The Van Halen RRHoF Induction Debacle
Recently I succumbed to my morbid curiosity about the much balleyhooed induction ceremony of Van Halen to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I heard it was dreadful but, despite all better judgement, I decided to look it up on Youtube anyway. And before I could stop it, the whole sordid affair was playing out before me in lurid, living color.
I'm sorry I bothered. I'd been told plenty of times that the whole event was an embarrassment -- yet I was still amazed at how depressing the whole thing was when I finally saw it with my own eyes.
First of all, couldn't someone have found better presenters than the execrable Velvet Revolver? This band comes across as little more than a crass marketing concept cooked up by cynical record industry suits who miss the fat paychecks that once-huge acts like Guns 'n' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots used to rake in for them. What this tepid, tired lot have to do with a revolutionary, one-of-a-kind, all-time classic rock band like Van Halen is beyond me.
But worse than the uninspired choice of Van Halen's inductors is, of course, the fact that the members of Van Halen themselves, full-grown men well into middle age, couldn't stop bickering amongst themselves, get their shit together and show up to this damn thing. It breaks my heart that a genius like Eddie Van Halen, once a restlessly innovative talent who shone brighter than the sun, is now a reclusive, booze-soaked madman, just a quirk away from Michael Jackson status. Ditto for his brother Alex. And where was David Lee Roth? This painfully dull ceremony desperately needed his color and razor sharp wit.
For what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is worth, Van Halen are certainly deserving of being inducted into it. And you'd think that for an occasion like this, Eddie, Alex, Michael and Diamond Dave could have buried their proverbial hatchet for a night.
But no. Instead, an embarrassed looking Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar turn up to accept on behalf of their dysfunctional brethren. It must be said, these two did the best they could under the circumstances. Anthony was clearly as excited by the honor as he could have been without his mates beside him. Second stringer Hagar, no doubt fully aware of his status as "everyone's second-favorite Van Halen frontman," accepted with dignity and humility, and thanked the RRHOF for including him at all. I'm not a Hagar fan but at least the guy has his feet on the ground.
Then there were the performances. In lieu of Van Halen themselves were Velvet Revolver, who paid "tribute" to the band with a performance of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." Scott Weiland & co. took the stage and my stomach sank as Slash botched the song's indelible opening figure, an unforgivable mistake. Walk into any music store in America and you can hear that riff played correctly. I'm not bagging on Slash; he's a great guitarist in his own right but he clearly isn't the man to be invoking a virtuoso like Van Halen. He was out of his depth.
After the tense first eight bars or so, however, Slash recovered and the band were basically in the clear, as the rest of the song is more or less just two chords.
But then Weiland opened his mouth.
Now, I'm not here to say Weiland is totally talentless; he is (or was, at least) a competent singer who did a nice enough job on all those STP singles. However, authentic he is not. He sailed in on the back of the grunge movement in the early 90s by affecting a pastiche of all the Seattle-based vocal stylings that were au courant at the time, and threw a pretentious pose of bogus eccentricity into the mix as well (remember his rocking chair schtick in the STP Unplugged show?). And nowadays Weiland is doing an absurd Iggy/Mick Jagger pantomime, which he put on full display at the RRHOF show. Gross.
Ok, fine, Scott Weiland is a poser. But at the very least, one would think, having been asked to commemorate one of the greatest rock bands of all time, he would give his dead-level best to do Diamond Dave and company some justice and respect.
No such luck! Weiland's performance was abysmal. He was hopelessly out of tune, not that it sounded like he was even trying. He appeared to be doing some sort of goofy lounge singer parody. I mean, what was he on? What was he thinking?
Worse than the awful singing was the fact that this man, this clown, this pretender, this fraud, was chosen to pay tribute to one of the most original and influential personalities in rock. What an atrocity. It was bad karaoke. It was unlistenable, unwatchable. I couldn't even make it to the end of the clip.
Of course I should have bailed then and there, but nooo.
A hopeless glutton for punishment, I decided to subject myself to the other performance in the Van Halen tribute, the one where Hagar and Anthony took the stage backed up by -- it hurts me to say this -- Paul Schaffer and the Late Show with David Letterman Orchestra, for a bland, session hack rendition of "Why Can't This Be Love," a hit from the Van Hagar era.
Ouch. It was like watching a wedding band. A not very good one. Sid McGuinness mangled the guitar solo in a singularly depressing moment. Couldn't someone have at least phoned Steve Vai? Again, this was unbearable.
What stings most about all of this wasn't how bad the performers were, it was the absence of Van Halen themselves, a once-great band who, in their heyday, rightfully ruled the earth and could play circles around anyone you'd care to mention, a band who made up their own rules and virtually reinvented the game of rock.
And this ceremony, which was an open opportunity for Van Halen to untarnish their now sullied name, to show everyone how it's done, to patch up their differences with one another and accept an honor that they deserve, was instead a reminder that this band's best days are far behind them, irretrievably gone, a speck in the rear-view mirror.
When the Roth era of Van Halen closed up shop in 1985, they left behind an enormous piece of real estate, to which, so far, no other band can afford the lease.