Meet The Stinsons
ow what you think is nothin’ might be somethin’ after all.” -- David Lee Roth
“For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are.” -- Parmenides
Fuck you, Stockhausen. Fuck you and your “synthesis of sound and space music,” your “sounds as meaningful language,” your “invention” and “adventure” and “discovery.” Your “meditations on sound” are not now, nor have they ever been, a “new secret science to master the emptiness.” Before you are given the opportunity to erect unreasonable facsimiles of the trade towers out of gristle and bone and let the raccoons go to work on them, their jaws and claws fitted with a sensitive and impressive array of contact microphones, let me take this opportunity to revel in your failure, your irrelevancy, your shortcomings.
Space and time were—and are—reconciled and extrapolated on via lab-ratted Fender “Frankenstein,” all overdriven and fitted with boiled steel strings, an extension of that which could not be extended, from an unlikely gunslinger who’d never fired on or felled anyone for criminally intellectualizing music and the process that empowers it, flagrantly forgetting that the gut and loin have as much say in the rough of composition as the ruddiness of an unparticular riff as particular as the ones which open “Unchained,” “Atomic Punk,” or “Cradle Will Rock.” Even though the local library’s copies of Karlheinz’ annals—written and recorded—whispered nothing so sweetly to me more than a few times, it was for naught; I never left with her wealth tucked under my arm and I looked continually to the time when I’d be bound for a “reunion show,” a fucking reckoning, a quick and sick shot of sticky ‘80s rock-shock syrup. And it was to be ninnies; it was to be.
But we had to get there first… We casually met our not-so-near neighbors halfway, and they reciprocated; long, plastic drawls, bona fide goodwill, beer, wine, liquor and a substantial mound of fried squid for supper that tasted more of the tang of Venice that the ghostly white innards of a freezer bag. It was a charmed life and we were living it, even as—unbeknownst to us—nearly the first hour of Van Halen’s set had rumbled by. Tickets? They were at willcall. A foot into Charlotte’s Bobcat Arena—Edward’s and Wolfie’s voices combine: “-CHANGE,” they sang in concord and then the riff—that riff—came. That motherfucker of invention and discovery, a beehive the size of one of Saturn’s moons, roaring, chugging, vibrating—a greasy, sleazy mediation on “space” and “time;” the sounds of thousands of orifices filled and emptied of cane stiffened warmth. “-CHANGE! UN-CHAINED!” Again and again and again.
This is the way all music should sound out loud and feel quietly under the skin, a wanton, sensory attack—a replicating but benign virus that spreads from host to host, roiling in a congregation of sweaty, beery mass—arena rock as not-so slick psychoactive event. To wit: the last show I saw in an arena was Neil Diamond; I was with my wife, her mother, sister, and brother-in-law. The average age in attendance was an easy 50. Diamond moved like a doped up greyhound, his voice howling breath-mint smaltz and cooing pillow-klatch. It was hopelessly egregious and unnecessary—exactly how I expected Diamond Dave to be.
How he wasn’t will persist as one of the great mysteries of this unexamined life; how he practiced restraint and—holy fuck—near monkish selflessness, is beyond the grasp of myriad think tanks, of legions of peaceful, macrobiotic warriors—trust me. After feeding on Vegas’ rotting, earthen bottom for eons, The Big Ham saw fit to let a little agreeable age settle into his tissue. Smoked straight through, layered in filigreed glitz and stupidly skin-tight pants, Roth preened and careened; his yellow mustard smile a lingering largesse long after the hotdog gone. No one could ever do non-sequitur between-song-banter like Roth; there’s a legion of YouTubes to prove it. He’s torn from your grandad’s Technicolor chamois couch, a balled corn mixture of Borscht Belt chutzpah and 4:20 eye-droop. E.g. “Ice Cream Man,” where Roth went up and the lights went down; a quick drift into memory lane while left and right hands handled the acoustic. Recollection is always sketchy, and Roth’s remembrance of things past puttered back to ’72—loosey goosey jam at the Stinson Bros.’ boho backyard.
“Back then, pot used to have seeds innit, maaaan,” Roth laughed, his smile part of a permagrin on overdrive. “We’d roll out a joint on a Pink Floyd album cover, maaan…” The spliff lit; the circle formed; hand-in-hand, glances exchanged, etc. And there was this chick in the circle, and her favorite song was “Ice Cream Man.” Well, here’s one for the ladies….The man kept the cracks in check, though, even if that meant missing more than a few cues and mangling some unforgettable lyrics while ostensibly gawking at some surgically engineered TNA in rows one through 10. All minor crit: he sounded bigger and better—middle age’s gravitas and pure physiology, folks: the jungle boy shriek shit was left behind years ago; he could never hope to locate that lost register again. And Edward was thankful; Alex was thankful. Hell, Wolfie was thankful even as he looked sorta bewildered and beatific; a teen trotted onto the set of Bachelor Party for the Max, The Magical Sexual Mule segment.
Wolfie… How was/is he? Well, the other three entrusted the Friar Tuck stunt-double with “Running With The Devil”—a song so potently comprised of Van Halean whatness that it might as well be a melted puck of Sex Wax lumping sadly out of your Hobie shorts’ pocket. Yup. It’s that real. Like havin’ your stomach lining shaken out of your fuckin’ throat and tripe’d around your noggin’ in the most odiferous swim-cap imaginable. Feet stapled to a fluorescent Boogie Board; ass over back goaded into the sparkling glans of a phallic-shaped Howitzer, which perfunctorily fires you and yours over the Pacific—a smoldering flesh parabola blurred across the smog shrieking koans unintelligible. Bass tone like Harold Bloom’s peristalsis via China-Town lunch “special” mistakes. Bass tone the way the Sumo enters the ring: tossing the sacred salt and stomping: ONE…TWO…THREE…FOUR.
When Edward peeks around the corner with a tinkle of ivory that morphs into a phalanx of stripped-down-guitar factories playing themselves afire, we sure as shit know this aint Slade. And Diamond Dave—who found “the simple life, aint so simple,”—pretty much a spectral opposite of the straight-jacketed Kim Fowley’s “Bubblegum:” “Your name is Bubblegum / Live for moon & Sun / Young and so much fun—Life’s just be—/ Life’s just begun.” Juice this down, invert it and have Diamond Dave screaming a buncha chest-hair-pluckin’ WHEWS!—A spew of snake-handlin’ AAHH-YEAHS! And you’re privy to the God’s-honest emergence of a bona fide James Brown/Gene, Gene The Dancing Machine amalgam aspiring for nothing less than a plague of dung monkeys to descend upon the humus of an envenomed Emily Post. What a gawdamn song. And they gave it, writhing and gleaming, to Wolfie.
That’s where the “invention,” the “adventure,” the “sounds as meaningful language,” the universal fuckin’ monochord comes in, fractured and seething with the scientist going mad in the confines of a subterranean Pasadena workshop whilst potting pickups in paraffin wax to effectually silent glowürm coils rattling feedback, thus allowing—and empowering—manual feedback. No cur-whistle membrane mashing uber-frequency—feedback when you’re ready to be fed. And this is just the short of it. This is what Meltzer called “brute actualization;” this was Edward’s action bringing something shitting and screaming into being. Thus, Frankenstein—AKA “My Baby”—was born.
There are harmonics hewed from flocks of radioactively bionic birds in flight; there are dive-bombs that sound as if they strike their target; there are ludicrously unending runs that turn and twist and suffocate the rhythm section until it’s aside stage, gasping for much needed oh-two, and Edward, alone, continues. Of fucking course. Scattershot phaser’d guitar scrapings slice up billions of idealized funhouse mirror reflections of a Hendrix/Clapton menagerie a half-mile high, their hair like a wreath of maggots scrabbling over one single, shared boiling brain. Of course, Wolfie’s bass breaks into boogie, sharing rubbery accents with Alex’s hi-hat splashes and water-breaking crash cymbals. Take special note of the graffiti’d line: “Nobody rules these streets at night but me, THE ATOMIC PUNK!” Indeed.
Sheesh… When the smoke threatened to clear, one thing still remained: Roth’s second-fiddle routine had fooled me; shit, it fooled everyone around me. He raked a bunch of his’80s shtick over fanfare’s glowing coals, the best being the google-eyed-thing-at-Edward, while he does something fucking scary to his axe. That thing. He did it. A bunch. And the applause and screaming and yelling only increased. One guy, so mind erased that he actually lit his moustache on fire trying to ignite a joint that wasn’t even in his mouth (it was on the floor), was fully revived from his beer and herb catatonia via Roth’s silent thing. That thing. The point-at-the-guitar-google-eyed-thing. His support came in the form of a vomit gargled rebel yell, which cleared up some room for him and his partner, who looked like he’d sucked down three gallons of Quaker State before enduring Bobcat Arena security. “Little Guitars,” “Panama,” “Hot For Teacher,” came and went. Had they ever been played at all? Was this really even Van Halen?
The psychic glue to forcibly reconcile opposing schools of thought came in the form of a near formless 12-minute guitar solo, which prominently featured nuts and bolts of “Eruption,” “Spanish Fly”—and “Cathedral,” the latter coming in the form of a tonal leviathan, a submarine opera acted out by frolicking, amorous whales that transpired in suspended quiet, an enraptured audience stripped of their collective vocal cords and left searching for the evasive floor that their jaw reclined upon. Then the noodling came. Edward was playing; playing to us, just “playing,” and we—the entire crowd—was logically four or five dumpy guys spilt upon a bedroom floor, eyes stoned shut and mouths in half moons of Hostess spittle. A phrase roared, a riff run completely down, notes and tones coaxed and rubbed and pulled from the neck as if this thing of wood and metal and electricity was organic, was breathing and needed food, sex, sleep, exercise. Pythagorean notions of soul as the body harmony, of earthly pulse and trumpets and drums on High came and stayed. Remember Ted Templeman slipping into the dressing-room in the midst of Edward’s pre-show flame-up circa sometime so long ago?
Temp likely imagined the six-billion intertwined notes comprising “Eruption” to stand out like the aural equivalent of four-foot nipple frothing a most milky exclamation. It’s almost a priori truth that the technique displayed here is enough to induce air-guitar-is-man’s-only-recourse-shit-type-shit; it’s downright diseased with virtuosity. All the other wonkish hairdos prattling out the finger-taps and platonic-manualisation’d whammy-barred wanks sound like so much chopsticks in the face of Toccata & Fugue in D’s wave tidal. I’m left so begrimed in the gooey resin’d midst of the so-called Edwardian “Brown Sound” that I might as well be cleaning out Cheech’s respiratory apparatus with an econo-sized lung-brush. Begging the proverbial question the size of a Tutankhamen’d obelisk is about as dainty as Ed’s echo-plex’d refrain on “Eruption.” With so much good gawdamned raw material, how did the golden boys ever go astray? What—to be blunt—fucking happened?
Step back in time, folks. It is 1984, which one’s aware of only because every conceivable news organ is excreting the steadily and viciously viscous ooze comprised equally of Orwellian prophecy unfulfilled and an amphetamine’d sprint to the great Slim Fast of the Live-Fat & Deal-with-the-consequences-Tomorrow Generation. Is that why the over-20 lot is dressed like Ralph Macchio? And what exactly is “The Reflex?”—Shoulder-pads in every shirt, jacket, blouse? Mmm, got zeitgeist? You will notice that all of your friends are fluorescent clad zombies whose woolly Frankie Sez dicta is something that the lot of them is more than mildly conversant at. But there was/is Van Halen’s Top 40 topper, “Jump.”
With Purple Rain reigning down its Royal Hue, Edward traded in his guitar-smith for synth, and plunged into places Pop-Metal thought existed only in the abstract. Sure, the language is becoming holistic. To wit: to give an account of a rook, you’ve got to give an account of the chess board, the other pieces, etc. It’s not isolable; it’s incapable of being quarantined; it’s just as essentially part of the prime substance insofar as the substance is prime. So, begin the end with the fatal mistake, 1984.
Of course, the LP in question’s title was delivered smugly in numerals Roman.—And why not? This was an Imperial victory for the marketing ilk. Sure, the denouement had been spiraling slowly downward since Diver Down showed a fatal fissure—see/hear “Dancing in the Street;” but the point emphatic is to correct the posture before one falls over. Isn’t it as gaudily obvious as genital warts? Temp & Donn Landee rolled one up, broke out the carbonated grapes, and toasted to crossover: Bottoms Up! The plan was perniciously plastic: for every “House of Pain,” there’ll be two “I’ll Waits.” Was it the ebullient synth intro that gave it away?—The ready for Tiger Beat windblown headshots on the cover’s flipside?—The fact that your folks fucking liked “I’ll Wait”?
Sadly, it’s really only attributable to instrumentation. Disworlding the twinkling keys from the fluorocarbon set (see the Fixx; Flock of Seagulls, Kajagoogoo, et al.) and relocating them in something so completely antithetical to their core cause is not only a contextual faux-pas, it’s the beginning of the end for one of Rock-‘n’-Roll’s greatest groups. Forget the tales of Dave/Edward friction; the substance and partying problems; the Valerie Bertinelli as Yucko Ono paradigm… Like contracting genital warts, the synth dry-hump is/was one of the most unfortunate Big E Events in the midst of the teenage anxiety existential. Why? Because, this World, this Place, ain’t the usual World: it’s the sum total of All that Is; and when it’s chalked up as mathematically relevant as number increased by number = some unquantifiable quantity, we’re left with something so apparently unapparent that one’s only recourse is to think singularly: What Matters To Us; What Is Significant, etc.
Q.E.D.: Edward Van Halen is pretty gawdamn significant, especially considering how the liquidity of Rock (at this/that point in time) is/was beyond the taxonomy of neither solid nor gaseous; and with nothing in the face of something we’re left like so many men overboard clinging to the wreck of Rock’s detritus. The flotsam ‘n’ jetsam genuflects to no one or no thing: the vacillating wave is orchestrated without an orchestra; a conductor is left without anything to conduct; and we can only give/take anything that comes within an arm’s grasp.
So people clapped and yelled and hooted and whistled as long as Edward continued to create something out of nothing, to do, to make, to go wherever he decided to go and to fondle his guitar in any manner he saw fit. This is as loose and free as it gets, as “meditative” as one could hope for, as “adventurous” and “inventive” as anything I’ve heard—or seen—in 10 or 20 years, a “new secret science to master the emptiness,” a songless song, a way to fight age and inevitability, a way to keep the thoughts out of the process and the gut and loin eternally into the groove: music cracked from stones as fire automatic giving much needed motherfucking reprieve—an ad hoc shelter from the claustrophobic boredom, the brutish and senseless monotony of it all. And, really: that’s all we can ever ask for… “Senorita I’m in trouble again and I can’t get free / [SEN-YOUR-EEE-TAH] / You’re exactly what the doctor ordered, come on talk to me / [AHHHHH] / Can’t crow before I’m out of the woods, but there’s exceptions to the rule / [AHHHH-AHHHH] / Senorita, do you need a friend? I’m in love with you…”