Ask Matt Labash

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

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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.