August 07, 2012
In Part I we introduced each band member, with particular emphasis on attention-deprived lead singer David Lee Roth. In Part III we tried to surmise what, if anything, can be taken from an Alex Van Halen drum solo, and we somehow survived Dave’s guitar playing in Part VI. In Part VII, I identify the rock I lost.
As the band performs “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” we’re well into the second hour of the show, and it’s clear that we need something new to get us the rest of the way home. There are only so many scissor kicks, thumbs ups and “WOOW”s that an audience–even one as awesome as Baltimore Washington–can take. The band is apparently hip to this issue, as Dave comes out wearing a new, multicolored jacket and black leather chaps, which when he turns around reveals his naked ass.
There’s probably no one on the planet more identified with ass-less chaps than David Lee Roth. (Technically, chaps come standard without an ass and crotch, and are usually worn with pants underneath. Dave’s chaps seem specially made for him as his front is covered but the rear is non-existent.) I first saw him sport these in the US Festival video in 1983, and my friends and I chuckled. Oddly, I don’t remember them at all from the Peoria show in 1984, but by then they may have become such a part of the schtick that I didn’t bother to note them. No doubt he wore them. Dave doesn’t strike me as a guy who fixes what isn’t broken, and my guess is you’d have a hard time convincing him any of this stuff is broken.
And oh, does the naked ass work wonders. Dave makes a point of interspersing his singing with moves that call attention to his backside, which he turns and wiggles at every plausible opportunity. A tassel dangles down the middle and part of the fun for him seems to be in getting it to sway this way and that. It doesn’t take long to realize that the difference between what he’s doing here and what a go-go dancer does is pretty tenuous, but we allow Dave these indulgences. This isn’t a church gathering; it’s a Van Halen show. Dave’s ass has been summoned to take us home, and judging by the whoops from the audience, it’s hard to argue that he’s doing anything but a fine job of it.
In the middle of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” the band breaks it down to nothing but Eddie’s muted guitar, and Dave once again takes center stage, looking googily-eyed at the audience, dramatizing his utter amazement at how un-friggin’-believable Baltimore Washington is. “No doubt about it,” he says. “You people kick some ass, man,” which sends the crowd into spasms. Shots of the arena reveal just how happy this makes everyone. One girl almost jumps out of her seat she’s so glad to be dubbed part of the ass-kickin’ crowd.
Which leads to a question: Why were we so anxious for bands like Van Halen to be pleased with us as audiences? Why did we care? Shouldn’t they be looking for our approval? (In 1991 when Kurt Cobain sang, “Here we are now/Entertain us,” he may have been turning the tables on this notion.) It’s clear we wanted more than entertainment from a band like Van Halen. I was a Midwestern kid dreaming of one day escaping for more suitable climes. Van Halen were these cool people from California who were in town for one night, and they represented some semblance of a life I wanted: a life of sun and rock and people who thought I was awesome. It was also the life that anyone in my hometown would have dismissed as completely unattainable, not understanding that they may as well have been stabbing me with an ice pick when they said it. My only choice was to think, “Fuck you, unattainable.”
For two hours of my adolescence, I got this close to Van Halen–the distance from my concert seat to the stage. In that two hours, I needed more than entertainment; I needed validation. I needed to see these people who were living this life, and I needed them to tell me I was okay, that I belonged there too.
Van Halen understood this intrinsically. When Dave tells us we “kick some ass, man,” he recognizes this need. Hearing it from the lead singer of the coolest band on the planet meant more than hearing it a thousand times from anyone else. “See,” goes the audience. “We knew it.” With our ass kicking, we were winning the most important war of our time, the one against the potential lameness of our futures. We were fighting for a life worth living, and after Dave’s little pep talk, we were going to win.
Which was why no Van Halen fan minded that Dave acted ridiculously sometimes; it was evidence we could be anything we wanted to be. It was why the band did all those funny poses onstage: because no one could tell them they couldn’t, or make them explain why they did. It was what all those arms raised in victory were about, because for at least one night we’d defeated the mundane-ness of our existences. And why Van Halen mattered to me then and still does: because I was hoping for a place in the world that granted dignity to my uniqueness, and no one can deny this band had achieved precisely that.
And there in a nutshell is the rock I lost. I lost the need to fight for what I feel inside, to justify it to the world. I’ve attained a life of rock—playing in a rock band for a while and now writing about it—bringing the inside of me outside in a way that’s fulfilling. This is my validation, and in keeping with what Van Halen gave me, if anyone out there has more hope for their own future because of what I’ve done in my corner of the world, so be it. In fact, you should. You kick some ass too, Baltimore Washington.
After the band finishes “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” they hold their arms aloft, taking in the cheers. The four members come together at center stage–even Alex, who’s wearing some take on prison garb–and stand arm-in-arm, the leaders of this army of thousands against boredom and predictability and those who want to quash our dreams. Then they scamper off, Dave the last to disappear, but before he does, he gives us all one last ass wiggle. This doesn’t make me chuckle—more of an eye roll—but I get it. He’s wiggling it at every person who said David Lee Roth wasn’t possible. Because if it’s not possible, he’s not possible, and here he is. Christ, look at him.
Start over? Part I is here.