As soon as I heard I immediately wrote my friend Will, "Fuck." And he replied within minutes, "Oh my god."
Edward Van Halen was dead. This was hard to believe given how very alive he made me and my friends feel.
I am of that generation who takes just about everything far too seriously, and somehow nothing very seriously at all. I have text chains with pals where one of us will report a particular life update, and within five minutes that chain has inevitably arrived to, "Do you think we can get Chi'Ali from Black Sheep to do a Cameo for us?" This year when the roosters of global crises have come home to roost, we are stuck, mostly at home, mostly alone, wondering if we should be doing more, or if we should be doing less.
EVH is all of this. There is hardly a soul in music who poured more intentionality, craft, and precision into his instrument and what he wanted his sound to be. And that resulting sound can only be described as "fun". As Will put it, "I find that in art what I'm usually wanting is to reconcile opposites, for mainstream stuff to be artier, and for stuff that's too arty to play to the crowd more. I think I like my art like Edward Van Halen."
Truly 'core' VH fans scoff at 'Jump'. But this song was my gateway. It is legitimately the first song I remember, because at five years old it had the one dance move I really knew how to do. 'I can jump. I like jumping. Jumping is super fun. These guys are right, I might as well jump.'
My father worked for my town's highway department up until I was born. His life was digging ditches and finding a good, or rather, acceptable place to drink after. When I was born he got an office job selling plumbing supplies. Some weekend in the mid-80s he had my sister and I in tow for the family grocery shopping at the Big Y in Pittsfield. He bumps into one of his old buddies, Pete. I picture him in head to toe denim, mullet, a picture of that highway crew of the 70s, carrying a twelver of PBR. "Who you running with these days Dougie?" the dude says, oblivious to the rascals next to him and my father being, well, a father. My dad smiles and he says, "Running with these devils." After that every time the song came on we'd turn it up, he'd smile and remember that encounter. There was no question which crew he enjoyed running with more in those moments. I am bad at talking on the telephone. I hate it, I always have. And yet, my job forces me on that device for hours a day. As a result of this burnout my friends and loved ones hear from me far too little. So it is my father that is charged with tracking me down after a few failed attempts from my mother to call or text. And when I finally answer and apologize we get into something about New England weather, music history, Civil War remembrance, or who from the old town has died. Those conversations are sparse, and pressed for an update from my mother with quizzes about all manner of things -- job, my dog, my relationship, health -- my father will reply, "It didn't come up'' to each.
But we can absolutely listen to Van Halen and talk about it together. And we are both hearing the same thing and no one is talking down to anyone in those conversations, no matter how far apart our worlds are. Ed gave my Dad the language to be able to say, "I really like being your dad." and me, years later to know it. There is nothing more metal than that.
This is all to say that in a year when life has been stripped down its essence, it's enough to put love and passion into pursuits, no matter how seemingly small, or seemingly insignificant. EVH is my Eat Pray Love, I guess. Jump. Run with devils. Dance the night away. It all matters, even when it doesn't.