The Farr Side column: Eddie Van Halen: Rock ‘n’ Roll icon
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
I think all my friends growing up learned to play air guitar by emulating Eddie Van Halen. He was the master for many of us who grew up during the ’80s, the greatest decade ever for music. Eddie was the man!
News of his death was another blow from a year we all would like to forget. Van Halen succumbed to cancer on Oct. 6, at age 65. As you probably saw on social media feeds, his impact was big.
I was not aware Eddie and his family were immigrants, having moved to the U.S. in the mid-1960s from The Netherlands. The family made Pasadena, California, its home.
His fascination for music stemmed from his parents, who were Dutch jazz musicians. His parents wanted him and his brother, Alex, to be classical pianists. As fate would have it, the brothers loved rock music more.
Learning a little more about Eddie brought a smile to my face. His passion was evident. Reports state he would walk around the house all day with his guitar strapped around him or locked in his bedroom, playing for hours.
This passion led to Eddie and Alex forming Van Halen with bassist Mark Stone and singer David Lee Roth - Alex on drums and, of course, Eddie on lead guitar.
I was an impressionable kid, so music was a big deal to me. I knew of the band because of Roth’s monstrous stage antics and their early ’80s hits’ “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and “Dance The Night Away.” However, it was Eddie’s work with Michael Jackson that made me know him. Jackson was a perfectionist and surrounded himself only with the best.
Jackson’s “Beat It” gave Eddie one of rock’s greatest guitar solos. It allowed Eddie to be a part of history, as Jackson’s album “Thriller,” eventually became the biggest-selling album of all time.
Eddie had perfected the art of tapping, which involves using both left and right hands on the guitar neck.
Van Halen’s music helped to define the ’80s and ’90s with its many albums, including the iconic “1984,” “5150,” OU812″ and “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.” Those albums produced some of the best rocks songs ever, like “Panama,” “Jump,” “Dreams,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Love Walks In,” “Finish What You Started,” “When It’s Love” and “Right Now.” It may come as a surprise to many that Eddie wrote or co-wrote most of the band’s material.
In 2003, I saw Van Halen live. It was an awesome concert. I reviewed the show and readers wanted to know if I was for Sammy Hagar or David Lee Roth. I happened to see Hagar as the lead on that tour. He rocked and I thought he brought a new dimension to the band and the music. That’s not to say Roth wasn’t equally as good, because he was. Both rockers are good at what they do, but let’s be real: Eddie remained constant the entire time, as has Alex.
Van Halen was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007. The group’s induction was well-deserved.
I think Eddie said it best in 2015 when he addressed an event at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He was sharing his life and living the American dream, stating, “We came here with approximately $50 and a piano, and we didn’t speak the language. Now look where we are. If that’s not the American dream, what is?”
David T. Farr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.