Two heads of long, brown, flowing feathered locks passed by me… rock ‘n roll hair, bouncing with every stride, they almost looked like twins…
… and they were in a hurry.
I was around twenty years old, with my friend Ann, and we were walking around the mall.
That’s what our generation did: walked around the mall, met friends, hung out. We were called mall rats, like in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
This is how the conversation always went:
“Let’s get together.”
“Okay, what do you wanna do?”
“Let’s go hang out at the mall.”
“Awesome, let’s go!”
It was the Eighties. Yeah, the one young people of today try to replicate with their 80’s themed parties. When I first heard about these parties it was a blow to the gut. “How could people be throwing Eighties themed parties? I’m not old, it wasn’t that long ago! That was my generation, my entire world, and now it’s being turned into some type of joke theme for people’s entertainment?!
But, I get it. I used to go to 50’s and 60’s themed parties when I was young; that’s what young people do, they love dressing up and trying to capture the essence of those times, so now I look at it as an homage rather than a parody.
I loved the Eighties… everything about it, especially the music. I would hole up in my bedroom and play rock ‘n roll albums for hours. And I mean play them, not just press a button on a smartphone and listen to some digital version. I played records; pure sound recorded and magnetized onto a jet black vinyl disc and spun on a turntable.
I would carefully slide the vinyl record out from its sleeve, mindful not to mar the surface with fingerprints, lightly blow off any dust, place it onto the turntable, and carefully set the needle down on the first track without scratching it. The familiar sound of crunchy static right before the first song always gave me delight as I anticipated my favorite music coming through the speakers.
Foreigner, The Cars, Madonna, Loverboy, Run DMC, Supertramp, Motley Crüe, Donna Summer, The GoGo’s, Guns ‘n Roses, Prince, Metallica… musicians and bands that defined the era and shattered top forty lists. I could go on and on… but I don’t want to lose you. But there were only two bands that really smashed it for me, ones I absolutely adore and will never tire of: Rush and Van Halen.
Those two bands defined my youth.
Listening to their music was like falling in love; it stirred inside me an excitement and a euphoria of the sort only the arts can do. Some people are moved by writing or poetry, some by paintings from the masters, some with sculpture. For many though, it’s music. People talk about music saving their lives, giving them hope. For me, it was galvanizing.
When I got the news the other day that Eddie Van Halen died, I was completely devastated. “Are you fucking kidding me? Eddie Van Halen is dead?!” The news took my breath away, then I cried. He was too young, too magnificent, to die. Just like earlier in the year when Neil Peart’s death devastated me, this one will take a long time to get over also.
It’s like a huge chunk of my youth was redacted in a single swipe of a black marker. I feel like we’re all being cheated somehow. How could such talent be taken away so soon? How could the soundtrack of our lives slowly be removed from the charts, one by one?
The first time I heard Van Halen, their first album, I was blown away by what was coming at me through the speakers. David Lee Roth’s powerful vocals layered over Eddie’s screaming, melodic licks was pure magic; I was in heaven! I listened to it over and over and over again and I couldn’t wait for each consecutive album’s release. Van Halen rocked me through the decade and beyond. I still listen to them when I need energy and want to be uplifted.
I have stories. So many stories of amazing and unbelievable events that took place in my life, and I was trying to think back: Did I have any Eddie Van Halen stories? I definitely had a David Lee Roth story, which I’ll save for another time, but Eddie Van Halen?
Huh, couldn’t think of one.
Until, in the middle of the night last night, when I woke up because I remembered my Eddie Van Halen story: the time I saw him, in, of all places, the mall in my small suburban town outside of Los Angeles.
It was the late Eighties and I was walking around the mall with my friend Ann, who talked an awful lot and never seemed to pay much attention to anything I had to say when I tried to get a word in edgewise, when suddenly I noticed two people with long brown flowing feathered locks and looking like twins walking towards us. It was Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli. They were in a hurry… trying to get the hell out of there before a mob surrounded them. Understandable since Eddie was a rock God and Valerie, a sitcom princess.
I watched speechless as they walked past us, not having the heart to turn around and ask them for their autographs because clearly, they did not want to be there. It was as if they tried to have a normal moment, just two regular people out shopping somewhere, enjoying their time together in a normal setting, but then realizing that was not a possibility for them, they were too famous.
Ann, babbling on and on, didn’t even notice. I stopped her shortly after they passed us, grabbing her by the arm and saying “Ann, shut up. Did you just see Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli walk by? They just walked past us!” She turned around but they were already gone, lost amongst the mall rats. Then she looked at me like I was crazy, she didn’t believe me, thinking I most likely saw people who looked similar to them.
But then we heard it: the screaming, wailing sounds of Eddie’s guitar playing echoing and bouncing off the walls. Coming towards us was a young rocker guy with long hair carrying a huge boombox that was blaring Van Halen’s “Eruption”. The guy approached us and asked in earnest “Did you see him?” and I replied with a breathless “Yeah, I did.” We both smiled.
And that was all that needed to be said.