Welcome to the first edition of a new Clearing out the Clutter feature called, "Five Questions," where we'll be posting interviews with people from a variety of backgrounds with interesting stories to share. We're thrilled to kick things off with Noel Monk, who was formerly the manager of Van Halen from 1978-1985. Monk is also the author of the new book, "Runnin' With The Devil: A Backstage Pass To The Wild Times, Loud Rock, And The Down And Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen." (You can read our review here.) Monk got his start working for legendary promoter Bill Graham, and he's worked with a number of acts besides Van Halen, including the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and more. Noel was kind enough to recently talk with us by phone to discuss his new book, favorite memory of his time with Van Halen, his thoughts about the band's future, and more. He's not the kind of man to hold things back, as you're about to find out!
Question #1: What kind of response have you gotten from Van Halen fans about the book?
NM: The fans are un-be-lieve-able. I have gotten perfect...I went to my reviews and out of all of them, two guys didn't like the book, and everyone else has sent me messages and all of these things, saying they absolutely love the book. I'm surprised, I'm shocked, I'm very happy. I couldn't be more pleased with the reception.
Question #2: You parted ways with Van Halen in 1985. Why write this book now?
NM: I've never done an interview, except one in 1979, and that was in Cashbox. I let the band talk for themselves, and I don't need to talk for other people, but after all this time I look at all the misconceptions and the total ridiculous things that people talk about, (like) tour insurance (laugh), and I look at the other writings, and they're such bullshit, that I decided it was time...this is three years ago...I've been writing it since 1990, after I wrote 12 Days on the Road, the Sex Pistols book, and these people have never, these writers have never seen "Van Halen." To me, "Van Halen" is Eddie and Dave, and you know, it gets to a point where if you've never seen the band or even interfaced with them for more than two minutes, how can you talk about them?
Basically, I was the manager, I ran with them for seven years. (I)t was time to let people know what happened. People kept asking me, what happened? That's why.
Clutter: You did a great job with that, and you also did a wonderful job of explaining/giving a real look into the music industry.
NM: I tried to do that too. I mean, the industry is turned on its head now. It really has changed 180 degrees. I mean, records aren't the big thing, touring is. There are some similar things, but not that many, and I thought it would be interesting for the fans to know what was going on in the 70's and the 80's and the 90's. It fascinated me, that's for sure, and I was living it.
Question #3: Do you have a favorite memory of your time with Van Halen?
NM: See that's a toughie. One of the reasons, I didn't want to tap (the answers to your questions) out on my computer is because I talk better than I write, and I can explain things better. I was very lucky to have Joe Layden. I'm an okay writer but he's brilliant, and for me to have tried to explain these things to you in a sentence or two just wouldn't have cut it. So a favorite...god...I would say the hookers in Paris (described in the book)...It was a long wonderful time. You know, it wasn't all great, but I had a ball 70% of the time. It was a lot of fun...I hope you got that it was fun...
Clutter: Oh absolutely.
NM: Good, because it was, and when you ask me what's the most fun, it's very very hard to say. I would go with the hookers (laugh.) My wife will kill me. And you know, bringing all of the (Warner Brothers) secretaries to the show to make up for the dirty movies (an incident also explained in further detail in the book.) I mean, I had the ability to do things that were right. I was a road manager for a long time, and I worked for the different record companies. They gave me no insurance, they didn't put you on salary, they did nothing for you. I said if I ever get in the position where I can have an organization, I'll do everything for the people that work for me. Any by the end of 1985, I had 140 people working for me, and they had the best medical plan, I never had a medical plan as a road manager. From their teeth to their toes, the (employees) were covered. We had a profit and pension sharing program where if you worked for a week, you were on it. I did everything to make it good for my people. Not that I'm a great guy. I'm a hard-ass son of a bitch, but it's usually in trying to do the best for my people and the band. I screwed up a lot, but I did the best I could do.
I don't like managers , because they usually don't know their ass from a hole in the ground. There are some very good managers. I don't want to say that, but most of them, you know. I started out working on the stage, and doing lights and sound. I worked for Bill Graham as his stage manager and his sound engineer, and I learned everything from sweeping the stage, to taking the Moody Blues on tour, working with the Stones, touring with Southern Comfort and Janis Joplin, and that was my favorite job. The (managers) didn't come up (through the ranks.) They were in the right place at the right time. Not that I wasn't, but I was a lighting man, I was a sound man, I knew what was going on before I was a manager, I was a production tour manager, and I had to call spots if there was a problem.
Clutter: I was just thinking how lucky (Van Halen) was to have someone with that skill set as they were starting out.
NM: (Yes) the band was lucky that I had that experience. They might not have cared. The fans, I love. I mean, we had a band secretary who would get all of the fan letters. They would either go to the fan club or to her, and she would come to me and say, "Well this kid broke his leg at the show," and I'd send him what I called "party packs." A t-shirt, a hat, a button, a sticker. Stuff he would like, or she would like. I sent out dozens of them. I knew that if it wasn't for the fans, we would be nobody, and people don't get that. Sign that autograph and stop being a jerk. I mean, who do you think is paying your salary, boy, or girl. You know? Part of the problem was, after a while, 5 or 6 years, you tend to forget who you are. I've never forgotten because, you know, when I'm working the stage, I know who I am. I'm pouring drinks, doing sound, but bands should never forget who they should thank, and it's the fans.
NM: In college, I spent my whole time in the theater. I was stage manager, and did the lighting, Basically I never put that down, but I was a Shakespearean scholar, and I worked at the Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. And I was really into Shakespeare, but what I did was lighting and sound at the festival, and in the theater in college. There were no credits, but I was a tech director and a stage manager, and I did the stuff that took the blood and the basics. Building a set for a show...that's a mini version of a stage. I got into the West End Country Playhouse...I didn't know stage left from stage right. But it took me four or five years of college to learn that part of it.
Clutter: (That experience) clearly served you very well.
NM: It did! It really did, because basically without knowing how the sound worked or how the lights worked, I mean, a lot of times I was taking a tour or act out, I was mixing the band, or I was doing the lights, driving the truck, breaking my back moving equipment. I spent 18 years on the road, and with Van Halen (it felt like) 30. (laugh) I saw 90% of their shows and in the first year, I saw all of them, I was their road manager. It wasn't an easy chore, but it was fun. I mean I had a good time. I worked really hard. If we got two days off, that was a lot. I mean, what more could you ask for?
Question #4: You wrote about the increasing tensions inside Van Halen that peaked during the recording of the 1984 album and eventually ended with David Lee Roth leaving the group. Looking back, was there anything from your perspective that could have been done to prevent this lineup from breaking up?
NM: Yeah, when I make a quarter million dollar deal, they can take it. (A failed endorsement deal is discussed in the book.) When they've got to deal with all four members of the band. You can't do that to Michael, it's wrong. (In one of the most shocking revelations from the book, Monk reveals that bassist Micheal Anthony was demoted from being a full-fledged band member during the 1984 tour.) They started doing things that were wrong...endemically wrong.
You know, tension is one thing, but when you get down to it, if Alex Van Halen wasn't a Van Halen, he wouldn't be in the band either. He's only there because he's Ed's brother. Michael had a beautiful voice and was the nicest guy you could deal with. Al was a bit of a monster. He got to be a big, drunk, fool. Like I said, David and Edward were "Van Halen." No one else ever was. People are now contending, "Well I'm Van Halen." Gary Cherone is saying, "I spent three years in Van Halen." Sammy Hagar wants his name in Van Halen.
They were not much after 1985. The amount of money they made was barely half. The show was, you know, they sold out because of the name. One was Van Halen and one was Van Hagar. I always wanted to see Sammy jump off a drum riser and do a split. But when he landed, they'd have to take him to the hospital. There was no going on after David left. You wonder how much they fight now, and how much they want to split who's singing what. It's so stupid. They're old men, they should be in wheel chairs pretty soon. In '86, '87, it was over. There was no more Van Halen.
(Some people say) Sammy was in Van Halen. Well then, was Cherone? Was it Van Cherone? No.
Clutter: We saw a Van Cherone concert at the Boston Garden in 1998, and the primary thing that stuck out, was that it was the first time after about six shows, that we ever heard the band play a "classic" song before, besides, "Jump." We appreciated that, because we thought at the time,we were never going to get to hear them with Roth.
NM: But you never did. I hate to interrupt you, but David can't jump off the drum riser now. David's an old man. David's funny, made a funny comment about my book. But he destroyed his career, his ego. He blossomed into nothing. He was going to be a radio DJ and couldn't cut it. Edward was always a brilliant, brilliant guitar player. Now, but by 1985, they were so drugged out. The one thing they never did, was mess up a show. They could be as screwed up as you want, but Van Halen, I'm talking about "Van Halen" now, never messed up a show, except of course, the US Festival (which is described in the book.) Pay us a lot of money, and we'll screw it up. (laugh) These guys were spot-on. They were brilliant on stage. I don't care how they were off-stage, they were nit-picking each other, or whatever. They never showed it onstage. Again, my point of view, but I know that's true.
I saw 98% of their shows. I was on the road all of the time, and they were bloody brilliant. Then Eddie had the hip transplant, and a tongue transplant, and not much of his brain was left. There wasn't much to start with. I've got to say, he was not a very bright person. David was very bright. Eddie...was a brilliant guitar player, but they never allowed him to do interviews. You know, sleep it off, Ed. David and Al will do the interviews.
Talking about the band's sexual conquests: (Ed) fucked everything that walked. They all did, except Michael who had the same girlfriend from high school who he married. They're still married. Michael is a straight guy. The rest of them, you know, I'm a road rat. I'm no angel. 18 years of being on the road and not married...I went through a couple dozen women. So I'm not knocking that. I'll tell you one thing, people knock groupies, and it's wrong. You take women off the road, and you don't have the road. I mean, you saw what happened when I talked about England with no women. It was a disaster, and these women love the band! They are wonderful people, they're not stupid sluts. I hate when people say that. They're very okay girls. They're having a lifestyle. Don't call them sluts. You know, I'm sure your wife did something like that back in the day. People are so judgmental, it makes me nauseous. I go off on tangents, that one really bugs me.
Clutter: Circling back, if we understand your answer correctly, it sounds like, besides just behaving better, nothing was going to prevent the breakup of that original lineup. That if it's not one endorsement deal, someone's ego is going to get out of joint over something else at some point.
NM: You hit the nail on the head! In the book, I talk about when I first saw them, I wondered how long they would last. They had the potential to do everything to screw up...and they did. You know, the drugs got to them, and not like I didn't do drugs, but I couldn't be the business manager and do drugs...occasionally...You know, I drank, but I wasn't a drunk. Alex was a drunk. You put all those things together, and you're not going to last.
Now, unfortunately, they should retire. They are really messing up what is left of their legacy. Bitching in public and doing everything to make themselves look bad. And then Hagar comes in and says, "It's my band." Okay Sammy, go back home and play with your little goatee. No, you are not Van Halen. They're making a mockery of what they were. That hurts. I saw part of what they did for $240 a ticket. You know, they're doing nostalgia shows. People only go to it if they want to feel good about how they were 30 years ago. Well now, they're old. I'm old. They should sit by the pool, or shut up, but stop ruining your legacy.
Question #5: You just made it clear what you think they should do. What do you think they will do? Do you expect them to continue on this path?
NM: They don't have a future. If Edward had not become a drug addict, (he) should have matured as a musician. He's too drugged out. He was a brilliant guy. I expected him within four or five years to reinvent himself! He didn't. David comes out in a suit now, and he's bald. He's pathetic! I hate to see my band, who was so brilliant (now be) a shadow of themselves. They embarrass me. What I think they should do? Sammy should go down to his tequila place or wherever it is. Michael should go to Sue. David should try and find someone he can get along with and marry, and Edward, he's just an angry old man, which I don't even get. He's got 50 or 60 million dollars or more. He's got all of his sports cars and guns. He's got nowhere to go...they're not going anywhere.
Clutter: Whether or not you think it would be a good idea, do you think there's any chance they would ever go for the full nostalgia tour and bring Michael back on bass?
NM: I don't know, I don't know. What's the difference? Going back on stage with Mike, it doesn't bring the past back. What they did to him was horrendous. Disgusting.
Clutter: That was eye-opening.
NM: I mean they took millions from him! Is that (a reunion tour) going to make it up? No. Is he going to make the band what it was? No. They can't do anything to recreate the past. They've got huge dark rose-colored glasses on, and they're getting thicker every day, as they get dumber. I don't know how much dumber Ed could get, but even Dave's not hopping and bopping anymore. He's so zoned out, he thinks he can still not sing.
CM: Don't hold back, Noel. Tell us what you really think.
NM: I tend to be a very straight-forward guy. I don't kiss ass, I got no reason to belly-up to anybody. I've done what I've done, good, bad or indifferent. You're not going to hear me going, "Oh god, those poor boys. You're making sad and terrible decisions." They fucked up, and they should go away. That's not nice to say, and you may think I'm a jerk, but hey, you pay $240 and go watch them. I'll take $240 and not (do that.)
Clutter: We appreciate the honesty, and that's one of the things that makes the book such a great read. You really do describe the highs and the lows. It's not selling the band short. You recognize the things they did very well and give them credit for it, and you also don't hesitate to point out where they went wrong, and that's one of the main things that makes "Runnin' With the Devil" such a great read.
NM: They were a brilliant band! I had the best band in the world! Only Mick was maybe a better frontman, but that's a totally different genre! But when you have the best, and someone steps on your birthday cake, it pisses you off. My birthday cake was stepped on and ground on, and now I'm watching a bunch of old men fighting over legacy. When they can't do anything, you know. They can't do what they did. I don't care how much Hagar says, "Hey, David and I will split this thing!" Sammy? Come on! You're not part of Van Halen, and you never were. And Michael? You screwed him so bad, he's still sore. What are you going to do to make it up to him? Give him his $10 million you took from him? $20 million? They're not going to do that, but if you want to make it up to Michael, don't make him another side man and pay him chump change. Give him his money back. That's something they can do. Pay Michael the money they ripped him off for. They could pay me the money they ripped me off for.
You know, they didn't turn out into nice people, but they did start off as real nice kids. When I met them in '78, they were a good bunch of guys. I started off with a good, healthy, smart, brilliant, band. Best front man, best guitar player. Okay bass player. He's a great singer. Drummer? He's pretty good...can keep the beat...Neither one of them are essential. You know, like I said, if he wasn't Alex "Van Halen," you couldn't get him an interview! Now I saw him on the cover of a magazine as a "brilliant" drummer. I've seen brilliant drummers. I was at the Fillmore for two years as stage manager. I've seen brilliant drummers, and that said, Alex is not a brilliant drummer. You've got to understand one thing. If your younger brother was a genius, and you had to sit there and watch him for years get accolades and be a superstar, and you were a schlep drunk, wouldn't you be pissed?
Question #6: That's the end of the five questions. Would you like to take a bonus question, which would be, is there anything you'd like to plug or anything you'd like to say as a last comment to the folks who will be reading this?
NM: That's nice of you! As a matter of fact, there are. My wife and my daughter, Sarah is my daughter, Janice is my wife. The book would never have happened without them. My wife is a good writer, my daughter is a brilliant writer. They threw the editing at me. They did it. I couldn't do it, I'm not a great editor. I had written for 15 years. I don't know if you read "12 Days on the Road." It's a good book by the way, you should pick it up. Syd was my buddy, we were good friends. But I got Joe Layden, who is one of the finest writers. He made the book But Joe is just a unique writer and a brilliant writer.
Then I got Frank Weiman, my agent from Matt Harper at HarperCollins. They have a wonderful publicist there. I had a great team! It wasn't me writing the book. It was a bunch of us writing together. My wife and I were married in 1983 but got together in 1981, and she was on the whole 1984 tour. I have a really good memory, and I tell you, I have 3000 pieces of paper, 200 files. I'm a pack-rat. I've got my mic plots from the Fillmore. I came in because I'm a storyteller, you know? I remember things. I can tell you about working for (the Moody Blues) in '71...and did Woodstock. The bottom line is that was my contribution to the book. Without those other people, it couldn't have happened.
I think the book turned out very well, better than I thought it would, and that wasn't necessarily because of me, but because of the people that worked with me. That's all I've got to say.
Clutter: Alright, well we will end it on that note. Thank you once again for agreeing to do this. Thank you for writing it, thank you for sharing those stories.
NM: If it wasn't for guys like you, it wouldn't be out there, would it. I think people like you who like the book and talk about it made it happen like the fans made Van Halen happen, the radio people and the reviewers made my book happen. If you weren't there to say, "Go read this bloody book, it's interesting," you think anyone would buy it? I doubt it. You know, but with you having that kind of an attitude, it translates into people saying, "Well, maybe I will pick up this piece of junk," and then they'll like it. The bottom line is that people like you, through word of mouth, who talk out there, are the people who made the book happen. Certainly not from me yammering on the phone. People don't like a lot of the things I say. I offend people. But shit, that's the way it is. You know, let people read the book. Thank you. The thank you goes to you, not to me.
When I was with Van Halen, hey I was their manager! I can't sing or play an instrument, you know, that's not my forte. But I sure did what I could do to make them great, and I did the best I could. They might not have been pleased in the end. I don't understand that. I just don't understand it. Another world, you know. I could have, with three or four more years, made them into one of the biggest acts in the world. They didn't get to where they could have been. They could have been a monster band. They didn't want what I envisioned after '84. Just cut their head off. But it's their head, happened to be part my head.
They made a big mistake. A lot of it was definitely David's fault. He put that album out, there was no '85 tour! That was a key turning point. Thank you for having me (on Clutter), and I just appreciate it. I am not a selfish person. I give credit for where credit is due. Now I will let you go and ruminate.
Clutter: Thank you again. We really do appreciate your time, and thank you again for the book.
NM: You're welcome, and thank you.
(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Note: If you're going to quote from this interview, please do the right thing and both cite Clutter and include the link!
A crazy read that you won't be able to put down. (pic via amazon.com)
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Dey Street Books (June 13, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062474103
- ISBN-13: 978-0062474100
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