Reviewed: April 2022
Published: Faber, 2022 (aka Unchained in the UK)
It is a natural state of affairs that when a popular and/or admired politician, author, actor, athlete or musician passes away there is a desire to document the life of the deceased. I think by discussing the past life of the individual it helps us cope with grief of a future that will never be. It comes as no shock that as soon as someone famous dies, books, articles, and documentaries about that person appear quite rapidly. The critic and cynic might suggest that many of these endeavours (books etc) are intended to capitalize on the situation or monetize it. I prefer to think of these things as tributes to the deceased. Again, it comes as no surprise that with less than a year of death of Edward Van Halen at least two books about the guitarist were published. In an interesting exercise I choose to read and review them both back-to-back.
In an extremely unfortunate and entirely avoidable scenario, both books are called ERUPTION. One was written by Paul Brannigan and published in 2021 by Faber. The other is written by Brad Tolinski and Brad Gill and was published by Hachette in 2021.
Aside from being an uninspired and far too predictable choice for a title, the fact that two major books coming out at the same time is just perplexing since there is already a book about Van Halen called ERUPTION so now we have three Van Halen books with the same title.
In all fairness, Faber, in charge of Brannigan’s book called ERUPTION, recognized this conflict and renamed the book UNCHAINED for the North American pressing. This is a good move except there are already two Van Halen books called UNCHAINED! Doesn’t anyone use the internet anymore to name check titles BEFORE deciding on a name?
Regardless, I have reviewed both books and feel free to enjoy both reviews.
As much as I hate to say it this book seems almost like an afterthought. The critic and cynic in me feels like this published to capitalize on the death of Eddie Van Halen. However, in his introduction Brannigan states that he had started to write this book back in 2015, which would automatically preclude it from being as cash-in as Eddie was still very much alive and even touring. Then, also in 2015, Greg Renoff published his top notch book VAN HALEN RISING. In his introduction Brannigan fully admits that Renoff’s book is so good it took the wind out of his sails and his own Eddie Van Halen book sat languishing in the vaults for six years. Eddie died and the Brannigan’s book was finally published. Despite my misgivings, let’s give Brannigan the benefit of the doubt.
Brannigan says he only met Eddie Van Halen once in 1998 on the press cycle for VH III and so the vast majority of his material is drawn from other sources and interviews. He does a fine job synthesizing a ton of material which is all meticulously referenced. I was working from a digital version but there were no photos which made this book seem a little underwhelming.
Brannigan takes us on a chronological journey starting with the parents of Eddie and Alex and there were some interesting nuggets of info about the early days of the family moving to America. He is enthusiastic and has an eye for the story which he recounts with relish and detail. Sometimes I wonder how much was embellishment on his part, with exact quotes (non-sourced) from Eddie Van Halen from when he was a boy, but never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The whole book flows well, is engaging and is respectful to the troubled guitarist, but not afraid to say he had issues.
Ostensibly ERUPTION is about Eddie Van Halen but really covers all of Van Halen and much more. Brannigan wanders off-topic frequently talking about the Beatles, David Lee Roth, the sunset strip and things only mildly related to the iconic guitar slinger.
Another unfortunate mistake is that Brannigan skims over huge parts of Eddie’s life especially the last two decades. He covers the life of the guitarist from the year 2000 to his death in a mere 22 pages! (out of 272 total pages). Admittedly, Van Halen didn’t do as much recording later in his life but this was a bad oversight to omit so much material.
There are about a dozen books about Van Halen and while ERUPTION is entertaining and well intentioned, it is too little and too late to add much of substance the Eddie Van Halen story. It’s fun, it’s a good read and if you have never read a book about Van Halen before this is a superb primer. For die-hard fans of Eddie this leaves a lot to be desired.