'Everybody' author's prose as tortured as Van Halen's teased hair

October 14, 2007


The argument could be made that a band as bombastic, egotistical and over-the-top as hair-metal champions Van Halen warrants a biographer who shares those same characteristics. But the fallacy of that line of thinking will soon become obvious to anyone who cracks the hardcovers and delves into the more than 300 pages of Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga by journeyman rock scribe Ian Christe, which lacks the other ingredient essential to the finest moments of a three-decade career that sold 75 million albums: a self-deprecating sense of humor.

“I didn’t think it would be fair to write this book without learning how to play ‘Eruption,’ getting a good idea of the mental and manual speed of Eddie Van Halen plus appreciating how much work and practice goes into playing, if not developing, his style,” Christe, whose resume includes The Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal as well as free-lance contributions to Spin, Guitar World and Popular Mechanics, writes in a pointless introduction. He then proceeds to recount in numbing detail how he finally mastered the famous guitar instrumental — without explaining what this did for him as an author — before concluding, “I want to say the reason nobody has ever attempted to write this book before is there was never a writer who could play ‘Eruption.’ Or maybe they all died trying.”

Well, maybe. Then again, it could just be that less solipsistic writers and more discerning critics concluded that Van Halen wasn’t worth the effort to produce an exhaustive, scholarly biography akin to Peter Guralnick’s two volumes on Elvis Presley, or that behind all of the tabloid headlines, chest-thumping solos, smoke and mirrors, there wasn’t enough really good dirt to produce a truly trashy rock read akin to the classic of the genre, Stephen Davis’ Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga.

To be sure, Christe chronicles the sweeping scope of the Van Halen saga, starting with Eddie and his drummer brother Alex immigrating to the United States from Holland and joining forces to play jacked-up cover songs with bassist Michael Anthony and singer David Lee Roth (whom we generally laughed with), and running through the chart-topping successes of a second act with Sammy Hagar (whom we always laughed at), with plenty of lawsuits, marriages, divorces, broken hips and bouts with cancer and alcoholism along the way. But since most of the quotes from primary players are clipped from other articles, and all of it is related in breathless, laughably overwritten prose, there is seldom any genuine insight, much less a sense of cultural perspective.

“Millions of divorced kids listening to Van Halen in 1985 had just accepted that Mom and Dad weren’t going to get back together, and now they were expected to deal with David Lee Roth leaving Van Halen,” Christe writes, as if a millionaire rock star leaving a group whose best days were already behind it (and yes, that’s an intentional slight to Van Hagar and the band’s third incarnation with Gary Cherone) is on par with the trauma of a broken home. Elsewhere, the author makes overwrought comparisons between Eddie and Orson Welles/Charles Foster Kane, and he begins the tale proper with this startling sentence: “Like the stories of other great American heroes from Henry Ford to Walt Disney to Fievel the Mouse, the saga of Van Halen begins in an ancient land, far from the United States and its constant supply of hot water and electricity.”

Nevermind the dissimilarities between Ford (who sold very real cars) and Disney (who sold celluloid dreams), or the fact that Fievel was Russian, not American. I’m still marveling over the notion that the best things about the U.S. of A. are alternating current and running water, and the implication that the overdressed, over-amplified, prone-to-overplaying heavy-metal cartoons who gave us “Jump,” “Dance the Night Away” and “Poundcake” are as essential to civilization as those basic utilities. It’s amazing Christe doesn’t advocate that Van Halen be chiseled into Mount Rushmore — though maybe he would have if he hadn’t been so distracted with trying to master his hammer-on’s.