THE VAN HAGAR DEFENSE
The first cassette I ever bought with my own money was Van Halen's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
. At the time, there were two major problems with this cassette: one, it was my foray into heavy metal and frankly, the genre scared me and two, the titled spelled out a word I wasn't yet comfortable saying aloud. But I bought it anyway because I saw the video for the album's first single "Poundcake", which featured guitarist Eddie Van Halen replacing a guitar pick with a power drill therein manipulating the sound of his instrument
. That and the extremely hot chicks inexplicably hanging out in a dilapidated locker room pretty much blew my mind (it should be noted that the drill Eddie used in the video also matched the red-and-black signature pattern he designed for his guitar. From that day forth, the matching guitar and power drill would then become my measuring stick for success).
With the exception of "You Really Got Me" and "Jump," I knew very little about David Lee Roth's Van Halen. But whatever I did
find out about the maniacal lead singer, I could still never relate to him. The obsessive character that I was (and some would argue that I still am), I bought every Van Halen record I could buy but I discovered that OU812
spoke to me in a profound way that the earlier albums hadn't. You see, Van Halen was loud, fun and debauched but Van Hagar inspired me to yes, pick up chicks, but they also taught me to be a better person to those chicks. Whenever I listened to the piano drizzle opening of "Right Now", I felt goosebumps. And when Sammy challenged and told me to, 'Catch your magic moment/Do it right here and now/It means everything," I believed him. Whatever it was that I needed to do, I did it right then
. In fact, I felt like a better person simply by watching the video for "Right Now."
At the time, I thought it was profound for a metal band to tell me that "right now oil companies and old men are in control," "right now someone is working too hard for minimum wage," or "right now is a good time to repent." Whoa.
Paradoxically, Roth felt too passive for me. He instructed me to wait ("I'll wait till your love comes down"),chose a most unambitious career ("I'm your ice cream man baby, stop me when I'm passin' by"), and ecnouraged me to waste my time doing unproductive things ("Dance, dance, dance the night away"). Hagar inspired me to seize the moment while the other guy told me that I may as well jump?
This is not to say that Van Hagar was all profundity and no play. I mean, they did start a song "Black and Blue" with the lyrics "Slip n' slide, push it in/Bitch sure got the rhythm/I'm holding back, yeah, I got control (I had no idea who Bitch was but I blushed on her behalf when I heard this song)." But three of my favorite Van Hagar songs are "Dreams", "When It's Love" and "Why Can't This Be Love", a trio of inherently sweet compositions. Yes, sweet. And yes, compositions. "Dreams" sounded to me like all the feelings involved in the Olympics captured within a song. Whenever I heard "Dreams", I wanted to grow wings and fly. Not that I had anywhere specific in mind that I needed to fly to but when the dated synth keyboard rippled into my headphones, I was ready to soar high above land (can this guy be serious, you're thinking incredulously while reading this? Yes. Totally).
Two years ago, I saw Van Hagar at the Meadowlands with my friend Charles. He went because he's a guitar techie and seeing Eddie play that close up was pretty cool to him (I also kinda had to convince him it would be fun). This concert was not just cool to me--it was my ballistically awesome and during "Dreams," Hagar ran into the audience on this metal plank and the whole arena of 20,000 lost it. I came close to tears. "We belong in a world that must be strong/Oooh, that's what dreams are made of/And in the end, on dreams we will depend/because that's what love is made of." I'm choking up as I write this.
See, even when Van Hagar's lyrics sounded crude, I was pretty sure that this wasn't a problem. Sammy was probably singing to the woman he was in a devoted relationship with. Sammy Hagar wanted to be with someone and put a true effort into the love until it was something you felt together. And by the way, that's how you knew when it was love. It lasts forever. On the other hand, Roth seemed like the type of guy that wore promiscuousness on his sleeve. Yeah, Jamie's crying because she was probably just dumped. Moreover, Roth was a deviant lusting after his teacher. This made me queesy considering that all my teachers were severely unattractive (except for Mrs. Gorsicka who may have thought I was a stalker). It also seemed to me that Roth didn't take the band very seriously--he was more interested in covering songs (The Kinks' "You Really Got Me", Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman", Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing In The Streets") than writing new material. Van Hagar never once covered a song (you can't really count the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" because that was on a live album). All the while, my logic dictated that I should only take the band as seriously as the band took itself?
Strangely enough, The Van Hagar vs. Van Halen argument comes up quite frequently. I would not be exaggerating by saying that I have to defend Hagar at least once a week. It's really one of the only truly controversial beliefs that I stand nearly alone in defending. People like Charles argue that Roth was a more charismatic singer and that commendably he fronted a rock band, not a cheesy, overwrought, and self-important metal mess. And he's somewhat correct in his assessment because Roth was a supremely notable rock star if not for his off-stage antics alone (his out-of-print book Crazy From The Heat
is impossibly entertaining) but Hagar was the guy I could have drinks with (when I was, of course, at a legal drinking age). Hagar was the guy I could introduce to my girlfriend and not have to worry about what would happen next. On the other hand, Roth's devilish grin threatened me--he would definitely get me in trouble with my parents, convince me to buy him drinks and then, after all that, steal my girlfriend. I wanted none of that.
In the Roth-sung song "So This Is Love?" the love in rhetorical question is actually carnal knowledge and when I was old enough to finally figure this out, I was totally bummed. Ultimately, it came down to one thing. Sammy had feelings while David numbed them all with alcohol, sex and drugs. As a fourteen year-old Yeshiva student from Elizabeth, New Jersey raised in a good home, I believed in love and dreams, not in dysfunction and babies smoking cigarettes. Yeah, I know you ain't talkin' 'bout love, and, man, that really concerns me. And even it means I have to be the minority in this debate, I'm standing firm on my side because Sammy, jesus, you're an awful dresser, but, dude, you're real.