Deputy editor Steve Kandell’s open letter to Michael Anthony, which, to our knowledge, has not yet been postmarked.
While there’s no question that anyone should be punished for hanging out with Sammy Hagar by choice, the price you’ve been forced to pay is far too steep. Not only did your misplaced allegiance cost you, after 30+ years of dutiful service, the unfathomable payday that is the current Van Halen reunion tour, but you were replaced by a 16-year-old. A 16-year-old. He was born the year For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge came out. Remember that album? Yeah, me fucking neither. And while it was great to stand in Madison Square Garden last night seeing the show of my 7th-grade dreams, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend the entire time thinking about you.
Did Eddie and Alex think we wouldn’t mind because you’re just the bassist? Did they think so little of those gloriously anti-virtuoso solos in which you doused your Jack Daniels bass with Jack Daniels that they felt comfortable handing the gig to some punk kid just because he had the right last name? (Dave gets a free pass here — dude was doing drive-time radio a year ago, he’s keeping his mouth shut and toeing the line on this one.) But we’ve waited so long to see this happen, and now that it has, there’s still an asterisk. We deserve better. You, good sir, deserve better.
Maybe you’ll take some satisfaction in knowing that the show got off to a rocky start. Yes, “You Really Got Me” was a hit, but it’s also a Kinks song. Some of us have been waiting our entire lives to see this particular band play, is leading with a cover — and a clumsily rendered one at that — really the strongest message to send? Furthermore, Dave…oh, Dave…what exactly is this look he’s trying to cultivate right now? Is the idea that wearing a steady progression of Siegfried’s spangled coats might distract us from his plugs? Mission not totally accomplished. Eddie, though, is a marvel — quitting drinking and quitting having cancer agree with him, and he clearly knows it. He may have not even packed a shirt for this tour.
But there was a moment, maybe a half an hour into the set where things took a turn for the awesome and stayed there. You know how Flanders looks all schlumpy, then he tears off his sweater and he’s jacked? That’s Dave, now bare-chested, doing a high roundhouse kick towards the end of “Atomic Punk” — Atomicfuckingpunk! — rendering 20,000 people disoriented as to what decade they were in. No, there were no mid-air splits off drum risers because hips break, and yes, some high notes were pointedly avoided, but once the early rust was shaken off, this was a band testing themselves beyond the easy hits, playing like they had something to prove. It was mostly a greatest-hits set, but with more than a fair share of “I can’t believe they just played that” moments: “Little Guitars?” “Ice Cream Man?” “Cathedral?” The only blight was looking to the left side of the stage and seeing…
Look, there’s something undeniably poignant about watching a chubby-cheeked teenager get to share the stage with his pops and his uncle and that weird guy everyone’s bitched about at the dinner table his whole life, but how is it that a 16-year-old novice is the most ambivalent — and sure, I’ll say it, most out-of-shape — guy on a stage full of fiftysomething jillionaires? This kid just won the rock ‘n’ roll lottery, shouldn’t he be doing…something? Mike, you would have been all over that catwalk, stomping, mugging, punishing that Jack Daniels bass. Wolfgang mostly just stood there in his hoodie, nodding his head, barely even deigning to smile. During “Romeo Delight” from Women and Children First — I’m not afraid to say I had to look it up, it’s been a while — the enormotron showed Wolfgang finger-tapping the fretboard of his bass. Where do you think he learned that? (Hint: Not from you.) And come to think of it, shouldn’t he be in school or something? Did he just hand a note to his principal?
To Whom It May Concern,
My son Wolfgang won’t be attending school this year because he’s in fucking Van Halen now.
Eddie Van Halen
I’d love to tell you that you were there in spirit, but there’s a chance you were actually there in more than spirit. One rumor dogging this tour is that the background vocals — namely, your background vocals, which provided Van Halen’s identity every bit as much as Eddie’s guitar playing or Dave’s preening — proved so inimitable that Wolfie and Eddie aren’t even bothering to imitate, forced instead to sing along with piped-in prerecorded harmonies. I wasn’t sure I believed it until “Jamie’s Crying” and “Unchained” — those sounded maybe a little too right. The mere thought that Wolfie, still stuck somewhere on puberty’s offramp, could own these songs the way you owned them was an insult to everyone in the room. Even if everyone in the room was too enraptured to notice. Anyway, don’t think we don’t all appreciate how classy you’ve been about this whole getting-fucked-over-by-your-lifelong-mates thing. You seem perfectly content to abstain from trash-talking and just throw back Cabo Wabo shots with Sammy until the end of days. And really, shouldn’t that be punishment enough?