Van Halen’s then-manager Noel E. Monk backstage with band’s equipment in 1984
Former Van Halen manager Noel E. Monk writes about this steep ascension in his new book, Runnin’ with the Devil. Although Monk hadn’t heard a note of Van Halen’s music when he agreed to come on board in 1978, initially as a tour manager, it was soon apparent to him the band was special. And Monk had been around special before. He’d helped stage-manage Woodstock, was San Francisco concert impresario Bill Graham’ right-hand man, befriended artists like Janis Joplin and Grateful Dead, worked with the Rolling Stones, and had most recently been tour manager for the Sex Pistols. He chronicled his time with the latter punk legends in his 1990 book, 12 Days on the Road: The Sex Pistols and America.
In Runnin’ with the Devil — which was co-written with Joe Layden and was published June 13 by Dey St. — Monk tells with a raconteur’s tone the kind of juicy stories (ketchup-fetish groupies, booze-and-coke fueled hotel-trashing, ridiculous rock star requests) that fans want to read. He also has plenty of more soulful memories about a young, hungry Van Halen seeing the world for the first time — and of singer/sexpot David Lee Roth, guitar genius Eddie Van Halen, bassist/nice guy Michael Anthony and drummer/hell-raiser Alex Van Halen beginning to realize their collective musical powers.
The son of a New York garment rep, Monk saw untapped vast earnings and led Van Halen to establish their own merchandising company, including manufacturing, which became a massive revenue source for the band. He’s also quick to credit former Van Halen production/art director Pete Angelus and Roth for their creativity on Van Halen music videos like “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Jump” that helped make the band early-MTV darlings.
Van Halen singer David Lee Roth and drummer Alex Van Halen during a promotional trip to South Africa, 1979.
Runnin’ with the Devil deals much more with the band’s business and inner workings than their music. But with Van Halen, that’s still page-turning stuff.
Monk was Van Halen’s manager from 1978 to 1985, when he was dismissed by the band. On a recent afternoon, he called in for a phone interview from his Colorado Spring home. (I didn’t notice until later that the last four digits of his phone number are 5150, which happens to be the name of Eddie Van Halen’s recording studio, so I didn’t get the chance to ask if this was a coincidence.) In the spirit of Van Halen, who embodied good times perhaps more than any other mega band, the interview got off to a freewheeling start; the first thing Monk said on the phone was, “Ah yeah, is this Pam’s Whorehouse?” He soon added, “So we should have a little fun with this.” And that’s what we did. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
In your book you write about the acrimony that developed between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. Was there ever a time early on when those two guys would hang out as friends away from the band, that you can remember?
How could they? We were on the road on that first tour, eight, nine months. We got three, four days off maybe. So basically we were with each other all the time. How were you getting away? You do a show, hang out at the bar until five in the morning, you get up and get on the bus you drive to the next show, you get laid. [Laughs] It’s difficult. And I tried to show how it evolved and how it degenerated and the why.
You write how after Van Halen’s 1978 self-titled debut LP, the next four albums were quickly recorded and often rushed, and when you finally got them more time, they made this amazing album, 1984. But all that time together in the studio helped drive the band apart, specifically Eddie and Dave.
You’re talking about the other side [of making music], and that’s egos, drugs and “I’m a superstar.” Time does not melt that away, it enhances it. You come off the road, you gotta do an album, you do it in three weeks, it’s not your best album. I tried to explain that. The first album is the best first album I’ve ever heard a band do and 1984 was equally as brilliant. But the ones in between didn’t live up to it but we had such a fan base and they were such a brilliant [live] band.
For a few years, there’s been a story going around [originated by Gene Simmons] about Eddie Van Halen asking to join Kiss in the early 80s. Are you aware of anything like that ever happening?
No. I don’t think it happened. The one thing about the fans is they live off any innuendo or hearsay.
So you don’t think the band came close to breaking up earlier, like in ’81 or anything like that?
No. That was all fan gossip and writer bullshit.
When Dave made his first solo EP, did he ever hint he decided to do that at least partly because he didn’t think Eddie was in condition to make another Van Halen album at that time?
No. I think he wanted his own career. I don’t know. I never spoke to them again after we broke up in ’85, so I can’t talk to that. Who can say why he did it? David’s an anomaly. I think he made a mistake, a big mistake. But that’s me thinking and not me knowing.