Filling the Van Void

A new, unauthorized bio bridges the gaps in Van Halen's sordid story.

Van Halen David Lee Roth Vince Neil Henry Rollins MTV Eddie Van Halen Mötley Crüe Everybody Wants Some AC/DC Led Zeppelin Quicken Loans Arena, 1 Center Court Wednesday, October 10, $49.50-$125, 216-241-2121
Jamie's cryin' because the Van Halen we remember is long gone.
Jamie's cryin' because the Van Halen we remember is long gone.
"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 lays out, is far more than a history of multi-platinum 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Michael Anthony for remaining friendly with DLR replacement Sammy Hagar: For the current tour, the bassist has been replaced by Eddie's son, Wolfgang. Basically, Van Halen's is one of the nastiest stories in the history of hard rock.

"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 post-cancer, 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 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 private. 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 Hall this year, only Anthony and Hagar showed up.

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 David Lee Roth and former Black Flag vocalist 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!'" explains Rollins. "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 [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 Gary Cherone, that dude from Extreme. Remember him?

"It's funny how many people aren't aware that Gary Cherone even existed," says Christe, laughing. "I've gotten that a couple of times: 'Wow! There was a guy after Hagar?'"

A single spin of 1998's Van Halen III justifies 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 kinda disturbing, but I kinda 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 a Wikipedia-like obsessiveness. Then again, when writing about a band whose personnel shifts have been as obsessively debated as Van Halen's, you can never be evenhanded enough. "It's funny how subjective that is," remarks Christe. "Already I've been accused of being pro-Roth, pro-Hagar, and noncommittal."

Christe believes his book will give younger Van Halen fans -- those who missed the DLR 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, Mötley Crüe'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,'" says Christe. "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's 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," says Christe. "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."

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