R.I.P. Eddie Van Halen, one of rock's unparalleled talents

click to enlarge Van Halen in the early days. - WARNER BROS RECORDS
Warner Bros Records
Van Halen in the early days.

I almost missed my chance, and it was my own damn fault.

On May 27, 2012, I was finally going to see my favorite childhood rock band, Van Halen, as they're meant to be seen (with David Lee Roth on vocals). I'd seen them during the "Van Hagar" years, but the Roth-led Van Halen is the band I fell in love with before I was old enough to even go to concerts.

My excitement was off the charts for this gig in Las Vegas, in an unhealthy way. Meaning, I was hitting the bar hard with my buddy, pre-gaming for a concert I'd been waiting to see since I was in fifth or sixth grade. I won't lie. I normally hold my liquor pretty well, especially back then. But I was sloppy, to the point that my buddy almost pulled me back to our room rather than try to enter the show.

All it took was that that threat for me to get my shit together. There was no way I was going to miss the mighty Van Halen, and I didn't. From the opening "Unchained" to the closing "Jump," I stood rapt at one of the arena's railings, mesmerized.

They were the band that made me want to name my first male child "Eddie Van Nailen."

They're the band that blew my mind with their over-the-top theatrics on stage, glimpsed via bootleg videos and rare live clips on TV in those pre-internet days, with their appealing videos ("Panama-ha!"), their reportedly Caligula-like backstage antics and, mostly, the fleet fingers of Eddie Van Halen on guitar, delivering soaring solos and monstrous rhythms on decades' worth of hard-rock hits.

Eddie Van Halen died today, reportedly from cancer. He was 65.

A generally quiet, smiling presence in the band, especially compared to Roth, Eddie Van Halen was a finger-tapping, hard-rocking pioneer. He's the reason we'll hear Van Halen's music on the radio for decades to come.

From the oft-imitated "Eruption" on the band's debut, to crushing catalog tunes like "Hear About It Later" and "And the Cradle Will Rock...", to his keyboard excursions like "Jump," Eddie Van Halen had a undeniable gift for composition. He had some demons, too, as most artists do, but he seemed to have survived them — and previous bouts with cancer — to shift into a relatively calm life. And even though he seemed happy to chill with his wife and on the golf course, or attending shows with his kid, there was constant talk about when the next Van Halen tour would happen.

Now we know.

I used to say I'd go see Eddie Van Halen play an instrument he'd never picked up before, in a room that sucked for sound, and I'd still be happy. That remains true.

Here's a bunch of Eddie's in action:

Baby Shark Live! @ First Interstate Center for the Arts

Sat., July 2, 2 p.m.
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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...