Monday, February 02, 2015

An Open Letter to Eddie Van Halen

Dear Ed,

How are you?  No, we’ve never met, but I saw you in concert a few times and spent a lot of my youth listening to you play guitar.  In fact, you were my hero.  I’m a child of the 80s and there was no escaping your music, especially when I was 13 and “Jump”, “Panama”, and “Hot For Teacher” were all over MTV.  After buying 1984 and listening to it a LOT, I dug back and obsessively listened to the earlier (and, frankly, better) records.  Of them, Fair Warning remains the best.  But I have to say, I tuned out around the “Pound Cake” era.  I mean, 5150 and OU812 were not great but I was willing to defend the band that was unaffectionately known to many as Van Hagar.  But only for so long.  And sure, it’s easy for you to bash your former frontman, but back in 1988 you seemed pretty committed to Hammy Sagar.  But that’s what you do, isn’t it, bash the former members.  Well, all but Mr. Extreme.

Anyway, I’m writing today to discus your future.  To me, you have two options: another reunion tour with Roth—and we both know you don’t want to do that—or abandon the need to be a “band” in the traditional sense.  No more three-minute rock songs with sing-along choruses.  They were fun, but really, lyrics like “I’m taking whiskey to the party tonight and I’m looking for somebody to squeeze” don’t really cut it in the 21st century.  The 80s were fun and your cocaine fueled party records were (and are) pretty great (well, the first six), but those days are done.  You know that.  Hell, you’ve paid for your indulgences.  (By the way: sorry about your marriage and the cancer). 

So what’s option two?  How about just writing cool little instrumentals?  That way: no more frontman drama, no need for a Roth or a Hagar or any other clown.  It could be just you and Al and Wolfgang.  (I’m not greedy: I’m not going to wish for you to see past the nepotism and rehire Mike.)  An instrumental band would free you up to write more songs like this long lost gem or “Intruder”, which is actually high on my list of favorite Van Halen songs. 

You don’t need to write catchy rock songs anymore.  Or power ballads.  (Really, there’s no need for any more of those.)  Play your strengths, man.  People already prefer “Eruption” to “You Really Got Me”.  I know you didn’t write that, but whenever I hear your wild soloing on the classic rock stations I tune out before that dumb two-chord shuffle that even Ray Davies is done with.  And you know what’s better?  “Spanish Fly”.  And better than that: “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”.   Seriously, the synth on that track is killer.  Like, as killer as Goblin.  I know you’re not in that dark, frustrated place anymore, but you’re not a young party rocker either.  What’s left?  Nostalgia mining?  Sure, that’s the safe route.  People will likely always shell out dough to see what passes as Van Halen slog through the classics.  But you have a shot at really writing some interesting music now that you’re older and have enough money (you have some money still, right?) to do what you like.  Ed, you’re a fine composer and an instrumentalist at heart.  Embrace that shit and compose something daring, something you might have only managed to force onto one of the old records.  Make these quirky experiments the focus.  Get wild.  Play some fuckin’ guitar again.  Get crazy.  Layer the synths, but not the expensive ones.  Go back to the cheap junk that you used to sculpt the backing track of “Cradle Will Rock” and make them sound like gold.  Shed the need to write anything that will ever get radio play again because the radio is no longer the place for your music.  Your fans will buy it.  You may even pick up some money from the ironic hipsters out there.  What do you have to lose? 

Okay, thanks for your time. 

Your friend,