Updated: Oct 11, 2020
It was 1978. I was fourteen years old. I was over at a friend's house after school. Bill Johnson was his name. He played guitar in the school band. At the time, that seemed pretty cool. He told me I had to hear this new band. He fired up the record player, set the needle down and I was immediately blown away.
The song, of course, was "Runnin' With the Devil," the opening track of Van Halen's debut album. As it turned out, it was nowhere near the best song on the album, but nonetheless, it was the song that started it all. I had never heard anything like it. We listened to the entire album all the way through, and then listened again. A few weeks after that, my older brother added the album to his cassette collection. I listened to it over and over and over again.
By the time Van Halen had come out with their third album in 1980, I had picked up the bass guitar and had formed a band with two of my friends. Todd played the drums and Eric played guitar. We were just learning how to play, but we had all the enthusiasm in the world.
That summer, the three of us saw Van Halen in concert. It was my second-ever concert. I would end up going to every one of their concerts up until David Lee Roth left the group. I eventually moved on to different music, got much better at the bass guitar, played in many different bands over the years, and Van Halen slowly became a band I "used to" listen to. But my life was definitely altered that day over at Bill's house. I had been sent on a different trajectory after being introduced to Edward Van Halen and the crew. I can't say I wouldn't have wound up playing music, or that I wouldn't have ended up in the exact same place I am today, but I cannot discount its importance.
Why do we mourn people we don't know? Is it our way of feeling connected? Or are we connected already? Our lives are shaped by our surroundings. Are the people who influence our lives as real to us as our family and friends? No. But as much as it feels like we are mourning the people themselves, maybe we're also mourning the part of our own lives that will forever carry a different weight whenever we revisit.
Eddie Van Halen was a tremendous talent, a once-in-a-lifetime virtuoso whose praises will be sung for years to come. He forever changed the landscape for guitarists who followed in his wake. But do his talents make his passing any sadder? Does his music make his untimely demise any more tragic?
It's the connection we all feel to him that saddens us. The world misses those who bring us joy. And his talents brought us so much joy.
I can remember hanging out in Todd's backyard, listening to "And the Cradle Will Rock..." a few days before the concert. Todd had a pair of drumsticks in his hands, as he so often did. Eric was there too. Todd is no longer with us. He lost a battle with cancer a couple years ago. Eric is currently fighting cancer right now.
Hearing the news today left me feeling a bit empty. We shouldn't lose people at sixty-five. But it happens. And when it happens to someone who had a part in shaping your life, it's a bit sadder. But the saddest part is knowing that to a lot of people he was so much more than just an influence. He was a father, a husband, a son, a brother. Knowing the pain they are all going through right now rips my heart out.
Rest in peace, Edward Van Halen. You will be missed.