A sordid and compelling tell-all tale of the glory years of Van Halen (MK:I) as told by their Manager.
I believe it is a human instinct that if you tell a story or write your own story you are going to try to tell that story in the best possible light. For our example, bands and artists who write their autobiographies will likely have that agenda, even if it is an unconscious ideal. Publishers will also play into that ideal to make their clients seem more exciting, cool and so on and also increase book sales. Everyone wants to read about cool rock stars correct?
RUNNIN’ WITH THE DEVIL is a bit of a unique take on an autobiography because it is the story of one man who is writing other people, so the natural instinct to paint everything in the best possible light may not be as strong. To simplify, Noel Monk ex-Manager of Van Halen from 1978-1985 has written a book about his tenure as, technically an employee of the band. Therefore when someone, anyone, writes a book about their ex-boss they will provide perhaps a more unique perspective than a ‘pure’ autobiography. This is why this book shines.
RUNNIN’ WITH THE DEVIL is your standard hard cover with a nice dust-jacket. It has a ton of cool old photos of Van Halen (and Monk) on glossy plates, most of them from his private collection. So why did Monk wait almost 30 years to write this book? You would think he would capitalize on his backgrounder status right away. Well, you can probably guess, the old legal gag order. After being fired, Monk promptly sued the band for millions and they settled out of court and he promised not to talk…until now. The result, one of the coolest books about the Van Halen (Mark I) that I have read.
Monk comes across as a very bright guy, a clever and dedicated business man with a bit of a mean edge in a tough business polluted with less-than-wholesome characters. In addition, Monk did not really strike me as a music fan. Music is almost secondary and he freely admits he did not visit the band in the studio, or get involved with recording or performances at all. He talks about ‘the band’ as a commodity, and to a degree Van Halen was (and is) a commercial entity and marketable product but it was disappointing in a sense he seemed to lack enthusiasm for the core of it all…namely music.
Monk takes across across half a decade or more with story after story after story the good, the bad and the ugly from million dollar highs to addictive lows. Roth bears the brunt of the criticism and he has no love lost for Alex. He comes across as more sympathetic to Eddie and he has nothing to negative to say Michael Anthony except that he maybe should have stood up for himself more as an important part of the band, which is probably true. There are countless anecdotes from fist-fighting bootleggers, to bribing cops, to attending the wedding of Eddie and Valerie Bertinelli, to digging through dumpsters to find confidential album sales reports, to wonderful carefree days off in magical places like Paris. The business side of the band is laid-open wide as Monk talks about licensing and merchandising and lawyers and fess and royalties, screwing and getting screwed, into the financial sense. This was an utterly fascinating book.
As I referenced in the introduction, people might have a hidden agenda when writing a book. Noel may be no different as he mentioned he was not only a drug addict but also very bitter about how the relationship between himself and the band went not only personally and professionally. From my perspective he seems to keep this in check for the most part. There are certainly lots of negatives and at times he seems to stop just short of personal attacks but it seems what he discusses is largely accurate…namely the behaviors of rich young rock starts who are also addicts. So in the end, who can tell the most accurate story about Van Halen from 1978 to 1985? The reality is probably a mash-up of everyone’s stories. Whatever the case may be, it is one hell of a compelling read.
I’ll finish with a (partial) quote by David Lee Roth about the publication of RUNNIN’ WITH THE DEVIL. It almost seems like Diamond Dave has tacitly approved of the book, or at least there is no outright sense of rejection or denial. With his characteristics charm he says,
“In response to the inevitable inquiries and rumors compelled.
Answer #1: Yes
Answer #2: Probably
Answer #3: My lawyer says I can’t remember.”