Can Van Halen save us (again)?

vhlogo2.JPGIn early 1978, Van Halen released their debut album, reviving guitar-based rock and saving us from disco. Ask any rock guitarist what Eddie Van Halen's contribution to rock music is, and most will tell you he brought a new style, approach and feeling to rock guitar. Would-be 15-year-old rock stars everywhere traded in their Les Pauls and Fender Strats for single-humbucker Kramers with wacky paint jobs and locking tremolos. They barricaded themselves in their rooms with the first Van Halen album and didn't come out until they either learned how to play a passable version of "Eruption" or they threw their guitars out of their windows in frustration. Kids flocked to concerts, not just to hear Eddie, but to experience the party-hearty three ring circus that David Lee Roth created as frontman. And we were saved from disco.

We all know what happened in the mid-80s. Roth left the band. Van Halen took on Sammy Hagar as a lead singer. Roth fans rebelled, but many more fans (myself included) stuck with VH and were treated to a number of terrific albums. In '96, Hagar left the band. Aside from two new songs subsequently recorded with Roth, it was all pretty much downhill from there.

Rumors have been flying since VH ditched their third lead singer, Gary Cherone, in late '99. But they've been just that - rumors.

Meanwhile, Eddie had some personal difficulties to overcome, namelya bout with tongue cancer and a divorce from his wife, Valerie Bertinelli. Some think they've seen the end of Van Halen. And fans have been teased with rumors so many times for the past 5 years that they're frustrated.

The rumors are really flying now, but we Van Halen fans are also hearing mutterings from some credible sources that Van Halen is indeed coming back. It looks as if differences have been patched up with Sammy Hagar and he is the most likely candidate for fronting the band.

I hope it's true. Why? Not just because I'm a slobbering VH fan, but also because I think we need to be rescued again. Younger folks will probably tell me that I'm just getting old, but I'm convinced that the quality of rock music just ain't what it used to be.

Aside from some singles I've bought on iTunes from John Mayer, the White Stripes, Counting Crows and Aerosmith, I haven't bought any new music in almost three years. Actually, that's not entirely true - I'm getting most of my musical stimulation from indie bands I either see live here in NYC or hear about from my cousin in Jersey. Truth be told, I don't see much out there that's terribly compelling. Certainly, I haven't heard an album in the past few years from one of the majors that can be listened to from beginning to end. The experience of the album is one I definitely miss.

There used to be so many great albums out. Some of my fondest memories are of playing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, AC/DC's Back in Black or Metallica's Ride the Lightning and listening to the album all the way through on my stereo while I sat on my bed with headphones on and stared at the ceiling. I can listen to any Van Halen album and get this experience. (Well, okay...maybe not Van Halen III.)

Shows used to rock, too. Since I grew up on Long Island, I caught a lot of shows at Nassau Coliseum and Jones Beach, but nothing could beat taking the train into New York to see a show at Madison Square Garden. Bands like VH, Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, Rush and Ozzy could sell out arenas. There was nothing like the experience of seeing these headlining bands along with 18 or 20,000 other screaming fans. These days, I can see many great bands in smaller venues like the Beacon Theater or Roseland, but I've got mixed feelings about it. While I can get a better seat in a club or small theater, it's just not the same as a packed arena.

But I digress... I hope the recent VH rumors are true. We need rescuing from clown makeup bands, bubblegum pop, tired gangsta rap and depressing alternative bands. Everything's really becoming formulaic, manufactured and just plain crappy. If Van Halen could come back and remind us of what genuinely exciting guitar-based rock sounds like, maybe we'll get something going. Maybe Aerosmith will go back to its roots instead of writing power pop tunes. Maybe Rush won't have to play at Mohegan Sun anymore. Maybe Metallica will stop sucking and start writing speed metal again instead of this droning horseshit they've been putting out lately.

I'm tired of the void in rock. And I'm not buying another album until the void gets filled. If you feel like I do about the sad state of music today, say a little prayer before you go to bed tonight that the rumors are true.