From Amps and Green Screens:
Hey guys, this is Rocco. Damian was kind enough to let me put something up here that is my very first attempt at writing. Next to my wife and family, Van Halen is what makes me happy. So I decided to put something out into the universe about it. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
The year was 1983, and I was a new 7th grader, navigating my way around this big place with all these big kids. My first year in junior high, and I was in classes with a lot of kids I didn’t know with teachers I hadn’t figured out yet. One of the cool things about junior high was that you got to go to shop class (the sexist schools were putting girls in home economics then). And our shop teacher, Mr. Demott, was a COOL teacher. He would show the guys how to build some bird feeders and then just go and read a newspaper.
So, one day, during class someone puts the radio on and Zebra’s “Tell Me What You Want” comes on. I was working on my feeder and looked up and over to the radio, thinking that I liked what I was hearing. I asked one of the older kids who it was, and he responded, “Zebra” without even looking up. So, I go back to my bird contraption and was bobbing my head along to the tune. The song starts to wind down and then the next song started playing over it. I had to look up again and look over to the radio. I had never heard this song before either, and this time I couldn’t just go back to my work. I listened as the guitar drew me in more and more. And the vocals, both lead and background, absolutely blew me away. I asked yet again who this band was. The same older kid stopped what he was doing this time and looked at me and said, “You don’t know Van Halen?” I responded with, “I’ve heard of ‘em”, trying to act cool, meanwhile, practically drooling over what I was hearing. The song was “Jamie’s Cryin’” off of Van Halen I, and I was hooked. By days end I was chomping at the bit to go the record store to buy the album with that incredible song I heard. I stopped at the record store (yes, I said RECORD STORE!) on the way home and went straight to the rock section and searched out my new favorite band.
I found the album, along with their sophomore effort, Van Halen II, Women and Children First, and Diver Down all glistening in the store lights. Being that I only had a paper route at the time, I could only afford one of them. After looking at the others and back at the first I decided to get what I came for. I bought it and took my bike home as fast as I could. I got home and went straight for the record player. My mom was in the kitchen and asked what I was doing. I told her that I was going to play a new record that I bought with my own money. Back then we only had the record player in the living room. No Walkmans or mini players for us yet. I started the turntable and plugged in the headphones with the cord that reached across the room. And my life was changed. Forever. Within two weeks I had bought every other Van Halen album in existence at the time.
A few months later, their most commercially successful album, 1984, came out (January 9, 1984 to be exact). When they came through town on their tour, I pleaded with my parents to let me go. I asked my older brother to chaperone me. I was desperate. Alas, “No” was all I heard. So, I would have to wait for the next tour. And, for those of you who weren’t living under a rock for the past 30 years, know how “the next tour” worked out for me. April 1, 1985 started out as a good day. It was nice outside. School wasn’t particularly bad that day. But somewhere else in the world, a very bad thing happened. David Lee Roth decided to leave the Van Halens to launch a solo career (and as it turned out a movie career that never panned out). I was completely devastated. I was inconsolable. My buddies and I would hear rumors from time to time about Eddie joining KISS or Queen. Eventually, Sammy Hagar came onboard and I would get to see that “next tour”. But I had to wait 22 years to see the concert that I really wanted. And when I did, it was one of the best nights of my life.
Van Halen with Sammy was great. I saw them on every tour (Including the ill-fated 2004 reunion tour). That was the only Van Halen that was available, so I ate it up. But I never stopped listening to what I believe is the best rock and roll available on earth. The first 6 albums are what rock and roll should sound like. From the blistering, “How did Eddie do that?!?” guitar solos, to the bombastic drum sounds, the howls and screams and in your face singing style of Dave, to the incredible background vocals of Mike Anthony. Just thinking about it now puts a smile on my face. I was recently asked by a friend what was my favorite Van Halen album from the first 6. And I thought about it for a little while and responded with, “All of them.” I can’t think of a single song off of any of those albums I don’t love. In my opinion there is no filler.
And Van Halen’s newest album, A Different Kind of Truth, their first with Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass and the first with Dave in 28 years, in my opinion, could have come out in 1985 or ‘86. It recaptures the magic that this band is capable of, when Eddie and Dave are together. My hope is that they continue to put out incredible music and tour occasionally (I know that they aren’t spring chickens anymore).
The world will be a better place if they do.