I more than likely met Brian when I started school at the age of seven.
We attended grade school together for eight years, sometimes ending up in the same homeroom and, even if we weren’t, our paths still crossed daily in the halls, cafeteria, or the random pick-up game of hoops on the playground.
Brian and I weren’t close friends but, when happenstance threw us together, we generally got along well.
Like most of the kids with whom we attended grade school, Brian and I moved on to the same high school. Our lockers weren’t more than a spitwad’s shot of each other and we had plenty of common friends.
Yet I remember nothing of him from those years. At some point, his family moved out of state and he would graduate elsewhere.
I probably hadn’t thought of Brian in fifteen years when my mom mentioned in a phone conversation that he had apparently killed himself. I think that all I said was “Huh” and my mom continued on, commencing to, like clockwork, grill me on the weather.
I don’t believe I’ve thought of Brian since that conversation which must have been ten years or more ago.
Then, a few days ago Van Halen’s Little Guitars – newly added to the iPod – shuffled up. The song had been on the band’s Diver Down which had been released during the spring of ’82 when we had been finishing up eighth grade.
I can only hazily recall what Brian looked like, but I can vividly picture him acting out Little Guitars in a homeroom game of charades one rainy afternoon.
If your life does flash before your eyes when it ends, as the credits to that flick roll for me, Brian will have made a handful of scenes, had a few lines, and end up listed as “Kid Playing Little Guitars”
Little did any of us know that there would be only one more Van Halen album with David Lee Roth after Diver Down.
Until such an album does or doesn’t materialize, here are four random song from the original incarnation of Van Halen…
Van Halen – Dancing In The Street
from Diver Down
Diver Down might have been Van Halen’s fifth album, but as the first four were released when I had little interest in music, it was essential my first exposure to Eddie and Diamond Dave.
The group had already had a smash that spring with their take on Roy Orbison’s (Oh) Pretty Woman and their version of Martha & The Vandellas Dancing In The Street seemed to be a declaration that summer was upon us – gurgling synthesizers, Eddie’s guitar heroics, and David Lee Roth’s vocal howl served the song well, successfully remaking the Motown classic as a hard rock anthem.
Van Halen – Little Guitars
from Diver Down
I suppose that it’s only fitting that Little Guitars, the song that tripped my memory banks, would pop up.
Diver Down was a mixed bag of an album that was never meant to be. When Pretty Woman – intended as a stopgap single while the band took a break – became a hit, Van Halen’s label pushed to quickly record a full album.
Little Guitars, though hardly essential Van Halen, is bright, loose, and sounds like a laid-back summer night.
Van Halen – Eruption
from Van Halen
One hundred and three seconds of sheer wickedness.
Sure it spawned legions of half-baked guitar apostles, but I can only imagine what it must have been like to have heard Eruption when it was first released.
Van Halen – Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love
from Van Halen
By the time I started listening to music, Van Halen had done their best stuff, so I discovered the first four albums over the ensuing years. I never really committed to the band (most likely because several friends were rabid to the point of grating about them).
I’ve probably spent more time listening to those early Van Halen albums in the last five years as I did during the twenty-five years previous. The more that time passes, the more I’m convinced that the original Van Halen was one of the truly great bands.
Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love is a sheer, sonic, adrenaline rush of a song with a nihilistic streak that’s gritty and menacing.