Breakin’ Up Is Hard … Rock … Sometimes

Fair Warning: This isn’t an album review.  It’s a light pop-cultural study of one of Rock’s most interesting dramas: Van Halen’s career.  The departure of David Lee Roth due to creative differences with the Van Halen brothers after the mammoth success of 1984  shattered the hopes of many a teenaged hair-band wannabe.  After all, this band was ascending beyond the more good-but-cookie-cutter hair metal bands that were emerging at the time and were superstars.  What followed was, if you’ll pardon the pun, the Best of Both Worlds.  As DLR’s solo career built upon his fame and showmanship, The bros. Van Halen replaced Roth with Sammy Hagar and VH continued its meteoric rise for several more albums, into the 90s.

“Van Hagar” has its share of detractors who believe the only true Van Halen was helmed by DLR.  Likewise, there are those who speculate that VH never would have been “Standing on Top of the World” without Sammy taking over vocal duties.  In either event, the VH saga continues for another quarter-century and only gets weirder.  Mid 90s, Hagar and VH have more creative differences, DLR secretly records a couple tracks with them forcing a Van Hagar split, only to have DLR shown the door before a reunion tour could be mounted.  Extreme’s lead singer and all-around-nice-guy Gary Cherone joins for a much-reviled album and tour in 1998, then leaves. Hagar returns for three more songs and a tour in the early 2000s, then leaves again.  DLR and Hagar have a double-header solo tour w/o Van Halen, but VH bassist/backup vocalist Michael Anthony joins Hagar specifically.

But the developments of the past few years are the most curious and get to the point of this post: Around 2007 VH decides to reform with DLR holding the mike, and, er, Mike being replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang.  Meanwhile Hagar and Mike form a new supergroup with guitarist Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith called Chickenfoot and release an album and tour.  (Did I mention that Satriani was the teacher of Steve Vai, who was DLR’s lead guitarist in the 80s?) The result is so successful and the chemistry is so strong that they have a follow-up in late 2011.  And finally the new VH releases a long-awaited full album “A Different Kind of Truth” in early 2012.  Both groups are scheduled to tour this year.

I just picked up both the new Chickenfoot and VH albums and listened to them back-to-back this week.  Both are awesome, each in their own way.  A Different Kind of Truth sounds a lot like classic VH, but with even tighter production values and musical maturity, without losing the party-time-fun edge of what VH was all about.  Meanwhile Chickenfoot III, like it’s eponymous predecessor, sounds exactly like the sum of it’s parts, but stewed together in an organic way.  I thoroughly enjoy both of these acts, recommend them to you, and that’s all the album review you’re getting from me today.  🙂

This got me thinking about the other storied breakup (and 25-year healing process) in rock history: Pink Floyd and Roger Waters.  While less of a personnel revolving-door, it’s no less epic (and you can research this one on your own if you don’t know it).  Pink Floyd’s post-Waters career gave us something much like Van Halen’s on-again/off-again career with David Lee Roth: twice the output for genuine music lovers and less-dogmatic fans.  Pink Floyd continued without Waters and gave us a few great (if not earth-shattering) albums, including David Gilmour’s might-as-well-have-been-a-Pink-Floyd-album On An Island in 2006.  Waters continued to dig deeper into the human psyche with his solo works, and 20 years ago I wrote that his Amused to Death was one of the most important albums ever written.  Indeed, now it is more relevant than it was back then.

Water’s solo works would not be the grand operas they were had they been written and recorded with the rest of Pink Floyd.  Likewise, Pink Floyd’s post-Waters works would not have been the comfort food they were with his high-concepts applied (or with the continued absence of textural keyboardist Rick Wright).  The Floyd/Waters breakup gave us twice the Floyd.  Similarly, Van Halen probably would have flamed out sooner with DLR remaining at the helm and we we’d have neither “Yankee Rose” or “Right Now” in our playlists.

Hopefully you are coming to recognize there’s a moral to the end of my posts.  Here goes: As Rush’s Neil Peart wrote in “Entre Nous” (lets hope that band NEVER breaks up) “The spaces in between / Leave room for you and I to grow.”  Well, if the joy we continue to get from all the incarnations of Van Halen, Pink Floyd, and their offshoots is any indication, maybe when an unmovable force meets an unstoppable object it doesn’t have to result in mutually-assured destruction.  Maybe it means they’ll explode in a couple of starburst patterns and leave a mark behind that we all can enjoy.