Huge new DLR piece in The New York Times today!
Since the Covid-19 pandemic forced him off the road, the singer has been making comics at his Los Angeles home, and calling it performance therapy.
The Van Halen frontman and solo musician David Lee Roth has devoted himself to making art while quarantined and off the road.
Typically, David Lee Roth spends his days, or at least his nights, “in tactical spandex, moving at 134 beats per minute,” he said. But now the 65-year-old Van Halen singer is just like the rest of us: stuck at home and obsessing about pandemics.
However, the past few months in quarantine have led Roth to an old pursuit, with new focus. Since April, he has filled his days creating Covid-themed drawings — he calls them comics — and then sharing the finished works, one each week, on his social media channels. The art, like Roth’s music and disposition, is vibrant, whimsical and somewhat unconventional. In moments, it is confrontational. Several drawings feature his own face. Many are filled with images of frogs.
What sparked this surge of artistic expression?
“Well, I lost my job!” Roth cracked over the phone from his home in Los Angeles on an afternoon in late June. As recently as March, Roth was on tour as a solo act, supporting Kiss in arenas across the United States. Earlier in that run, Roth, who has also worked as an E.M.T. in New York, had battled an unspecified illness. “I’m not so unconvinced I didn’t have the corona,” he said. “Man, they gave me enough prednisone to put boots on the moon! We left a trail of groupies, rubble and incandescent reviews. But I don’t want to go back through it.”
Even by rock frontman standards, Roth’s ability to command full attention from his audience is renowned, whether he’s launching himself off drum risers for midair splits or schooling fans on how Van Halen is “the rock ’n’ roll band who sold Ricky Ricardo rumba to the heavy metal nation.” But now his art is doing the talking. “Social commentary is what I do,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always done.”
In his recent artwork, that social commentary has elicited a strong response. In one piece, he declares a name change. “Diamond Dave following Lady Antebellum’s (now ‘Lady A’) example, will be dropping the ‘Lee,’” he wrote below a drawing of, naturally, a frog. “From now on he wants us all to call him ‘David L. Roth’ or simply ‘El Roth.’” To many, it diminished the steps white artists are taking to correct racism.
“Humor — not jokes — humor, the best stuff, isn’t funny at all,” Roth said, defending his work. “My version is the truth dipped in sugar. And maybe it’s a little sugar and spice. But the good stuff compels discussions.”
Art, he continued, “has been a constant in my life. My hand has always been in wardrobe, background sets, stage sets, album covers, video direction. This is part of it. And there’s craft involved, so there’s a little bit more heft to some of the statements.”
Roth laughed. “This is the adult table; as a fellow artist, I sense you understand that.”
“Next question!” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
I saw a story about Mark Twain — it was not his biography, it was a fictional piece with actors. And at the end of it ol’ Sam passes on, but he doesn’t go to heaven. He’s in the backyard where he grew up in Hannibal, Mo. And a little girl walks up and he goes, “Who are you?” She says, “I’m Becky Thatcher, and I’ve got some friends who are waiting to meet you.” And all the characters that he created come on up to greet him. So, I started my guest list. And probably the only one of that retinue that I could even spell, much less draw, was the frog from Calaveras County [from the short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”].
Many of your drawings include a reference to the “Soggy Bottom.” I took this, at least in this context, to be a play on the phrase “draining the swamp.”
If I explain it, it’s a bumper sticker. If I let you explain it, it’s art. But you’re very close to exactly accurate.
Continue reading at The New York Times.