Eddie Van Halen never really followed the rules!
He was an accomplished and influential musician who couldn’t read music. He was a doting father and loyal brother who struggled to maintain relationships with key collaborators. He was a forever-young and energetic rocker who battled significant and painful medical conditions for years before succumbing to cancer earlier this year at the age of 65.
It takes moxie to rock the world for four decades, and Eddie Van Halen had it!
Moxie is innately talented.
Though he could not read music, Eddie Van Halen was an innately talented musician. He took piano lessons from an early age but played by ear and by watching his teacher’s hands and imitating the movement. He taught himself to play guitar by listening to albums.
He would shut himself away for hours alone in hotel rooms playing into a tape recorder, exploring new ideas. He mastered “tapping,” playing with both hands on the neck of the guitar, creating stunning, complex arpeggios that seem impossible for a single guitarist to achieve.
“I think he’s the Mozart of our generation,” claims Wolfgang Van Halen, son of Eddie and a musician in his own right.
You could chalk it up the adoration to hyperbole from the lips of a loving son, but others seem to share his high opinion. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him eight on their Top 100 Greatest Guitarists list. Mike McCready of Pearl Jam compared hearing Van Halen’s playing on “Eruption” to “hearing Mozart for the first time.”
Mozart was invoked again when the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame paid tribute to Van Halen shortly after his death. “He had the kind of talent that maybe comes around once a century. Eddie Van Halen inspired me to practice 20,000 hours to try to get within a hundred miles of his inspired mastery of the electric guitar,” said Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
When multiple people compare you to Mozart, it’s a pretty good bet there’s something there. Van Halen was a musical genius whose influence lives on.
Moxie is fraught.
Genius is often accompanied by conflict, and Eddie Van Halen was no exception! The band Van Halen kicked off in 1972, and in its 40-plus year run, conflict was central. Van Halen had complicated relationships with some of the people most connected to his success.
David Lee Roth brought a party-friendly pop sensibility to the group that contributed to its early success, but his attention-grabbing ways and strong point of view caused friction. Roth eventually left the band, and Sammy Hagar stepped in as a lead singer. Within a few years, that relationship dissolved in conflict, too. Over the years both Roth and Hagar have reunited with Van Halen for tours, but it’s all business. There was no camaraderie outside the gig, but the chemistry is crucial for creating.
“There is a fury and an antagonism and what comes out of that, when it’s good, oh man, that’s retina-bursting,” Roth told an interviewer. But the conflict was constant. “And then you assign yourself to the producer who will either take Eddie’s side or my side; you’re either a Dave guy or an Eddie guy. You’re all mature enough to understand that we’re all pirates here. Of course, you’re gonna betray me.”
But despite the conflict, Eddie Van Halen was committed to continuing to collaborate with Roth.
“[T]here is an element of music that is for the people. You make music for people. Otherwise, just play in your closet. And how do you reach the most people? By giving them the band that they know. To do it any other way would be selfish,” he said.
Moxie loves wholeheartedly.
As antagonistic as Van Halen’s relationship with his on-again, off-again bandmates might have been, his relationship with his son was overwhelmingly positive. When bassist Mike Anthony was ousted from the band, Eddie Van Halen filled his spot with Wolfgang, the son whom he shared with former wife Valerie Bertinelli.
Van Halen’s son Wolfgang released a video tribute to his father in the weeks after his death. The tribute included a montage of videos and photos of the elder Van Halen with his son. It includes an audio clip of Eddie Van Halen saying “I’m so happy to have you as my son. I’m so proud of you and I love you so much.” His voice is filled with conviction and emotion.
Perhaps the most remarkable part about the clip is that it wasn’t remarkable at all. The message wasn’t in response to anything in particular. His father left voice mail messages like that for him all the time, Wolfgang told ET’s Kevin Frazier.
“He used to leave me messages like that all the time,” he said. “There wasn’t a specific occasion that warranted that voice mail, that was just how loving and amazing he was. He said stuff like that all the time.”
Sadly, we will never get to conduct a MoxieTalk with the musical genius of a modern-day Mozart, but if we could, what should we have asked him?
Eddie Van Halen’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Van_Halen
Van Halen’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Halen
Valerie Bertinelli’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Bertinelli