Van Halen: The Early Years
Released: 2003, Passport Video
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
With the reunion of Sammy Hagar and Van Halen all over the news, I’ve been buzzing for the past few months. The band is touring once again and has just released a spiffy retrospective entitled THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS (see my review of it this month, as well). A friend at work mentioned he had just purchased a Van Halen DVD so I thought I would check it out. This sounded like a pretty cool DVD at first but after popping it into my player, I quickly realized that VAN HALEN: THE EARLY YEARS was another one of these “unauthorized” fan produced documentaries. Due to copyright laws, there is not a single note played of a Van Halen song and while the band appears in some interview clips, they are all copied from old TV programs. The DVD does trace the history of the band very well and there are some interesting tidbits of information revealed, but overall, it is a C-grade knock off of VH1’s BEHIND THE MUSIC. I have a few that focus on KISS (which must burn Gene Simmons real bad since he doesn’t get to add to his piles of money) and unless you are a real fan who must know and own everything about the band, save your $15 and skip this.
At just over an hour in length, there is a lot of information to squeeze in, but after lagging through the stories of the immigrant Van Halen children (Alex and Eddie didn’t speak any English upon arriving Stateside) and how they switched instruments on a whim, things begin to pick up. Their first band was called the 1971 Trojan Rubber Company and after slogging through various name changes (Mammoth) and recruiting David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony (whose real name I learned is actually Michael Sobeleski), Van Halen was ready to take on the world. During his interview segments, Anthony’s bandmate in Snake looks fried on cocaine and is still playing the role of surfer dude, while original Mammoth bassist Pete Best, I mean, Mark Stone, appears genuinely happy that the band made it big right after he quit. Audio interviews with Gene Simmons of KISS explain how he discovered the band and produced their first demo that led to their contract with Warner Brothers Records. The production team has gathered loads of cool footage, like early club setlists and photos and the band’s first tour opening for Black Sabbath, Journey and Montrose. The wild and crazy years of girls, drugs and trashing hotel rooms is also covered though as the band approaches fifty, I’m sure they would like to leave those memories behind them. The DVD goes right up to the 1984 album, so it is obviously focused on the Roth years (hence the title), but to cram that many years into an hour is unjust and there are glaring omissions. Still, it is very interesting to hear these people’s stories and better understand what went on behind the scenes.
Don’t expect to hear “Jump,” “Panama” or any other Van Halen song to coincide with what is being seen on the screen. The background music is half-baked rock played by some unnamed artist and most people could slap this thing together with two VCRs and a little time. For what it’s worth, VAN HALEN: THE EARLY YEARS is a decent DVD, but being that it is unauthorized by the band or its label, don’t expect much.
***Thanks to Ryan Henderson for loaning me the DVD to review.