I was having an extremely shitty day this past Tues. (Oct. 6, 2020), and just when it was finally starting to look up…I heard about this. 😭
When I was a little girl in the ’80s, MTV ruled the world. They didn’t play hardly any R&B artists back then (get ’em together, Mr. Bowie!) and Hip Hop was alien to the channel until Yo! MTV Raps premiered circa ’88, but thankfully for my mom and I, our taste in music was eclectic. We lived for artists such as Duran Duran, Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, Flock of Seagulls, Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, The Police, and Van Halen.
Van Halen was founded by Eddie Van Halen and his older brother, Alex Van Halen. Eddie was born Edward van Halen in the Netherlands to a Dutch musician father and an Indonesian mother. No doubt his musical talents were inherited. When his family immigrated to the States, Eddie had trouble with bullies, due to the fact that English wasn’t his first language. Turns out the black kids in his neighborhood took up for him against the punks bullying him. I love my people. Circa 1972, the Van Halen brothers created their band under the moniker Genesis, and later Mammoth. Around 1974, it was decided that the name had to be changed again, and the band was officially christened Van Halen.
When I first heard of Van Halen, I had to be about 3 or 4 years old. My introduction to the band was their hit single “Jump,” which I loved immediately. After all, the song discussed something I loved to do back then: jumping. I believe I was in my mid to late 20s when I learned the song was really about going through with the act of suicide. Bummer.
As much as David Lee Roth intrigued me, I loved Eddie just as much. His presence shined through in the video, as well as the song itself. Not only did he kill the guitar and synthesizer solo, but that smile of his stole my young heart. What made Eddie even more endearing to me is that I later learned he provided the guitar solo for Michael Jackson’s (my first love) “Beat It.” Anyone that would do a collabo with Mike had to be a great guy.
I came to love other Van Halen songs from that time period such as “Dance the Night Away” (one of my favorite Van Halen songs), “Dancing in the Street” (best cover of the original, IMO. Sorry, Mr. Bowie), “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” and “Hot For Teacher.” The minute I hear the drum intro to “Hot For Teacher” I start jammin’.
Unfortunately, the David Lee Roth era ended, and the Sammy Hagar era began, but that didn’t stop Eddie from doing his thing (I mean, it was his and his brother Alex’s band, after all). Although the band’s sound changed from hard rock to a more mature and mellow vibe, Eddie and the fellas continued to release great songs. “When It’s Love” and “Why Can’t This Be Love” were among them, but my favorite track from the Sammy Hagar epoch was “Right Now.” Once again, Eddie killed the guitar and piano solos, and all the “right now” messages sprawled on the video spoke to me, even as a child. It’s a trip how even now in 2020, they’re still relevant.
Sometime after “Right Now” was released, Sammy left the group and I lost track of Van Halen for the most part. As I grew older, I’d hear about the group from time to time, and one of the first things I’d think about would be Eddie’s smile. I’d catch some glimpses of him over the years: once when David Lee Roth reunited with the group in ’96 (and promptly fell out with Eddie yet again) and again when David came back for good in the 2000s. I also remember hearing that Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, joined the band after bassist Michael Anthony left. It was really cool that the musical tradition in the Van Halen family continued.
I never stopped listening to old Van Halen songs. I especially loved catching old school Van Halen videos on VH1 Classic (now MTV Classic), namely from the David Lee Roth years (no disrespect to Sammy Hagar, but let’s face it, that was the best era, y’all!).
The last I heard from Eddie, he and LL Cool J got together for a collabo circa 2013, marking the second time the legendary guitarist/pianist did a song with one of my favorite men. I have to be honest, the song wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I’ll let y’all decide.
This past Tuesday, Eddie Van Halen passed away from throat cancer. He was 65 years old. Eddie was a musical genius who co-founded a band that helped shape my childhood, and provided joy to so many of us. He—and his warm smile—will be sorely missed.
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen: January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020
—Written by Nadiya
For you youngins that aren’t too familiar with Van Halen, check out some tracks from their greatest hits compilation below. If you’re already signed up with Spotify, you can hear the songs in their entirety.
Also, if you’re subscribed with Sirius XM, there’s currently an ongoing Van Halen tribute on channel 27. The tribute channel will only be active for a limited time, so definitely check it out whenever you can.