Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen

Birth: 01/26/1955

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Death: 10/06/2020

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Remembered By: Friends

In 1983, when Eddie Van Halen first built his beloved 5150 home studio in the hills near Hollywood, he decorated its kitchen with a photograph of a squat old apartment building in a city more than 5,000 miles away. Every time he’d head to the fridge for a beer during his all-night recording sessions, which was often, he’d see the home where he spent most of his first seven years, at 59 Rozemarijnstraat in the city of Nijmegen, in the Gelderland province of the Netherlands, near the German border. Eddie, the grinning, all-American guitar genius and musical mastermind for the most distinctly Southern Californian band since the Beach Boys, was a biracial immigrant who barely spoke a word of English until he was seven years old. His father was Dutch, and his mother was born in Indonesia, with Indonesian and Dutch ancestry. In the band’s early days, when Eddie and his older brother, Alex, Van Halen’s drummer, got into occasional screaming arguments, they would lapse into Dutch. “It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen,” their onetime manager Noel Monk wrote. “These two ordinarily placid rockers, who usually spoke in a sort of pothead-surf patois, suddenly nose to nose, spitting and snarling and growling at each other in a foreign language, as if they had become possessed.” Visit Our Special Tribute Package for More on Eddie Van Halen’s Music and Influence Eddie, who died of cancer on October 6th, 2020, was, at his core, an eternally boyish, sweet-natured prodigy. The joy he conveyed onstage with guitar in hand was genuine and profound. But there were also darker currents in his emotional life he couldn’t express in words, even to those closest to him. He avoided the ups and downs of high school social life, and sometimes school itself, by holing up in his bedroom with his guitar and a six-pack. He went on to spend a good portion of his life in that realm of pure music, retreating into endless, meditative, alcohol-fueled jams in hotel rooms or in his studio. “It’s the universal vibration,” he told me in 2007. “It heals.” “When he played,” his ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli wrote, “he disappeared into a world that was his. There he was most comfortable, and whatever he shared was of his own choosing. This interior world would confound, anger, and frustrate me to no end later on, but early on it was seductive.” He tended to avoid confrontation, and let his frustrations build. He didn’t protest when frontman David Lee Roth and producer Ted Templeman used a funky synth riff Eddie had intended for an original song to anchor the band’s 1982 cover of “Dancing in the Street,” but then complained bitterly about the seemingly minor slight for decades. You can, at times, hear anger and pain in his playing, alongside the ever-present mischief and unearthly virtuosity. It’s perhaps most evident on Van Halen’s heaviest album, 1981’s Fair Warning, but from early on, his own mother heard all of his bent high notes as “crying.” There was a fair amount of self-loathing in his makeup. His mom pushed classical piano studies so hard that Eddie took to casually comparing his upbringing to the movie Shine, in which parental pressure drives a musical prodigy into a mental breakdown. “The whole time I was growing up, my mom used to call me a ‘nothing nut — just like your father,’” he told Guitar World. “When you grow up that way, it’s not conducive to self-esteem.” At the same time, as chronicled in Greg Renoff’s indispensable early-years bio Van Halen Rising, the Van Halen parents were supportive enough to stretch their finances to buy Alex a drum kit and Eddie a Gibson Les Paul in 1969. Eddie was still living with his mom and dad at the age of 25, when he had already made multiple platinum albums. At that point, his mom was still convinced it wouldn’t last, and that he’d have to go back to school. At the height of his early success, with “Jump” all over MTV, he confessed to fearing he was “stupid,” and in another interview the same year, called himself “selfish” and a “sick fuck.” “Ed – you are a good man,” Bertinelli wrote in her memoir’s dedications. “Believe it. When you do, you’ll be free.” Even as he was widely acclaimed as the most exciting guitar player alive, even as Templeman was comparing him to Bach and Charlie Parker in the same sentence, Eddie was plagued by insecurity, requiring liberal doses of alcohol and sometimes cocaine to overcome his anxiety. “Every time I walk into the studio it seems like the first time,” he said in 1996. “It’s like I’ve never written a song before. I am just as scared.” Like his father and brother, he was an alcoholic. In the entire first decade of the band’s success, he didn’t have a single sober day. “I’m actually a shy, nervous person,” he said in 1998. “I used to be easily intimidated. That’s why I used to drink.” Despite years of struggle, he didn’t achieve lasting sobriety until 2008. Van Halen changed the way electric guitarists played, the sounds they strove for, even the physical construction of the instruments they used, with multiple patents to his name (and other technical breakthroughs, he credibly maintained, that were ripped off and capitalized upon before he learned how to use the patent office). He single-handedly gave the electric guitar an extra decade or more of cultural prominence, even as he’d try to duck blame for a generation of teased-hair shredders who “played like typewriters.” But he wasn’t just a guitar player. Eddie was an award-winning piano prodigy before he hit puberty, and there were periods when he abandoned guitar altogether for as long as a year, writing exclusively on piano and synthesizers. He took up the cello seriously in midlife, playing along to Yo Yo Ma recordings for hours late at night. Friends told tales of him picking up unexpected instruments — a saxophone, a harmonica — and playing them at a seemingly professional level. His most unbreakable bonds were familial. He and Alex played together from their preteen years all the way up to the end of Eddie’s career; in their first band, the Broken Combs, Eddie was on piano and Alex played saxophone. They had an uncanny musical bond, following each other’s rhythmic twists as if they shared a single musical intelligence. “We were probably the only rhythm section in rock & roll that was guitar and drums, not bass and drums,” Eddie told me. Early in their marriage, he told Bertinelli he’d like to have enough kids to form an entire band. When Bertinelli became pregnant with their only child, Wolfgang, Eddie played guitar for him in utero. His son turned out to be a gifted multi-instrumentalist from an early age. At 15, Wolfgang joined Van Halen on bass, and Eddie was overjoyed (displaced bassist Michael Anthony less so). “I pick him up from school every day,” Eddie told me, with obvious pride, “and we make music. The kid kicks ass.” Lead singers would come and go and come back, but Van Halen wasn’t the kind of group Eddie or Alex could or would leave (despite the occasional threat by Eddie during the original Roth years). It was their name, their band. Eddie’s tenure in Van Halen was temporary, he once joked: It would last “only as long as I live.” Eddie and Alex’s father, Jan, was a hard-drinking, classically trained saxophonist and clarinetist who blew blazing solos in big bands. After fighting in the Dutch resistance in World War II, Jan traveled to Indonesia, in its last days as a Dutch colony, and married a woman he met there, Eugenia van Beers. When she and her husband returned to the Netherlands and started a family, they faced overt racism, even as Jan’s musical career was picking up. “My mom became a second-class citizen,” Eddie recalled, “because she was Indonesian.” With 75 guilders and a piano to their name, his parents, already in their forties, took Eddie and Alex on a nine-day boat journey to America. Jan paid his way by playing in the boat’s band, and Eddie and Alex performed as well. Eddie never forgot that their performance earned them a place at the captain’s table for dinner. The boat landed in New York, and after a cross-country train trip, the family settled in Pasadena, California. Their new life in a new country was, at least at first, a complete disappointment. Eugenia cleaned houses, and Jan walked six miles each way to wash dishes at a hospital. Big bands were dead, but Jan rebuilt a semblance of a music career, playing in a polka band that would occasionally have Alex subbing on drums. Eddie, meanwhile, was bullied in school, at least by the white kids. “I wasn’t able to speak English and used to get my ass kicked because I was a minority,” he said in 1998. “All my friends were black, and they stuck up for me.” Even as Eddie and Alex endured piano lessons from an elderly Russian musician who slapped errant hands with a ruler, life in America finally started to show promise when they heard rock & roll. When Eddie encountered the snare-heavy beat of the Dave Clark Five’s fantastically noisy “Glad All Over,” he was convinced he had found his musical destiny: He’d become a rock & roll drummer like Clark. “My brother and I used to build model cars,” Eddie told me, “and after we blew up the model cars with cherry bombs and lighter fluid, we’d stick all the plastic parts back in the box and pound on the box, trying to make it sound like their records.” He got a paper route to pay for a drum kit, even as Alex started taking flamenco guitar lessons. “And while I was out throwing papers, my brother started playing my drums; he got better than me, so I said, ‘OK, fuck you, I’ll play your guitar.’” Eddie and Alex played together endlessly as kids, while other musicians came and went. Their first gigging band was the Trojan Rubber Company, and around 1971 they’d formed a power trio named Genesis, eventually adding a kid named Mark Stone on bass. Eddie served double duty as frontman. While he could pull it off — his harmonies with Michael Anthony would become a backbone of Van Halen’s sound — the vocals were mostly an afterthought. In practically every interview he’d give later on, Eddie would tout Eric Clapton’s Cream-era playing as his sole influence. Entranced by what he heard as a saxophone-like tone and approach in Clapton’s playing at that time, he learned his solos note by note. On the wall of the bedroom Alex and Eddie shared were posters of Clapton and Ginger Baker. Cream, Eddie once told Guitar World, “made music exciting in a way I don’t think people really understood. It was almost as if the lyric and actual song structure were secondary. ‘Let’s get this shit over with so we can make music and see where we land tonight.’” As he spent most of the Seventies playing with his brother in what became perhaps the greatest cover band in the state of California, Eddie also absorbed the style of just about every great hard-rock and metal guitar player, covering the Who’s Pete Townshend, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons (whose part on “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” is notably proto-Van Halen-esque, from its chugging riff to a quick two-hands-on-the-fretboard moment in the solo), and countless others. (Later, he’d get into fusion-era Jeff Beck, and take particular inspiration from the fluid, harmonically adventurous playing of Allan Holdsworth.) Early on, the sheer speed of the playing on two songs caught Eddie’s ear and transformed his sense of his instrument’s possibilities: Alvin Lee on Ten Years After’s “I’m Going Home” and the underrated Jim McCarty on Cactus’ frantic version of “Parchman Farm.” As his own hands picked up velocity, Eddie became a local legend by the age of 15, an unknown kid already outplaying any rock guitarist his audiences had ever heard, backed by a drummer who could follow him anywhere. By 1972, Genesis became Mammoth, after realizing their old name was taken by a certain British prog act. Mammoth were the rowdiest and most talented band in Pasadena’s thriving, police-hounded backyard party scene, where hundreds of sunburnt kids would gather near the pool of any house that vacationing parents were foolish enough to leave in the custody of teenagers. An ambitious, cocky, charismatic, off-puttingly motormouthed local kid named David Roth soon set his sights on the band, offering himself up as a new frontman. They considered it, until they determined that he could not, in fact, sing. Undeterred, Roth went off and started his own competing party band, working hard on his vocals. Eventually he made it into Mammoth, in part because the band was already renting the PA system purchased for him by his dad, a highly successful eye surgeon. The band began practicing in Roth’s spacious basement. Roth had his sights on the Hollywood clubs and well beyond. He pushed the band into more concise, poppier, danceable territory, even getting them to cover K.C. and the Sunshine Band, James Brown, and the Isley Brothers (though their version of the Isleys’ “It’s Your Thing” somehow sounded like Black Sabbath). The Van Halen brothers were musical purists, stepping onstage in street clothes, aiming to impress with note-perfect covers of album sides. For Eddie, any frontman would always just be a “throat,” almost a necessary evil, and Roth, as Eddie once put it, was “no opera singer.” But it was his showmanship and sex appeal, along with his love of pop and R&B, that pushed the band out of backyards. It was Roth’s idea, in the end, to name the band Van Halen. In 1974, the band recruited a new bassist, Michael Anthony, a good-humored guy whose sturdy physique reflected his playing style. He had been the lead singer in another popular party band, and his powerhouse background vocals, in harmony with Eddie’s, helped create a new signature sound for Van Halen, bringing in a hint of sunshiny pop that few other hard-rock or metal acts of the era would even attempt. When Eddie was 12, his dad gave him his first drink and cigarette, in a misguided effort to calm his nerves (young Eddie was either upset after an attack by a German shepherd or nervous before a musical performance, depending on the account). By the mid-Seventies, Eddie’s drinking was starting to ramp up, and he was already using cocaine. By 1977, the drug was enough of a staple of the band’s daily lives that they had a pet name for it, “Krell.” There were some early warning signs of trouble: One day in 1972, Eddie snorted PCP he thought was coke and suffered a near-fatal overdose, ending up in the hospital. As the band began working original songs into their set, moving up in the club world from the sleazy, unhip Gazzarri’s to the more desirable Starwood, the prospect of a record deal loomed. After a false start with Gene Simmons of Kiss that ran afoul of that band’s internal politics, they signed with Warner Bros. in February 1977. Templeman, a Warner exec, became their producer, and his commercial instincts and deep regard for Eddie’s musicianship served them well. In an evolutionary leap that required true genius, Eddie’s already spectacular playing suddenly transformed in 1977. It started late the previous year, when he assembled a Stratocaster copy, gutted it, and stuck in a humbucking pickup, the kind usually reserved for Gibson guitars. He’d eventually douse the thing in spray paint — black paint on a white body at first, later to become red. “I said, ‘Eh, I’m gonna put some masking tape on it, paint it black, take it off, and see what it looks like,’” he told me. “Went to the bicycle store, bought some spray-paint cans, went to my backyard, just hung it up with a coat hanger, and painted it.” The Frankenstrat would become one of the most famous instruments in rock history, ending up on display in the Museum of Modern Art. It looked like Van Halen sounded: “barely controlled chaos,” as Eddie put it to me. Armed with the Frankenstrat, Eddie began making extensive and inventive use of the note-warping whammy bar, teasing out elephant roars, horse whinnies, rocket-engine bursts of noise, and disorienting octave jumps. He could make it sound like his guitar was laughing in disbelief at his own virtuosity. Many post-Hendrix guitarists had avoided the whammy bar, because it knocked guitars out of tune. Eddie, never a Hendrix devotee, had long admired Ritchie Blackmore’s use of it on 1970’s Deep Purple in Rock, apparently filing the technique away for seven years. Eddie’s other 1977 transformation was a true paradigm shift: He started two-hand tapping. Eddie was far from the first player to use his right hand along with his left to fret and pull off notes (Steve Hackett of Genesis was one of many predecessors), but no one else had employed the technique anywhere near as extensively or effectively. Now, his solos were spiked with hornlike note flurries and liquid neoclassical arpeggios. It didn’t hurt that he already had one of the best guitar tones in rock, thanks in part to the brilliant innovation of using a Variac voltage limiter to allow himself to crank his amp to creamy — or Cream-y — levels of tube-melting distortion without excessive volume. Star Wars hit theaters that same summer, and the bursts of impossible speed that the two-hand technique brought to his playing were the sonic equivalent of the Millennium Falcon blazing through hyperspace. Van Halen seems to have gotten immediate inspiration for the move from guitarists Harvey Mandel and Rick Derringer, according to Renoff. But Eddie told me, in an anecdote he often repeated, that he’d started pondering the possibilities of two hands on the fretboard in the early Seventies, after watching Jimmy Page do one-handed pull-offs on Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.” (Eddie maintained that he’d been actually using the trick since 1972, but no one seems to have witnessed that, and there’s no evidence of it on bootlegs and demos. Even geniuses can be unreliable narrators.) “Basically all it is, is, you get an extra finger on this hand,” Eddie told me, indicating his left. “And you can put it anywhere you want and you can add other fingers. Yeah, I was watching Jimmy Page go” — he sang a hammer-on riff — “and I was going, ‘Oh, OK. I can play like that.’ You wouldn’t know if I was using this finger or this one. But you just kind of move it around, and it’s like you got one big hand there, buddy. That’s a hell of a spread!” In May 1978, Eddie Van Halen sat in a Parisian hotel room, weeping. His band had a hit debut album, had just played their first European headlining dates, and would soon embark on a tour opening for Black Sabbath, where they would routinely blow the older band off the stage. But Eddie was done. “I want to go back to L.A.,” he told his then-tour manager, Noel Monk, according to Monk’s memoir, Running With the Devil. “I don’t want to do this anymore.… Fucking David — that asshole — he wants to be a big rock star.… I don’t want to be a rock star. I hate this bullshit!” Monk reminded Eddie how many people were counting on him, and that if the success continued, he’d be able to buy his parents a house. The crisis was averted. Once Van Halen finally managed to get signed, there had only been a few other speed bumps. Templeman, unimpressed with David Lee Roth’s vocal skills, briefly considered having the band bring in sturdy former Montrose frontman Sammy Hagar. But Roth kept working on his singing, even taking vocal lessons, and Templeman came to appreciate Roth’s gift as a stylist and lyricist. With Eddie on guitar, there was already so much music in Van Halen that Roth’s frequent jive-y detours into talk-singing and just plain talking were as clever as they were necessary, making room for the band’s other assets. The band began recording their still-astonishing self-titled debut album in late August 1977. Proving the value of a prolonged party-band apprenticeship, they knocked the whole thing out in two weeks, capturing near-perfect live takes in the studio. (Roth and Templeman quietly worked together for hours afterward to capture acceptable lead vocals.) They spent only $54,000 in the process, according to Renoff, a pittance even for the time. Along the way, engineer Donn Landee was savvy enough to hit “record” while Eddie was running through his stage guitar solo, which became the epochal instrumental “Eruption.” Even as generations of guitarists risked tendinitis trying to master the piece, Eddie always maintained that he could’ve played it better. In the wildly productive years between 1976 and ’78, Van Halen had amassed so much material that they were able to draw on the stockpile during the entire Roth era. Which is fortunate, because they released an album a year five years in a row under increasing commercial pressure from Warner Bros., while maintaining a brutal touring schedule. A lot of their evolution had already happened: Even some songs that seemed like giant leaps ahead, such as 1980’s impressive, Who-like multipart suite “In a Simple Rhyme,” actually predated their record deal. The band rarely had enough time in the studio, and on 1981’s Fair Warning, Eddie began staying up all night with engineer Landee, lacing the songs with overdubs and some of the most unhinged solos he’d ever play. It was also, in his mind, a way of pulling the album away from Roth and Templeman without face-to-face conflict. As Eddie saw it, Templeman and Roth started to fear he was “out of control.” “He sat there with his engineer and tinkered with ideas until he either got them the way he wanted,” Bertinelli wrote, “or ran out of booze, coke, energy, or inspiration, or all of the above.” Eddie felt endless pressure, she continued, to come up with “something better, something catchier, something Dave approved of, something the record company liked.” Around that time, Eddie revealed later, he was so frustrated with Roth that he actually contemplated quitting the band. As a rule, Eddie wrote riffs and instrumental tracks, not finished songs. He needed his singer to write vocal melodies and lyrics, which only added to his continual frustration. On April 11th, 1981, 18 days before the release of Fair Warning, Eddie married Bertinelli, then a 20-year-old TV actress. He had met her only eight months earlier. No one in the band was particularly happy about it, least of all Roth, who already resented the level of attention Eddie was getting. (Rather churlishly, Roth wrote in his memoir that he had “no interest” in Bertinelli when she’d first come backstage to meet the band the year before.) Bertinelli wrote in her memoir that Eddie claimed to have overheard Roth saying, “That fucking little prick, not only is he winning all the guitar awards, he’s also the first to marry a movie star.” Van Halen and Bertinelli fell in love on the road, while the band supported 1980’s Women and Children First. A Van Halen tour was, to say the least, a strange place to start a monogamous relationship. It was Roth and Alex who took close interpersonal contact with fans to new levels, with the singer inventing a system of rewards for roadies who wrangled attractive young women backstage. But the only member who avoided road hookups altogether was long-married Michael Anthony. “We were punch-drunk in love,” Bertinelli wrote. “And just plain punch-drunk. We drank Southern Comfort and vodka tonics. He also drank his Schlitz malt liquor.… He was almost nocturnal, and if I hadn’t stayed up drinking and doing coke with him, we would have been on completely different schedules.” After the tour, they moved in together and started planning a wedding, filling out forms for the priest while each held their own vial of cocaine. The wedding day was a near-disaster, with Eddie getting so wasted that he threw up before the ceremony even started. Fair Warning became a favorite of serious Van Halen fans, and the VH album of choice for Nineties alt-rock stars including Billy Corgan and Dave Navarro. It was also the slowest-selling LP of the Roth era. Band members decided they needed to stop rushing through their albums, so they came up with a plan that would entirely backfire. They recorded a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” as a standalone single, figuring it would be their only release of 1982. Instead, it became a pop hit so big that Warner Bros. demanded an accompanying album, immediately. They had to bang out an LP in 12 days, and Eddie was particularly unhappy about it. Diver Down included no fewer than five cover songs, plus two guitar instrumentals, including the remarkable “Cathedral,” on which Eddie uses his volume knob to create organ-like swells, turning it so fast and hard that he ruined the mechanism. There was a lot of that kind of destructive friction in Van Halen at the time: Eddie hated cover songs; Roth despised Roth-free guitar instrumentals. (“Fuck the guitar-hero shit,” Roth would say, according to Eddie. “We’re a band!”) Roth was a gifted narcissist who grated on almost everyone but his fans; Eddie was a quiet-to-a-fault virtuoso who was drinking too much and doing too much coke. Alex was taking in so much alcohol that, within a couple of years, he’d complain of hallucinations. In the summer of 1982, Eddie received a phone call from Quincy Jones, who was working on Michael Jackson’s Thriller. They had a hot R&B-rock song called “Beat It,” with a riff and rhythm guitar from Eddie’s friend Steve Lukather, and they needed a guitar solo to match. Eddie shrugged and said sure. He came into Westlake Studio, suggested a few changes in the song’s arrangement, and then laid down a 30-second solo that would become the most-heard bit of music he’d ever make, a growling, dive-bombing, squalling mini-masterpiece that concluded with a blast of finger-tapping, a speed-picked trill, and one last show-off-y tug on his whammy bar. The fresh context was a reminder of how exciting Eddie’s playing could be, as dazzling as the moonwalk Jackson would soon debut. Eddie didn’t tell his bandmates about his work that day. And for reasons he had trouble articulating, he didn’t accept any payment or royalties for his work on “Beat It.” Instead, if you believe Roth’s account, Eddie would end up paying a heavy price. Roth learned of the collaboration the following year, when he heard “Beat It” blasting out of a car parked outside an L.A. convenience store. By that time, Eddie had also recorded a couple of instrumentals for one of Bertinelli’s TV movies, and was contributing solo tracks for the soundtrack of the Cameron Crowe-penned film The Wild Life. In his memoir, Roth described that moment as a turning point in his thinking: “It was at that time, I said to myself, ‘How many solo projects will he do while I stand guard at the gate of dreams worth dying for here?’ Saying, ‘No, no, I’m not going to act, I’m not going to write, I’m not going to be on television.…’ It was at that point I said maybe I’ll do something on the side as well.” Within two years after the release of “Beat It,” that decision would lead to the end of the original band. During the Diver Down sessions, Eddie tried to interest his collaborators in a synthesizer piece he was particularly excited about, built around a catchy sequence of ascending chords. It was quickly tossed aside. Eddie played that initial version of what became “Jump” over the phone for journalist Jas Obrecht in 1982, and judging from the leaked audio of that conversation, it was still undeveloped, with the main chord progression almost buried amid frantic, trippy keyboard noodling. Ever brand-conscious, Roth was wary of synths, fearing sounds associated with New Wave would offend Van Halen fans’ tribal loyalties. “We had intentionally stayed away from keyboards,” he said in 2004, “because up till then, what instruments you used indicated which neighborhood you were part of.” Templeman, meanwhile, felt that if Van Halen had to use keyboards, they should be as ferocious as Eddie’s guitars, as in Women and Children First’s “And the Cradle Will Rock,” built around a heavily distorted Wurlitzer part. So when sessions began in 1983 for what would become 1984, and Eddie again presented a version of the “Jump” track to the band, there was again a distinct lack of excitement. But by that point, Eddie had a secret weapon. On his property off Coldwater Canyon, he had recently broken ground on what, as far as the city zoning commission was concerned, was supposed to be a racquetball court. It was, instead, the first incarnation of his 5150 Studios, a clubhouse where he could record all night — or for days on end — while maintaining complete control. In an overnight session at 5150 early on, Eddie and Alex laid down a basic track for “Jump” that suddenly made the song undeniable. As Templeman recalls in his recent memoir, Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music, he disliked the clean, bright sound Eddie settled upon for the main chordal riff, comparing it to an organ in a baseball stadium. But in the track Alex and Eddie created, “Jump” drew its hard-rock power almost entirely from a fierce drum performance (on an electronic Simmons kit) that offset any synth cheesiness. Roth took a cassette into his 1951 Mercury convertible and blasted the recording over and over for an hour while he wrote lyrics and came up with a melody. It took about an hour, and when Roth was done, Van Halen had officially written their biggest-ever song. The rest of the album did not go as smoothly. Eddie and engineer Donn Landee were in a deep mind-meld, avoiding Roth and Templeman. The pair would record for days straight and then crash. (Eddie once called Landee, with deep admiration, “a man-child genius on the edge of insanity,” though it was unclear which of the two men he was really describing.) In the end, the situation deteriorated to the point where Roth and Templeman were mixing one version of the album, while Landee and Eddie finished another entirely separate mix, using master tapes they were literally hiding from their producer. In the end, the album was, for the most part, brilliant, with an effervescent air and youthful energy that betrayed zero signs of its ugly birth. “Panama,” based around a sparkling monster of a riff, was a perfect Van Halen song, with one of Roth’s greatest vocal performances. The shuffle “Hot for Teacher” featured a startling drum performance by Alex, pummeling his digital kit with the same disconcerting speed his brother mustered on his fretboard.