When I grew up in the 1980s, I didn’t like dance/pop music like Prince and Madonna I liked music like Motley Crue and Van Halen. Every guy I knew wanted to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen. Unfortunately, they also wanted to do a lot of other things and as Greg Renoff’s new book Van Halen Rising demonstrates, Eddie Van Halen did little else when he was a teenager except practice playing guitar. That total obsession made him into one of the most admired musicians ever and coupled with his brother Alex on drums, the duo were unstoppable even when they were young. The Van Halen parents had immersed them in classical music training from when they were tiny and they let the brothers play rock as long as they got their piano practices in first. When the brothers were teenagers and started putting on performances, Eddie sang and played guitar. Alex was on drums and they went through a few different people on bass. They played under a few different band names but all the while Eddie hated singing and wanted to just play guitar-enter David Lee Roth. The Van Halen brothers were poor, Roth had money, rock star aspirations, and nagged them relentlessly to let him be their lead singer. You know how musicians and celebrities always claim they were nerds or ugly in school-not Roth. His classmates said he was always Mr. Popular and was being swarmed by women even when he was in high school. And probably most important of all he had confidence just oozing out of his pores. Finally stage equipment problems got the Van Halen brothers to give Roth a second glance (he had good equipment they could use). Van Halen was now on their way because although Eddie Van Halen was a world class musician, he was not the self-promoter Roth was and he was just as happy playing a song that went on for 10 minutes and looking like a lumberjack while he did it. Roth understood that he had to get them to look better on stage and he had to get them to whittle down their songs to lengths that radio stations would play. This book was interesting-lots of name dropping and music controversies to sink your teeth into. Regardless, Van Halen with David Lee Roth (not Sammy Hagar) will always be one of my favorites.
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