Sorry you cinephiles, this isn’t a post about Martin Scorsese’s classic film. No, this is far less cool. So uncool that I’ll probably lose some longtime readers. Yes, what I’m going to write about will probably shatter quite a few preconceptions you all may have had about me. I’m not the debonair, suave, and dangerous man you thought me to be. I don’t have the reflexes of a cheetah, or the lethal strike of a king cobra. I’m not the dead sexy man you all thought me to be(well, maybe just a little dead sexy.)
You see, I’m just a middle-aged dude that works a job like the rest of you. I’m married with three kids and a yippy dog. I live in a rural area within a neighborhood hidden by pine trees. I rake the yard and swear under my breath as I do it. I try to fix things around the house and occasionally succeed. I don’t hunt. I don’t like sports. I love music. In particular, I love vinyl. I buy a lot of it. I also love film. Italian horror, 70s independent, Scorsese, Kubrick, Bergman, Ashby, and lots of b-movie sci fi from the early 80s. I love synth music and science fiction novels. I’m not religious, but I believe there’s something far beyond us here on earth. I don’t think anyone on this planet has a clue about where we’ve come from or where we’re going once our bodies give out. If they tell you they do, they’re insane or want something from you. Don’t trust them. Ever. I’m political in the sense that I think it’s wrong for 1% of the population to hold the majority of the wealth. I find politicians for the most part are self-serving pricks who are easily bought and sold, with nothing they truly believe in other than money. I guess I’m a liberal. But I’m a liberal that would not have a problem hurting someone in order to protect my family. I enjoy stouts and porters, and stay away from most adjunct beers(with Pabst Blue Ribbon as one of the few I do enjoy.) Coffee, good coffee, is something I quite love and find great joy in grinding beans and having a nice cuppa pour-over in the afternoon. I love comic books but am not very knowledgeable about them. My son fills me in. I do, however, love graphic novels. The Walking Dead, Watchmen, Preacher, Saga, Constantine, and Y : The Last Man are a few I’ve grown fond of.
I’m also, after all these years, still a huge fan of Van Halen’s Fair Warning.
I happened to stop into my local record shop and low and behold they had a rather pristine copy of Fair Warning on vinyl, sitting patiently for me to come by and pick it up. As far as the Van Halen canon goes, Fair Warning was the odd bird. It was heavier, darker, and just plain weirder than any of their albums previously or what came after. I was 9 years old when 1984 came out and I was as mesmerized as guys three times my age at Eddie Van Halen’s guitar prowess. That album had a huge impact on my 9 year old self. It was the third album(cassette, actually) I’d ever bought with my own money. Ratt Out of the Cellar and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry have the distinction of being numbers one and two on that list(it was 1984, so don’t judge.) But once I bought 1984 I knew I had to backtrack to everything that came before. I was very familiar with VH II as my parents had it on 8-track, and I used to play it on full blast on their Pioneer home stereo when they left me alone to my own devices. Tennis racket in hand, I’d do jumps off the couch to “D.O.A.” and “Dance The Night Away”.
Simpler times, folks. Simpler times.
So in my Van Halen education the odd one out was definitely Fair Warning. To me, that record always felt like Van Halen-dark. It felt like an album that they decided to mix things up a bit. Sure, there was still the boogie of “Sinner’s Swing”, and the Roth come-ons in “Dirty Movies”. And “Hear About It Later” was the radio-ready car jam. But the album opens with the heavy as hell “Mean Streets”. With it’s heavy groove, jagged Eddie riffing, and Roth doing his best to not throw us a wink and a smile it felt like an honest-to-God heavy metal song. Ominous in tone and lyrically not immediately laughable, you felt like maybe the girls might actually be scared hearing this song.
At night I walk this stinkin’ street
Past the crazies on my block
And I see the same old faces
And I hear that same old talk
And I’m searchin’ for the latest thing
A break in this routine
I’m talkin’ some new kicks
Ones like you ain’t never seen
It’s not Shakespeare, for sure. But it’s a hell of a jump from “Everybody Wants Some”. I think the biggest change in tone comes in the last two tracks on side two “Sunday Afternoon In The Park”, is a barely two minute instrumental that swaggers and sways like a predator coming up on its prey. Pushed along with Eddie’s newfound love for the synthesizer, it’s sinister as hell and a major push forward in terms of the Van Halen sound. “One Foot Out The Door” is an almost punk-infused track that has David Lee Roth running out on a one night stand before said gal pal’s fella shows up. Not much forward thinking going on there, but it’s in the musical delivery. Fast and furious with no boogie or shuffle seen for miles. Pure aggression. Of course, the big track on this album is “Unchained”. For a single, it’s pretty damn good. And there’s some major flange happening on that guitar.
I know, I know,..it’s just not cool to admit to loving Van Halen. But for all the “jock rock” and mullet jokes, Van Halen were a pretty damn progressive band. Eddie Van Halen saw things were changing and he made the changes. Going head first into the synths and digital technology he kept Van Halen relevant for many years; and even when their lead mouth and ego David Lee Roth left to do show tunes and hone his class clown skills he kept the band afloat and they became even more popular than they were with Roth. I feel Fair Warning was the record that showed he was looking ahead and knew things needed to be shaken up in Van Halen camp. It doesn’t feel there’s a filler track here, either. Even the disco-ish “Push Comes To Shove” has a place on this tight little album. I still find something to love about this old record. And come on, Ted Templeton was a pretty amazing producer, too. He made them sound like a million bucks on record.
So now you know who I really am. At heart, I’m still that awkward 9-year old digging through the Van Halen discography and being floored by the guitars, the Roth-isms, and the roto-tom fills. I wasn’t 9 years old in 1969, so I don’t have any cool Beatles, Stones, or Dylan coming-of-age stories for you all. It’s all spandex, White Rain hair spray, and finger-tapping solos from me. I hope we can still be friends.
Don’t worry, there won’t be any Twisted Sister or Ratt nostalgic posts. Promise.