop Mount Everest… or snowboarded Davos… or hiked the Grand Canyon. But I know this: none of them can surpass the thrill of standing in pitch blackness, surrounded by 20,000 roaring fans, as the opening chords of Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me” rip through the Staples Center.
In fact, the only thing that can surpass that is spending the next two hours screaming your ass off as the world’s greatest rock band tears through every David Lee Roth-era hit you can possibly imagine: “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Unchained,” “Panama,” “Mean Streets,” “Jump,” "Little Guitars," "Somebody Get Me A Doctor," etc.
For those of you haven’t bought tickets yet: Van Halen is on tour this summer, reunited with original frontman David Lee Roth. Which may not seem like a big deal, but for those of us who have spent the last twenty-three years going to every Van Halen concert and VH-related event possible—including all Sammy Hagar shows—this is HUGE. Even if you don’t spent several hours a week lurking on Van Halen fan sites and chat rooms (not that I do, I’m just saying… if you do… and I don’t… there’s nothing wrong with it), the legend of the Van Halen-DLR breakup is legendary. Depending on whom you believe—the guys of Van Halen (guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen, and former bassist Michael Anthony) or Roth himself—Dave was either unjustly fired or quit like a child. But regardless of which side you’re on, one thing is indisputable: both sides spent the next two decades hurling insults at each other and swearing they would never get back together.
Until this summer. When, through an unexplainable twist of fate (God must be a Van Halen fan), the guys suddenly patched things up and announced a world tour.
And tonight, Van Halen and David Lee Roth rocked the shit out of their hometown for the first time since 1984. (Of course, it wasn’t the full original lineup since bassist Michael Anthony was replaced by Eddie’s sixteen-year-old son, Wolfie, due to Anthony’s enduring friendship with ex-second lead singer Sammy Hagar.)
But wait—I hear you asking: what the hell does this have to do with writing? Well, here’s what:
David Lee Roth and Van Halen had—quite possibly—the most acrimonious split in the history of break-ups. They made Brad and Jen look like Tony Blair and George Bush, and the Shiites and Sunnis look like the Huxtables.
But as I was standing in Staples Center tonight, making myself hoarse in the midst of “Unchained,” it suddenly occurred to me… if Van Halen and David Lee Roth can patch things up, certainly the Writers Guild and the AMPTP can come to some sort of agreement. I mean, whatever animosity exists between those groups… it’s nothing compared to what VH and Roth had for the last twenty years.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized: if studios would just stop and read a chapter of Van Halen history, they might wisen up and end this thing already.
In fact, the Van Halen-David Lee Roth saga is a pretty good metaphor for the writers strike. Here’s how it works (and I’m banking on the hope that you know a little about the VH-DLR split)…
Eddie Van Halen, the greatest guitarist in the history of rock, is the writers, the creative genius responsible for churning out brilliant material.
David Lee Roth is the networks and studios. Dave can’t make anything great on his own—as evidenced by his post-Van Halen solo career—but he’s a master of marketing and showmanship. He did an outstanding job of launching Van Halen into the spotlight, and while Eddie has always been the band’s heart and soul, it’s arguable that VH never would’ve found an audience without Dave guiding the way.
Then, one day in 1984, Dave decided he didn’t need Eddie. He figured he was the one doing all the flashy publicity—leaping off drum risers and flying on bungee cords—and he could make it on his own. And, to a certain degree, he was right. Dave’s onstage (and offstage) antics brought millions of fans to VH’s shows. But it was Eddie who kept them returning. Because as any marketer knows, flashy moves are entertaining for only so long; eventually audiences needs something with substance, something they can relate to. That’s where Eddie came in. Like Mozart and Copland and Lennon, he’s always been less about pyrotechnics and more about making music that moves people. Sure, it may move you to rock out and air guitar, but so what? Is banging your head any lower of an artistic response than dancing a waltz or a tango? (In fact, it's probably higher. I've tried waltzing and tangoing, and I'd rather shut my windows and crank a little "Hot For Teacher" any day.)
So Dave spent the next twenty-three years trying to entertain people without… well… doing anything entertaining. Just as networks and studios think they can maintain audiences with shoddy stunts and slapdash reality shows, Dave tried everything from covering Van Halen songs in a Las Vegas lounge act to replacing Howard Stern with a virtually un-listenable radio show.
But ultimately, Dave realized, simply acting entertaining isn’t enough… people need real art. Whether it’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Magritte’s Golconda or Eddie Van Halen’s “Jamie’s Cryin’” or NBC’s Friday Night Lights, audiences want entertainment that speaks to them, reflects their lives, and makes them emote in an honest way.
So Dave came back. It took over twenty years to learn the lesson, but he came back.
And the studios should learn something from that.
After all, without David Lee Roth, Eddie is still the world’s greatest guitar god; Van Halen sold more records with Sammy Hagar than Dave ever dreamt of, and Sammy ain’t half the showman Dave is. Dave, meanwhile, couldn’t give away his last album, Strummin’ With the Devil (all bluegrass covers of Van Halen songs).
Likewise, the writers will survive without the networks. Like post-DLR Van Halen, they may need to change their style a bit, but they’ll keep writing: novels, plays, articles, short stories, indie films, web content. But without writers, networks and studios are screwed. They’re simply marketers with nothing to market… David Lee Roth with nothing to strut about.
So studios, if you’re reading this: throw on some Women and Children First and wisen up. Otherwise, you’ll find yourselves selling dimebags of pot in Central Park and becoming a New York paramedic with a receding hairline. (For those of you not familiar with the lower points of Dave’s non-Van Halen career… those are them. Although in all fairness, the man looked great tonight…)
Oh—and to round out the metaphor…
Drummer Alex Van Halen is the actors, the guy who stands by Eddie because he knows that without the creative genius, he no longer has a job.
Ousted bassist and singer Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar are Tom Short and IATSE. No one’s sure why they don’t get along with Eddie/the writers, but they don’t. Some day they’ll make amends and all tour together.
And Wolfie?... Wolfie is clearly Juan Carlos Gonzalez, the young federal mediator brought in to fix things as quickly as possible. You barely notice he’s there, but it’s more fun to watch the others anyway.