Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Everybody Wants Some (?)

When I was 14 years old, my big brother took me to see the Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels tour. It may sound cliche - perhaps dramatic - but the experience kind of changed my life.

So many things left an impression on me that night: the over the top set, the light show, the performance, the phenomenal depth of their set list (including songs I knew, songs I didn't know, and songs that I didn't know that I knew).

But more than anything, it was the legend of the Stones that turned me on that night -- the twenty five years of sex, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, fist-fights, groupies, jail time, divorces, rumors, feuds and infamy.

In point of fact, the Stones' most scandalous years were mostly behind them by the time I was born. But in an odd way, that only fed my fascination. For the better part of the next twenty years, I was entirely obsessed with the legend of the Stones, and I made sure everyone knew about it.

A funny thing happened in my early 20's, though. I started hanging out with a lot of musicians....punk rock guys who were a good ten years older than I was. They were my band mates and my best friends, and I looked up to each of them.

Imagine my disappointment when they all -- every last one of them -- dismissed and belittled me for continuing to see the tours behind admittedly terrible albums like "Bridges to Babylon."

Make no mistake: these guys totally respected what the Stones did in the 60's and 70's. But they couldn't fathom why anyone would want to see them today. The two most favorite words of the music snob -- "embarrassing" and "irrelevant" -- frequently came up every time I pleaded my case.

It always came across like sour grapes to me. What the hell was so wrong about the Stones continuing to tour and record if they still enjoyed it and people still enjoyed hearing (and seeing) it?


What was the big fucking deal?


This brings me to the recent reunion between the Van Halen brothers and David Lee Roth.

Guess what?

I don't get it, and I don't get why anyone would want to see it. I find it.....
wait for it .....embarrassing and irrelevant.

And it's not because I hate on Van Halen. Quite to the contrary: I firmly believe that Roth-era Van Halen was one of the single greatest American rock bands ever. Superior to Aerosmith. Superior to the Allmans or Skynard. Superior to the E Street Band. Superior to the Stooges or the Ramones.

On par -- so help me God -- with the Beach Boys, the Velvet Underground, Metallica or the Wrecking Crew.

Roth-era Van Halen was phenomenal. To this day, when I hear the word "rock star," I think of David Lee Roth in the "Jump" video, with the silly tights, the hairy chest, the mane of hair, and the "I'm-very-serious-about-not-taking-this-very-seriously-
heyyougotanycoke?" attitude.

So, then, why the hate for the reunion?

Because that moment is gone. I saw it in real time through the eyes of an eleven year old, and it'll never be so vividly cool or crazy again.

Make no mistake, is was real beyond real for a nation of 17-year olds with only Journey and AC-DC to fall back on in 1982.

But for me, that moment passed before I was even old enough to see the band play live; all I was left with was Roth's half-assed solo career and Van Halen's laughable earnestness with frontmen that were little more than substitute teachers.

These things happen. It is the nature of peaking before you're done with your career. And even though it seems completely unfair to a natural musician as creative as Eddie Van Halen or a natural entertainer as enthusiastic as David Lee Roth, perhaps the best they could do for their fans is to preserve their memories of Van Halen at their greatest, unclouded by middling solo records and meandering personnel decisions.

I want that Life Magazine spread intact in my brain.
(I can't find it online, so suffice it to say you either know what I'm talking about or your don't).

What I do not want, is to remember them this way.

Of course, some of this commentary is pretty superficial. No one is s carefree or as beautiful at 55 years old as they are at 25. That's just a fact of life. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you look, so long as the songs hold up.

Just ask Tom Waits.

So, how does the new song hold up?

Well... not well.

Oh, "Tattoo" isn't as terrible as people like to say. But it still isn't any good. And I can't say that such a lackluster effort doesn't diminish my 1984 memory of Van Halen as the most exciting, most fun band on earth.

To the contrary, it solidifies my image of them as a bunch of older guys, doing what they can to stay in the limelight a little longer and recoup some of the cash they lost when they were young and foolish and didn't know what they had between themselves.

And that's a problem.

Because when I struggle - and fail - to reconcile those dialectically opposite images of the same band, I'm hit with a very uncomfortable kind of empathy:

I suddenly know exactly how my older friends feel when they look at the elder Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

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