A Debt That Can Never Be Repaid
Perhaps you have an app or randomly came across a “This Day in History” website or factoid. Some days in our brief time on this planet are loaded with tragedy, accomplishments, natural disasters and the like. October 6th has not been one of those days. A quick search pulls up a handful of occurrences, some of them a bit of a stretch. One particularly close to my heart is the senseless murder in the name of Church and State of William Tyndale in 1536c.e., a man whose wicked crimes wholly consisted of translating the books of ‘The New Testament’ into English. Another that jumps off the page occurred in 1948, the ‘Ashgabat Earthquake’ killed more than 100,000 people in modern-day Turkmenistan.
Today, October 6, 2020, a different kind of Eruption weighs heavy on the hearts of millions the globe over, the death of Eddie Van Halen.
Celebrities are a dime-a-dozen, legends are designated as such willy-nilly all too often, and don’t even get me started on the unqualified tagged with the label of ‘genius’.
EVH has been styled across the media all of these expressions but what sums him up most appropriately at this stage is, in a word, ICON.
Icons are few and far between because not many can make the claim to be at the top of a field for 40+ years and become synonymous with the gift that brought them to the dance.
When someone over the age of 30 hears the name “Van Halen” the muses instantly plant an image of a guitar in the hearers’ mind. If you’ve ever picked up a guitar that image is likely Red and White.
The ‘Frankenstrat’ seemed an appendage of Eddie’s, as if his poor mother endured labor to have this beautiful, healthy baby boy come out feet first only to be surprised by a red and white guitar following him out, not attached to his arms but part of his arms.
Alex Van Halen, his older brother and drummer for the band, as well as ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli have said in many interviews how he would just walk around the house guitar affixed to hands. Such was the obsession Eddie had with his instrument. It is not hard to understand why the brothers in their pre-pubescent years would switch instruments, Alex from guitar to drums and Eddie from drums to guitar, Apollo himself would not have had it any other way.
That’s what Van Halen is, a gift directly from the gods, no… of the gods.
One quiet night on the heights of Mt. Olympus a deducible orgy must have occurred. Zeus, god of Thunder hosting the debauched revel, would be accompanied by Apollo (Music), Aphrodite (Love), and Hebe (youth), a celestial ‘Woodstock’, where this time the baby said to have been born is not a myth, it’s the ever tangible baby Van Halen, as perfect a baby ever born by the gods. A baby not in the form of a man represented by either of the eponymous brothers, but in the band Van Halen; this band of thunderous loud in your face aggression, representing eternal youth, supplying a love-making soundtrack.
EVH the man is inseparable from the band.
No that’s wrong, EVH was more than a guitar player, he was a loving husband, brother, and most importantly, father. The band Van Halen is inseparable from the man. Inspired largely by Eric Clapton in his “Cream” days and the ubiquitous Jimmy Page, a sound would form in the brain of EVH that would be the DNA of the band Van Halen. The sound so powerful and singular not only do you know who it is within seconds of the track starting on the radio but causing two infamously difficult and vastly different lead singers to bend to its will. EVH’s sound would not be compromised and as such neither would the band. That is why they’ve been successful record after record, singer after singer, decade after decade. He leaves behind a legacy accomplished by few.
That legacy manifested prominently in his son, Wolfgang Van Halen (maybe the coolest name…. ever?), born in 1991, following his dad in instrument, trying out for the band, and getting the gig.
Nepotism or no, it is not for you or I to say, nevertheless impressive. Arguably more prominent a legacy than his son is, the inspiration EVH gifted literally tens of thousands of guitar players, many of whom may not even recognize it. One that I know it inspired and has had a direct effect on my life is Retro Guitars proprietor, Chris O’Dee.
The second time I met Chris was at his house being introduced to the shop where the magic happens. This was years ago, long before it was thought that I would be working there. Chris, his Mrs., and I were standing there talking about guitars and players. I was asked who my favorites are, not an easy question for me to answer. I rattle off a few names, Hendrix, Slash, Walsh, I don’t know, I suck at playing. For Chris it was easy, Eddie Van Halen. Chris tributes his whole reason for playing to EVH and as such is directly responsible for the existence of Retro Guitars.
I don’t know what happens when we die, but I gotta think there’s something… we exist on some plane in some dimension out there.
So, Eddie, if you can read this, thank you, I, and thousands like me, owe you a debt. Rock ON, wherever you are!!