I guess I was a closet Van Halen fan. The news of Eddie Van Halen’s passing this week shook me more than I thought it might. I knew, for example, that he was struggling with throat cancer complications. Rumours of special treatments in Europe in hopes of eradicating the cancer seemed not to be working. I hoped for the best, wishing him well from afar, but death came knocking far too early.
I was 12 years old when “1984” came out on January 9, 1984. To say the album changed me would be an understatement. There were songs from previous albums that I’d hear on the radio such as “Unchained,” “Pretty Woman,” “Runnin’ with the Devil,” and “You Really Got Me,” but nothing that truly made me want to become a Van Halen fan.
When “1984” dropped, it sent me into a tizzy. The opening notes of the instrumental song from the album’s namesake felt like I was being thrown into a time capsule to the future. I was immediately orbited to a place of belonging. After all, I had been trying to play funky keyboard riffs for a year or so, failing miserably to emit anything meaningful from those keys.
As the album continued, the song “I’ll Wait” was what really sealed the deal for me to become an Eddie Van Halen fan. Sure, his guitar riffs, solos and melodies are otherworldly, but I wasn’t a guitar player. I was a keyboard player, and here was a skinny dude with long hair that told me it was okay to be a keyboard player.
After David Lee Roth left the band, I figured Eddie’s keyboard prowess might be finished. When Sammy Hagar joined the band, I thought Eddie’s keyboard playing took on another level of exquisiteness. The first album with a new lead singer, “5150,” and released in 1986–just two years after “1984”–saw multiple tracks with awe-inspiring keyboard magic including “Dreams,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” and “Love Walks In.” I was in keyboard heaven.
The magic continued with several more albums, and wonderful keyboard licks.
Of course, I wasn’t opposed to the guitars. In fact, there are a ridiculous number of times I have “rocked out” to the wizardry of Eddie’s guitar playing. I recall a few years ago on a flight when my seat mate tapped me on the shoulder because I was lost in the music of “Drop Dead Legs,” eyes closed and gyrating while simultaneously tapping my feet to the point it was a distraction.
But I have never “rocked out” with anyone in particular. I think I have been a closet Van Halen fan for years. I went to see them three times, each on my own. The last time was at the old Forum in Montreal. It was 1991. I’ll never forget both Eddie’s guitar solo segment, and the fact they played “When It’s Love” from the “OU812” album. Magic. Bliss. Eddie.
From now on, I’m not going to be a closet fan of anything. I turn 50 next year. There’s no reason to hide. And going forward, I’m going to use this space to thank people before they leave this planet.
For now, found below is my homage and dedication to Eddie Van Halen. The tracks may not be the popular ones, but they are the ones that struck a “chord” with me, songs that I continue to play today.