The world lost Eddie Van Halen this week. Generation X lost one of the main creators of its soundtrack. The guitar hero passed away on Tuesday at the age of 65 to what his son Wolfgang called “his long and arduous battle with cancer”
First wave Gen X rock fans first learned about Eddie via the release of Van Halen’s first album in 1978. The record introduced the world to his amazing guitar playing and his signature and often imitated two-handed tapping technique. The self-titled album which still sounds fresh and un-dated went on to sell 10 million copies and kicked off an almost two-decade run of platinum recordings.
The band quickly became the hottest new band in rock and was soon headlining their own tours. Eddie became well known to people outside of the rock world by way of his marriage to TV star and America’s sweetheart, Valerie Bertinelli. Mainstream superstardom came to the band with the release of 1982’s Diver Down which contained the hit cover of Roy Orbison’s Oh Pretty Woman.
By this time the band was America’s top rock act. They headlined the US Festival in 1983 and received over a million dollars for the performance. The band was our generation’s Led Zepplin. Eddie was our Jimi Hendrix. He also played the guitar solo on Beat It from the biggest selling album of the time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Soon a slew of bands hit the airwaves that all sounded somewhat similar to Van Halen. Most of these bands had guitar players who performed the tapping technique. Eddie’s red, white and black striped guitar called the Frankenstrat was the most recognized musical instrument of our generation. When Eddie started playing a Kramer guitar, other rock stars followed his lead. In fact, Kramer became the #1 guitar manufacturer for a time in the eighties.
The band’s stardom went to another level with the release of 1984 which featured the #1 classic Jump. When David Lee Roth left the band in 1985 and Sammy Hagar took over lead vocals, the band continued right along with hit after hit. The streak lasted almost two decades with the last top forty hit coming in 1995 with I Can’t Stop Loving you. The band created hits for the entire Gen X era of the late seventies to the mid-nineties.
Eddie Van Halen was not a member of Generation X. He was born in 1955, so that would make him a late boomer or an early member of Generation Jones, however you wish to label it. Although not one of our generational tribe, he never the less made a huge impact on us. When the news of his death broke, so many people, especially Xers took to social media to share their grief and shock of his untimely death. Many wrote about how he was a part of their childhood and teen years.
He had a huge musical influence on our generation. The tone of his guitar was one of the defining sounds of our generation. He was the gold standard of playing guitar in our era and to many, he still is. His sound was timeless but at the same time represented our era and the two scenes in Back to the Future that feature the sound and style of his playing solidifies that point.
The music made by Edward Lodewijk Van Halen will live forever on classic rock radio, YouTube, and by tribute bands playing bars and festivals all over the world. It will also live forever when a kid picks up a guitar and attempts to learn a riff from Unchained or Ain’t Talkin’ bout Love.
Thank you Eddie for the great music, the memories and for being part of the soundtrack of our lives.