Remembering the greatness of Eddie Van Halen, Digressions mainman Rich Ragany shares a coming of age story...
My first concert was the VAN HALEN 1984 Tour.
I was 12. My older brother got me and my next door pal Susan tix. She was a year older, very pretty Italian girl. And she DID NOT wanna go! Hahahaha! She styled herself more of a Go Go's fan (which I was as well haha). My brother was like, "C'mon Susan! It'll be nice for Rich to have someone his age around!" Poor Susan. She had already endured years of me standing on the sofa with a pink plastic badminton racket pretending to be Johnny Thunders ('Stranded In The Jungle') or Ace Frehely ('Strutter').
"I wanna play house!"
"Well, we'll play one hour of house if ya LET me play half an hour of Rock Star!"
Thus began my education of compromise with the ladies. Hahaha! She would sit and pretend to applaud. Poor Susan.
The day of the concert arrived and I was just racked with nervous energy! Seriously freaking out. Susan? Couldn't care less. "Their music is BORING!"
We got to the Calgary Saddledome and took our seats (just PERFECT seats! Facing the stage. Right on the first balcony, first row. Where the Queen would sit, ya know hahaha!)
Then… You know when the lights go down and IT'S time? That rush of young adrenaline washed over me! That feeling you become addicted too? (Well I did anyway) The first chords came rushing out and WHAMMO! Sorry for the language but Holy Fuck! Just the loudest, best noise I've ever heard. Eddie just seemed to be the kingpin and orchestrator of the most IMMENSE sound!
And two songs in it was apparent we were at David Lee Roth's personal barbecue as well hahaha! He forgot lyrics (I knew them all) and exuded an attitude that just included EVERYONE. Believe it or not, very vaudeville and pretty punk hahaha! That band was on fire.
Then a slow rush of a chant gathered momentum… "Eddie! Eddie! EDDEEEEEEE!" And WHO joined RIGHT in? That Italian girl who I had a crush on (WHOOOOOPS! This thing on???) I just stared at her. She didn't notice. She was busy adoring someone she told me was boring…..
And I, people, had that movie moment. That moment that really, really changed my life. REALLY!!!
“I gotta get a guitar. HAVE TO! Because guitars change people's minds!”
Guitars can change people’s minds.
I played a live video to my daughter Jeannie a while back and told her this story.
She approached her mom Justine and I later and said, “I’m sure glad Dad went to that silly loud concert… if he didn’t see that man play guitar then maybe he never would have started… he never would have been on the radio and gone to England and met you. We might never have been a family.”
Sweetheart… put that all together in her 8-year-old-head all on her own. Angel. She got it immediately.
That is how Eddie Van Halen would reach your spirit. He CHANGED people’s lives far beyond tapping on a fretboard (though come on… that was pretty cool!) …he made the world more fun and joyous… inspired us in how music could sound and gave us the courage to be ourselves and take chances… be brave with our lives… all the while flashing that smile, reminding us to enjoy it.
… and his songs coming through a speaker could take a Wednesday noon and transform it into a Friday midnight at the drop of a dime.
The soundtrack to the best times, the greatest parties… the bravest decisions… and the adrenaline to get up and get going.
The memories of driving with my brother George in his car… windows down and blasting 'Unchained'… the sound transforming a Canadian summer sky into California… will fill my heart all my days.
We are so lucky to have been in this world with him.
The quote of his that I always held in my heart…
“If it sounds good, it is good”
Translation… Be yourself.
Thank you King Edward.