Sunday, March 11, 2007

Eddie Van Illin'

If I’m not fantasizing about riches from my writing, or what local football fame would have would have been mine had I not messed up my knee before high school, my mind will turn to what every nerd teenager has dreamed about being: a rock star.

Keeping with tradition, I would have to play the guitar, of course, though now, I would rather be a violin or piano virtuoso, a change in vision brought on by due to my advancing age.

Yes, I am decrepit. But I am not as decrepit, as it turns out, as Eddie Van Halen, probably the foremost rock guitar god of the last 30 years.

Mr. Van Halen looked like this 14 years ago, a man of 38:

And today:

No public service announcement could say it better: This is Eddie Van Halen; This is Eddie Van Halen on drugs.

Mr. Van Halen checked into rehab last week, after denying for years that he didn’t have a problem.

I’ve always looked a bit older than my years; when I was 38, I probably looked 40 to 45. But Eddie Van Halen always possessed the facade of eternal youth. Now, thanks to the miracle of methamphetamines, our appearances have undergone a stunning inversion: I, a man of 42, look my age, while Eddie VanHalen, a man of 52, looks about 80.

Sadly, his face does not look like someone long for this earth. He is missing teeth — a result, he claims, from mouth cancer — and no amount of airbrushing can conceal the fact that something has gone wildly wrong in this man’s life. Mr. Van Halen bears a striking resemblance to Jack Palance, and it makes me say something I thought not possible: there is a person in the world of rock and roll who looks worse than Keith Richards. At least we expect Keith to look like death on a stick.

I’m not a huge VH fan, though I like some of their early songs, and find them mildly amusing, especially because David Lee Roth is Jewish, proving beyond all doubt that us Jews are not inherently smarter than the rest of the world.

What is interesting is that although Van Halen was rich and famous at an early age, and, while a close observer may conclude the band’s downfall was when Sammy Hagar joined, it is odd that, unlike most rock and roll substance abuse disasters, Eddie Van Halen's apparently happened in middle age.

Why the case of Eddie Van Halen interests me is as revealing about what it says. I certainly would not have done well coping with fame and riches in my 20s, and if this is a fantasy, it is one that was best unfulfilled.

But to think someone would be immune — writers, in particular — from the lures of money as they pass 40 is the height of folly. Any 65-year-old rich dolt ditching his wife for a 25-year-old bimbo is illustration enough. They have often scrimped and struggled through their careers, and once they hit the big time, start thinking they should have their fun. That they deserve to have fun.

There are plenty of writers who, despite their august pedigrees, turn to various forms of bad behavior as they enter the autumn of their lives. It may not involve crystal meth, coke, or smack, but it may involve long stretches at the bottle and mistresses. Just because you fancy yourself a genius or philosopher does not make you any less immune to human foible.

David Lee Roth: not related to Philip

I do wonder, however, how many of these (male) writers become louts or addicts only when they get older. Fame and money supposedly amplify the bad traits that already exist in one’s soul, and sometimes it just takes a while for it to catch up to you.

Which is why I’ve chosen not to be a rich and famous novelist, you see. It’s all for my own good.