This really is a bizarre thing to be worked up about but I just can’t get over how much of an anus Sammy Hagar is.
I never really knew that much about David Lee Roth other than he was a great entertainer and I’d always assumed he was probably a bit dopey after my brother would josh me as a teenager for liking Van Halen, as brother’s do, and made them one of those parts of my life that I sort of threw away because if I wanted to be a grown up I’d have to leave behind a band that, on one long car trip, Nic & Dad so eloquently described as “just elevator music with drop tuned guitars and gated snares.”
But after listening to the interview of David Lee Roth by Marc Maron I was blown away by, even if I didn’t entirely take him at face value on his admittedly very dramatic style of storytelling, how ferociously bright, informed, self-aware and intelligent the guy is, both academically and emotionally.
As entertaining and over the top he is as a story teller, he’s super quick to acknowledge that for every struggle that he overcame growing up, and there were quite a few, that there was plenty of privilege there too. And what became very clear was that he was really someone for whom, behind the legendarily, almost cartoonish, level of partying he did, was an incredibly strong and serious work ethic and a deep commitment to an extremely high standard of quality in everything he did.
Hearing him talk about the tracks off the first Van Halen record made me really remember why I connected so much with the music as a teenager.
Unlike other bands I grew out of, like Motley Crüe, or most of Metallica and half of Pantera (Load & Reload almost stand the test of time as guilty pleasures, Ride The Lightning and St. Anger do not. The Great Southern Trendkill is undeniably, a deeply flawed, but still definitely brilliant record) there’s a highly intelligent & precise understanding of both how & why to avoid cliche, except for when there’s a reason to embrace it.
Going back and listening to songs like Runnin’ With The Devil, Jamie’s Cryin’, Ain’t Talkin’ About Love, and Jump, which under scrutiny is not just one of the greatest pop songs ever written just because it’s so catchy, but because there’s a depth of construction and meaning that doesn’t just instruct the listener to dance for the hell of it, but presents them with an argument for why they should that’s so succinct and straight to the core of the matter that there’s simply no choice but to accept that, well, you might as well Jump.
Listening to Roth talk about those songs, you can see he’s hyper aware not just of what, why and how & why to construct a great tune, but also of which giant’s shoulders he was standing while doing so, and knew exactly where to steal from at any given time to get the job done right.
I think Roth’s reputation, and the way he would describe his priorities in creating, is that he’s, first and foremost, an “entertainer.”
But I think that word is actually often used as a bit of a backhanded insult when it comes to art - an “entertainer” carries with it a bit of an implication that it’s just “fun”, and fun, as fun as fun is, isn’t culturally significant the same way as, especially when it comes to leaving a lasting impact in the ongoing weft of history, something more obviously profound or “important.”
And here’s where I’ll justify why it is actually worth the time I’m spending writing about this, and more importantly, the time that you’ve wasted already if you’ve indulged me in bothering to read this far.
On the surface it is of course, ridiculously unimportant whether anyone listens to Sammy Hagar, one incredibly rich rockstar far beyond the stage of having any real relevance in today’s cultural landscape, when he slags off David Lee Roth, who, also is, on first glance, similarly well fed and irrelevant.
I think there’s an important discussion to here though to be had about the importance of an artist’s legacy, especially if they’ve earned it, and how unimportant material success really is if the hard work in creating a body of work over the course of a lifetime amounts to nothing because it’s remembered, appreciated or recognised in a way that’s fair and appropriately reverent.
What did David Lee Roth do, and why is he more worthy of closer examination than most of his contemporaries, most of whom genuinely should be dismissed as shallow entertainers, at best.
What makes his work so great, and worthy of comparison to someone more widely accepted as important not just as an entertainer, but as a cultural pioneer, like Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, or The Rolling Stones.
I think there’s a case to be made that Roth does a much more interesting job of stealing lyrically from the blues than Zeppelin, and he’s just as much of a showman as Mick Jagger.
The guitar riffs that Eddie wrote changed the sound of rock n’ roll
So, with all that said, I can finally get back to where I started with all this.
Why is Sammy Hagar, objectively, a weapons grade dweeb for saying that not only was “Roth the worst person to be around” and that unlike Roth, Sammy’s a better songwriter because, “knows how to bring joy to everyone around him, he “knows how to make people happy.”
The simple answer is that the difference between Van Halen with Sammy Hagar and Van Halen with David Lee Roth, when it comes to making people happy?
Why Can’t This Be Love? and Right Now, Van Halen’s biggest hits while Sammy was singing for them, manage to catch the shallow sparkle that the glam metal successors to Van Halen, Bon Jovi, brought to the table, but with none of the kitsch charm.
So, Sammy’s songs ask us, Why Can’t This Be Love? and and why not Right Now?
And the obvious answer, to questions like that, for almost 40 years has been, simply put, that, ahhhhhh.... we might as well Jump.