The late great Eddie Van Halen is a man who is, quite rightly, celebrated not just for his genius skills on a six-string but also for his words of wisdom and his unique, upbeat outlook on life. Van Halen was never elitist when discussing the creation of music, an outlook which is reflected in his own output. He never tried to appeal only to the purists and he made music that could be enjoyed for anybody with an open mind— tunes that could be dissected and tunes that could be thrashed upon.
Having made a truly emphatic arrival into the world in 1978 with their debut album, there was nobody around who quite sounded like Van Halen. While as a group they offered a merger between fans of hard and glam rock, they were never afraid to show their goofy side either. Together, they didn’t care about the derision that their sound was met with from some quarters and, instead, they came up with even more killer riffs. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar skills made the band the legendary act that they ultimately became, he had a certain edge to him which set the band apart from their contemporaries and he was a maestro in every sense of the word. Over the course of the next decade, there would be numerous high profile names attempt to replicate Van Halen’s guitar playing but, in truth, nobody could play like Eddie.
Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello perfectly epitomised Van Halen after his passing when he stated: “Eddie Van Halen was one of the greatest, most inventive, truly visionary musicians of all time. He was an unparalleled titan in the annals of rock & roll. And on the Mount Rushmore of guitarists, he is neck-and-neck for the pole position.” It’s fair to say that Eddie Van Halen is up on a pedestal, a pedestal he has occupied for some time as one of the great guitarists. But that never turned him into a snob.
Van Halen was never one who believed in a certain brand of music as being superior to another and, as long as music elicited that special heart-warming feeling from within, then that was good enough for him. This was an opinion that he talked about at length with Guitar World in 2013, a conversation in which he quite rightly declared, “Music is not the Olympics. It’s not a sport, it’s a form of expression.”
He continued: “There is no such thing as bad music,” with renewed vigour. “There may be music that you personally don’t like, but if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it and shut the fuck up! Don’t listen to it and complain about it. There’s lots of music that I don’t care for, but you can’t say it’s bad. That’s subjective. That would happen if we put out something new now also. When we released Van Halen II, the critics and some fans went, ‘Hey! It’s different than the first one.’ Well, yeah! It’s a different record. If it sounded like the first one then fans and critics would complain that it sounded the same. What the fuck?”
Van Halen offered some solid advice for any artist, music or otherwise, looking to make their name: “You just do what you do. If anyone has a better way, show me how to please everyone all the time! For some reason, people love to complain about everything. The internet has made it easy for people to do that. Shut the fuck up and get a life, or show me how good you can do it.”
He then poignantly added: “When people see Van Halen or Black Sabbath, it conjures up a certain image in their minds. If there’s just one albino pubic hair outside of that image, they won’t accept it. And if we do put something out, the first thing people are going to say is that it isn’t as good as the classics.”
It was this freeing liberal attitude towards music that what helped Van Halen enjoy the dynamic career that he lived out. An artist always creating the music that he envisaged with unerring accuracy. This undying want to stay true to himself is certainly what made him one of the greats, one of the true shapeshifting musicians with foresight like no other.