A VH videographer recalls a lifetime of memorable Jersey appearances
The first concert I ever saw was Van Halen, November, 1982, at what was then the Brendan Byrne Arena. Diver Down tour. It was supposed to be October 16, but Eddie had sprained his wrist in Pittsburgh the night before. $13.50 in the lower tier, close to the stage, 9th row.
When I last saw Van Halen in 2008, David Lee Roth’s voice was so shot that I winced at times during the show. But Eddie could still shred smoothly and effortlessly, with that grin spread across his youthful face, and it was great to have that one last glimpse of greatness. I had seen them many times over the years.
One of the most memorable was June 22, 2004.
I was a video director for the video board production crew at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. As was the case when any band I liked was booked to play the Meadowlands, I put in a request to record video of the band for promotional use for the sports complex. Almost every band allows the facility to do that. The tour rep would walk videographers backstage to the video village, we’d connect our cameras to a distribution amp with the video screen feed, and they feed us the first two minutes of each of the first two or three songs.
For Van Halen, the tour press agent allowed us to get video of the first two songs, after which we were escorted to the sound mix position, where the press photographers were allowed to shoot for the first three songs. The show’s opener was Jump, which disappointed me because I wanted video of Eddie shredding and in “Jump”, Eddie doesn’t touch his guitar for the first two minutes of the song. Next was “Runaround”, which supplied me with some decent, close-up shots of Eddie’s hands fluidly running up and down the fretboard. After two minutes of “Runaround,” the video screen producer cut the feed to the videographers and we were escorted to the mix position in the middle of the house.
The third song, “Humans Being,” one of the rare Van Hagar songs I really like, began as the videographers arrived at the mix position. During the song’s chorus, the lighting director shined really bright lights on the crowd, and I looked around to take in the crowd.
That’s when I saw her. No more than 15 feet away stood my junior high crush—Barbara Cooper, aka Valerie Bertinelli—singing her head off, fist in the air, “Shine on, shine on…”
When she turned toward me in the now brightly lit arena, I was the only person not facing the stage. She caught me looking at her, but she thought I had caught her singing, so she stopped singing, smiled that Val smile, and then started cracking up, which I did, too. It was awesome, we had connected, in my mind. Then the chorus ended and the arena was dark again. Two minutes later, song over, all media were escorted to the press box, which offered a good view of the show, but no eye contact with Val.
By the next time I saw them, in 2008 again at Meadowlands, David Lee Roth was back in the band. Wolfgang Van Halen had replaced Michael Anthony on bass. Valerie and Eddie had divorced. It was great to watch Eddie shred from the press box that one last time. But somehow, I knew it would be the last time I saw Eddie. Sure, Van Halen toured again just a few years ago, when the band appeared on Jimmy Kimmel with David Lee Roth breaking his nose while swinging his mic stand. But they were done.
What Made Eddie Special
With the passing of Eddie Van Halen, we mourn the loss of, perhaps, the last great innovator with the guitar. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke inexplicably and embarrassingly placed Eddie at number 70 on his top 100 Guitarist list (and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour at 82?!?!) behind the likes of Vernon Reid (66), John Fogarty (40), Stephen Stills (28), and Dave “The Edge” Evans (24), but Eddie was truly a great guitarist who has been underrated in his time. Eddie was easily a top 5 guitarist in ability. But also in influence, as he launched the metal era of the 1980s almost singlehandedly, at a time when disco was the dominant music style and the classic rock guitar-god era of the 70s was coming to an end.
For me, having hit high school in the fall of 1980, Van Halen was always heard wafting on school grounds on car radios and the cafeteria stereo during my four years at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey. I am among the many graduates of the class of 1984 who were fortunate to cite Van Halen as his first concert.
Eddie Van Halen was great for a number of reasons. First of all, you can’t tell who his influences were. He said he knew every Clapton solo from all of Eric’s early Cream, Derek and the Dominos and solo recordings, but Eddie sounded nothing like Clapton. It’s been said Van Halen’s members loved Montrose (whose original singer, of course, was Sammy Hagar), but Van Halen sounded nothing like them, either. Stevie Ray Vaughan was the greatest guitar player I’ve ever seen. But you can hear Albert King in his playing and it took Stevie Ray over a decade to get a record deal as he developed his style. Eddie developed his own style by the age of 20, which is insane, and recorded his first album – the seminal Van Halen – at age 22. Simply put, Eddie sounded like no one before him.
Second, Eddie wrote some really great songs. Yes, alcohol addiction eventually slurred his songwriting to the point that many of the songs recorded with the David Lee Roth edition of Van Halen both before Dave left in 1985 and after he reunited with the band in 2008 were written by Eddie in the 1970s. But that goes to show that he wrote a TON of great stuff before age 22. For the last 40 years, many people have copied Eddie’s playing style, but they were never able to write like him, which is why no other band, to this day, sounds like Van Halen even though scores of hair bands arrived on the music scene in the 80s, traveling the road paved by Van Halen. Eddie’s talent as an arranger (and obviously a player) were on display in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Longtime producer Ted Templeman, who signed the band solely on the strength of Eddie’s undeniable gifts, credits the band for reintroducing humor and a lighthearted touch to a rock genre that had become boringly self-serious.
Finally, Eddie could flat-out play. He was faster than anyone before him, but melodically, and with style. Sure, people can say others that came after could go faster, like Yngwie Malmsteen, but none of those guys can write instantly memorable riffs and melodies, which is why few have ever heard of Yngwie. Eddie was fast with style, not simply fast.
It’s been said that the 70s were the guitar god era, but the fact is that I think my generation, coming of age in the 1980s, arrived just in time. No, we never saw Hendrix, Allman or Terry Kath, but they died so young that few of their own generation saw them live, particularly since bands didn’t play sports arenas in the late 60s and very early 70s. The other greats of the 70s – Clapton, Page, Gilmour, Howe, Garcia, Betts, Santana, Beck – we saw in the 80s. PLUS we saw Eddie and Stevie Ray, Vai and Satriani, Rhoads and Angus, etc. And that was solely because Eddie Van Halen resurrected guitar rock during the disco era.
So farewell Eddie. Thanks for the songs. Thanks for the concerts. You take a piece of my high school days with you. But most importantly, thanks for the fun, because that’s what music should be.
VIDEO: Van Halen at the Meadowlands 6/22/04
Editor’s Note: I was actually at this very show that Joe is talking about here. What was interesting about this 2004 tour was that Eddie would have his off nights on the road, which ultimately led to a years-long cold war between Sammy and Eddie that thankfully healed itself shortly before the guitarist’s passing. But on this night, Van Halen were as stellar as they were when I first saw them on the F.U.C.K. tour in late ’91. I am thankful to Joe for sharing his story with us.