David Lee Roth Used to Kayak in Sewage
David Lee Roth recently visited New York’s office for a longform interview in the spirit of David Marchese’s “In Conversation” series, which brought us such gems as Quincy Jones’ insight into Marlon Brando’s sex life and Erykah Badu’s thoughts on Hitler’s paintings. Roth’s interview does not expose a canonical band as “no-playing motherfuckers,” but it is entertaining nonetheless, revealing a spacey rock veteran, high on weed gummies, content to explore preposterous hobbies (helicopter piloting, mixed-martial-arts) and side ventures (tattoo skin-care products), with a jaded but amused appreciation for his career in Van Halen.
For instance, here is Roth comparing the life of a musician to the federal witness protection program and the infusion of color in Wizard of Oz, prefaced with the disclaimer, “I promised no metaphysics before happy hour, but I lied to you.”
Your voice is still in good shape. Have you noticed any changes in it as you’ve gotten older?
It depends if you venerate the smoker’s baritone. It’s probably gotten more character, more personality. Every person that you’ve ever met is in your music, every experience … I promised no metaphysics before happy hour, but I lied to you. Anybody that’s had their heart broken a few times, they can play that for you. That also goes for the entire range of emotions. The big five: anger, denial, fear, bargaining, and acceptance. And, if you’re Jewish you have renegotiation, too.
But for some musicians, experience is a fatal funnel. You say to them, “So, you’re making a new record — but what’s new now?” And they say, “We’ve been on a tour.” And that always becomes the same story, and you’ll hear it in the music. Or not. It’s like the opposite of the 14th minute of The Wizard of Oz. Instead of the color coming in, the color goes away. How did that happen? Because the life of a rock star is a limiting existence. Actually, it closely resembles that of a federal witness: You’re inside a hotel room with handlers. You’re transported urgently to a waiting vehicle. Then you’re whisked somewhere public, but first you’re taken down into the cement basement where you wait in a room. And then you’re taken upstairs and judged. Harshly.
Later, Roth compares touring as a legacy act to Johnny Depp’s role as Captain Jack Sparrow, describing Depp as “scarred, emotionally” by the Pirates franchise’s third installment. In the same breath, he notes, “Classic rock is great. It funded everything we’re doing today.” That apparently includes a potential Van Halen show next summer at Yankee Stadium. Roth reportedly “promised four New York copy editors free tickets,” but hedges when asked for details, although not without revealing he’s called a wide range of musicians to seek their involvement, including Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Jason Aldean, the Foo Fighters, and, uh, Chris Stapleton.
Other choice moments include Roth mentioning, upon realizing that he lost his sunglasses, “I’ve lost entire automobiles before,” and this passage that begins as promotion for his skin care brand and concludes with a possibly sad reflection on remaining single at 64, but is mainly worth sharing because it reveals Roth had a habit in the ’90s of kayaking in Hudson River sewage:
I have great outdoor experience. These products are the kind of gear you’re gonna use at 23,000 feet, when you only want to take your glove off once. You know what else I used to do? I cut a hole in the 14th Street fence next to the Sanitation Department so we could put our kayaks in the Hudson River. This was in 1991. My girlfriend Karen would sit in front, and we’d go kayaking during snowstorms, in January and February, under the Verrazano Bridge. All of my ex-girlfriends are married now, by the way. Nobody wants me in the family sleeping bag anymore.
You can read the full interview here.