(Book Review) Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen
It's been just over a year since Eddie Van Halen died, but it's still hard to believe that the guitar icon is no longer with us. The man reinvented his instrument, both with his playing approach and technical innovations., setting the stage for legions of imitators to try to copy him. He lit up the rock music landscape for almost 50 years, from infamous backyard parties in high school, to Los Angeles clubs, and then arenas around the world. He was a creative force who went through some mind-blowing highs and dark lows during the course of his life. However, those who saw him perform live in 2015 will tell you he sounded as good as ever.
It felt like we'd have many more years of new music to appreciate, but things don't always work out the way you'd like. All fans can do now is look back at the vast body of work and appreciate that it happened in the first place. One way to do that is by reading the new book, Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen by Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill. (out now) The authors both have extensive histories as guitar journalists, and they spoke with Van Halen numerous times over the years. Now they've teamed up to write a comprehensive look back at this creative genius.
Eruption has a little something for everyone: There's a detailed recap of the band's career that traces their journey from David Lee Roth, to Sammy Hagar to Gary Cherone, back to Roth, back to Hagar, and then finally Roth again one last time. There's an exhaustive look at the evolution of Eddie Van Halen's creative process over the years, and how he constantly created new music. Given Tolinski and Gill's backgrounds, there's also a thorough review of EVH's technical creativity. The man constantly pulled guitars apart and tinkered with them, always trying to capture the sound he heard in his head. Finally, there's the first real discussion we've seen of Eddie's "lost years" after the failure of the Van Halen III album, and before the band reunited with Roth again, this time with Wolfgang Van Halen playing bass.
Eruption tells the story of a man obsessed from an early age with making music. After a rough childhood saw him bullied as an immigrant who didn't speak English when he first arrived in the United States, playing was apparently the only time he felt most comfortable in his own skin. His never-ending creativity took a toll on his personal and professional lives, as well as his health, but he felt like being a musician was his role on this planet. He was continuing the family tradition with his father, and eventually his son, and was determined to overcome the negative influences who traumatized him when he was young. It's repeatedly explained in the book that he was most at peace with himself throughout his life when he was playing the guitar.
There are plenty of excerpts of old Eddie interviews to pour over, and they offer a revealing look at the man. You can see his insecurities and how they drove him over the years. It's also clear that playing with Alex and Wolfgang meant the world to him. There are also some new interviews conducted specifically for the book. They include Michael Anthony, Gary Cherone, and former manager Ray Danniels, among others.
They're all fascinating to read, but it's a little frustrating that it's not always clear when the old interviews took place. Sometimes they appear to have been around the time of the events being discussed, but sometimes there's clearly a gap. It's also notable that there's one interview fairly early on where Eddie blasts Michael Anthony in harsher terms than we've ever seen used anywhere else. However, most of the later quotes about the band's former bassist are at least closer to neutral. What was happening in the first interview that generated the lack of diplomacy?
The authors are unabashed fans of the late guitarist, which is understandable, considering the impact he had on their careers. However, the tone of the book is a little heavy on the fawning. The scandals/soap operas are discussed, but for the most part, Eddie's share of the responsibility is downplayed, and the other people involved consistently shoulder more of the blame in these chapters. There could have been a little less of the fan boy approach, but the book is still a worthwhile read.
Eddie Van Halen's story ended prematurely at the age of 65. It's a loss that the world will never hear his mastery of the guitar live again, or see where his musical experimenting would have taken him next. All we can do is put on an album, and be thankful that we ever had the opportunity to experience the magic. Eruption is a fine tribute to his groundbreaking journey.
A fascinating life. (pic via post-gazette.com)
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