Here’s a very unique story about meeting Eddie Van Halen, sent by VHND reader, Edward B. Fohrman, M.D. We hope you enjoy it.
It’s been many years since my encounter with Eddie, but I remember it like it was yesterday…
I was “moonlighting” in an 8 bed ER in “the valley” while still a resident at UCLA. It started out a quiet, but steady night. The nurse handed me the chart for the next patient I needed to see. I looked at the name and saw that it read “Edward Van Halen”!!! I looked back at the nurse and she nodded and smiled…”Yeah, it’s him.”
Living in Los Angeles, I wasn’t much for being star struck, but Eddie was someone who I really had trouble hiding my excitement about. I was a keyboard player in high school in the late 80’s. Keyboards weren’t exactly the coolest instrument around, but when 1984 came out that all changed for me. I played by ear and learned every part. Eddie’s new exploration into synthesizers made me far more excited to be the keyboardist in my band…the solo in “Jump” and “I’ll Wait” were my favorites…
So, I walked into the room and met my patient while maintaining all sense of professionalism I could muster, trying not to give away the fact that I was treating one of my childhood heroes. Due to the strict rules (HIPAA), I can’t say what he was treated for, other than the fact that he needed to be treated for a minor injury.
I remember ordering a million dollar work-up including a CT scan just to be sure everything was okay…I was sure my medical career would be quite short if I ended up discharging Edward Van Halen only to read some crazy headline about how I missed a diagnosis and he ended up dead or something!!! Eddie was walking with a cane after having hip surgery. I asked him what happened…his answer was classic – “Thirty years of Rock ‘n’ Roll, man.”
While awaiting the official report from the radiologist, Eddie asked if I had a smoke. I laughed and said, “You know those things will kill you.” At this point I couldn’t hold back any longer. I mentioned that I was a huge fan and that back in high school my band played a ton of Van Halen tunes. I said that I had just bought a Fender strat and mentioned that I was from Chicago originally and was on a blues guitar kick playing a lot of Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
He said that he had tweaked a guitar that was being mass produced by Peavey – the first model of the “Wolfgang,” and he said that if I gave him my contact info he would make sure to get me one.
I’m thinking to myself…yeah right – another L.A. moment – “I’ll have my people call your people”…and I’ll likely never hear from him again. One can only hope, so I gave him my info and discharged him with follow-up instructions.
After I was done with Eddie, I was suturing up a patient’s hand laceration. Eddie, on his way out of the ER, entered the room, all smiles, and reiterated his thanks and stated he’d call me when he had the guitar, and then he was gone. My new patient’s jaw dropped and he sat there frozen. I just smiled and said,”Yeah, it’s him”.
My shift ended and I met my girlfriend for breakfast. She was a celebrity make-up artist at the time and had done a lot of MTV and VH-1 shows, including “Behind The Music” and Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly away” video. Ironically, she was on her way to meet Lenny and brought me with. When I mentioned my story of meeting Eddie Van Halen, Lenny was very positive about things…he said that if Eddie said that he was going to get me a guitar, then he probably would. But I was still skeptical.
Needless to say, about a week later I got a call on my cell phone. The voice on the phone asked, “Eddie?”
“Yes?,” I said.
“Hey, it’s the other Eddie, and I got that guitar I told you about.”
We made plans for him to swing by my house, which at the time was a little apartment I was renting on 3rd and Robertson. I hung up with him and started calling everyone I could. No one would believe this if I didn’t have a witness!!! Luckily my girlfriend (now my wife) came over and as she was walking in, she smiled and said, “He’s here… just drove up in his custom Porsche blasting some music.” She said it was Tori Amos’s “Jaurez,” off her To Venus and Back album.”
He soon arrived, walking in with his cane in one hand and a guitar case in the other. As he opened the case I laid my eyes on a gorgeous sunburst Wolfgang with pull pin for dropped D tuning and the works. The neck was amazing. It played so easily, like nothing I’d ever really felt. I sat there as Eddie basically gave a guitar clinic for me and my girlfriend. I kept peeking at her in the corner of my eye as if to say, “This is surreal! I can’t fucking believe this is happening right now!!!”
I hopped on the keyboards and we jammed together, trading off between Eddie on guitar and me on keys, then switching to Eddie on keys and me on guitar, but most of the first hour was spent watching Eddie do his thing. He took a few requests too. It was simply incredible.
I had friends who returned my call while Eddie was there, asking if I could just put the phone down and leave it so they could listen in.
He ended up hanging out for almost two hours. I only took ONE picture of him the entire time…I was too embarrassed to ask him to autograph the guitar or even get in the picture with him. But then I thought…I’m never going to sell this guitar to anyone, so who cares? The experience itself and my memory of those two hours is worth more than any autographed guitar, anyway. Plus, I still play the guitar frequently…I figured Eddie would have preferred that instead of me putting it in some vacuum-sealed case for display.
At the end of the evening, I invited him to dinner, as I was meeting some friends out, which he declined. He never asked me for anything. He just made good on his promise. We actually hugged it out before he took off…I was pinching myself and giddy as hell. I thanked him for the gift…it’s priceless.
Edward B. Fohrman M.D.
Department of Anesthesiology
Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago
P.S. I’m so glad to share my story with the Van Halen News Desk’s readers. Ed is such an amazing talent, who was a man of his word and expressed tremendous gratitude and generosity. And, he was really just a cool dude! I feel so fortunate to have met him and for the time he spent jamming with me.
By the way, I’m currently working at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, but in my spare time I play in a local band…we’re playing this weekend and for the first time I am NOT playing the keyboards…I’m the guitar player!!! Rock ON!!!