The era of the big arena rock bands touring the country like Barnum & Bailey is no more. Those bigger than life cartoon stereotypes were destined for extinction just like the dinosaurs. They're not all gone, but the survivors have been forced to the bottom of the food chain. I recently wrote about Jan & Dean and other acts from the 1960's eking out a living playing at state fairs and amusement parks, now it's the hard rock bands from the early 1980's playing those same venues. Van Halen will join them soon it's inevitable. The Flying V is not the same anymore, David Lee Roth is back, but he's far from a balls-out rocker anymore. Eddie Van Halen has had his drug problems and it's really starting to show, I've seen some recent photos of him that are both scary and sad. As for Alex Van Halen, who the fuck cares and what the hell was that other guy's name? it doesn't matter, he was fired and replaced by Eddie's teenage son, Wolfgang.
To say that their best days are behind them is to say that ice is cold, but it wasn't always like that. Van Halen, they were the young lions ready to usurp the old guard and spit at convention. Although, ironically, Van Halen was very conventional, they didn't really do anything that much different, they just did it louder and faster. In the fall of 1977, a group of us motored from Norton AFB in San Bernadino, to the poor man's Disneyland: Magic Mountain. We weren't there for the rides, Van Halen was booked for that evening. Yep! Diamond Dave, Eddie, Alex and what's his name, on the cusp of stardom, were playing a gig at an amusement park. The guys I was with weren't familiar with the band and after we went in they vanished. After searching for them in the crowd, I settled in next to a group of angry guys who with their carefully primped hair and long sleeve polyester shirts, stood out from the dressed down crowd. One guy in particular was not happy, as he exclaimed "What the fuck is this? Punk Rock!" he turned to his buds "What the fuck is this?" his pals cowered "What is this shit, sounds like fuckin' punk rock?" the alpha male was agitated. He then turned towards the stage and shot the band a deuce, and for emphasis shouted "Fuck You" while adding a gay slur that I'll refrain from repeating. Nobody seemed to care, except for the security staff, who quickly moved in around him. Magic Mountain like Disneyland, put an emphasis on maintaining order. He tried to puff himself up, but lost his nerve and along with his boys, discreetly slipped off into the darkness. "Go back to Riverside" one staffer yelled at them, at that moment I became a Van Halen fan.
They weren't punk, far from it, but they were different enough to make meatheads like that nervous. It wasn't long before the fame and fortune went to their heads and they lost me. In the early eighties, Rolling Stone magazine leaked the details of the band's contract rider. Along with other demands it specified that a bowl of M&M candies, with all of the brown ones removed, was to be available in their dressing room. I read that and thought to myself "These guys are fucking idiots" M&M's as everyone knows, taste the same no matter what color they are. Later, David Lee Roth would explain that it was done as a precaution signifying that the provisions of their contract were being honored down to the smallest detail. While they had worked hard to earn their rock star moment, in truth it was a shameless abuse of power. That old show biz adage "Be kind to the people you meet on the way up, because you'll meet them again on the way down" does hold true, in all walks of life. Ten years later you can bet the asshole who flipped them off went around telling everyone "Fuck Yeah! I saw those guys before they were famous."