A single tweet from Wolfgang Van Halen left the rock world stunned and reeling last night: “I can’t believe I’m having to write this but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much Pop”. Eddie Van Halen died last night after a long battle with throat cancer.
Eddie and his brother Alex formed Van Halen with David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony in 1974 and the rest is history. The very epitome of sun-drenched, good-time Californian rock ‘n roll, they wrote the blueprint for virtually every rock band that followed: going on to become one of the 20 bestselling artists of all time and releasing five multi-platinum albums in consecutive years, they were the very definition of huge.
And Eddie himself. Rarely has a musician made an entrance like the 1.42 minutes of ‘Eruption’. The shock waves it sent out were seismic. Nothing like it had been heard before, Van Halen had seemingly dropped, fully formed, from Mars. It’s fair to say that the history of modern electric guitar can be split into two halves – pre and post Eddie Van Halen. Everyone, and I mean everyone who subsequently picked up a guitar was influenced by him.
The electric guitar, because of it’s adaptability and scope for customization, is a uniquely expressive instrument and yet only a handful of players can be truly said to have expanded it’s vocabulary – Chuck Berry possibly and Hendrix certainly, but possibly none more so than Van Halen. Technically stunning while still being jaw-droppingly expressive and , perhaps most importantly, fun. Easy to overlook with the in your face fireworks, but his rhythm playing was also flawless, totally in the pocket and always ludicrously creative, he re-wrote the book.
And loved. The rock world has expressed it’s heartbreak in unison in a way rarely seen. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has taken to social media to share the love. From Country to Grunge, 60’s singer songwriters to thrash metal Gods. From Creedence to Motorhead, Brad Paisley to Brad Wilk, everyone it seems, loved and owed a huge debt of gratitude to Eddie. David Lee Roth simply said: “What a Long Great Trip it’s been…”
And that smile. Ever present. A smile of childish pleasure, of generosity, of I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-for-a-living joy. The loss of that mega-watt smile and talent has left this world a darker place.
RIP Eddie Van Halen. Maestro.