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Van Halen

Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, by Noel Monk

I have no real liking for 95% of Van Halen’s music and never have. So why did I read this book?

Because it’s a case study of the 20th century music industry. Noel Monk was Van Halen’s manager in their prime, between 1978 and 1985. His story delivers the nitty-gritty work of management: keeping the band going, keeping the support staff going, dealing with chaos, making sure the merchandising comes through, and, most importantly, keeping a hawk’s eye on the money. It’s all anecdotal, but it’s vibrant, funny, and involving.

Unfortunately, it’s also a case study of how Celebrity destroys character. When Monk first meets Van Halen, they’re four decadently naive L.A. party teens, eager to please. By the end, three of them are cutting the fourth, their old friend Michael Anthony, out of the band proceeds, surgery without anesthesia. We watch Eddie Van Halen, a shy guitar genius, devolve into a slurry of cocaine and vodka. Roth’s ego sprouts wings and carries him off. Alex Van Halen gets mean, honing his paranoia like a razor in a sock. Finally Monk himself is shitcanned after years of faithful service. It makes for depressing reading, and reminds one of Robert Hunter’s tenth commandment of Rock ‘N Roll: “Destroy yourself physically and morally, and insist that all true brothers do likewise as an expression of unity.” If this is what success means, no one should want it.