Eddie Van Halen: The true godfather of rock and roll
Our society has been faced with the sudden passing of many influential figures over the past few months: Chadwick Boseman, Neil Peart, Kelly Preston, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, St. Louis Cardinal legends Lou Brock and Bob Gibson but to me, the most soul-crushing loss has been that of guitar-genius Eddie Van Halen.
Van Halen passed on Oct. 6 after his twenty year battle with throat cancer. He’d famously blamed his diagnoses on his habit of putting metal guitar picks in his mouth but was also known as a notoriously heavy smoker.
The day after Eddie Van Halen’s death, I found myself aimlessly driving around Waterloo in my dinky Nissan Micra blaring the band’s emotional classic I’ll Wait. “If Eddie Van Halen can die, what the hell am I worth?”
I hadn’t thought much about the band over the past few years and hadn’t listened to them consistently since I was fifteen, but the second I’d received a text notifying me of Van Halen’s death, I couldn’t shake the anguishing thought that music would never be the same.
There is a constant debate throughout the rock and roll community on who the greatest guitar player of all time is. Some say Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry, David Gilmore, Brian May and, if they’re smart, some even say Pete Townshend.
But to me, there truly is no debate. Eddie Van Halen was and forever will be the greatest human being to ever play guitar. Just as Keith Moon will forever be superior to John Bonham, Eddie beats Hendrix any day.
When I first began collecting vinyl records at the age of twelve, I made it a point to collect the entire discography of the select bands I couldn’t keep off my hand-me-down Pioneer turntable: Queen, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Doors and of course, Van Halen.
My Van Halen obsession was kick started by sheer luck. My father had given me two options: David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar—the band’s two vocalists. I hadn’t favoured either at the time. I just happened to prefer the cover of Roth’s Van Halen II over Hagar’s 5150—and thank God for that.
But that was only my introduction. The moment I fell in love came much later. I’d been spinning the band’s debut self titled album Van Halen, when the second track on the album began the play. Eruption—a two minute long Eddie Van Halen guitar solo—is something you’d expect out of tailored veteraned soloists, never from a rookie.
It’s one of those moments that makes you truly question atheism. “You’re telling me this wasn’t made by the gods? How can something so beautiful not be a product of celestial intervention?” I have the track on repeat as I write and the longer it plays, the harder I find it to fight back tears.
Eruption quickly transitions into a cover of The Kinks You Really Got Me, a perfect juxtaposition of improvisational musical talent and rhythmic shredding. Another example of Eddie Van Halen’s true mastery of his instrumental talent lies on the band’s 1982 album Diver Down.
Listen to Van Halen’s Intruder gracefully transition into Roy Orbison’s classic (Oh) Pretty Woman and you’ll never again have a doubt in your mind that these guys knew exactly what they were doing. Just as The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band and With A Little Help From My Friends will forever belong as a pair, as should these two Van Halen masteries.
Van Halen is the pinnacle of both glam metal and old fashion rock and roll. No band has ever or will ever produce a more unifying, euphoric rock anthem than Dance the Night Away.
Screw Bohemian Rhapsody, screw Free Bird and especially, screw anything written by Bruce Springsteen. Eat your heart out, John Lennon. Eddie Van Halen takes the cake eight days a week.
Eddie lives on through his son Wolfgang and his brother Alex—both members of the band at one point or another—and of course through his musical legacy. The guitar is nothing without Van Halen nor is the rich tradition of rock and roll.
Thanks to artists like Kanye West, Lana Del Rey and whoever sings that wretched WAP song, I feel I can confidently say there will never again be someone as musically perfect as Eddie Van Halen.