Interview with Eddie Van Halen: Is Rock ‘n’ Roll All About Reinvention?

Interview with Eddie Van Halen: Is Rock ‘n’ Roll All About Reinvention?

September 21, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


[ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] [ LAUGHS ] [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE CONTINUE ] HAVE A SEAT. WELL, HI, EVERYBODY. [ CHUCKLES ] THAT WAS A NICE LITTLE… HELLO?
…OPENING. IS THIS THING ON?
YEAH. [ LAUGHS ] WELL, I FIRST MET EDDIE
IN 2009, AND IT WAS WHEN I INTERVIEWED
HIM FOR CNN. IT WAS AT HIS 5150 STUDIO, AND HE WAS ROLLING OUT
A NEW GUITAR FOR HIS EVH LINE
WITH FENDER. AND I HAVE TO SAY THAT YOU GUYS ARE REALLY
IN FOR A TREAT TONIGHT. YOU’RE GONNA GET A CHANCE
TO HEAR HIS STORY AND ALSO FIND OUT A LITTLE BIT
OF WHAT MAKES HIM TICK. AND AT THE END
OF THE NIGHT, I’M SURE YOU’RE GONNA WANT HIM
TO BE YOUR BEST FRIEND. [ CHUCKLES ] [ LAUGHS ] [ LAUGHTER ] MAYBE NOT. [ LAUGHS ] WELL, THIS IS
A NICE INTIMATE CROWD. YOU’RE USUALLY
USED TO ARENAS. THIS IS… IT’S ABOUT AS FAR
AS YOU CAN SEE IN AN ARENA. [ LAUGHTER ] WELL, LET’S HEAD
INTO THE PROGRAM. THE THEME OF TONIGHT IS
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL AND REINVENTION COUPLED WITH WHAT IT’S LIKE
TO BE AN AMERICAN. AND THIS IS KIND OF
YOUR STORY, TRULY. YEAH,
I’D HAVE TO SAY SO. LET ME START OFF BY SAYING THAT MY FATHER WAS
A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN, CLASSICALLY TRAINED
ON CLARINET AND SAXOPHONE, AND HE TRAVELED THE WORLD
MAKING MUSIC. AND HE MET MY MOTHER
IN INDONESIA. AND AFTER THE WAR — INDONESIA USED TO BE
A DUTCH PROVINCE. AND AFTER THE WAR,
THEY HAD A CHOICE. EITHER REMAIN UNDER THEIR RULE
OR MOVE BACK TO HOLLAND. AND THEY OPTED
TO MOVE BACK TO HOLLAND, WHERE LIFE BECAME
A LITTLE ROUGH BECAUSE MY MOM BECAME
A SECOND-CLASS CITIZEN BECAUSE
SHE’S INDONESIAN. SO, HERE SHE IS, STUCK AT HOME WITH TWO RUGRATS,
ALEX AND I, AND MY FATHER’S OUT
TRYING TO GET GIGS, WHICH KEPT HIM FROM HOME
FOR WEEKS AT A TIME. EVENTUALLY, YOU KNOW,
WITH THE BIG-BAND ERA AND EVERYTHING COMING
KIND OF TO A CLOSE, IN ORDER TO MAKE MONEY
TO HAVE ANY KIND OF GIG AT ALL, HE JOINED THE AIR FORCE
IN HOLLAND TO PAY THE RENT. AND SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE,
WHEN HE TURNED 42, HE SAID TO MY MOM, “LET’S PACK UP THE KIDS
AND THE PIANO AND MOVE TO BEVERLY.” [ LAUGHTER ] EXCEPT IT WASN’T BEVERLY HILLS,
THAT IS. WE CAME TO AMERICA
ON A BOAT. NINE DAYS ON A BOAT. AND HE PERFORMED ON THE BOAT
WITH THE BAND, AND THAT WAS OUR TICKET
OVER HERE. AND ONE DAY, HE COMES UP TO ALEX
AND I AND HE GOES, “WHY DON’T YOU GUYS PLAY PIANO
DURING THE INTERMISSION?” SO, WE ENDED UP PERFORMING
ALSO ON THE BOAT, WHICH SHOWED US THE QUIRKS
OF BEING A PERFORMER, OR THE PLUSSES OF IT,
BECAUSE THE NEXT NIGHT, WE’RE AT THE CAPTAIN’S TABLE
EATING DINNER. [ LAUGHTER ] SO, WE FOUND OUT
AT AN EARLY AGE, YOU KNOW, WHAT BEING ON STAGE MEANT,
YOU KNOW, TO A CERTAIN EXTENT. BUT ANYWAY, SO WHEN WE FINALLY ARRIVED
IN PASADENA, CALIFORNIA, IT WAS ROUGH. MY FATHER, YOU KNOW,
A CLASSICALLY TRAINED MUSICIAN, HAD TO WALK THREE MILES
TO GO WASH DISHES. HE WAS A JANITOR
AT MASONIC TEMPLE AND PACIFIC TELEPHONE. MY MOM WAS A MAID. AND THERE WAS ALWAYS
A COMMON THREAD OF MUSIC IN OUR FAMILY EVER SINCE WE WERE YOUNG
IN HOLLAND. YOU KNOW, SOMEWHERE,
MY MOM HAD A SENSE THAT WE WERE GONNA FOLLOW
IN MY FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS. AND KNOWING THAT
IN THE BACK OF HER HEAD, SHE INSISTED THAT WE START BEING
CLASSICALLY TRAINED ON PIANO ALREADY IN HOLLAND. THAT’S WHY WE BROUGHT THE PIANO
WITH US. BUT ANYWAY,
SO WE COME TO AMERICA, AND MY MOM BEING A MAID
AND MY DAD… THE THING JUST CUT OUT. IT’S BACK. AND HE DIDN’T KNOW
ANY OTHER MUSICIANS, REALLY. AND, YOU KNOW,
THE MUSICIAN’S UNION WAS THERE, BUT THEY WEREN’T
OF MUCH HELP AT THE TIME. BUT SLOWLY, HE STARTED MEETING
OTHER MUSICIANS, ALSO, YOU KNOW,
IMMIGRANTS. AND HE STARTED GIGGING
ON THE WEEKENDS BECAUSE BEING A JANITOR
AND A MAID AND ALL THAT STUFF, IT DIDN’T PAY THE RENT, AND WE LIVED IN ONE ROOM. WE SLEPT IN ONE BED IN A HOUSE
WITH TWO OTHER FAMILIES. SO, IT WAS ROUGH GOING. SO, THE ONLY THING, AGAIN,
THAT SAVED US WAS MY DAD GIGGING
ON THE WEEKENDS MAKING MUSIC. AS WE GREW
A LITTLE BIT OLDER, ALEX STARTED PLAYING DRUMS
WITH MY DAD. AND I’LL NEVER FORGET. ‘CAUSE HE HAD LONG HAIR, HE HAD TO TAKE A WHOLE JAR
OF VASELINE, AND — WHAT WAS THAT STUFF CALLED,
VITALIS? AND JUST SLICK HIS HAIR BACK,
YOU KNOW? TOOK HIM DAYS
TO GET IT OUT. AND THEN EVENTUALLY, I ENDED UP PLAYING BASS
WITH THEM. AND I DIDN’T KNOW MY “A”
FROM A HOLE IN THE GROUND, BUT THESE, YOU KNOW,
FUNNY SONGS, YOU’RE LIKE — WE WERE PLAYING,
YOU KNOW, OOMPAH MUSIC. EVERYTHING FROM OOMPAH MUSIC
TO WALTZES TO, YOU KNOW, WEDDINGS,
BAR MITZVAHS, YOU NAME IT. AND AL WOULD YELL TO ME
WHICH CHORD TO PLAY. YOU KNOW, HE’D GO,
“ONE, FOUR, FIVE. NO, YOU FUCKED IT UP.” [ LAUGHTER ] BUT — DOES HE STILL DO THAT? BLEEP THAT OUT. [ LAUGHTER ] I DON’T LISTEN ANYMORE.
NO. [ LAUGHS ] ANYWAY, SO MUSIC
WAS JUST A COMMON THREAD THROUGHOUT OUR LIVES. WE WERE BORN IN HOLLAND,
MUSIC IN THE HOUSE. WE USED TO STOMP AROUND
THE LIVING ROOM TABLE WITH POTS AND PANS AND, YOU KNOW,
MARCHING AROUND, LISTENING TO BIG BAND
MARCHING MUSIC. AND WE ALWAYS
LIKED THINGS LOUD. EVERYTHING HAD TO BE LOUD,
YOU KNOW? BUT AS WE GOT OLDER, WE CONTINUED TO TAKE
PIANO LESSONS, AND MY MOM HAD PUT US
IN THESE CONTESTS, THESE ANNUAL CONTESTS WHERE YOU PRACTICE ONE PIECE
OF MUSIC ALL YEAR LONG, AND — I’M GOING WAY OFF
THE SUBJECT HERE. NO, THIS IS FASCINATING. ANYWAY, YOU PRACTICE
ONE PIECE OF MUSIC ALL YEAR, AND THE FUNNY THING IS I NEVER LEARNED
HOW TO READ MUSIC, AND I FOOLED
THE TEACHER. I WAS JUST BLESSED
WITH GOOD EARS. I’D WATCH HIS FINGERS AND
EMULATE WHAT HE DID, YOU KNOW? HE DIDN’T FIND OUT
TILL MUCH LATER THAT I COULDN’T READ. HE ACTUALLY FOUND OUT
ONE TIME WHEN HE WAS PLAYING
A NEW PIECE OF MUSIC, AND HE ASKED ME
TO TURN THE PAGE FOR HIM, AND I’M SITTING GOING… [ LAUGHTER ] HE GOES,
“WHAT’S THE MATTER? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO TURN
THE PAGE.” I’M GOING,
“WELL, I CAN’T READ.” HE’S GOING, “WHAT?” YOU KNOW, THIS IS AFTER
LIKE FIVE YEARS OF LESSONS WITH THE GUY, AND HE FINALLY FOUND OUT, WHICH HE WASN’T
TOO HAPPY ABOUT. BUT THE FUNNY THING IS — OKAY, THESE PIANO CONTESTS
THAT THEY PUT US INTO, YOU’RE NOT EVEN ALLOWED
TO READ, OKAY? YOU CAN’T USE
SHEET MUSIC, SO IT WAS ACTUALLY
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE FOR ME TO NOT BE ABLE TO READ. I COULD NOT LOOK UP
AND DO THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. I HAD TO SEE
WHAT MY FINGERS WERE DOING. BUT THESE PIANO CONTESTS, ACTUALLY, BOTH ALEX AND I WON
THREE YEARS IN A ROW. I THINK I WON FIRST PRIZE
THREE YEARS IN A ROW, AND AL WON FIRST PRIZE,
SECOND PRIZE, WHATEVER. BUT WE ALWAYS WON, AND IT’S KIND OF LIKE IN PHASES
WHERE YOU GO IN AND YOU PLAY, AND THEN YOU WAIT AN HOUR TO SEE IF YOUR NAME
GETS WHITTLED DOWN. I HAD NO IDEA.
IT WAS LIKE 5,000 KIDS, OKAY? THEN IT WOULD GO DOWN
TO 2,000, AND YOU’D SEE IF YOUR NAME
IS STILL ON THE LIST. AND IT WOULD GO DOWN
TO 100 PEOPLE AND THEN 10 AND THEN 5,
AND WE’RE GOING — ALEX AND I ARE BOTH GOING,
“COME ON, LET’S JUST GO HOME. WE’RE NOT GONNA MAKE IT,”
YOU KNOW? AND MY DAD WAS ALWAYS THE ONE
THAT SAID, “NO, NO, NO. WAIT, WAIT, WAIT.
CHECK IT OUT.” AND, WELL, THERE IT WAS.
WE WERE IN THE TOP 5. AND THEN WE ENDED UP WINNING,
WHICH WAS GREAT. BUT THAT WAS
THE PIANO PHASE, SO THAT WAS 9, 10, 11 YEARS OLD
THAT I DID THOSE CONTESTS. AND THEN WE DISCOVERED
THE BEATLES AND DAVE CLARK FIVE, AND OF COURSE, LIKE ANY KID,
WE WANTED TO ROCK AND ROLL. AND I QUIT PIANO LESSONS AND CONTEST CIRCUITS,
SO TO SPEAK, AND SAID, “I WANT TO GET MYSELF
A DRUM KIT.” ‘CAUSE I LIKED THE SONG
“GLAD ALL OVER”… [ IMITATES DRUMS ] …BY DAVE CLARK FIVE. AND I WANTED TO PLAY DRUMS,
SO I GOT A PAPER ROUTE, BOUGHT A ST. GEORGE DRUM KIT
FOR 125 BUCKS. AND MY MOM
SOMEHOW CONVINCED MY BROTHER TO STILL DO SOMETHING
MUSICALLY RESPECTABLE, WHICH WAS TAKE
FLAMENCO GUITAR LESSONS. NOW, FORGIVE ME
IF MY MEMORY OR RECOLLECTION IS DIFFERENT FROM YOURS,
AL, BUT ALL I REMEMBER IS ME GOING OUT
AND THROWING THE PAPERS AND COMING HOME,
AND HE’S PLAYING MY DRUMS. AND I’M GOING, “OKAY.” YOU KNOW, P.O.’d ME A BIT
IN THE BEGINNING, YOU KNOW? AND THEN FINALLY,
I JUST SAID, “OKAY, HE’S JUST BETTER
THAN I AM.” SO, I NEVER WANTED TO PLAY
GUITAR, BUT I SAID, “OKAY, GO AHEAD,
TAKE MY DRUMS. I’LL PLAY
YOUR DAMN GUITAR.” [ LAUGHTER ] [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] THE FUNNY THING IS
WHEN I WATCHED ALEX PLAY — YOU PROBABLY SAY
THE EXACT OPPOSITE — OR THE SAME THING,
EXCEPT TO ME — AND THAT IS THAT
TO WATCH AL PLAY DRUMS WAS LIKE HE WASN’T JUST
KEEPING TIME, HE WAS MAKING MUSIC
ON THE DRUMS. IT JUST CAME
SORT OF NATURAL TO HIM, WHEREAS
HE’LL PROBABLY SAY THE GUITAR WAS JUST
SO EASY FOR ME. AND WE’RE BOTH RIGHT. YOU KNOW? [ LAUGHTER ] YOU KNOW,
WE ENDED UP ON THE — IT WAS DESTINY. IT DOES SEEM LIKE
THE UNIVERSE HAS A WAY OF SHAKING OUT THE WAY
IT’S SUPPOSED TO, DOESN’T IT? NOW, YOU DIDN’T TAKE
FORMAL GUITAR LESSONS IN THE SAME WAY
THAT YOU TOOK PIANO LESSONS. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. I, INSTEAD OF READING A BOOK,
I WROTE MY OWN, SO TO SPEAK. I’D SAY THAT 90% OF THE THINGS
THAT I DO ON GUITAR, IF I HAD TAKEN LESSONS
AND LEARNED BY THE BOOK, I WOULD NOT PLAY AT ALL
THE WAY I DO. AS A MATTER OF FACT, BECAUSE OF THE THINGS
THAT I CREATED TECHNIQUE-WISE AND WHATEVER
THE WAY I PLAY, THEY HAD TO REINVENT
A WHOLE NEW WAY TO WRITE MUSIC, ‘CAUSE THEY COULD NOT EXPLAIN
WITH REGULAR NOTES WHAT I WAS DOING
WITH THIS HAND. SO THEY HAD TO CREATE A WHOLE
NEW THING CALLED TABLATURE. WITH SYMBOLS
AND THINGS? YEAH,
WITH SYMBOLS AND NUMBERS AND WHAT FINGER’S WHERE
AND BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. AND THE FUNNY THING IS,
OKAY, I CAN’T READ MUSIC. NOW THEY COME UP WITH
A NEW WAY TO WRITE IT, AND I CAN’T MAKE SENSE
OUT OF THAT AT ALL, SO I DON’T HAVE A CLUE
IF IT’S RIGHT OR WRONG. [ LAUGHTER ] WELL, CAN WE FLASH BACK
ALL THE WAY TO 1978? THAT’S WHEN VAN HALEN’S
SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM HIT THE STORES, AND IT REALLY KIND OF TURNED
THE MUSIC INDUSTRY ON ITS HEAD. DO YOU GUYS AGREE? [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] THERE WERE SOUNDS THAT HE WAS
MAKING WITH HIS GUITAR THAT NOBODY
HAD EVER HEARD BEFORE. THE SOUNDS
ON THAT RECORD WERE A LOT OF YEARS
OF EXPERIMENTATION AND TEARING APART GUITARS
AND OPENING UP AMPLIFIERS AND GETTING ELECTROCUTED
AND THROWN ACROSS — YOU KNOW,
KICKED AROUND, AND… AND, UH… YEAH, IT WAS A LOT OF — BY THE TIME
THE FIRST RECORD CAME OUT, WE HAD WORKED SO HARD
TO MAKE THAT RECORD, TO GET TO THAT POINT. ‘CAUSE DON’T FORGET, BEING A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BAND
IN 1977, ’78, IT’S KIND OF
WHAT IT’S LIKE TODAY, EXCEPT BACK THEN,
THERE’S PUNK AND DISCO THAT WAS, YOU KNOW,
DOMINATING THE CHARTS. THERE’S NO ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
TO BE HEARD OF. SO, FOR US TO SUCCEED
IN THAT, AMONGST OR IN THE MIDDLE
OF THAT — AND ANYWAY,
BUT THE SOUNDS. LET ME START BY SAYING
I WAS NEVER HAPPY — I GUESS WHAT DRIVES ME
TO TEAR THINGS APART IS SOME OF IT IS NECESSITY, AND SOME OF IT
IS JUST EXPERIMENTING, ‘CAUSE I’M ALWAYS PUSHING THINGS
PAST WHERE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. I HATE TO BRING UP
“SPINAL TAP,” BUT, YOU KNOW, WHILE THEY’RE
GOING TO 11 AT THE TIME, I WAS ALREADY GOING TO 15,
YOU KNOW? I WAS WAY PAST THAT. BUT SO ANYWAY, WHAT I REALLY
LOVED ABOUT A FENDER GUITAR WAS THE VIBRATO BAR, EXCEPT THEY ONLY CAME
WITH SINGLE-COIL PICKUPS. WHICH AT HIGH VOLUME, THEY SQUEAL
AND THEY’RE VERY THIN-SOUNDING UNLESS YOU USE SOME KIND OF
DISTORTION PEDAL OR WHATEVER, WHICH I COULD NOT AFFORD,
YOU KNOW? AND THERE’S
THE OTHER COMPANY, GIBSON, THAT MADE A LES PAUL — LES PAUL WAS A DEAR FRIEND
OF MINE, ALSO — WHICH MADE HUMBUCKING PICKUPS,
WHICH WERE SIMILAR TO THESE. THEY CANCELED THE HUM,
AND IT HAS A MUCH FATTER SOUND. SO, I PROCEEDED TO FIND
A COMPANY THAT MADE KNOCKOFF BODIES
AND NECKS OF FENDERS. A COMPANY CALLED
BOOGIE BODIES. AND I WENT OUT THERE AND SAID,
“HOW MUCH FOR A BODY?” HE GOES, “OH, YOU DON’T WANT
ONE OF THOSE.” I GO, “WHY NOT?” THE GUY GOES,
“THEY’RE SECONDS.” I THOUGHT HE MEANT
THOSE ARE NEXT TO BE MADE. YOU KNOW, WHAT HE MEANT WAS
THOSE ARE JUNK. “WE CAN’T SELL THOSE
‘CAUSE THEY HAVE KNOTS AND, YOU KNOW,
THEY’RE DAMAGED.” I SAID,
“GREAT, I’LL TAKE ONE.” [ LAUGHTER ] SO, I BOUGHT A $50 BODY
AND $75 NECK, AND I PROCEEDED TO TAKE
A CHISEL AND A HAMMER AND MAKE A HOLE BIG ENOUGH FOR A GIBSON PICKUP
TO PUT IN THERE. AND OF COURSE, THAT PICKUP HAD TO COME OUT
OF A GUITAR SOMEWHERE, SO I RUINED THAT GUITAR
BY RIPPING THE PICKUP OUT. BUT I KNEW
I WAS ONTO SOMETHING. SO, I SCREWED THE PICKUP
STRAIGHT INTO THE WOOD. AND A STRATOCASTER
ACTUALLY HAS THREE PICKUPS, SO I ROUTED OUT THE BODY AND CRAMMED
THE HUMBUCKING PICKUP — AND MIND YOU, EVERYTHING WAS UNSOLDERED
AND JUST LAYING THERE. IT HAD THREE KNOBS
AND TWO PICKUPS OVER HERE. AND I HAVE ONE PICKUP THAT
I WANTED IN THERE, AND I GO, “OKAY, NOW HOW AM I GONNA
HOOK THIS BACK UP?” I HAD NO CLUE
HOW TO HOOK IT BACK UP. SO I WONDERED
IF IT WOULD WORK IF I JUST HOOKED
THE HUMBUCKING PICKUP STRAIGHT UP THE ONE KNOB,
AND IT WORKED. SO I JUST RIPPED EVERYTHING OUT,
THREW IT AWAY, AND MADE MY OWN PICK GUARD
TO COVER THE HOLES, AND THAT’S WHAT ENDED UP
BEING THAT GUITAR. WITH ALL
YOUR EXPERIMENTATION, WAS THERE EVER ANYTHING
THAT DIDN’T WORK? LIKE, DO YOU HAVE
A WHOLE GRAVEYARD FULL OF
INSTRUMENTS THAT — YES. [ LAUGHTER ] YES. I’VE DESTROYED MANY
ACTUAL VINTAGE GUITARS, TAKING JUST CHOICE PIECES OUT
THAT I WANTED FOR THIS AND THAT. SO THEN FINALLY, OKAY,
THEN I HAD THE GUITAR BUILT, AND I GUESS ONE OF THE
MOST OFTEN ASKED QUESTIONS IS, WHAT PROMPTED
THE PAINT JOB? THAT I HAVE NO ANSWER FOR
THAT EXCEPT I’M SITTING THERE WITH A BLANK PIECE OF WOOD
WITH A GUITAR AND IT SOUNDED GREAT
AND DID EVERYTHING I WANTED, AND I PAINTED IT BLACK, AND I’M GOING,
“IT LOOKS KIND OF BORING.” THERE’S SOME TAPE LAYING THERE,
AND I JUST STARTED TAPING IT UP, TAKE A RAZOR BLADE
AND JUST CUT PIECES OUT, AND SPRAY PAINTED IT WHITE
AND THEN TOOK IT ALL OFF. AND I’M GOING,
“HEY, THIS IS KIND OF COOL.” IT WAS REALLY
AS SIMPLE AS THAT. THERE WAS NO “I HAVE TO MAKE
A PIECE OF ART,” YOU KNOW? [ LAUGHTER ] EVEN THOUGH
IT’S INTERESTING-LOOKING. AND THEN LATER ON,
THE RED GUITAR IS THE SAME GUITAR
AS THE WHITE ONE. I TAPED OVER IT AGAIN
AND SPRAY PAINTED IT RED. BUT — AND THAT LED
TO A LOT OF PEOPLE KIND OF COPYING, YOU KNOW,
THE GRAPHIC DESIGN. IT BECAME STANDARD
IN THE INDUSTRY. ALL OF A SUDDEN,
EVERYBODY WAS MAKING SINGLE — I MEAN, A HUMBUCKING
IN A STRAT-STYLE BODY. BUT THERE’S SO MANY OTHER THINGS
THAT I DID, LIKE POTTING THE PICKUP,
WHICH — OKAY. IF YOU GET UNWANTED
HIGH-SQUEAL FEEDBACK, YOU KNOW, LIKE IF YOU EVER WATCH
A PUBLIC SPEAKER AND YOU GET THIS REAL ANNOYING
“EEE,” YOU KNOW? I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE GOOD KIND OF FEEDBACK
WHEN YOU’RE PLAYING. I’M TALKING ABOUT
ANNOYING HIGH SQUEAL. NOW, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT
PROMPTED ME TO THINK THIS, BUT I WAS THINKING,
“OKAY, COIL WINDINGS. VERY THIN COPPER WIRE AROUND THESE PLASTIC THINGS
WITH A MAGNET.” AND I’M GOING, “MAYBE IT’S THE LITTLE
COIL THINGS VIBRATING.” SO, I PROCEEDED TO EMPTY ONE
OF MY MOM’S YUBAN COFFEE CANS AND WENT TO THE STORE
AND BOUGHT SOME PARAFFIN WAX AND GOT A HOT PLATE, AND AGAIN, PROCEEDED TO RUIN
MANY PICKUPS ‘CAUSE I FORGOT
THAT THE PICKUP BOBBINS, YOU KNOW,
THE BLACK AND WHITE PART THAT YOU SEE THERE,
THAT THEY’RE PLASTIC. AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT
TEMPERATURE TO DIP THEM AT, SO I MELTED
A LOT OF PICKUPS. AND THEN I FIGURED, “OKAY,
I’LL JUST HOLD ON TO IT, AND AS SOON AS I SEE
AN INKLING OF SHRIVEL, I’M GONNA YANK IT OUT.” AND IT WORKED. AND PEOPLE STILL USE
THAT TECHNIQUE. THAT BECAME A STANDARD
IN THE BUSINESS NOW, TOO. EVERY COMPANY DOES THAT. IT’S LIKE ALL THIS STUFF THAT COMES OUT OF
YOUR MAD SCIENTIST BRAIN. OR IS GIVEN TO ME
FROM SOMEWHERE. I DON’T KNOW. YOU KNOW, SAY THE CROSSING
A GIBSON WITH A FENDER WAS A CONSCIOUS,
YOU KNOW, OUT OF NECESSITY ‘CAUSE THERE WAS NO GUITAR
ON THE MARKET THAT DID WHAT I WANTED. SO, THAT WAS A NECESSITY. THE PAINT JOB
WAS NOT A NECESSITY. POTTING A PICKUP, I HAVE NO IDEA
WHAT MADE ME THINK THAT. SO, THEN I HAD A GUITAR, AND I USED TO WORK
AT A MUSIC STORE DELIVERING PIANOS
AND ORGANS, AND ONE DAY,
A MARSHALL AMP COMES IN. I’VE ONLY SEEN PICTURES
OF THESE THINGS, YOU KNOW? ONLY ERIC CLAPTON,
GODS PLAY THESE, YOU KNOW, NOT KIDS ON THE STREET. AND I SAID,
“I GOT TO HAVE THAT AMP.” SO, I WORKED ALL SUMMER
TO BUY THAT AMP. AND WE WERE ALREADY TOO LOUD,
AS IT WERE. I’M SURE YOUR NEIGHBORS
LOVED YOU. NOW I HAVE A 100-WATT MARSHALL
THAT WAS SO DAMN LOUD THAT I DID EVERYTHING
FROM FACE IT BACKWARDS TO LEAVE IT FACEDOWN,
YOU NAME IT. AND WE’D BE AUDITIONING
IN CLUBS, AND, “NO, YOUR GUITARS
ARE TOO PSYCHEDELIC, TOO LOUD, AND TOO MUCH
UNCONTROLLED ENERGY, AND BLAH, BLAH, BLAH,
BLAH, BLAH,” YOU KNOW? ALL THIS STUFF BECAUSE
I WAS JUST TOO DAMN LOUD, OKAY? I SAW AN AD IN THE PAPER
FOR ANOTHER MARSHALL HEAD. I’M GOING, “WELL, MAYBE
THIS ONE WILL BE DIFFERENT.” WELL, IT CERTAINLY WAS, ‘CAUSE WHEN IT SHOWED UP
AND I PLUGGED IT IN, IT DIDN’T WORK. BUT I LEFT IT ON, OKAY? WHAT I DIDN’T REALIZE WAS
THAT THIS THING WAS FROM ENGLAND AND IT WAS 220 VOLTS. SO I PLUGGED IT INTO THE WALL,
AND IT WAS SET — I DIDN’T BOTHER TO LOOK
IN THE BACK UNTIL LATER, BUT IT WAS SET ON 220. SO IT TOOK A LONG TIME FOR IT
TO WARM UP AT HALF VOLTAGE. AND WHEN I PICKED UP MY GUITAR,
I’M GOING, “IT SOUNDS INCREDIBLE,”
BUT INCREDIBLY QUIET. IT WAS SO QUIET THAT ONLY MY DOG AND I
COULD HEAR IT, YOU KNOW? [ LAUGHTER ] AND THEN IT DAWNED ON ME. I’M GOING, “WAIT A MINUTE.
THE VOLTAGE,” OKAY? “I CAN CONTROL THE LEVEL
OF THE AMP OUTPUT BY VOLTAGE.” SO I PROCEEDED
TO TRY TO HOOK IT ON TO THE LIGHT DIMMER
AT THE HOUSE, BLEW THE POWER OUT,
AND SO ON AND SO ON. SO FINALLY, I WENT TO THIS PLACE
CALLED DIAL RADIO IN PASADENA
ON COLORADO BOULEVARD, AND ASKED,
“DO YOU GUYS MAKE ANY KIND OF INDUSTRIAL
VARIABLE TRANSFORMER, LIKE A HUGE LIGHT DIMMER,”
YOU KNOW? AND YEAH. HE GOES, “YEAH, WE GOT
THIS THING CALLED A VARIAC.” AND I SAID, “OKAY, COOL.” SO, I TAKE IT HOME
AND I PLUG THE AMP HEAD INTO IT. AND I WOULD LOWER THE VOLTAGE
FROM 110 SLOWLY DOWN TO 100. THE LOWEST I EVER WENT
WAS LIKE 60. DEPENDING ON THE SIZE ROOM
YOU’RE PLAYING, I’D SET IT
ANYWHERE BETWEEN 60 AND 100. AND THAT BECAME — BECAUSE THE ONLY WAY
THE AMP SOUNDED GOOD WAS WITH EVERYTHING
ALL THE WAY UP, AND IF IT WAS RUNNING
AT 110 VOLTS, IT WAS JUST SO DAMN LOUD,
YOU KNOW. SO THAT BECAME MY VOLUME KNOB,
YOU KNOW? WHEN WE USED TO PLAY GAZZARRI’S,
I’D HAVE IT DOWN TO 60 VOLTS. IF WE PLAYED SOMEWHERE
A LITTLE BIT BIGGER, I’D CRANK IT TO 80. AND FOR RECORDING, THE SWEET SPOT
SEEMED TO BE 89 VOLTS. THERE SEEMS TO BE, THOUGH,
A RECURRING THEME, AND THAT
YOU’RE ALWAYS PUSHING. YOU KNOW,
YOU ALWAYS WANT TO SEE WHAT IS BEYOND
WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING. MORE POWER,
MORE VOLUME. YES. [ LAUGHTER ] MORE IS ALWAYS BETTER,
RIGHT? [ LAUGHS ] IT’S LIKE — WHAT’S THE OLD
SAYING ALEX AND I ALWAYS HAD? IF IT’S ALL YOU CAN EAT
FOR A BUCK, GIVE ME THREE BUCKS’ WORTH. [ LAUGHTER ] BUT IT’S — TO ME, IT’S JUST
A NATURAL EVOLUTION, YOU KNOW? I’M ALWAYS TINKERING
WITH THINGS. THE MAIN THING I ALWAYS ASK
MYSELF IS, “WHAT IF I DO THIS?” YOU KNOW? “I WONDER WHAT’LL HAPPEN
IF I DO THIS?” AND A LOT OF TIMES,
OPEN UP AN AMP AND ACCIDENTALLY HIT A CAPACITOR
AND WENT BRRRRK! YOU KNOW,
LIKE MIKE TYSON, YOU KNOW, KICKED YOU
IN THE CHEST. BUT, YOU KNOW,
THROUGH TRIAL AND ERROR, I CONTINUED
TO PUTZ AROUND WITH STUFF. IT ALSO GOES WITH
YOUR PLAYING TECHNIQUE, TOO. BECAUSE YOU’RE KNOWN
FOR PLAYING WITH BOTH YOUR RIGHT HAND
AND YOUR LEFT HAND ON THE FRETBOARD. YEAH, WHICH BRINGS ME TO,
LIKE, I CAN — I CAN DEMONSTRATE. CAN YOU DEMONSTRATE? [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] WHOOPS. THERE GOES THE EARPIECE. BUT IT’S WORTH IT IF WE GET
THE GUITAR IN HIS LAP. THERE IT IS.
GOT IT. IS IT WORKING?
YEAH, GOOD. OKAY, LET’S SEE
IF WE CAN DO THAT AGAIN. I DIDN’T KNOW THIS WAS GONNA BE
A STRIPTEASE IN ADDITION. IS IT HOOKED ON
TO MY JACKET? GOT IT. [ LAUGHTER ] MORE POWER. OKAY, SO, YOU KNOW,
A LOT OF PEOPLE, YOU KNOW,
BEFORE THE INTERNET, NOBODY COULD SEARCH THINGS
AND WHATEVER. BUT, YOU KNOW,
LATELY EVERYBODY’S GOING, “OH, EDDIE VAN HALEN
DIDN’T INVENT TAPPING AND PULL HAMMER-ONS
AND PULLOFFS AND THIS AND THAT,” AND I NEVER CLAIMED THAT I DID. BUT I DO KNOW HOW AND WHEN
I FIGURED OUT HOW TO DO IT. AND ON TOP OF THAT, I NEVER REALLY HEARD ANYBODY
DO WITH IT WHAT I DID, WHICH IS
ACTUAL PIECES OF MUSIC. I’LL NEVER FORGET
ALEX AND I USED TO GO TO EVERY CONCERT
AT THE FORUM IN L.A., AND LED ZEPPELIN’S PLAYING, AND JIMMY PAGE
IS GOING LIKE THIS. HE’S GOING… [ GUITAR PLAYS ] OKAY, SO HE’S GOT HIS HAND
UP IN THE AIR, AND I’M GOING… [ GUITAR PLAYING ] [ TAPPING NOTES ] SO, BASICALLY,
I JUST MOVED THE NUT. OKAY? THIS PART RIGHT HERE’S
THE NUT. BUT THEN,
INSTEAD OF USING THIS HAND, I USE THIS HAND. SO, LIKE RIGHT NOW,
IF I GO LIKE THIS… [ TAPPING NOTES ] …YOU CAN’T TELL
WHICH FINGER I’M USING. THIS HAND OR THAT HAND. YOU TELL ME,
RIGHT HAND OR LEFT HAND. [ TAPPING NOTES ] I USE THEM BOTH, OKAY? [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] NO, SO MY POINT BEING IS
IT’S BASICALLY THIS FINGER, OR THESE TWO,
OR HOWEVER MANY YOU WANT TO USE IS JUST AN EXTENSION
OF THIS HAND, OKAY? SO, IF I’M PLAYING AN “A”… [ GUITAR PLAYING ] [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] THEN, YOU KNOW,
FIGURING THAT OUT, THEN I STARTED ACTUALLY MAKING
LITTLE PIECES, YOU KNOW, LIKE “ERUPTION.” [ “ERUPTION” PLAYS ] SO, THAT’S — [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] SO, THAT’S THE TAPPING OR THE — I DON’T EVEN KNOW
WHAT THEY CALL THE STUFF. I DIDN’T CALL IT ANYTHING. IT WAS JUST, YOU KNOW,
PART OF MY PLAYING. BUT THEN CAME STUFF LIKE THE INTRO TO A SONG
CALLED “MEAN STREETS,” WHERE I’M GOING LIKE THIS. [ “MEAN STREETS” PLAYS ] AND THEN HARMONICALLY, DOING… [ “MEAN STREETS” PLAYS ] SO IT’S JUST HARMONICS
BY TAPPING. [ GUITAR PLAYING ] YOU KNOW, JUST STUFF LIKE THAT. [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] AND PEOPLE ASK ME, YOU KNOW,
WHERE ARE THESE HARMONICS? WELL, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE. IF YOU JUST GO LIKE THIS… [ GUITAR PLAYING ] …YOU KIND OF HEAR THEM
PINGING OUT. [ PLAYING RESUMES ] THEY’RE LIKE… [ PLAYING RESUMES ] AND IF YOU KNOW WHERE THEY ARE
AFTER A WHILE, YOU CAN DO THIS STUFF. [ GUITAR PLAYING ] OR — I DON’T HAVE
THE RIGHT EFFECTS, BUT… [ NOTES TAPPING ] IT DOESN’T SOUND RIGHT. [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] AND, YOU KNOW, BEING
THE ONLY MELODIC INSTRUMENT IN A THREE-PIECE BAND — ACTUALLY BEFORE THAT, IT WAS JUST BASICALLY
ALEX AND I. SO, WE BOTH JUST FILLED
EVERY HOLE POSSIBLE. IF THERE WAS A HOLE,
WE FILLED IT, YOU KNOW? AND IT’S — BUT THE MAIN REASON
WHY I SQUEEZE SO MANY, YOU KNOW, CALL THEM TRICKS,
CALL THEM WHATEVER, TECHNIQUES OUT OF A GUITAR
WAS OUT OF NECESSITY BECAUSE I COULDN’T AFFORD
THE PEDALS, YOU KNOW? COULDN’T AFFORD A WAH-WAH PEDAL,
COULDN’T AFFORD A FUZZ BOX AND ALL THE TOYS
THAT EVERYBODY ELSE HAD. SO, I DID EVERYTHING I COULD TO GET SOUNDS OUT OF THE GUITAR
WITH MY FINGERS. KIND OF NECESSITY
LEADS TO INNOVATION. YEAH. IN A LOT OF WAYS.
YEAH. WHO WERE SOME
OF YOUR MUSICAL HEROES? WELL, MY FATHER,
TO BEGIN WITH. YOU KNOW, WE WERE SURROUNDED
BY MUSIC FROM DAY ONE. AND HE LIVED LONG ENOUGH
TO SEE OUR SUCCESS. AS A GUITARIST, ERIC CLAPTON WAS MY HERO BECAUSE HE WAS
A STRAIGHT-AHEAD GUY, JUST PLUGGED HIS GUITAR
STRAIGHT INTO AN AMP AND, YOU KNOW, IS VERY ORGANIC,
SO TO SPEAK. WASN’T A LOT OF B.S.
IN BETWEEN. SO, YEAH,
I LIKED HIM DURING CREAM. AFTER CREAM, I KIND OF
LOST INTEREST IN HIM, AND BASICALLY STOPPED LISTENING
TO MUSIC ALTOGETHER. I DIDN’T LISTEN TO MUCH
OF ANYTHING AFTER THAT. WHY IS THAT? I WAS SO BUSY AND WRAPPED UP
IN MY OWN LITTLE WORLD THAT I JUST DIDN’T — YOU CAN ASK ALEX
OR MY SON. YOU KNOW, WHAT’S
THE LAST RECORD I BOUGHT? [ MAN SPEAKING INDISTINCTLY ] PETER GABRIEL’S “SO.” [ LAUGHTER ] AND THE RECORD BEFORE THAT,
I DON’T HAVE A CLUE. YOU KNOW?
I’M JUST NOT ONE — PROBABLY AN 8-TRACK.
HUH? IT WAS PROBABLY
AN 8-TRACK. A CASSETTE. BUT YEAH, I NEVER LISTEN
TO THE RADIO IN MY CAR, ‘CAUSE I LIKE TO HEAR
THE ENGINE OF THE CAR. [ LAUGHTER ] THIS IS THE MAN WHO, YOU KNOW,
ENJOYS SOUNDS, RIGHT? YEAH. THAT’S PROBABLY
WHAT KIND OF — ACTUALLY, ONE OF MY CARS
IS ON THE RECORDING, TOO, ON THE BREAKDOWN
IN “PANAMA,” WHERE IT GOES,
“OH, I’M A LITTLE HOT TONIGHT,” AND THEN VROOM! THAT’S ONE OF MY CARS. [ LAUGHTER ] DID YOU ALL KNOW THAT,
OR IS THAT A NEW ONE? Woman:
WHAT’S THE MAKE AND MODEL? OH, A 1972
MIURA S LAMBORGHINI. [ SCATTERED APPLAUSE ] WHICH I STILL HAVE TODAY. [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] NOW,
YOU TALK ABOUT CLAPTON BEING AN EARLY INFLUENCE
OF YOURS, BUT I THINK YOU ALSO WERE
LISTENING TO JIMI HENDRIX. NOT SO MUCH, ACTUALLY. NO?
NO. JIMMY PAGE?
ANY OF THOSE GUYS? YOU KNOW,
IT’S LIKE UNLESS… NO, NOT REALLY. UNLESS THEY WERE SONGS
THAT ALEX OR OUR BASS PLAYER
AT THE TIME, MARK STONE, WOULD COME IN WITH AN ALBUM
AND SAY, “HEY, WANT TO LEARN THIS SONG
BY THIS BAND,” I USUALLY WASN’T THE ONE
TO PICK THE SONGS WE PLAYED. IT’S INTERESTING BECAUSE
ALL OF THOSE ICONIC GUITARISTS, THEY ALL PLAYED
OFF-THE-RACK GUITARS. YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE
WHO SAID, “MNH-MNH. THAT’S NOT
GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME.” WELL, OBVIOUSLY,
IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM, BUT IT WASN’T FOR ME,
YOU KNOW? DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING
EXCEPT THAT, REALLY. WELL, THE SOUNDS THAT YOU WERE
MAKING WITH VAN HALEN, REALLY KIND OF CHANGING
THE MUSICAL LANDSCAPE, IT REALLY KIND OF INSPIRED
A WHOLE ERA OF COPYCATS. YEAH, WHICH AT FIRST,
YOU KNOW, I KIND OF WENT… YOU KNOW, AT FIRST,
IT KIND OF PISSED ME OFF. [ LAUGHTER ] THEN I STARTED THINKING,
“OH, GOD, WHAT DID I START?” [ LAUGHTER ] BUT THEN, YOU KNOW, MY BROTHER
AND MY FATHER BOTH TOLD ME, YOU KNOW, IMITATION IS
THE BIGGEST FORM OF FLATTERY, SO I JUST LET IT GO
AT THAT. ‘CAUSE WITH ME, IT WAS JUST
THE WAY I PLAYED, YOU KNOW? IT WASN’T LIKE
I WAS COPYING ANYONE. BUT I THINK AT THAT TIME,
PEOPLE — YOU KNOW,
ALL THE RECORD LABELS WERE LOOKING FOR THEIR OWN
VERSION OF VAN HALEN, YOU KNOW, WITH A GUITAR GOD
AND COPYING YOUR HAIR, THE WAY YOU DRESS,
EVEN YOUR STAGE PRESENCE. [ LAUGHTER ] I’M NOT A RECORD COMPANY EXEC.
I DON’T KNOW HOW THEY THINK. [ LAUGHTER ] IN FACT, DIDN’T
YOUR OWN RECORD LABEL TRY TO GET A BAND THAT
SOUNDED LIKE VAN HALEN, TOO? OH, I’M SURE THEY DID. YEAH. WELL, YOU’VE HAD
THREE DIFFERENT SINGERS… YEAH. …IN VAN HALEN. DOES IT CHANGE THE WAY
YOU WRITE MUSIC TO WORK WITH
THESE DIFFERENT SINGERS? I THINK IT’S
A NATURAL PROGRESSION. I DON’T THINK IT’S — IT DEFINITELY WASN’T
DIFFICULT FOR US BECAUSE IT STARTS WITH THE MUSIC
ALL THE TIME, ANYWAY. SO, IF ANYTHING, IT WAS MORE
OF THEM HAVING TO ADAPT TO US THAN US
ADAPTING TO THEM. BUT I THINK, YOU KNOW,
YOU WOULD THINK THAT THEY WOULD HAVE
DIFFERENT LIKES AND DIFFERENT MUSICAL
CAPABILITIES, AS WELL. NO, IT WAS MORE LIKE, “YOU SING THIS
OR YOU’RE NOT IN.” NO, I’M KIDDING. [ LAUGHTER ] I’M JOKING.
I’M JOKING. YOU KNOW. YOU KNOW, THERE’S ALWAYS A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF FRICTION
IN A BAND. IF YOU HAVE FOUR MEMBERS AND THEY ALL LIKE
THE IDENTICAL THING, YOU’RE GONNA HAVE
NO VERSATILITY, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? IT’S LIKE, I LISTENED TO MORE
PROGRESSIVE MUSIC, WHEN I DID. ALEX LIKED
STRAIGHT AHEAD ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. DAVE WAS INTO DISCO. [ LAUGHTER ] AND — NO, FOR REAL,
YOU KNOW? AND TOGETHER, YOU KNOW,
IT MADE A SOUP. YOU KNOW? AND WHAT CAME OUT OF IT,
YOU KNOW, IT DIDN’T REALLY AFFECT
THE MUSIC, YOU KNOW, BUT HARMONY-WISE,
SONG STRUCTURE, THINGS LIKE THAT,
YOU KNOW. THERE WERE A LOT OF ELEMENTS OF A LOT OF THINGS
THAT WE ALL GREW UP ON. WELL, WHAT IT KIND OF
AMOUNTED TO, I THINK, FOR A LOT OF US
IN THIS ROOM IS THAT VAN HALEN
REALLY WAS THE SOUNDTRACK FOR AN ENTIRE GENERATION. HOW DO YOU FEEL
ABOUT THAT? [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] TWO THUMBS UP. WELL, I MEAN,
IT’S AN HONOR, YOU KNOW? I MEAN,
VERY FEW BANDS HAVE — ARE AS LUCKY AS WE HAVE
TO STILL HAVE AN AUDIENCE, YOU KNOW,
AFTER PUSHING 40 YEARS. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
IN RECENT YEARS HAS KIND OF TAKEN A BACKSEAT
TO POP, TO HIP-HOP. DO YOU THINK
IT CAN MAKE A COMEBACK? I THINK IT HAS GONE AWAY,
COME BACK, GONE AWAY, COME BACK
SO MANY TIMES, I WOULD BET ANYTHING
THAT IT’S COMING BACK. I MEAN, DON’T FORGET, WE GOT SIGNED
IN THE MIDDLE OF PUNK AND DISCO. THEY LAUGHED AT US. YOU KNOW, “WHAT ARE THESE GUYS
DOING PLAYING ROCK ‘N’ ROLL? IT’S ‘GET DOWN TONIGHT,’ MAN. KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND,”
YOU KNOW? WHICH YOU USED TO PLAY, RIGHT,
WHEN YOU WERE DOING COVERS? BUT IT SOUNDED LIKE
BLACK SABBATH WHEN WE DID IT. [ LAUGHTER ] THAT’S ANOTHER THING,
YOU KNOW. IN THE CLUB DAYS, WE HAD TO PLAY
TOP 40 TO GET THE GIGS, AND IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME
TO EMULATE THESE RECORDS. I COULD NOT MAKE — FOR THE LIFE OF ME,
I TRIED SO HARD TO MAKE THE SONGS
WE HAD TO PLAY, TO MAKE THEM SOUND LIKE
THE RECORD. BUT IT WAS ALSO
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE, ‘CAUSE ALL I CAN DO IS ME. NO MATTER WHAT I PLAY,
IT SOUNDED LIKE ME. AND THAT’S WHY
WHENEVER YOU HEAR VAN HALEN, YOU KNOW IT’S VAN HALEN
BECAUSE THAT’S ALL WE CAN DO. YOU HEAR ALEX’S DRUMS, YOU KNOW IT’S HIS DRUMS,
YOU KNOW? IT’S JUST THE NATURE
OF THE BEAST, YOU KNOW. OTHERWISE, YOU PROBABLY WOULD’VE
BECOME STUDIO MUSICIANS. [ LAUGHTER ] WELL, YOU RECENTLY CELEBRATED
YOUR 60th BIRTHDAY. HAPPY BIRTHDAY. THANK YOU. [ APPLAUSE ] I FEEL LIKE
A 60-YEAR-OLD PUNK KID WHO PLAYS GUITAR
IN A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BAND, AND I’M SO BLESSED
AND SO HONORED TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT, MAKING MUSIC WITH MY SON
AND MY BROTHER. [ APPLAUSE ] IT’S REALLY KIND OF
VAN HALEN LEGACY BUILDING. I MEAN, YOU’RE BUILDING
A THIRD GENERATION OF VAN HALEN MUSICIANS. WOLFY JOINED THE BAND
IN 2006. WAIT TILL YOU HEAR
HIS RECORD. [ LAUGHS ] WHEN IS THAT COMING OUT?
PARDON? WHEN IS THAT COMING OUT? OH, THEY JUST STARTED. YOU KNOW,
PROBABLY END OF THE YEAR. BUT THIS IS NOT POP TALKING.
THIS IS REAL TALK. IT BLEW MY MIND. LOOKING FORWARD
TO HEARING THAT. OH, YEAH. BRINGING THE ROCK BACK,
WOLFY? [ LAUGHS ] WELL, YOU GUYS ALL MET
ALEX AND WOLFY HERE SITTING
IN THE AUDIENCE. [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] WHAT ADVICE
DID YOUR FATHER GIVE YOU THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE SURE
WOLFY KNEW? [ SIGHS ] THINGS HE ALWAYS
USED TO SAY TO US WAS THAT YOU CAN LEARN
FROM EVERYBODY WHAT TO DO
AND WHAT NOT TO DO. MOSTLY WATCH PEOPLE
FOR WHAT NOT TO DO. AND IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE,
TRY TO DO IT TWICE AND SMILE. [ LAUGHTER ] ‘CAUSE THAT WAY,
PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU MEANT IT. YOU KNOW,
HIS DUTCH TERMINOLOGY. [ SPEAKS DUTCH ] JUST MEANS JUST KEEP PEDALING
AND SMILE. CAN WE TALK ABOUT LES PAUL
FOR A MINUTE? OH, YEAH.
VERY DEAR FRIEND OF MINE. A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING YOU’RE THE HEIR TO THE TORCH
HE CARRIED FOR HALF A CENTURY. I MEAN, YOU BOTH WRITE,
PLAY, YOU BOTH INNOVATE. A LOT OF KINDRED SPIRITNESS
THERE. A LOT OF FUNNY STORIES. I MEAN, HE —
I’D KNOWN HIM FOR YEARS, AND HE — YOU KNOW, HE LIVED IN NEW YORK,
SO EAST COAST. AND HE’D CALL ME UP,
AND IT’S 3:00 IN THE MORNING, AND I’M GOING
“[Groggily] HELLO?” HE’S GOING,
“EDDIE, IT’S LES.” I’M GOING, “RIGHT.” [ CHUCKLES ] I’M GOING, “OH, HI, LES.
THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S 3:00.” BUT WE’D PICK EACH OTHER’S
BRAIN, YOU KNOW, ABOUT, “SO, WHAT ARE YOU
TINKERING AROUND WITH NOW?” YOU KNOW, AND I REMEMBER
ONE OF OUR CONVERSATIONS, I SAID, “WELL, YOU KNOW, I’M HAVING SUCH A PROBLEM
FINDING THE RIGHT PICK. YOU KNOW, I CAN’T HOLD ON
TO THE DAMN THING, SO I TOOK SOME KRAZY GLUE
AND CUT OUT SOME SANDPAPER AND KRAZY GLUED IT TO THE PICK
SO I CAN HOLD ON TO IT.” HE’S GOING,
“YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING. THAT’S WHAT I’M DOING
RIGHT NOW.” [ LAUGHTER ] AND THAT’S FOR REAL.
THAT’S FOR REAL. IT’S LIKE WE WERE DEFINITELY
CONNECTED IN A STRANGE WAY. AND HE WOULD ALWAYS END
THE CONVERSATION BY, “YOU KNOW SOMETHING,
EDDIE? YOU, ME, LEO FENDER, WE’RE THE ONLY ONES THAT KNOW
HOW TO BUILD A GUITAR.” [ LAUGHTER ] [ APPLAUSE ] HE WAS A WONDERFUL,
WONDERFUL MAN, AND, YOU KNOW,
I’M SO GLAD THAT MY SON HAD THE OPPORTUNITY
TO MEET HIM ON THE ’07 TOUR? YEAH. ON THE ’07 TOUR
BACKSTAGE IN NEW YORK. AND REMEMBER HE ASKED ME
ABOUT THE TAPPING THING, AND I ALMOST GOT HIM TO DO IT,
YOU KNOW? [ LAUGHTER ] ‘CAUSE HE SAID, “SHOW ME
HOW YOU DO THAT TAPPING STUFF,” AND I SAID, “OKAY, HERE.” AND THEN
AT THE LAST MINUTE, WE EITHER HAD TO GO ON
OR SOMETHING OR HE BACKED OUT AND SAID,
“NAH, I BETTER NOT,” YOU KNOW. BUT THAT WAS A MOMENT
TO CAPTURE, YOU KNOW? OR, YOU KNOW,
A MOMENT TO REMEMBER. DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU’RE
LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM? OH, COME ON. COMING HERE WITH
APPROXIMATELY $50 AND A PIANO, NOT BEING ABLE TO SPEAK
THE LANGUAGE, GOING THROUGH EVERYTHING
TO GET TO WHERE WE ARE, YEAH, IF THAT’S NOT
AN AMERICAN DREAM, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS. YOU KNOW? [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] YOUR FATHER PASSED AWAY
IN 1986, SO HE GOT TO SEE
THE SUCCESS THAT YOU HAD. YES,
HE DID GET TO SEE IT. HE USED TO SIT
ON MY SIDE OF THE STAGE NEXT TO THE MONITOR GUY, AND YOU COULD JUST SEE HIM
JUST BOOGIEING AND, YOU KNOW, SMILING,
AND TEARY-EYED SMILING. HE WAS JUST SO HAPPY
HE WAS CRYING. SO, YEAH, HE GOT TO SEE
THE SUCCESS THAT HE DIDN’T HAVE, YOU KNOW, WHICH INDIRECTLY,
HE DID GET, YOU KNOW. WELL, HE’S THE ONE
WHO HAD THE NAME VAN HALEN. OBVIOUSLY, HE WAS… [ LAUGHTER ] WITHOUT HIM,
WE WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN, SO YEAH. SO… WELL, I’M SURE —
BUT YEAH. OH. NO, I’M SURE
HE WAS INCREDIBLY PROUD. I MEAN REALLY, ONLY IN AMERICA
IS IT STILL POSSIBLE, YOU KNOW? IT’S ALL ABOUT FREEDOM, AND YOU PUT YOUR NOSE
AND TAIL TO IT, AND IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING
THAT YOU WANT TO DO, I REALLY STILL THINK THAT IF YOU JUST DON’T STOP,
YOU KNOW? WELL, THOSE ARE GREAT WORDS
TO KIND OF THINK ABOUT AS WE LEAVE HERE. BUT IN THE MEANTIME, WE HAVE SOME QUESTIONS
FROM THE AUDIENCE. Woman: KEITH. THERE WE GO.
THANK YOU. WE DO HAVE SOME QUESTIONS
FROM THE AUDIENCE. WE LEFT SOME TIME ASIDE
FOR ALL OF YOU GUYS. THERE ARE TWO OF US
WITH MICROPHONES. THEY’LL APPROACH THE PEOPLE
WITH THE QUESTIONS. I WANT TO SAY THAT PLEASE SAY YOUR FIRST
AND LAST NAME BEFORE YOUR QUESTION. THIS IS BEING RECORDED. IT’LL BE UP ON THE whatitmeanstobeamerican.org
WEBSITE FIRST THING
TOMORROW MORNING. YOU CAN SHARE WITH FRIENDS,
FAMILY, COLLEAGUES, AND OTHER AMAZING FANS
WHO COULD NOT MAKE IT TONIGHT. DANIELLE’S GOT THE FIRST
QUESTION ON THE LEFT. Lambdin: HELLO, ED.
OVER HERE. MY NAME IS JOHN LAMBDIN. Van Halen:
HEY, NICE SHIRT. HEY, GREAT ALBUM. [ APPLAUSE ] BY THE WAY, THANK YOU
FOR BEING THE MUSICAL OASIS FOR ALMOST EVERYONE IN HERE. YOUR DEBUT ALBUM WAS RELEASED
37 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK. ACTUALLY,
IT WAS TWO DAYS AGO. WHEN YOU FINISHED RECORDING IT, WHAT WAS YOUR PERSONAL FEELINGS
OF HOW IT WOULD BE RECEIVED BASED ON THE MUSICAL LANDSCAPE
OF THAT TIME? HMM. LIKE I SAID EARLIER,
WE WERE — YOU KNOW, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
WAS NOT AT THE FOREFRONT AT ALL ON THE CHARTS OR ANYTHING, SO WE DIDN’T HAVE A CLUE,
REALLY. BUT WHAT GOT US
TO GETTING A RECORD DEAL IS THE SAME THING
THAT MADE THAT RECORD SUCCEED, WHICH IS WE JUST PLAYED
EVERYWHERE NONSTOP. WE WERE ON THE ROAD
FOR 11 MONTHS SUPPORTING THAT RECORD. WE DID 23 GIGS IN 25 DAYS
IN ENGLAND ALONE, AND THEN WE CAME HOME
AFTER 11 MONTHS OF TOURING, AND WARNER BROS. GOES, “YOU OWE US $3 MILLION
AND A NEW ALBUM.” [ LAUGHTER ] AND WE WENT,
“HOW DOES THAT WORK?” [ LAUGHTER ] ANYWAY, I WON’T GET INTO THAT,
BUT… [ LAUGHTER ] BOTTOM LINE IS
WE BELIEVED IN OURSELVES. AND WE WOULDN’T TAKE NO
FOR AN ANSWER. JUST LIKE WHEN NO RECORD COMPANY
WANTED ANYTHING TO DO WITH US, WE THREW OUR OWN GIGS. WE PLAYED BACKYARD PARTIES. WE PRINTED OUR OWN FLIERS TO STUFF LOCKERS
AT HIGH SCHOOLS AND WE PLAYED HIGH SCH–
WE PLAYED EVERYWHERE. WHETHER YOU LIKED US OR NOT,
YOU DEFINITELY HAD HEARD OF US. [ LAUGHTER ] AND WE WOULD NOT
LET YOU GET AWAY WITHOUT AT LEAST GIVING IT —
YOU KNOW, HEARING US. AND SLOWLY, WE BUILT AN AUDIENCE
OF ABOUT 3,000 TO 5,000 PEOPLE EVERY TIME WE PLAYED
THE PASADENA CONVENTION CENTER IN PASADENA, OBVIOUSLY. DUH. AND WARNER BROS. EVENTUALLY
CAME TO US BECAUSE THEY SAID, “WOW, IF THEY CAN DO IT HERE,
THEY CAN DO IT ANYWHERE.” AND THAT’S HOW IT ALL HAPPENED. Woman:
NEXT QUESTION ON YOUR RIGHT. HI, EDDIE. MY NAME IS JEFF POLANSKI
FROM BUFFALO, NEW YORK. YOU’VE BEEN A HUGE INFLUENCE
ON ME FOR OVER 30 YEARS, AND I WAS JUST WONDERING HOW YOUR SON, WOLFGANG,
HAS INFLUENCED YOU AND INSPIRED YOU
SINCE HE HAS STARTED PLAYING. OH, MAN. IT’S LIKE
TALK ABOUT FRESH BLOOD, AND… I DON’T EVEN KNOW
HOW TO PUT THAT INTO WORDS. IT’S LIKE, I MEAN, FOR ONE, WHAT FATHER WOULDN’T
WANT TO PLAY WITH HIS SON? ESPECIALLY ONE
WHO’S AS TALENTED AS HE IS. I MEAN, HE JUST FIT IN
LIKE A GLOVE. I MEAN, ASK ALEX.
HE JUST — I DON’T KNOW. IT JUST BREATHED A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
INTO MY LIFE. YOU KNOW, I WAS ACTUALLY GOING
THROUGH A PRETTY ROUGH TIME WHEN HE JOINED THE BAND. I WAS STILL DRINKING
AT THE TIME, AND I GOT SOBER
DURING THAT FIRST TOUR. AND I WAS SO NERVOUS, AND EVERY TIME I LOOKED
AT MY SON, I’M GOING, “OKAY, IF MY 16-YEAR-OLD SON
CAN BE KICKING ASS LIKE THAT, I BETTER SUCK IT UP HERE,”
YOU KNOW? SO, LOOK. YOU KNOW, HE GAVE ME THE
STRENGTH TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT, AND HERE WE ARE, YOU KNOW? [ APPLAUSE ] Woman:
NEXT QUESTION ON YOUR LEFT. EDWARD VAN HALEN. Quan: [ LAUGHS ] I’M, TOO,
FROM BUFFALO, NEW YORK. DAVE DOM.
AND I DON’T KNOW THAT GUY. FUNNY ENOUGH,
I SWEAR TO GOD. ANYWAYS, SO JUST WANT TO SAY
ONE THING BEFORE MY QUESTION. I HAVE TO SAY THIS TO YOU. I HAVE SCENARIO’D THIS
IN MY MIND FOR 35 YEARS WHAT I WOULD SAY TO YOU, AND I JUST WANT TO SAY
THANK YOU, MAN. FROM THE BOTTOM
OF MY HEART. [ APPLAUSE ] YOU’RE VERY WELCOME. ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT. MY QUESTION IS, OF ALL THE DECEASED MUSICIANS
OUT THERE THAT ARE
NO LONGER AROUND, COULD YOU PICK ONE TO PLAY WITH,
WHO WOULD THAT BE? WOW. I’D LOVE TO JAM
WITH MY FATHER AGAIN. [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] Woman:
NEXT QUESTION TO YOUR RIGHT. Radliff: HELLO.
MY NAME’S COLE RADLIFF, AND MY QUESTION FOR YOU IS, WHEN YOU FIRST CAME
TO AMERICA, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST DAY
OF SCHOOL LIKE? [ LAUGHTER ] OH.
WHAT DID HE SAY? WHEN YOU FIRST CAME
TO AMERICA, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST DAY
OF SCHOOL LIKE? OH, IT WAS
ABSOLUTELY FRIGHTENING. [ LAUGHTER ] ‘CAUSE, YOU KNOW, WE’D ALREADY
WENT THROUGH THAT IN HOLLAND. FIRST DAY,
YOU KNOW, FIRST GRADE. NOW YOU’RE IN A WHOLE COUNTRY WHERE YOU CAN’T SPEAK
THE LANGUAGE AND YOU KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING
ABOUT ANYTHING, AND YEAH,
IT WAS BEYOND FRIGHTENING. I DON’T EVEN KNOW
HOW TO EXPLAIN. BUT, YOU KNOW, I THINK IT MADE US STRONGER
BECAUSE YOU HAD TO. I MEAN,
THE SCHOOL THAT WE WENT TO WAS STILL SEGREGATED
AT THE TIME, BELIEVE IT OR NOT. AND SINCE WE COULDN’T SPEAK
THE LANGUAGE, WE WERE CONSIDERED A MINORITY. AND MY FIRST FRIENDS IN AMERICA
WERE BLACK. THEIR NAMES WERE STEVEN
AND RUSSELL, AND WE BECAME FAST FRIENDS
‘CAUSE I COULD OUTRUN THEM. [ LAUGHTER ] BUT, YOU KNOW, IT WAS
ACTUALLY THE WHITE PEOPLE THAT WERE THE BULLIES, YOU KNOW? THEY WOULD TEAR UP
MY HOMEWORK PAPERS, MAKE ME EAT PLAYGROUND SAND,
AND ALL THESE THINGS, AND THE BLACK KIDS
STUCK UP FOR ME, SO… YOU KNOW, IT’S… [ APPLAUSE ] Woman:
NEXT QUESTION ON YOUR LEFT. HELLO, EDDIE.
MY NAME IS KYLE LAMBDIN. THAT’S MY DAD. AND I JUST WANTED TO SAY
THANK YOU FOR KEEP ROCKING. AND MY QUESTION IS,
AS THE YEARS GO BY, HOW DO YOU STILL KEEP
YOUR CREATIVE SPARK? UM, BY CONTINUING TO PLAY,
REALLY. AND, YOU KNOW,
HAVING WOLFGANG IN THE BAND. AND, UH…. YOU KNOW, IT’S SOMETHING
THAT IF YOU’RE A MUSICIAN, YOU JUST PLAY
UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE. YOU KNOW, IT’S NOT LIKE, YOU KNOW, I CAN’T WAIT
TO TURN 65 AND RETIRE. IT’S NOT — YOU KNOW,
IT’S NOT AN ORDINARY JOB. YOU KNOW? IT CAN BE WORK SOMETIMES. IT’S LIKE — WHAT’S THE SAYING? IT’S…YOU PLAY MUSIC,
YOU DON’T WORK IT. BUT AT TIMES,
IT CAN BE HARD WORK TO BE ABLE TO PLAY IT. GOOD QUESTION. [ APPLAUSE ] QUESTION TO YOUR RIGHT. HI, EDDIE.
ROBERT DRAKE. HELLO.
HELLO. THIS QUESTION IS ALONG THE LINES
OF MUSICAL REINVENTION. IF YOU WERE TO BEGIN
YOUR CAREER ALL OVER AGAIN FROM THE BEGINNING, BUT WITH
A DIFFERENT INSTRUMENT, WHAT INSTRUMENT
WOULD YOU CHOOSE? UM… I WOULD PICK DRUMS. [ LAUGHTER ] AND THE SAME THING
WOULD PROBABLY HAPPEN, SO… HERE WE GO.
“GROUNDHOG’S DAY.” [ LAUGHS ] YEAH, I WOULD PROBABLY
GO FOR DRUMS, AND ALEX WOULD PLAY GUITAR,
THEN WE’D SWAP. [ LAUGHTER ] A LITTLE BIT, YEAH. BETWEEN WOLFGANG AND ALEX, I CAN’T KEEP UP WITH
THESE TWO GUYS. THEY ARE BOTH INSANE DRUMMERS. PARDON? [ SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY ] [ LAUGHS ] NO. THEY DON’T NEED TO WORRY
ABOUT ANYTHING. Woman: WE HAVE TIME
FOR ONE MORE QUESTION. I WANT TO INVITE ALL OF YOU
TO JOIN US IN OUR RECEPTION, WHICH WILL BE IN THE LOBBY. THERE ARE WINE, DRINKS,
SOFT DRINKS, WHATEVER YOU FANCY. THERE’S SOME FOOD OUT THERE,
AS WELL. BOTH OF OUR GUESTS TONIGHT WILL BE OUT THERE
IN THE RECEPTION, AS WELL, SO PLEASE DO STAY BEHIND
AND JOIN US. I WANT TO TAKE A SECOND
TO THANK, ON BEHALF
OF ZóCALO PUBLIC SQUARE, WHICH IS WHO I WORK FOR, WE WANT TO THANK THE NATIONAL
MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY FOR HOSTING US AND FOR CREATING
THIS PROJECT WITH US, WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AMERICAN. AND OF COURSE,
OUR PANELISTS TONIGHT. DANIELLE’S GOT THE LAST QUESTION
ON THE LEFT. HEY,
MY NAME’S DOUG THOMAS. AS EVERYONE SAYS,
THANK YOU. THE QUESTION I HAVE IS, IF YOU WERE UNKNOWN
AND 20 YEARS OLD AND HAD THE TALENT YOU DO, HOW WOULD YOU START
IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS TODAY, SINCE IT’S SO DIFFERENT
THAN IT WAS? YOU KNOW, IT IS BUT IT ISN’T. LIKE I’VE SAID EARLIER, NOBODY WANTED ANYTHING TO DO
WITH VAN HALEN. I MEAN, FOR A GOOD SEVEN YEARS, WE KNOCKED ON EVERYBODY’S DOOR,
WE MADE DEMO TAPES, AND EVERYBODY JUST SAID NO. SO, WHAT WE DID WAS WE STARTED
PLAYING BACKYARD PARTIES AND TAKING IT
STRAIGHT TO THE PEOPLE. YOU KNOW, LIKE I TOLD YOU,
WE STUFFED LOCKERS FULL. YOU KNOW, WE’D GO
TO POSTAL INSTANT PRESS, PUT A PICTURE ON IT, AND WHERE THE GIG IS AND HOW MANY KEGS OF BEER
THERE WILL BE THAT NIGHT, AND, YOU KNOW,
THAT KIND OF THING. AND WE JUST HUMPED IT
AND HUMPED IT AND HUMPED IT UNTIL PEOPLE CAME. AND I DON’T SEE WHY
THAT WOULDN’T WORK TODAY. YOU KNOW? WE BROUGHT IT STRAIGHT
TO THE PEOPLE PLAYING LIVE. YOU KNOW,
WHETHER IT’S PRO TOOLS AND — YOU KNOW,
WHATEVER MUSIC IS OUT THERE, THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? Woman: WITH THAT,
WE’LL SEE YOU OUTSIDE. THANK YOU SO MUCH. [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ] Van Halen:
THANK YOU VERY MUCH. THANK YOU FOR COMING. [ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE CONTINUE ]