'Worlds' apart, Van Halen and Hagar back together


July 16, 2004


The last few years haven't been particularly kind to guitar wizard Eddie Van Halen, the heart and soul of the band that bears his name. He's endured a hip replacement, a battle with tongue cancer and the end of his 20-year marriage. But now, at age 49, he is back on the road with his brother, drummer Alex, 54, long-time bassist Michael Anthony, 50, and Sammy Hagar, 56, the middle of the three singers in Van Halen's long multiplatinum career.

For many fans, David Lee Roth will always remain the group's best frontman, and "Van Hagar" was a poor substitute. Others prefer the poppier fare of the Sammy years. On the current tour, which is supporting a new, two-disc greatest hits package called "The Best of Both Worlds: The Very Best of Van Halen," Hagar has withdrawn his longstanding objection to singing tunes from the Roth era, and the set list is about 60/40 Hagar/Roth material, along with three new songs the group recently recorded.

Hagar and Alex Van Halen took part in a round-robin teleconference with music journalists shortly before the start of the current jaunt, which comes to the United Center for shows on Monday and Tuesday. Here are some of their comments on key issues surrounding the reunion.

  • 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
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    Alex: It just felt right. Sammy and I got together, and it was like we hadn't missed a beat. We picked up right where we left off, and the moment we hit the studio and started making music, which for us is always where it always began, then that kind of solidified that that was it.

    Sammy: Yes, it just felt like the right time. You know, once we started talking, it's like the first single, "It's About Time"-- I mean, I couldn't help but write those kind of lyrics for it because it was just such a feeling that was just unanimous. We just felt like, "Wow. The time is right, you know?" If we had tried it maybe two years ago, it could've blown up or anything, or maybe two years from now, it might be too late. Who knows?



    Sammy: After getting with Al, and then Al talking to Ed first, Al probably said [to Ed], "Hey, I talked with Sam. It was great, you know?" And then the next time I was talking to Al a couple of days later, I said, "How's Ed doing?" We were just laughing about all the crazy stuff we did before -- you know, catching up -- and then he said, "Well, give him a call." I said, "Well, give me his number," and I just -- boom. I just called him, and it was great.

    The whole point of being older is, you know, time going by, water going under the bridge, whatever it is. You kind of forget even what happened or why you were mad to begin with and what all you said. All that stuff goes out the window when you see a person that you truly do have a deep relationship with -- I mean, we were together for a long time, 11 years, on the road, in the studio, making videos, rehearsing. I spent more time with him than I did with my wife, and when you spend that much time with somebody, you really do have a deep friendship, and all of a sudden you realize after time that, "Hey, forget it."

    We decided rather than go to therapy like some of these other bands and dig around in the dirt, we said, "No, no. Here's what we're going to do: We're going to pretend like it never happened. We're going to, like, rise above it," and it's really what we did.



    Alex: He's OK. That's a simple answer to something that, again, is probably a complicated issue. But he's healthy and he's ready to go. But I will add that I personally want to thank all the fans and everyone who sent the cards and the e-mails and all the rest wishing him well.



    Sammy: Well, the material -- nothing really affects anything, except the music itself always affects everything. When I walked over to [Ed's] studio, it wasn't to go over there to really to play music. You know, Ed's going, "Hey, man. Come on over."

    So he just happened to be in the studio when I came in there, and we went in there, and now he starts playing me some stuff they had been doing, and it was just extremely inspiring, like the first time, just like when I walked in on "5150," when we started recording that record. I had never played music with these guys before, and it was just like magic.

    Inspiration is a great, great thing, and Van Halen music has a lot of it, and it was just so simple. The song "It's About Time" was the first song we worked on, and Ed played me that, and it was just like ... No, actually, "Learning to See" was the first one, but "It's About Time" is the first one that we finished, and it was just like, "Ka-pow!" I just instantly came up with melodies, instantly came up with lyrics. I just grabbed the microphone. I didn't go there to sing, but we just started jamming, and we jammed for probably five or six hours until my voice was completely worn out.



    Sammy: It wasn't a good idea. It seemed like a good idea at the time. At that time, there was no indication that there was ever going to be a Van Halen get-back-together with me or anything. So I mean, I wasn't thinking that way at the time, although, if I had been thinking this way -- if I'd have known we were going to have this, what we have now -- I would've never done it. It's one of those things that you just go, "Well, that didn't work so hot for me."

    I'm not sorry I did it, but I certainly wouldn't do it again. He's just not a friendly guy, and we didn't get along too good. I think it was pretty obvious -- two different people, two different planets.



    Alex: Well, it's like anything: Rumors tend to be exaggerated. You know, you drive into somebody's neighborhood, and pretty soon you've been seen visiting the house and you're buddies. There was an attempt to put something together, but it was ill-fated. It never materialized and it just went away. I don't mean to trivialize it, but there's a little expression: "An idiot is somebody who does the same thing over and over and expects a different outcome."



    Alex: The record that we made in 1998 ["Van Halen III"], you know, I didn't want to prejudge it, because you've got remember Ed's got to read this, too, and he'll hammer me over the head if I don't say something of how he saw the picture, and that is when you make music, you know, you try to be true to what comes from your heart, and once it leaves -- once it's been recorded and it leaves your hands -- it's anybody's guess what happens to it. And I think that's probably the best way to answer that question.



    Sammy: I really didn't have a vision for how it [should] be. But I think it's very cool that if you're going to do a "Greatest Hits Two" package, that we're in a unique situation where there were a couple of singers in this band, and one of them did a couple of new songs for the last one, and one of them's doing three new songs for this one. I think that's pretty cool. That's almost like karmically very good, because you know if you just did the same thing again, it's not as exciting.



    Sammy: We don't.

    Alex: Intentionally. I think there is music for everybody, and whether it was the days when we first started when disco was the most popular style of music or when the punk rock came along, you know, styles change and musical pace changes and programming changes, but I think it's no wonder that a band like Van Halen -- just like some of the other bands who have been around through the history of rock 'n' roll -- transcends that. It's not about a fad, it's not about the latest hit single, it's something bigger than that, and I wish I knew exactly what that was. It's just something intangible, and it's almost like we're along for the ride.

    Sammy: It's like we have decided that we're the only ones that do what we do. If you want this, this is the only place you can really get this. There are other bands that are great, and you could say, "Hey, Britney Spears certainly puts on an unbelievable show; the production's fantastic," but that isn't Van Halen, and if you want what we do, this is where you get it.