Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash: Van Halen, lost youth, and the downside of nostalgia

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

Editor’s Note: Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here

Dear Matt, I grew up as a huge Van Halen fan. What do you think about the group getting back together? Have you seen the new video? I’m stoked! – Jan K.

I wish I could say the same. For I grew up on them, too. Van Halen was one of the few bright spots in the cultural wasteland known as the “Eighties,” right up there with Yacht Rock, jellies sandals, and “Mr. Belvedere.” I didn’t merely listen to Van Halen, I became them. I sported mesh tops like David Lee Roth, and similarly accentuated my outfits with lots of impressive scissor-kicking. I left my smoldering cigarette in my fret strings, a la Eddie Van Halen — once the coolest man on the planet — even though I neither smoked, nor played guitar. I fantasized that my Lipton sun tea was Jack Daniels, as product-placed on the bass of Michael Anthony. Even though, after becoming a Kentucky bourbon man as an adult, I wouldn’t touch charcoal-filtered Tennessee whiskey with your lips. If you’re going to drink children’s drinks, you might as well just go with Schnapps or Jäger.

To this day, if I hear a song like “Dance the Night Away” off “Van Halen II” or my personal favorite, “Little Guitars” off of “Diver Down”, I am transported back to a time of youthful vigor and devil-may-care rebellion, of ripping down the highway with the wind screaming in my ears, along with my mom yelling that I’m blowing the rest of the carpool to pieces, and would I please change it back to the Contemporary Christian Music station so that she could finish listening to Sandi Patty. Reckless days, in retrospect. But I didn’t care. I was fully immersed in the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.

Somewhere along the way, however, I stopped listening to Van Halen. Times changed. My taste matured. I discovered reading and sophisticated ladies and songwriters who offered sentiments more complex than: Might as well jump!/ Go ahead and jump!  And while I discovered new worlds, Van Halen discovered tequila-maker Sammy Hagar and ex-Extreme frontman Gary Cherone as lead singers. Ours wasn’t an ugly breakup, or anything. We just grew apart.

Now at last, Van Halen’s Keith and Mick have reunited. For real, this time, after many false starts, stunted concert tours, and rehab stints. “A Different Kind of Truth” is the band’s first album of new material in 14 years, and their first recorded with David Lee Roth since 1984. I watched the video of the debut single, “Tattoo,” on YouTube the other day, since MTV hasn’t deemed to play music videos since the original Van Halen’s heyday. (Kids today would rather entertain themselves with white-trash procreation on “Teen Mom 2″, apparently.) And I must admit, while the band sounds fine — nobody fell over or drooled on themselves — it sent me into a funk.