On The Other Side Of "Have You Seen Junior’s Grades…"

Last night was a night I had been looking forward to, in some small way, for about twenty years. Last night, one of my all-time favorite bands, Van Halen, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Put aside the fact that America’s one-time preeminent goofball rock band actually made a Hall of Fame…what’s creepy is, I remember back during the days when I was really into the group, and I remember thinking, “They’ll be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2007 — Christ, that’s forever from now.” And yet, here we are.

Now, I’ve written before about the influence Van Halen had on me as a kid, so there’s no need to go back down that road now. What was sad about last night is how anticlimactic it all was. As you may or may not know, Van Halen has been a joke of a personnel mess for something like ten years now. Eddie Van Halen has gone through something like seven lead singers — with David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar coming and going several times — and the group most recently brought in Eddie’s kid Wolfgang to play bass, ditching founding bassist (and luckiest man alive) Michael Anthony. Not to slag on Wolfie’s bass skills — I’m sure the kid’s fifty times better than me while fast asleep — but the kid was years away from being born when “Jump” ruled the world.

Eddie’s in rehab, sadly, unable to kick the bottle. Alex, apparently, has no thought that runs counter to Eddie’s. Ever. And Roth is a flat-out nutjob, the classic Old Guy In The Club, zap-a-doodle-ing long after everyone else has left the party, gone home, gotten jobs, and raised a kid or two. It’s a little pathetic, the way he hangs onto the golden days of a quarter-century ago, but the poor bastard doesn’t have much else going on in his life, apparently — he’s done tours as a radio DJ and an ambulance paramedic (“Wow! Hey hey! That leg’s gonna get amputated today!”)

Which leaves other lead singer Sammy Hagar and Anthony, the two most normal members of this absurd crew, and the only ones able to get their shit together to accept the induction. It was more than a little sad, seeing just the two of them onstage, beefier, a little frazzled and off-key, happily warbling their way through “Why Can’t This Be Love?” And then poor Sammy got dissed beyond belief during the final jam number; Patti Smith and Michael Stipe are all about peace, love, and understanding, except when it comes to letting overgrown frat guys take the mike.

Okay, so there’s not much left in the tank with Van Halen. And everyone outside the band now refers to them in the past tense. Still, raise a beer for these guys. For a few years, they were as good as rock music got…and a few years from now, when the neo-Eddies take over music once again, let’s just hope the master’s still around to lead ’em.


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