Remembering Eddie Van Halen: Leap into Bliss

It’s one of those stories where the American dream is still tangible. Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born in Amsterdam on January 26, 1955, but moved to California with his family at the age of seven. He learned to play the piano, reading music was too difficult for him. He preferred to listen and put everything together himself. After briefly trying out the drums, he discovered the guitar – and never let go of it. Even as a teenager, he sat in his room for hours and practiced, he considered daily practice to be absolutely necessary. Talent plus work equals genius.

In 1972 he formed a band with his brother Alex on drums, bassist Mark Stone and vocalist David Lee Roth. Two years later they changed their name to Van Halen, Michael Anthony played the bass – and then everything happened pretty quickly. Acclaimed performances at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles, in 1977 the record deal with Warner Records. Their debut, “Van Halen”, was a smash hit in 1978 – hard rock didn’t get any better than that at the time. “Runnin’ With The Devil” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” became classics because they were just the right mix of heavy and pop – and a brief instrumental forever cemented Eddie Van Halen’s exceptional position with thousands of hopeful up-and-coming guitarists trying in the following years (mostly in vain) to replay the 102-second “Eruption”.

Contrary to popular belief, Van Halen did not invent the so-called tapping (holding both hands on the guitar neck), but copied it from Paganini and others, but his way of playing caused a sensation. And not just because he was so virtuoso, but because he had ideas and put his heart into them and seemed to form a unit with Frankenstrat (also known as Frankenstein). That will always distinguish him from pure technicians, and then he could also write songs. And he always put himself at the service of the cause – as with his famous solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” (1982). Van Halen wasn’t looking for the most attention, but for the best result. This is also a rarity in the music business.

In the early years, Van Halen had a run. The sixth album “1984” in particular is full of irresistible hard rock anthems and spawned their only US number one – the song that immediately springs to mind at the mention of the band’s name: “Jump”! Ironically, the one VH song where the keyboard, not the guitar, is the protagonist. (But this idea and execution also came from Eddie.)

He blamed metal picks for the cancer

Soon after, David Lee Roth took off to pursue a solo career, and Van Halen did what few bands (besides AC/DC) had done before: they replaced him and were no less successful. 5150 (1986) became her first number one album thanks to the positive energy of Sammy Hagar and hits like “Why Can’t This Be Love”. It was an ebb and flow from there – an awkward streak with Gary Cherone, multiple reunions with David Lee Roth and rather mediocre albums dulled Eddie Van Halen’s appeal somewhat, but on stage he continued to amaze with his incredible ability (and cheered finally visibly that he had his son Wolfgang with him on the bass).

Eddie Van Halen 2015

However, Eddie Van Halen found true happiness elsewhere, at least that’s how he often said it: only when he was completely by himself did a bliss set in after several hours on the guitar that couldn’t be compared to anything else. How much you would have liked to have been there, and how much you don’t begrudge him these moments – especially since he has had to endure so many health problems in recent years. In 1999 he had to have a hip operation and in 2000 a piece of his tongue was removed. He blamed the cancer on metal plectrums, which he, like many guitarists, liked to put in his mouth. Of course, he admitted, he also drank a lot and took drugs. He fought his chronic shyness for years, only since 2008 has he been sober. He had been suffering from throat cancer for a long time, but didn’t make a fuss about it. No matter which colleagues you spoke to, whether Slash, Mike McCready or John Frusciante, everyone admired not only Van Halen’s talent, but also his endearing personality.

REM bassist Mike Mills summed it up: “Eddie was a game changer, a once-in-a-generation guitarist and musician, and a pretty cool guy.”

On October 6th, Eddie Van Halen jumped into another world. Its sound stays here.

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