Like many others, I was shocked to hear of Eddie Van Halen's untimely passing this last year. What an amazing guitarist. Due to the acoustic and mellow nature of my music, some people might be surprised to learn that I listened to and tried to play Eddie Van Halen's music as much as I could when I was younger. What an incredible musician. Eddie Van Halen changed everything for electric guitarists, actually all guitarists. Acoustic guitarists tap pretty regularly now, and say what you want, but very few people were doing any sort of tapping before Eddie Van Halen. Yes, I'm aware that Frank Zappa, Billy Gibbons, and even Ace Frehley were tapping before Eddie Van Halen appeared, but no one did it like him. The way Van Halen Tapped changed what the world believed was possible on a guitar.
I remember the first time I heard "Eruption," EVH's unaccompanied guitar solo from the first Van Halen album. The only thought in my mind was the word, "magic." It didn't sound like a guitar, it just sounded like pure magic. I learned how the play the tapping part on my Ibanez Roadstar II played through my little Gorilla practice amp, and it was great, but I could never make it sound as good as Van Halen. No one could.
I actually met Eddie Van Halen once. It wasn't a great experience. Through a strange set of circumstances I found myself sitting in a "green room" at a guitar event with a few guitar celebrities. I wasn't one of the celebrities, I was just there and I think someone forgot to kick me out. So, I just sat there on the couch hanging out. I remember The brothers from the band, "Nelson" where there and Traci Gunns from "L.A. Guns" was there. There were only about 10 people in the room. Out of nowhere, Eddie Van Halen came and sat next to me on the couch. I tried to be cool and I didn't say anything for a long time. But, eventually I turned to him and told him how much his music had meant to me and that he was a big part of why I had devoted so much of my time to playing guitar. He didn't say anything to me. He got a strange look on his face, looked at one of the other guitar celebrities and started laughing a little. He then shook his head and said something like, "Can you believe this guy?" I guess he heard things like I said a lot and it didn't really mean much to him at that point in his life. It was pretty humiliating for me. I should have left the room but I didn't really know that to do. I just sat there feeling completely humiliated. I wanted to crawl under the couch and hide. I figured if I got up and left the room it would cause another round of laughter so I just sat there for another half hour next to Eddie Van Halen, saying nothing, feeling like a complete idiot.
I also was about 20 at the time and had a particularly bad hair style. I wanted to be at least somewhat of a rocker and I knew that you had to have long hair to be in that group of musicians, so I let my hair grow pretty long. But, my hair doesn't ever get "long," it just gets "big." So, I had pretty big hair at the time and I probably looked a little odd. I've destroyed all of the photographic evidence of that particular hairstyle. He might have been laughing at my hair. I don't know. At any rate, it wasn't a good experience.
It's one thing to be laughed at by a regular person, but when a hero of yours laughs at you, it's particularly no fun. He actually was pretty cool to everyone else there, even other non celebrities, but he definitely didn't want to talk to me. I also probably came off as a fan boy and he probably considered that he was having a day off from having to deal with fans. I don't begrudge him for it, but I certainly never tried to meet any other musical heroes of mine after that experience. That day cured me of any desire to meet any of my heroes again.
I think if you're really famous like that, it must get old for people to tell you how great you are all the time. What do you say when it happens multiple times a day? I'm certainly not famous, but I do have people I don't know contact me pretty regularly to tell me how much my music means to them. I personally can't imagine that ever getting old. I love it! It makes my day when someone goes out of their way to tell me how much they enjoy my music. That will never get old for me. And if a kid who plays guitar tells me that my music really inspired him/her to play guitar, (which happens somewhat regularly), that is so meaningful to me. I personally can't at all relate to that being something to mock, even if the person does have really big hair.
But, I still love EVH's guitar playing, even if meeting him was a disappointment. So what? He's still the person how revolutionized electric guitar for my generation. He was the Hendrix of the 80's and "Eruption" still sounds like magic to me. May his brilliant soul rest in peace. And thank goodness I keep my hair short these days!