Eddie Van Halen does not listen to music. “I don’t listen to anything.” He does not listen to any music he isn’t actively making. The guitarist maintains that the last album he purchased was Peter Gabriel’s So, when it came out in 1986. He’s not familiar with the work of Radiohead, Metallica or Guns N’ Roses. He appears to know only one Ozzy Osbourne song Randy Rhoads played on, and it’s Crazy Train. He scarcely listened to Pantera, even though he spoke at the funeral of the group’s guitarist and placed the axe from Van Halen II inside the man’s casket. He doesn’t listen to the radio in his car, much to the annoyance of his wife (“I prefer the sound of the motor,” he says). He sheepishly admits he never even listened to most of the bands that opened for Van Halen and worries, “Does that make me an asshole?” Sometimes he listens to Yo-Yo Ma, because he loves the sound of the cello. But even that is rare.
“It’s an odd thing, but I’ve been this way my whole life,” he continues. “I couldn’t make a contemporary record if I wanted to, because I don’t know what contemporary music sounds like.”
As a high school student, he was obsessed with Eric Clapton and mildly interested in Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. That’s pretty much the extent of his investment as a consumer. He can intuitively learn almost any song he hears and works on his own music every day.
…. Van Halen is about to embark on a 40-plus-date North American tour. He will be joined by his drummer brother, Alex (whom he loves), his bassist son (whom he loves) and vocalist Roth (with whom he has no relationship whatsoever).
“He does not want to be my friend,” Van Halen says, seemingly bemused. “How can I put this: Roth’s perception of himself is different than who he is in reality. We’re not in our 20s anymore. We’re in our 60s. Act like you’re 60. I stopped coloring my hair, because I know I’m not going to be young again.”
Eddie would love to make another Van Halen album, but that plan has obstructions. “It’s hard, because there are four people in this band, and three of us like rock’n’roll. And one of us likes dance music,” he says. “And that used to kind of work, but now Dave doesn’t want to come to the table.” That said, Van Halen still seems more magnanimous to Roth than he does toward Hagar and Anthony. He swears he has no hatred for anyone, but his grudges run deep…
…While directing the ultimate California party band, Eddie Van Halen took little pleasure from partying. Drugs and booze were simply intertwined with a relatively hermetic lifestyle. In fact, most rumors about Van Halen’s drinking adopt an unusually dark tone, most notably a passage from Hagar’s 2011 autobiography Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock that portrays Eddie as a violent, booze-addled vampire, living inside a garbage house resembling the mansion from Grey Gardens.
“I was an alcoholic, and I needed alcohol to function,” he says now. For years, he awoke every morning with dry heaves. “I started drinking and smoking when I was 12. I got drunk before I’d show up to high school. My ninth grade science teacher, he could smell the alcohol, and he told me, ‘Don’t drink anything you can’t see through.’ And I was like, ‘So, vodka?’ And he said yeah. Which was great, because that was my drink…I’m not blaming my father at all, but he was an alcoholic, too. So in our household, it was normal. But it never affected his work, although I guess it didn’t affect my work, either. Around 2004, I suppose I became a very angry drunk. But [the stuff in Hagar’s book] was definitely embellished. That’s him painting a picture of something that never happened.”
Not surprisingly, Hagar stands behind his book’s depiction. “There is what Eddie says and there is the truth,” he says. “I’m happy to see that he’s healthy, sober and playing music again.”..
..[Also] he’s adamant that his son is a better bass player than the exiled [Michael] Anthony, almost to the point of overkill.
“Every note Mike ever played, I had to show him how to play,” Van Halen claims. “Before we’d go on tour, he’d come over with a video camera and I’d have to show him how to play all the parts.” He doesn’t even credit Anthony for his harmonic backing vocals, which fans classify as an integral part of the group’s signature. “Mike’s voice is like a piccolo trumpet. But he’s not a singer. He just has a range from hell,” he says. “Mike was just born with a very high voice. I have more soul as a singer than he does. And you know, people always talk about Mike’s voice on Van Halen songs, but that’s a blend of Mike’s voice and my voice. It’s not just him.” (Anthony’s rebuttal to these accusations is diplomatic: “I am proud to say that my bass playing and vocals helped create our sound. I’ve always chosen to take the high road and stay out of the never-ending mudslinging, because I believe that it ultimately ends up hurting the Van Halen fans.”)
The reasons Van Halen split with Anthony in 2006 are predictably complex — it involves Anthony’s relationship with Hagar, his lack of contribution to the songwriting process and the fact that he did not phone when Eddie developed cancer (or when Eddie and Alex’s mother died). But that conflict feeds into a larger question that’s more complicated: Why does Eddie Van Halen so often work with people he doesn’t seem to like?
…Because he feels obligated to do so.
“I think it’s now built into people’s DNA, that it just won’t be Van Halen if it’s not Roth’s voice,” he says. “This conversation brings me back to being in Pasadena Community College with Alex, where all these strict jazz guys would call us musical prostitutes, because we would be gigging at rock clubs every night and then stumbling into class the next day. But there 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.”
Read more at Billboard.