It is with a heavy heart that we bid a fond farewell to the Mozart of our time, Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen passed away after a lengthy struggle with lung cancer. He is survived by his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, and his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, who joined the band as its bassist in 2006.
Van Halen was truly one of the guitar greats of the twentieth century, the second half of which witnessed the rise of many guitar heroes to the pinnacles of superstardom, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.
But Van Halen’s licks didn’t stop with memorable riffs. He could play neoclassical passages with ease, weaving them into songs about partying and and lusting after one’s teacher. Learning his signature solo, “Eruption,” became a rite of passage for budding guitarists in the 1980s and beyond. Van Halen also dominated on the keyboards—much to the chagrin of perennial showman David Lee Roth—as is clear from the entire album 1984, one of the best albums of all time. Who can resist jumping when hearing the opening strains of “Jump“?
If Van Halen was the Mozart of classic rock, Yngwie Malmsteen, the Swedish heavy metal virtuoso, was surely its Paganini—mysterious, foreign, precisely technical, and a little diabolical. But Van Halen possessed something of Mozart’s cheek and fun-loving aplomb, whereas Malmsteen always came across as aloof. Both are incredible players beyond my meager comprehension to express, but it seems like I could have had a burger with Van Halen. Malmsteen would probably spit on the patty.
Van Halen’s music—the band here, not the man—reflected a better age, in some ways. Yes, as a Christian I can’t condone much of the content of Van Halen’s songs, but the spirit of them is something I desperately miss—the sense of fun-loving abandon, of just enjoying life in full bloom. So much of modernity is boring, lifeless, soulless. Van Halen might have been a product of crass materialism, but they made the most of it and made sure everyone was having fun. Heck, they started out playing backyard barbecues in Pasadena. If they tried that today, they’d be caught in the crossfire between warring bands of Aztecs and Oakland-based street gangs.
The death of Eddie Van Halen is another reminder that the 1980s—that period of morning in America—is gone, and it likely isn’t coming back. We’re now mourning in America—for the loss of fun and liberty.
And, for today, for the loss of Eddie Van Halen. Rock in Peace.
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