Here’s a tale from Van Halen’s 1979 “World Vacation” tour, from David Lee Roth’s autobiography “Crazy from The Heat”:
Pretty soon, we were opening for bigger and bigger bands. In early ’79, we were playing at the Los Angeles Coliseum, some ninety thousand people, Aerosmith was top bill. And I had an idea of a way to make an entrance, having gone down to the stadium to see the lay of the land some weeks earlier. There’s a stairway comes from the great arches down to a landing- it’s a big landing, visible to everybody in the stands- and then another three hundred steps down to the football field where the stage was.
The idea was to park a Volkswagen on that landing, and since we knew the people who were running the PA system, we would have them make announcements all throughout the afternoon and into the evening that whoever it was from the Aerosmith team that owns the yellow Volkswagen, could you please move it? This is where they were stacking some equipment, whatever, it was visible to all ninety thousand people. It’s like up and behind the actual stage.
We rented an actual Sherman tank- in Hollywood, you can rent anything you want. The theory being that after all of these announcements throughout the day and the night, the lights would go down, they’d go, “Ladies and gentlemen… da-da-da… Van Halen,” the spotlights would hit us and the tank would come out from under a cover on that landing, run right over the Volkswagen and we’d pop out of the tank and run down the stairs to the stage.
We bought two old used Volkswagens so we could test one on a Sunday afternoon. We went down to the stadium, the band got in the tank. The driver, little southern guy, with a Rawlings football helmet on, he’s telling us all the movies this tank had been in, “Oh, yeah, The Longest Day, Kelly’s Heroes.”
We had taken the engines and the glass out of the VWs, but otherwise they were completely intact. You would never know the difference from two feet away. We all got in the tank and ran over the Volkswagen. This was before monster truckism graced our popular culture- monster trucks, bog racing, tractor pulls, I call these “turbo-pop entertainment.” This was pre-turbo-pop entertainment.
That Volkswagen smashed flat like a bad textbook, lug nuts shot off of those wheels in excess of two hundred miles an hour, everybody was ducking and jumping out of the way. I still have the door from that Volkswagen at my house, one of the souvenirs that I saved. The door burst off, flew like twenty feet, everything just exploded outward. We figured we were on to something good. And of course we would then play our show and Aerosmith would have to make an entrance.
We discovered several days before the show that Aerosmith had been put wise to our little scheme and had found some stock footage of airplanes blowing up tanks, and that’s what they were going to show when they came on after us. So here we are with a gutted Volkswagen sitting up on the dais and a Sherman tank under a tarp with gorillas standing around making sure nobody looks underneath.
We decided that because Aerosmith had a little trump card that we weren’t going to do the tank trick, so we never ran over the Volkswagen, we just ran down the stairs. We didn’t want to be one-upped on our one-upmanship, you know. I haven’t spoken with the boys in Aerosmith since then.