Always Halen hearty

Updated: 11 October, 2020 07:17 IST | Rahul da Cunha | Mumbai

The beauty of this is McCready, younger than Van Halen by 14 years, represents an era where rock took a dark and foreboding turn

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul da CunhaIn 2011, Rolling Stone magazine voted Eddie Van Halen, the eighth greatest guitarist in a "100 Greatest Guitarists of all time" poll. The rock magazine's tradition was to ask another "great guitar player" to write a personal tribute. It was fulfilling for me that my top 90s/Grunge guitarist, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam should be asked to write his thoughts about my number one classic rock axeman, Eddie Van Halen. McCready said of EVH (as he was affectionately called), "I was 14 when I first heard Eddie play 'Eruption'. He played like he was from another planet—it was glorious, like hearing Mozart for the first time. You can play the things he writes, but there's an X factor that you can't get."

The beauty of this is McCready, younger than Van Halen by 14 years, represents an era where rock took a dark and foreboding turn.

His music, a sharp 360 degree contrast to Van Halen's, who wrote about fast cars and fearlessness 20 years before. Yet, there was great respect.

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen died last week, aged 65, losing a battle to cancer. The year has laid low many musicians, but some deaths are harder to bear than others. EVH's is one.

Perhaps it is the performer, whose sheer body of work precedes him. Perhaps it's the music that he creates in his prime, that outlasts eras and sounds today as fresh as it did, in this case, the late 1970s.

Perhaps it is the influence he had on other musicians.

Perhaps it's the fact that once in a while, along comes a maestro who changes the way an instrument is regarded, an innovator par excellence, an inventor. He is one of the yardsticks by which guitar playing is judged.

For me, the defining aspect of rock music is a guitar riff. A riff is that hook in a song, made out of chords or individual notes. Eddie Van Halen was the king of the riff.

I was 17 years old when I first heard a Van Halen track. The St Xavier's college canteen of the late '70s was a pot luck open air music listening club. It was BYOB—Bring Your Own Band.

But that morning, I had bunked an abnormal psychology lecture on Freud, as Van Halen's Frakenstrat burst out of someone's two-in-one. For those three-and-half minutes, Eddie Van Halen's guitar ran riot on Running With The Devil, his brother Alex on the drums, and the preening acrobatic David Lee Roth on vocals. I was musically never the same again. Forty-one years later, Van Halen is still a "first thing in the morning" listen. That "let's disturb the neighbours" temptation that began with "let's keep the parents awake" philosophy, never really deserts one, especially because rock needs to be played at full volume.

Eddie Van Halen was my second favourite musician, after the late Chris Cornell. What made these two gentlemen unique was they shared the same traits—they were still curious, always collaborative, and personally centred.

EVH, you ran with the devil, now run with the Gods.

And keep that finger tapping on that fretboard of yours.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at

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First Published: 11 October, 2020 04:49 IST

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