The summer of 1986 was quite an interesting time for Van Halen fans wasn’t it? It was hard not to come across something on the TV, radio or on a local newsstand with something related to either the band’s new lineup with Sammy Hagar or the now solo David Lee Roth.
This week SPIN magazine revisited an April 1986 cover story with Roth in honor of the 35th anniversary of his album Eat ‘Em and Smile. The interview focused on Roth’s recently and highly publicized breakup with Van Halen, current solo band featuring gutarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Greg Bisonnette, his recently aborted movie project and whatever else came to the always interesting mind of Diamond Dave.
Below is some of Roth’s interview with SPIN’s Scott Cohen:
Left Bank Dave
I like talking. If you want to make conversation, that’s better, because I’m going to learn something from it. But if it’s monologue, that’s OK. I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’m a big sloganeer. People accuse me of boiling everything down to a one-liner. Where’s the drum and cymbal? But I lived up to that. It’s not the public image I’m living up to, it’s my own mental image of what I should be. I always visualize myself into things I think I should be. I visualize myself as a Vietnam pilot. “Roscoe Ajax Five, we have him on the screen, Bob. Over.” Click. Speak English or die. That character is strong. That character is fearless. That character is Sgt. Rock….
If I’m sitting writing lyrics, I visualize myself as a tubercular Left Bank artist, pouring out his soul, who sweats and bleeds every word, and I try to live up to him in spirit. I have a very certain idea of how rock music should be for me. It should be a Technicolor circus.
Nothing just descends from the hand of God through the crack in the peeling ceiling of the Marriott Hotel. You got to bring it with you. So when you ask me, “Dave, What about the rock lifestyle?”, I’m glad you asked. Look at these pictures. This was my birthday, at Lake McQueeny, and in San Antonio, the bus broke down and 50 guys had to push it out of the swamp, and they’re all wearing funny tour jackets that we designed together, and the bus interior is all sharkskin and zebra and fake plastic this and that, and we designed that too.
In a dive up the street, I met some kid who just moved here from Colorado, has a band, and wanted to know what to do with his demo tape. I said, “Pass on the demo tape.” Some guy’s sitting in an office, with a satin jacket and an attitude, gets 700 tapes a day. He said, “What do I do?” I said, “Get the magazines, see what clubs are around, and play everywhere that you can, all the time, until they come and discover you.” That’s how we did it. And if you’re entertaining enough or good enough, or if the music is right enough, then the secretary over at Poly Brothers is going to go and check it out. She’s going to come back and tell the vice president in charge of Wheatena that, “Hey, I just saw this great band down at this club.” He’ll say, “Really?” He won’t go, but all the rest of the secretaries will. Then when he’s surrounded, he’s got to plug in sooner or later.
I really believe in postal instant press. Go to the magazine, rip off the format, use the print type, whatever, take a picture of yourself jumping off a building, and put it up everywhere. Even if you’re not playing, announce that you are. After a while, people will get used to seeing the name. We used to think, “What kind of audience would want to see us play?” While Aerosmith was happening, we’d go down to the stadium where they were playing, and I’d be out papering cars, running from the security police, jamming flyers into windshield wipers. Ultimately, we had 14 people running around in the rain. You take this high school, I’ll take this. I promised everyone if we’d make it, we’d all do blow together.
I was reading about these guys who were going into the deepest cave in the world, something like four miles from the surface, and it wasn’t straight down. It also goes sideways, and there’s lakes in here. These cats are like two miles down and they have to blow up a little life raft, floating in this little cave, pitch black. Crawl up on the little raft and go to sleep for two hours, wake up in the pitch black, deflate the raft, turn up the regulator, go another mile, then down, then sideways. What motivates people to do that? They had to be airlifted, just to the hole. These guys were in isothermic tents freezing their ass off, just at the top of the hole. It’s inspiring as hell to me. Not to go into the hole, but in my own chosen endeavor.
Dave’s Fave Van Halen Rumor
My favorite item about Van Halen is that Eddie’s new singer has zoomed up out of oblivion and suddenly he’s got the microphone. Here’s a guy who’s bad-mouthing me, and I never even shook his hand. Never met this guy in my life. There was an incident though when I was recording the EP and I was in the studio with Ted Templeman, and Ted was doing Sammy Hagar at the same time. And the telephone call comes, and it’s the singer and he’s frantic. He just got his first big shot with some song, and he’s got the video, and evidently, he says the word “ass.” Standards and Practices are all over him. They’re not going to play his video. There goes the last 10 percent of the career down the toilet. “What am I gonna do?” he asked. Ted turns to me and says, “You’re into video. What should he do?” I get on the phone and ask him what’s happening on the screen, what’s the transition before it? So he tells me the transition. “Well, that’s cool. If the guy’s slamming the door when that word pops up, just pop in the sound of the door. You can go down to editing. They probably have 20 different doors for you. They’re in the Yellow Pages.” And that’s exactly what happened.
The next thing I know, this guy’s all over the press, with mindless word-drool, and they are bad-mouthing me and talking about how they suffered and struggled through the last 12 years, put up with my shit. Poor little Eddie Van Halen. Struggled to survive a continuing onslaught of platinum records and Lamborghinis. Poor little Eddie. Forced to live a lie.
The biggest problem Eddie had with me was, in addition to making the records and going on tour, I wanted to make the video, make a movie, tour weird places, and get involved in designing the album covers. They just couldn’t get their asses out of bed. They usually just couldn’t make it through rehearsals for a two-week period without an argument. A year for an album? “That’s ridiculous.” Want to go on the road? “Sure, for how long?” They don’t want to do these four- five-month tours. So, what are we going to do? Play the stadiums, the big places. That way we only have to play the two hot months of the summer. I joke and say you can’t hear my jokes in a place like that. Fact of the matter is, you can’t hear anything in a place like that. From 20 feet you can’t hear. From 80 yards you can’t see a thing. Maybe other artists can communicate to 50,000 people. Maybe it’s Springsteen. It sure ain’t me. I think it’s a rip-off to play stadiums. Can’t hear, can’t see, I got no control over the show.
Rock ‘n’ roll is probably the best form of entertainment. That’s why it lasted so long. I want to do it. Why would they want to do it? Money. I have money. I want to play, tour, go everywhere. Last time I was in Japan was 1979. Why can’t we go to Japan? Because we don’t make enough money. It’s not “We don’t make money.” It’s “We don’t make enough.” I always figured I got this gig partly because I want to travel, and if I don’t make no scratch in Japan, fine. I don’t make my money in New York, and if it’s not New York, I’ll make it in South America. It’ll just go up and down, up and down, as my career goes on. You’re not going to be popular in all countries all the time unless you’re Julio Iglesias.
Half the talent in video looks like they’re somebody’s sister, or the production girl said, “Hey, Sally, get out there,” and everybody cops their role and goes vaudeville with it, right off the bat. The bad guys make mean faces and the girls wiggle, just like our videos, but here’s where the difference is: two-thirds of the way — exactly — everybody starts dancing. Smack. The kiss of death. See the Pat Benatar video where she’s a chick in a house of ill-repute and she sings, “I will never surrender,” and this pimp comes up to her, and she’s doing the lip sync, but she’s not giggling, and how does she teach this guy on behalf of womanhood everywhere that she ain’t gonna take this shit no more? She shakes her tits at him and starts dancing. Boom. She sets the movement back three years in the space of 30 seconds. Why is that? Is it because of “Bye Bye Birdie?” When they ran out of dialogue or acting, everybody just danced. You wind up with “A Chorus Line” every third video. It looks like a big Pepsi commercial because everybody’s using the same dancers, the same choreographer. The same cat who got the Jordache look is walking Billy Squier right in or out the door, depending on your perspective.
Roth had much more to say in his ’86 SPIN interview so check the rest out at SPIN’s official website HERE.
Watch David Lee Roth On Larry King Live (July 10th, 1986)