Eddie Van Halen Dead From Cancer at 65. I froze when the news flashed on my phone. Just last month, I used a Van Halen lyric from Jump, for my blog post. Eddie Van Halen represents the best of times and the worst of times, an American success story with the horror of America. Pesenting Edward Lodewijk van Halen, a life in the time of rock and roll, a death in the time of corona and a retrospective in a playlist.
I wasn’t paying much attention when I first heard Michael Jackson’s Beat It until three minutes in when I yelled “woah, that’s Eddie Van Halen!” I was in college with studying with the guys for a thermodynamics final. My fellow engineering majors looked at like I was crazy. “No more beer for you.” I was insistent, “Dude, listen, that shred, finger tapping and dive bombs, that is Eddie #$% Van Halen playing guitar.” But in the days before Google for verification, I was the odd black girl guitar geek who must have been out of her mind. Eddie had a unique sound and I know that sound. Yes, I know there are other guitarists, I have my favorites for various reasons, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Morris, Nancy Wilson, Gary Clark, Jeff Beck. But, Right Now is my moment to recognize the extraordinarily talented Edward Van Halen his life and his impact on music. How do I say Eddie is great, and not to get into a contentious debate with anyone about other guitar players? This gives me the same gut-wrenching angst I get around Black Lives Matter. When I say Eddie was a great guitar player, that is not to say he is the only great guitar players. But, in this conversation, in this blog post, it is all about Eddie. It is the same with “Black Lives Matter.” The statement does not demote or promote any other lives, but it is the context of a conversation it acknowledges a role, a time and a situation. America struggles with binary definitions to the death of inclusivity missing the richness of a diverse culture. we are a country of immigrants.
Eddie Van Halen was one of those immigrants. His family moved to the California when he was 7 from the Netherlands. His country of birth was intolerant of the interracial marriage of his father a Dutchman ad his mother, an Indonesian-European woman. As a child in the Netherlands, he was bullied for being Asian. I wince when I hear someone say the China flu. There have been over 2,100 attacks on Asian Americans. I wish we were better than this, but we aren’t. Just what thought processes justifies attacking an American because of COVID-19? I hear and read people defending the term “China Flu” as not racist but epidemiological. Really? So that justifies attacks on Asians and stigmatizing China Town? That’s the American Horror story. America is the country the imprisoned 127,000 Americans because they were of Japanese descent. Eddie got the Double Dutched when he moved to the US. He is an immigrant; he is Asian, and he doesn’t speak English. He was terrorized by the white kids. We hear the about this young guitar virtuoso trained as a classical pianist, the Dutch roots are played up and many people go – huh, he was Asian? I guess that part doesn’t fit. Eddie, through his music said, I’m the One who breaks it all. But, what’s the balance between breaking barriers and breaking down?
Eddie Van Halen crossed genres and often played uncredited solos. Michael Jackson was not an anomaly, he played for Black Sabbath, Steve Lukather (Toto), Brian May, Roger Waters, LL Cool J and Frank Sinatra to name a few. After doing a solo for Nicolette Larson’s I Can’t Get Away from You, he did , a parody, Gonna Take a Lot of Drugs In the US, approximately 70,000 drug related deaths occur yearly. The stories of the opioid crisis are many. Coroners offices are being overrun by dead bodies. It is an American Horror Story. Eddie Van Halen was ravaged by his drug use. Living in squalor, missing teeth black teeth, an absolute mess. While the average drug abuser is not worth 100 million like Eddie, the stories are all variations on a theme.
In an interview with Esquire, Van Halen revealed he first started drinking when his father, also a musician, recommended it to calm his nerves before a performance. However, what started out as a simple coping mechanism for anxiety grew into uncontrolled alcoholism. Van Halen tried to overcome his addiction, and over the years he’s been in and out of rehab. Driven by a desperate need to avoid alcohol, Van Halen started using Klonopin in 2006. A prescription medicine commonly known as Clonazepam, it’s used to primarily treat seizures and panic disorders. He found a substitute solution for his drinking problem but, unfortunately, he also developed a dependency on this medicine. After falling off the stage during a show, he went to rehab to get off Klonopin. To help him deal with the side effects of withdrawal, he was put on antidepressants. However, this didn’t make his situation much better. The antidepressants made him catatonic for about a year, allowing him to do little more than sit on his couch and watch Law & Order. Slowly, and over an extended period of time, Van Halen was able to get his life back. His doctors suggested an amino acid treatment that helped him become functional again. One of his biggest motivators to become sober was also his son, Wolfgang. Since Van Halen has become sober, the father and son have become musical peers. Replacing bass guitarist Michael Anthony, then 16-year-old Wolfgang joined the legendary rock group at his father’s side. Their latest album, A Different Kind of Truth, was released in 2012. Eddie Van Halen doesn’t blame his father for his years of alcohol abuse. That early experience was probably a sincere gesture of help. But family members can sometimes — even with the best intentions — cause or enable alcoholism and drug addiction. Surprisingly, what Van Halen’s family seems to have ignored in this story is the root of the problem – his extreme anxiety for public performance. Ever since his band became famous in 1978, Van Halen has had a huge problem with conquering stage fright. In his younger years, he did it with alcohol. Today, he’s had to learn to just deal with his nerves, although he does still experience severe anxiety before each show. His only vice of comfort now is the electronic cigarettes he smokes – he had to quit smoking Tobacco cigarettes because they created cancer spots in his mouth and throat. 1
One of ultimate Van Halen myths is the brown M&M’s. Cast as the ultimate rock star indulgences, the band Van Halen requested that all brown M&Ms be removed in their contract rider. But there was a reason, Van Halen traveled with sound, staging and lighting equipment. The rider contained specific instructions around the equipment to ensure floors would not buckle and collapse. The presence of brown M&M’s was just an easy way the band could determine if the details of the rider had been executed. If they found brown M&M’s, it was warning they needed. to do a complete site-check. People were exceptionally dismissive with only part of the story. Much like life, particularity in the time of corona, divisive politics and civil rights. This is the time of Google and yet people are strewing disinformation about. Take a moment to double check information before reposting and spreading. Use and donate to Snopes2. We’re all on electronic overload, so before you send something, post something, please stop and think, is this true, is this rational, is this useful? We have to start Learning to See.
Let’s play connect the dots. Marvin Gaye was one of the writers of Dancing in the streets, first recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. William Stephenson, one of the other co-writers was inspired when people turned on fire hydrants in Detroit to cool off on a hot summer day. The two along with George Hunter conceived the song as a summer anthem , a call for cities around the world to be happy and dance in the streets. By the time it was released, in the summer of 1964, Philadelphia and Harlem, N.Y., saw race riots. Atlantic City, N.J., saw picketers screaming outside the Democratic National Convention, and in Washington, D.C., and anti-war activists took over the National Mall. Sound familiar? Not surprisingly some radio stations banned the song for being political and a call to riot. It became a civil rights anthem that was later recorded by many artists, the Mamas and the Papas, The Kinks, The Grateful Dead, Mick Jagger & David Bowie and Van Halen.
Eddie Van Halen discussing the cover and discussing his synthesizer part in the track, said: “It takes almost as much time to make a cover song sound original as it does writing a song. I spent a lot of time arranging and playing synthesizer on ‘Dancing in the Streets,‘ and they [critics] just wrote it off as, ‘Oh, it’s just like the original.’ So forget the critics! These are good songs. Why shouldn’t we redo them for the new generation of people?
This year “the new generation of people” turned a protest into a dance party in the streets of Oakland .3 At the time of his death, Eddie had been clean and sober since 2008 showing Eddie Van Halen, American Horror story is not the whole story nor the end of the story. Hopefully the same will be with America; just like Eddie’s collaboration with LL Cool J, We’re the Greatest.