From Toronto Sun:
Truth is, David Lee Roth has always been different.
“Nobody well-adjusted ever got my job,” explains Van Halen’s larger-than-life frontman down the line from California. “Much less kept it this long.”
Fewer still have returned to it as spectacularly. This week, after months of mounting hype, speculation and rumours, the 56-year-old singer and his bandmates will release A Different Kind of Truth, their first disc together since their landmark sixth album 1984. Questions abound: How did the band finally make peace in 2007 after decades of bad blood? Is it just a marriage of convenience? How have things changed since the old days? Why does A Different Kind of Truth consist almost primarily of reworked ’70s and ’80s demos instead of new songs?
You won’t get info out of the Van Halen clan; they’ve stubbornly maintained radio silence for years. Even Roth is far from the loose cannon he once was.
And when he does break the silence — as he did in our exclusive Canadian interview — straight answers aren’t his game. Never have been. A notoriously evasive subject, he basically ignores questions and delivers rambling monologues from his hotwired pinball machine of a brain. The legendary motor mouth spat out more than 4,000 words during our 30-minute chat, unleashing a torrent of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, blatant boasting, random digressions and bizarre one-liners. He was entertaining, baffling — and mildly frustrating as he danced around inquiries. “You’re
gonna have a fun time editing this,” he laughed at one point.
But even as he hid inside his blizzard of verbiage, it became clear Roth has grown since we last heard from him. Instead of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, these days he’s into the great outdoors (he owns three pickup trucks but no car), training competitive herding dogs (he just imported one from Manitoba) and emergency medicine (he was a New York City paramedic in the ’90s).
Which is to say: Roth can still run off at the mouth. But he doesn’t run with the devil anymore. He’s a different kind of cat again. Older, wiser, more philosophical. Not that he wants that get around. “Don’t go making me look smart,” he warns. “Nobody’s going to want to talk to me.” As if.
As we count down to A Different Kind of Truth — and an upcoming tour that hits Canada in March — here are more revelations to ponder from the mouth of Diamond Dave:
1 | Van Halen are eternally unhip — and proud of it.
“We were never cool. Even when we were happening, even when we were the flavour of the week the first time, we weren’t cool. John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever were cool. And across the street, The Sex Pistols and The Clash were cool. We were just kind of an island. I don’t know that Van Halen ever really fit in. And it was not a conscious act. Many times we’re trying to imitate other people; it just comes out looking and sounding like us. And today we’re still not cool. We’re somewhere between Katy Perry and Muse. Somewhere between Kings of Leon and Maroon 5. Welcome to our island. Abandon all hope.”
2 | They aren’t taking this reunion for granted.
“Everybody values their privilege. And it is indeed a privilege and a gift to be able to have this job as opposed to a lot of the jobs the state offers. Everybody has had at least one or two medical near- misses or at least one or two dental tragedies. Sometimes that’s all it takes — you get your teeth knocked out a couple of times and you start to realize you’re mortal. That illumination alone can rebind a band. Besides that, we’re gonna do it for world peace. I could answer all of of these questions with that. Do you want to do the ‘world peace’ interview?”
3 | But they are taking it seriously.
“Though Van Halen’s history is incandescent and full of allegations — most of them true — we’ve taken the music very seriously. Starting from when we were classically trained kids (and) up to this minute, our work ethic is the antithesis of what common rock ’n’ roll would be. We’ve been rehearsing for the last three months, frequently at nine and 10 in the morning. It’s special ops in that it doesn’t matter what time it is. We do it when we are called upon.”
4 | He still wants to get in your pants — musically.
“I’m still chasing the ideal that initially compelled me — which is to write a superb song with a permanently memorable lyric … I don’t know if it’s a noble pursuit, but it certainly is a contribution of sorts. If I do it right, you’ll have a tune wedgie for the rest of your time.”
5 | The new songs aren’t old — they’re vintage.
“I retooled all of the verses and melodies. I retooled all of the lyric. So there is a body of new that meets halfway there, that I think makes very colourful sense. The idea that it was in a vault — well, are you talking about a head of lettuce or fine wine, sir?
Perhaps age has dignified it even further by virtue of its authenticity.”
6 | It’s all about Dave. Really.
“All music is autobiographic. Particularly when it’s not meant to be.”
7 | VH speak the universal language.
“You don’t need to speak English to understand what I’m singing about.
You don’t need to be a rock ’n’ roll fan to love and appreciate the show. You don’t even need to have hearing. Our deaf section is routinely filled. (But) we’re also the ones who sold you Ricky Ricardo rumba for Jamie’s Cryin’ and Dance the Night Away. That’s pure Carlos Santana … I speak fluent Spanish. I can get us totally in trouble now in Spanish and Portuguese.”
8 | VH are the kings of jailhouse rock.
“My father was a prison doctor for the last 25 years of his career. We called it the Ivy League — Folsom, Quentin. And he used to joke: When one of our records would come out, both the guards and the inmates celebrated. If you carry a gun to work, whether it’s with a uniform or a pair of two-tone shoes, you telling me you don’t know me? Come on, loco!”
9 | They know how to get the party started on their upcoming tour.
“We picked Kool and the Gang to open for us because Kool and the Gang and Van Halen are the sounds of an entire continent at recreation.
We’ve come to represent that — although you’re more likely to hear Kool and the Gang at a bar mitzvah than me, even though I’m a brother.
You go to a Hasidic Jewish bar mitzvah and they’ll play Ladies’ Night by Kool. Me, they’ll let in — ‘But he doesn’t sing; he runs with the devil!’ ”
10 | Onstage, he wants to be outstanding in his field.
“The optimal is to be able to do what you promised to do from top to bottom in a Motown fashion. Can you sing the whole song? Is it recordable quality? Can you do it with authority? Night after night?
Or did you have to Auto-Tune it? Did you have to put a whole lotta tinsel on the tree and utilize a lotta production value and a lot of troupe dancers and a variety of diversionary, result-oriented tricks?
Which I like. But you better be as good as professional wrassling. The goal is to delight. Whether you use darkness and horror, or smiles and celebration, to delight is your obligation as an artist.”
11 | Offstage, he wants to be outstanding in his field.
“My favourite poem is one sentence long: ‘Well, the sky should know me by now.’ It’s a contrast to the exchange of interiors that we experience as musicians. It is like living in a submarine — the inside of the studio, the inside of an arena, the inside of the bus. That is not at all a lament.”
12 | When it all goes wrong, he’s the master of disaster.
“My first job out of high school, I was a surgical porter working the night shift down here in East L.A. And I kept all of those certifications up. There was about 10 years when I had to grow my hair out and conquer the world, so I put that curriculum on hold. However, today I’m a New York State EMT. I’m tactically certified … Do you know how to feed 100 people breakfast? I do. Do you know the best way to get a fire going if you’ve got somebody wet and freezing? Get to the commissary — Fritos are so full of fat. You light a Frito, you’re going to be amazed … If something bad happens to you, I can pretty much unf— the situation until the right people show up.”
DLR ad lib song trivia:
Among his many other talents, David Lee Roth is also the master of the mid-song ad lib. Here are some of his best bon mots from the Van Halen catalog. See if you can match the lyrics to the appropriate song title.
1 | “Have you seen Junior’s grades?”
2 | “Yeah, we’re runnin’ a little bit hot tonight. I can barely see the road from the heat comin’ off of it. You reach down between my legs and ease the seat back ,,, ”
3 | “I like the way the line runs up the back of the stockings. I’ve always liked those kind of high heels too. No no no no, don’t take ’em off, don’t take … Leave ’em on, leave ’em on. Yeah, that’s it — a little more to the right, a little more … ”
4 | “Take a look at this! Hey, man, that suit is you! You’ll get some leg tonight for sure! Tell us how you do! (Come on, Dave, give me a
break.) Hey, hey, hey, hey, one break coming up!”
5 | “Hey, you remember when that girl was prom queen?”
6 | “I heard you missed us, we’re back! I brought my pencil, give me something to write on, man! … Oh man, I think the clock is slow. I don’t feel tardy.”
A | And the Cradle Will Rock…
B | Dirty Movies
C | Everybody Wants Some!!
D | Hot For Teacher
E | Panama
F | Unchained
Answers: 1-A; 2-E; 3-C; 4-F; 5-B; 6-D.