Released: 2015, ECW Press
I’ve been on a bit of a Van Halen kick lately so it was a nice coincidence to come across a couple of books about Roth-era Van Halen. I’ve decided to review both of them. Please feel free to read the other book review in this mini-feature, VAN HALEN; EXUBERANT CALIFORNIA, ZEN ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.
Of the two books about the early years of Van Halen, this is the newest and the one I prefer a bit more. Written by Renoff (PhD) in 2015 this nice paperback (with embossed cover!) looks good and is a generous read at 378 pages. The book caries the very ambitious and possibly provocative sub-title, ‘How A Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal’!
Renoff has written the definitive book about the early years of Van Halen. He interviewed over 200 people! This means he talked to everyone, like the guy who played bass for 10 minutes in 1972 at a high school party. Seriously, the depth of research is just phenomenal. So are the visuals. There are many black and white photos of the band in the early 70’s that for a fan are amazing to see. This is the part where I say, “Everyone looks so young!” There are some cool flyers as well advertising some of their legendary (and oft-busted) backyard parties.
VAN HALEN RISING is more than a mere recounting of the formative years of the band, it is a detailed look at the era, the rhyme and reason how this semi-dysfunctional band struggled for the better part of a decade band before making it. It is incredibly fascinating. The author’s theory is that in the late 70’s Metal was in a state of crisis. Deep Purple had broken up. Led Zeppelin was on the rocks. Ozzy had left Black Sabbath. Metal was bring assaulted from all angles; disco to the left, punk to the right and right up the middle the million soft rock sellers of Boston, Foreigner, journey and all those dudes. Somehow non- conventional looking/sounding Van Halen came up through the ranks in a very non-conventional fashion and broke it wide open and virtually single-handed invented melodic Metal as we know it today. I couldn’t agree more.
The narrative covers all the members past and present in detail taking us through to December 1978 at the end of the tour for the debut album. The detail about the early years of Roth’s wealthy but bohemian lifestyle, the conservative nature of the Van Halen brothers and some details about the enigmatic Michael Anthony, make for a very engaging story. What struck me was how hard they all worked. As a causal fan in the early 80’s (not even into my teens yet in 1980) who just heard them when the debut came out, I had no idea they had slogged it out in California for almost a decade. The early formation of the band and the constant push-and-pull between Roth and the Van Halens illustrate the dual nature of the unique band. History perhaps ultimately has proven Roth’s drive vision was the correct one, as they went onto multi-platinum global success but demonstrates they could not have succeeded without each other.
VAN HALEN RISING is without a doubt one of the very best, if not THE best book I have read about the early years of any band. This will be the new standard of rock biographies. Entertaining, readable and eminently enjoyable Renoff has deliver a multi-platinum smash hit of a book for Van Halen fans.