Thursday, January 8, 2009


I begin my ski trip on Wednesday night, but not before getting the terrible news at work that a friend and one of my most valued employees passed away earlier that day. Diagnosed in mid-May with skin cancer after suffering a stroke, learning that it had already lodged itself in the brain and elsewhere in her body. Little could be done at this late stage. A young, very smart, hard working mother of two young children. All gone in an instant. I've reached that point in life where my friends are beginning to leave the party early.

Watch no longer wound
Hands slowly come to a stop
Journey at an end

Grows oh so tired
Frail arms raised in acceptance
Embraces the night

Time on his side
Grip that's ever tightening
Reaper holds our hand

Fighting for so long
Peace found at the very end
Exhales the last breath

I drove into the mountains last night, intending to meet others the following morning for our trip up to Janet's Cabin near Vail Pass. A firm grip on the steering wheel was necessary because of strong winds from a passing storm front. I parked the car on a side road along the highway leading over Fremont Pass. A broad glacial valley alongside the Tenmile Range. The wind calmed down and a nearly full moon was in the sky overhead. Time for a concert.

Considering my location, this night's concert is entitled "Someday In The Valley", Van Halen playing at the Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy WI on July 29, 1995. An excellent audience recording. After messing up the lyrics to "Eagles Fly" the previous night in Chicago, and admitting it to the audience, Sammy Hagar performs "Someday" for the first time in concert. Sammy was especially chatty with the very enthusiastic audience.

While Eddie was performing his solo piece late in the show, around midnight my time, a pair of security guards belonging to the nearby Climax mine pulled up, spotlighting me in their headlights. Who knows what they thought of this guy standing outside his truck so late at night. I was informed I was on private property and would need to move. The guy was cool about it. I got in the truck and drove farther up the valley towards the pass, finding a turnout on Forest Service property. The concert was resumed with minimal interruption!

This concert took place almost a month after a six-week run of European festival dates, Van Halen assuming an unfamiliar role on their second jaunt in two years opening for Bon Jovi who was very popular on the continent. Van Halen would be playing before more people every night than they could ever possibly draw on their own. But there was a downside to this arrangement, as noted by Sammy in an unpublished memoir of his:

The cool reception Van Halen received from the capacity crowds of 60 to 70,000 people on a nightly basis jolted them. It nearly mimicked their headlining romp in 1993 when the dumbfounded band realized they weren't the rock gods in this part of the world they thought they were. "In most of the festivals we played," sighed Hagar, "while I was singing, I'd see makeshift signs that read "Jon," or "We Love Bon Jovi." It was actually kind of cute to see these young girls holding signs up, but Eddie couldn't handle it. He was freaking, because he wasn't a guitar hero to any of these kids. Not once during the entire time we toured over there, did the crowd ever chant, "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie." After some songs, I tried to get the crowd fired up by yelling Eddie's name over the loud speakers. Every time it was met with dead silence. By the end of the tour, he was so bummed out, he even cut his guitar solo down to one minute. Whoever heard of Eddie Van Halen playing a one minute guitar solo? They did in Europe. It got so bad for him over there, sometimes he didn't even solo during a show. Man, I'm telling you, there were no drum or bass solos, or acoustic versions of 'Give to Live' and 'Eagles Fly.' This tour had to be one of the most depressing times on the road I ever witnessed with Van Halen. In probably half the shows we played, we got no encores. Sometimes we even went back on stage for an encore when the crowd didn't want one. We just said, "To hell with it. Let's go back and do another one." Van Halen wasn't getting called back for any encores until we finally wised up and made 'Jump' the last song of the set. That would get people going, and we'd come back for another song. Even then, it didn't always work.

This band was absolutely nothing over there. There would be occasions where we had our little contingent of 10,000 fans jumping up and down yelling "Yeah, Van Halen!" But you know what when this scene is happening in a stadium with 70,000 people, it's embarrassing. I'd be standing on the stage looking at this ocean of people not responding to our music thinking, "Sorry, I thought maybe you would like this." Bon Jovi sold out Wembley Stadium three consecutive nights toward the end of the tour. We ended each performance with 'Jump,' and nobody cared. Each night over 70,000 people had paid money to see Bon Jovi, and Bon Jovi only. I was amazed that nobody gave a damn about Van Halen.

According to Sammy, this humbling experience caused him to think about the problems the group was facing, convincing him it was time to take the band's music in a new direction. It was never to happen, the building friction between the Van Halen brothers and Sammy eventually causing them to separate shortly after the Balance Tour.

A golden pry bar
Cracks open the wall of time
His chance to escape

Blows down the valley
Winters cold wind in his face
Moon so far above

Moon lit mountain peaks
Stands amidst eternity
Just for a moment

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