Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga (Book Review)
Leaving here we aggravate you
-“I’m The One”
William Shakespeare’s plays could be put into three distinct categories; Histories, Comedies and Tragedies. If Bard were alive today I’m convinced without a doubt he would have written a play on the epic antics of Van Halen. Their story has all of elements of great storytelling that even a fiction writer couldn’t conceive in their wildest dreams. The question is what kind of play would it be? Shakespeare scholars would define it as a history play, but it would most definitely be heavy on elements of comedy and tragedy. Sadly Shakespeare isn’t alive, but Ian Christe is. Christe previously detailed the meteoric history of heavy metal is his excellent 2003 book, ‘The Sound of the Beast’ and this time around, on ‘Everybody Wants Some’, he’s tackled the most dysfunctional rock band on the planet with ardent zeal and has written a story that is epically Shakespearean.
The genesis of Van Halen is fascinating if for no other reason than they lost their driving charismatic force at what appeared to be their commercial peak but somehow managed to thrive and survive while conquering everything in their path without ever skipping a beat until they became their own worse enemy. The band has been and always will be led by a sprawling talent on the six-string who was gifted with staggering prowess and who created some of the greatest jet-engine riffs ever committed to tape. This guitar god partnered with a superbly unsubtle genius of a madman on vocals complimented by a frantic backbeat led by a happy go lucky bassist and a frenzied madman on the skins who together defined and influenced an entire generations of rock n’ roll enthusiasts with six-albums in less than seven-years. The superb voracious singer was eventually replaced by a more at ease venerable musician who allowed the band to mature and develop while still commanding the audience’s attention. Eventually egos and outside forces did what rap, grunge and continual changing musical tastes couldn’t do; bring the band to their knees. Sammy Hagar, David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony, Alex and Eddie Van Halen (and later to a lesser extent Gary Cherone and Wolfgang Van Halen) defied all odds and became the biggest band in the land not just once, but twice and may possibly do it a third time. If you think you know the full story about the anarchic Van Halen family…you don’t. ‘Everybody Wants Some’ is endearing, euphoric and expansive history into what is most likely the most estranged band to ever emerge from the land of opportunity. Ian Christe is frank and unbiased as he chronicles the band’s entire history with gritty details of their rise to the top, each break-up, the aftermath, submerged inner tension and meticulous details that even the casual fan will devour. Van Halen’s rise, fall and resurrection are all here in mesmerizing detail and will have you asking yourself, “Who’s Mitch Malloy?”
Shook hands with the devil
Looked him in the eye
Looked like a long lost friend
-“Mine All Mine”
The most staggering aspect of the book is that it’s an unauthorized biography. As a general rule, I usually don’t enjoy unauthorized biographies because they tend to be glorified tales written with a lot of assumptions and tall tales that even a casual fan would raise their eyes with suspicion. I never hoisted my eyebrow once as Christe’s research is nothing short of astonishing; minute details are given ranging from specific recording sessions, family lineages, failed auditions for singers, the numerous attempted reunions with Roth and the most important aspect for guitar geeks-a detailed outline of guitars used, created and played by Eddie Van Halen over his entire life. Christe knows this band, loves this band, pulls his hair out over their internal drama and as a result has written the definitive Van Halen story. Once you pick it up it you will need to unchain yourself from your chair because it’s impossible to put down whether you are a Van Halen or Van Hagar fan.
Even if the band sat down one day to write their story, it would be biased with revisionism. No authorized biography would ever be this factual or truthful. If recent actions are any hint, it probably wouldn’t even mention Michael Anthony. Christe puts the reader right in the emotional thick of the action from the 1920’s in Europe to the present day reunion in 2007. Christe makes you feel like an insider with his fastidious quotes and personal insight. Don’t get me wrong, Christe dishes dirt, but does so without judgment and makes sure he has the facts straight. People often tell me I should write a book, but after reading ‘Everybody Wants Some’, I doubt if I could ever be as comprehensive and succinct as Christe who spent a colossal amount of time researching this book which is apparent right from page one. The book encompasses the Van Halen’s journey from Holland to California, to their early high school bands, jamming to thousands of people in backyards, their encounters with Gene Simmons and their rise, fall, dissolution, internal destruction and eventual resurrection(s). David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar’s post Van Halen solo-tenure’s are also detailed as are stories of what Eddie and Alex Van Halen have been doing for the better part of a decade proving they indeed have been very active but out of the spotlight. There are details of songs left off albums and jams recorded but have never seen the light of day. From late 1998 until early 2004, Eddie and Alex were invisible to the outside world. ‘Everybody Wants Some’ puts this long pause into perspective.
When the Van Halen brothers disappeared into 5150 in 1999, they had alienated their most devoted fans and by early 2004, they had been away for so long that no one really cared anymore. The sad aspect of the Van Halen brothers disappearing act was it did diminish their legacy. There was a time where I went years without listening to any Van Halen albums, even though I loved them. They were so far removed from the spotlight and the lack or archive releases frustrated me and millions of fans. As discussed in this book, the amount of unreleased music stored in 5150 is staggering. There should have been dozens of live DVD’s, box sets, remasters and other fan oriented packages in the last decade to quench the enormous thirst fans still have for this band but alas we had to settle for three new songs on the 2004 package, ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, two songs on ‘The Best of: Volume 1’ and an album with Gary Cherone. Then the abrupt reunion with Hagar in 2004 left fans sour once again, however, Christe puts all of these events into the proper perspective and while he details their fall from grace, he makes us almost forget all of the internal drama and elevates their legacy in ways I never thought possible. Despite the constant rotation of lead singers, unreleased songs, the Cherone album and failed reunions Christe manages to make me view Van Halen as something more than a soap opera, he reminds us why we loved them in the first place and as a result they will always be a vital and imperative band no matter what the future holds for them. With his poetic prose, Christe jogs your memory and proves that Van Halen will always be legends. As soon as I finished reading ‘Everybody Wants Some’ I gave every Van Halen album another spin and viewed each one from a fresh outlook including the comical ‘Diver Down’, the pulverizing ‘Fair Warning’ and the metallic and misunderstood ‘Balance’. The band should give Christe a portion of future proceeds from record sales just for writing this book, because as a result of reading it, I am reevaluating records I had forgotten about years ago and it appears I underestimated them. ‘Everybody Wants Some’ is the essential gift every Van Halen fan should have. Do yourself a favor and buy this book before you buy a t-shirt at the reunion concert. Christe has written a book that is stylish, succinct, breathtaking and as dazzling as an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo. If you ever stared in the mirror and attempted to imitate David Lee Roth with leaps and splits from the “Jump” video, then this book is for you.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and can be found at The Screen Door
Chapter One of the book can be read in its entirety here.