Van Halen fans eager to see reunited lineup
PASADENA, Calif. — It’s an old joke, but when David Lee Roth delivers the punch line it sounds more like a mission statement: “How many lead singers does it take to put in a light bulb? One. You hold the bulb and wait for the world to revolve around you.”
Missing from the joke is how the singer is left standing there in the dark waiting for his proper wattage.
On Feb. 7, Interscope Records released A Different Kind of Truth and, as the world turns, it was the first Van Halen studio album featuring Roth as lead singer since 1984 — which was released 28 years ago, right before Ronald Reagan announced plans to run for a second term.
Time flies — or does it drag? On a sunny morning in Pasadena, Roth, now 57, welcomed a visitor to his 20-room, Italianate mansion to talk about Van Halen past, present and future.
Roth actually rejoined the band “five summers and a million years ago” for the 2007-08 reunion tour, but it took until this year for the still-volatile collective to finish an album that satisfies all of their agendas. The amazing thing is that they finished at all; like the Beach Boys, Eagles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses and Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen is part of the Southern California history of world-class soap operas disguised as platinum-selling bands.
Van Halen’s brawny brand of music has sold more than 80 million albums, but offstage the group has been a fragile alliance that has fallen apart again and again because of creative clashes, drug torpor, grudges and, more recently, health issues.
“We accused each other of betrayal and thievery and lies and treachery,” said the upbeat and chatty Roth. “And it was all true. We were all guilty. Dig up the past, and it’s going to get all over everybody. And, man, do we have a past....”
The history traces back to 1972, when the Van Halen brothers, guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex — a pair of classically trained teen musicians born in the Netherlands but raised in Pasadena — auditioned singers for a planned band. Roth didn’t make much of an impression at his tryout, but the brothers wanted to use his sound system and letting him in the band was better than renting the gear.
Fame and fortune would follow, but again and again it was the brothers Van Halen deciding who should hold the microphone. They could do that because of the stature of Eddie Van Halen, who is revered by rock fans as a sort of mad-genius guitar god, the heir of Jimi Hendrix. He might also be viewed as the Elizabeth Taylor of rock, considering the way he divorces lead singers, including Sammy Hagar — and, if so, Roth is forever his Richard Burton. Roth, meanwhile, passed time touring with an Eddie Van Halen soundalike and at one point did a double bill with his rival Hagar to pique attention.
The reunited frenemies are a source of fascination, and fans are eager to see them share a spotlight as the reconstituted band (with Eddie’s son, 20-yearold Wolfgang Van Halen, who replaced longtime member Michael Anthony on bass) plays a 46-date arena tour that started on Feb. 18.
Van Halen performs Sunday, 7:30 p.m., at MTS Centre. Tickets: $41.75 to $165.50 at Ticketmaster.
“He’s doing really well,” Roth said. “He’s lucid, he’s sober, he’s playing. You know, I don’t know if Ed has ever felt good. There’s a thin line between rage and great work. He really never enjoyed his fame or success, and that might be part of what compels him.”
Despite all the squealing guitar thunder, Eddie Van Halen seems like a man surrounded by his own silence.
Roth, who has short hair now and a lean physique earned with decades of martial arts training, displayed a few of the dance moves he’s been working on for the show. In his earth-tone overalls and cap he looked more like a Venice Beach mime than a rock star, but he still has a shark smile.
What exactly drives him isn’t easy to glean — does he have the same dark engines as Eddie Van Halen?
“You’re asking for a lot of introspection here,” Roth said. “Nobody well adjusted ever got my job, much less kept it this long. There’s some grasping drive, and it precludes self-satisfaction.... You’re always questioning.”
The Gang: Dennis Thomas (from left), George Brown, Kool Bell and Ronald Bell.
Roth performs in Montreal in March.