There are probably a half-dozen Led Zeppelin books. There are a half-dozen AC/DC books. But there hasn't been a biography of Van Halen written since 1984," explains Ian Christe, author of Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga. "And a lot of juicy stuff has happened — not just the Hagar years but Roth riding around in ambulances and the Cherone fiasco."
The story of Van Halen, as Christe's new, unauthorized biography tells it, is far more than a history of multiplatinum albums, backstage debauchery and a triumphant reunion. It's about infighting, alcoholism, disease and divorce: The wives of Eddie and Alex Van Halen left them. And Eddie has suffered through rehab, a hip replacement and surgery for mouth cancer.
What's more, the band is now punishing Michael Anthony for remaining friendly with David Lee Roth replacement Sammy Hagar: For its 2007 tour, the bassist has been replaced by Eddie's son, Wolfgang. Basically, Van Halen's story is one of the nastiest in the history of hard rock."Hot For Teacher by Van Halen (Roth era):
"I started [working on the book] about two years ago — the great void. It seemed like the beast of Van Halen would never rise again, postcancer and post-2004 reunion, which ended up in disaster," says Christe, who also wrote Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal and who contributed to this year's Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs.
Christe didn't expect cooperation from his subjects — and he didn't get it. The Van Halen brothers are notoriously private and have always struggled to keep the band's drama quiet. Eddie was recovering from surgery, effectively in seclusion. And none of the former frontmen (Roth, Hagar, Gary Cherone) were talking. Hell, when Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, only Anthony and Hagar showed up.Right Now by Van Halen (Hagar era)
Christe knew he had a lot of research to do.
"I already had my eye on, like, 5,000 interviews they'd done since 1974, so I knew that there was so much information out there already," he says. "And now I've got a library-quality collection of tapes and interviews and DVDs and magazines and newspaper articles — articles from Australia and things I got translated from Dutch."
All that archival material makes for an entertaining and frequently surprising read. Even longtime fans might be surprised to learn that Roth and former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins have been friends since the early '80s.
"Dave came to me in the '90s and said, 'Henry, it's time for me to be H.L. Mencken and write the book!'" Rollins told Metal Edge magazine this year. "He wanted me to kind of help and advise, because I'd done a few books. I set him up with the person who eventually wrote it [Roth's hilarious 1997 autobiography, Crazy From the Heat] with him. I got him the meeting with Hyperion. I just kind of finessed the thing. It's all his work. I just handed it to him so he could slam-dunk it."
Then there's Cherone, that dude from Extreme. Remember him?
"It's funny how many people aren't aware that Gary Cherone even existed," Christe says, laughing. "I've gotten that a couple of times: 'Wow! There was a guy after Hagar?'"Without You by Van Halen (Cherone era)
A single spin of 1998's Van Halen III shows why Cherone's stint is best forgotten. Its mere existence takes away Montrose's previous status as the only band in rock history to have gotten worse after Sammy Hagar's departure.
Nevertheless, Christe defends the guy — a little. "I saw a clip of them doing 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love' with Cherone, and he has a weird stage presence," the author explains. "He runs out into the audience. He's rolling down the steps, like, crawling on the floor and stuff. It's kind of disturbing, but I kind of think he was a breath of fresh air. I don't like the record very much, but I think he gets a bum rap. They could have replaced Hagar with David Lee Roth's twin brother, and it wouldn't have gone over very well."
Obviously, Christe is evenhanded to a fault. He details the minutiae of Van Halen's history with Wikipedia-like obsessiveness. Then again, when writing about a band that has undergone personnel shifts as hotly debated as Van Halen's have been, you can never be evenhanded enough. "It's funny how subjective that is," Christe says. "Already I've been accused of being pro-Roth, pro-Hagar and noncommittal."
Christe believes that his book will give younger Van Halen fans — those who missed the Roth years — a better sense of the real David Lee Roth rather than the caricature he's been playing over the past decade or so. Indeed, Everybody Wants Some helps peel back the image that Roth himself created in a million interviews and MTV appearances.
One anecdote finds Roth giving career advice to a young Vince Neil, Motley Crue's frontman. "Don't go with a small distribution company," he says. "You have to have your records in Tahiti. If they aren't in Tahiti, they aren't anywhere else."
"That's something that I think people have been getting out of Everybody Wants Some, like, 'Hey, you know, Roth is a pretty witty guy,'" Christe says. "He doesn't take himself too seriously, but on the other hand, he's maniacal. He's dead-serious about what he's doing."
Christe doesn't think Van Halen Inc. will be patting him on the back anytime soon. "I haven't [heard from them], and I guess they're busy," he says. "But I've been away. The book's only been out for [a few] weeks, so I wouldn't expect them to be right on top of that."
In a true testament to Van Halen fandom, the author plans to catch the reunited lineup's three shows in the New York area, where he resides. He's also going to check out the Other Half (Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony's band) when it comes around.
"And if I can catch Gary Cherone with an acoustic guitar at some coffee shop somewhere, I'll do that, too," Christe says. "He's still active, so if he comes to, like, a local cabaret place, I'll be there. I think he's a kind of sensitive singer-songwriter now."
Van Halen, with Ky-Mani Marley. Friday,
October 26, at Sprint Center Arena