June 1978. At my high school there’s a guy, that guy, with a van that has a bar and a bed in it. We’re hanging out by the smoking area, playing frisbee, drinking beer with fake “Poopsi” labels on them and he’s got the stereo cranked. “What, who, is this?” I ask.
“A new band called Van Halen,” he tells me.
As song rolls into song, including a wild version of The Kinks You Really Got Me, it’s obvious this is some band. How did these guys come up with this? Where did they even come from? I wondered. It was obvious to us, even as it wasn’t to the people who ran the music industry, this was paradigm shifting (although, being stoned high school kids, we would have phrased it not as “paradigm shifting,” but as “cool, man.”).
Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal by Greg Renoff answers the question “how did these guys come up with this?” or perhaps more to the point, “where did they come from?” The answer is, as the book title suggests, Southern California’s backyard party scene.
Walking the reader through the cultural and musical history of the Van Halen brothers and David Lee Roth, the book charts their concerts and performances going back to the original high school band. It charts Roth’s attempts to get into the Van Halen brothers band (Eddie was the original singer) and how Roth’s background at a predominantly black high school influenced him to have a completely different take on rock/pop music.
You learn about the hundreds, thousands of shows the band did. How they rehearsed for hours 6-days a week and Eddie would practice far more than that. And you learn even at that how hard it was for them to get a record contract. You learn about their sudden ascension to the top of the rock ladder as their debut album sells a million copies in it’s first year.
Van Halen Rising is exactly what it promises, the story of an up and coming rock band. It takes you through the teenage rock scene in the LA suburbs of the 1970’s, and up to Van Halen’s first album, first tours, and then it is done, leaving the rest of the story for others to pick up. And it doesn’t disappoint in the process.
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