It is Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 as I write this (Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians). It’s been six days since lung cancer stole a legendary guitar player from the world…Eddie Van Halen. There are so many words available to describe the man and his work…genius, luminary, ground-breaking, enormous, mind-boggling…feel free to add your own descriptions in the comments.
Now, as ever, if you asked me if Mr. Van Halen was my favourite guitar player, the answer is no (Randy Rhoads is the correct response from me).
If you asked me if Van Halen is now or ever was my favourite band, you would get a similar negative response (the true answer to that question varies depending on my mood and when you ask. Iron Maiden and Metallica are certainly a couple of the more popular answers, but not the only ones).
Having said all this, I have wept no fewer than four times over his passing. My regular readers are likely not surprised by this revelation, as it is a well-documented fact that the author believes that, if you need to cry, then you should just fucking do it. But this is an inordinately high number of tears for the situation.
I cried when I found out.
I cried while reading tributes to him and his virtuosity. Twice.
Most recently, I shed tears while reading a list ranking all 131 Van Halen songs, of which Eruption was number one, of course. I broke down while reading the review of that seminal piece.
And then I asked myself why this should be the case. Surprisingly, the answer came quickly.
The passing of this icon of the late 1970s and 1980s represents the death of my youth.
I am a man in my early fifties, and one who has been a fan of hard rock and heavy metal for as long as I can remember (my brother’s fault for letting me listen to KISS ALIVE! when I was too young to listen to such things). As such, Van Halen was a constant in my life. There was no avoiding And the Cradle Will Rock…, Unchained, Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love, You Really Got Me, or Runnin’ With The Devil, and all the rest of the classics. Every kid I knew who played guitar spent hours and hours learning how to play Eruption. My friends and I bought Diver Down as soon as it came out, laughing as we sang along with Happy Trails, the best last song on any album, ever. I stayed up until 12:01am on January 1, 1984, not because it was New Year’s Eve, but because that was when the first video from Van Halen’s 1984—Jump–was to debut. I marveled when they became the first band in history to be paid a million dollars for a performance when they headlined the Us Festival (small potatoes now, but a big deal then).
I only saw them live once, what seems like about a million years ago now, at the Molson Amphitheater in Toronto. I can’t recall what album they were touring to support, but Sammy was singing and here’s what I remember most: they put on a hell of a rock show. I saw them the same week I saw a show in which Jeff Beck opened for Carlos Santana…without a doubt, the greatest guitar week of my life.
And so now it is 2020 and, at the far-too-young age of 65, Eddie Van Halen is gone. And at perhaps the far-too-old age of 51, my youth perishes along with him. But you know what? It’s okay to cry for both those things; it is fine to lament their passing. The legend of EVH lives on, as do the memories of my well-lived youth. A generation of guitar players carry on his legacy, and I carry on as well.
Continuing a life well-lived.