A Different Kind of Truth (Best of 2012 — Part 6)

Van Halen

Mike Portnoy, in an interview with iDrum magazine, made an interesting remark about all the guys in the supergroup Flying Colors; namely, their running joke during the writing process:

We almost felt like the Village People! I’m the metal guy, Neil Morse the prog guy, Casey McPherson the pop guy, [Steve] Morse the country guy and Dave LaRue the funky guy!

I feel the same way about the supergroup team here at Progarchy. In addition to our shared loves, we also have our distinctive tastes. Me, I’m the metal guy; Brad Birzer is the prog guy; Carl Olson is the jazz guy; Kevin McCormick is the classical guy…

So, welcome to the happily anarchic global village of Progarchy.

I have always gravitated towards the heavier, metallic edge of prog. In high school, my four favorite groups were Rush, Genesis, Yes, and King Crimson; but, above all, Rush. And that distinctive inclination of taste (i.e., the classic Rush hard rock trio sound as being primus inter pares) has remained my distinctive inclination during the years.

So, there will always be the predominant injection of a hard rock and heavy metal metal sensibility in my annual Top Ten lists, because in these lists I feel duty-bound to divulge the most idiosyncratic recesses of my musical predilections, i.e., those predilections in light of which I must judge all proggy musical achievements. That’s my contribution to the supergroup. Keepin’ the rock real.

In other words, in all my musical investigations, I will always see things in light of the fact that I am more of a guitar guy than a keyboard guy.

Case in point, take Eddie Van Halen. In just one solo from him, it is possible for me to get more rewarding musical contemplation than from the usual ten-minute prog song. It is in light of such shining instrumental achievements that I find I usually form my judgments about any given prog achievement.

Thus, I am delighted to include Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth in my Top Ten for 2012.

in February Van Halen released A Different Kind of Truth, the band’s 12th studio album and its seventh with David Lee Roth on vocals. The most devoted old-school Van Halen fans quickly recognized several of the songs, like “Beats Workin’,” “Big River,” “Bullethead,” “Outta Space” and “She’s the Woman,” which dated back to demos recorded before Van Halen’s debut album.

But the album also offered several new songs, like “As Is,” “China Town,” “Honeybabysweetiedoll,” “Stay Frosty” and “The Trouble with Never” that kick ass as hard as anything else in Van Halen’s catalog. The album delivered an ideal balance of truly classic and genuinely new material, acknowledging the band’s past but also paving an exciting new direction for the future.

That’s from Guitar World, which has a nice interview with Eddie that also includes an account of the role of his son Wolfgang as the new bass player injecting a new dimension into the making of this Van Halen album. Also, Eddie has an interesting comment on the technology of this new musical era:

We approached this record no different than any other. The internet has changed everything. Now everyone knows where things came from. Before the internet nobody would have known that these were songs that we had already written but never released. When the album first came out, some people were saying that we purposely did old songs to get the public to relate to our old sound. But this record wasn’t planned that way. Whenever we make a record the first thing we do is go over what we already have in the bag that we can pick from, and then we focus on writing new material.

When we were digging around, I was amazed how fresh some of the songs sounded. I was going, “Did I really write that way back then?” The biggest trip is that I wrote some of those songs when I was still in high school and even junior high. A good idea is a good idea no matter when you do it.

This new album is full of very good ideas, the sort of ideas that impel me to include Eddie Van Halen’s genius well within the realm of the best prog mindfulness. I intuitively sensed this truth (let us call it a different kind of prog truth), precisely at the 2:02 mark of the second track (“She’s the Woman”), when Eddie surprised me and definitively launched that song, and the entire album, into 2012’s upper echelon.

Allow me to make the same point in an anecdotal way. There I am in high school, Rush is my favorite band, and I am skeptical of bands like Van Halen, which I see as second-tier “party rock” for dumb jocks and airheads. So, I give Eddie short shrift, and favor the team of Alex and Geddy as the superior ideal. Enter my classmate Mike, who had a flying V guitar and whose favorite band was Van Halen. In addition to attaining academic achievement in all his classes, Mike spent his time learning Eddie note-for-note. Mike always had drum kits over at his house as well, and he would enlist me to come jam in his basement or garage. He wasn’t interested in doing Rush, but he would tutor me in Van Halen, forcing me to listen to his Van Halen vinyl records on his living room record player, so I could hear the drum parts just the way he wanted them to be played along with him. Even during the jams, he would patiently instruct me to do this or do that on the drums, so that the musical enjoyment would thereby be enhanced. For the both of us.

I thereby learned a valuable lesson early on. The joy of musical collaboration cannot be deduced mathematically, as if must follow only from a logic of allegiance to musical tribes. Indeed, Lifeson and Lee were a fine pair; but so too, in their own way, were Van Halen and Van Halen: i.e., Eddie and Alex.

The brotherhood of rock knows. Clinging to membership in a tribe is stupid, no matter how great your tribe is. Great things come from expanding your musical mind, from embracing whatever comes to you as a gift from those best kind of musical friends: the kind and the generous.

That’s how you build a supergroup.

And somehow the essence of prog is bound up with passionately embracing that.

A good idea is a good idea no matter when you do it.

And no matter who does it.

3 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Truth (Best of 2012 — Part 6)

  1. carleolson

    Chris: I’m ashamed to say that I bought this album and, um, haven’t listened to it in the months sense. (Of course, I do that with quite a few albums.) That said, I agree that Eddie is a guitar genius; I have nearly everything by VH, and while I prefer the earlier stuff, the Hagar days were also my high school days, so I enjoyed plenty of Sammy, Eddie, Michael and Alex. I far, far preferred (and still do) VH over AC/DC, Bon Jovi, and the various big air, LA bands. The one group from that era (well, a bit later) that I liken to VH in many ways, but with better lyrics, is Extreme, who doesn’t get the love it deserves. But that’s for another time…

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