Show Me Your Dragon Magic: Thoughts On The New Van Halen Single

Van Halen.

Mark IV.

Let me bring you up to speed–since we’ve entered a new phase of Van Halen–of my schizophrenic relationship with the band’s various line-ups.

There’s the unconditional love of Mark I, the line-up that all others are compared to. There’s the boredom and occasional irritation of the Sammy Hagar years, leading up to an embarrassing bit of time with Gary Cherone.

And now we have the drama between Eddie Van Halen and Michael Anthony which leads to some pretty interesting alliances between the V.H. faithful, some of whom claim that a band without Michael Anthony is not really Van Halen.

Actually, it is.

While I would have very much enjoyed a complete reunion of the classic V.H., I can’t complain too much if Eddie wants to spend time with his kid, and it certainly sounds as though Wolfgang is working hard at earning his keep on the low end.

But a band member can be like a family member too, and something just doesn’t feel right about how the message of termination was delivered to the luckiest son-of-a-bitch in show business, Michael Anthony.

I don’t know what transpired between Eddie and Michael, but I’m betting that Eddie’s side of things is clouded in drugs, drinks and other carcinogens. The guy negotiated with Anthony with such disrespect that to consider him nothing more than a contract sideman is pretty shitty of him.

I find it ironic that Eddie seemed to be so bent out of shape about Mr. Anthony’s outside endeavors, particularly when Ed has himself banked on endorsements and questionable sources of revenue when not working on band functions.

What was Anthony to do? Let the V.H. logo cast a ball and chain on him when Van Halen was on hiatus? The poor bastard probably had no fucking clue that Ed was festering so heavy on whatever he perceived to be wrong that it would lead to his gold-watch order cancellation.

And to rub salt into the entire thing: he incorporates a bit of nepotism into his replacement and hires his teenage son for the gig, casting a big cloud over Anthony’s bass abilities.

So yeah, I’m going to agree that Michael Anthony was royally fucked and that his version of how things ended when he was relieved of his Van Halen privileges is probably closer to the truth than Eddie’s own account.

With that being said, don’t think for a moment that I’m so much of an Anthony fan that I would completely bail on Eddie teaming up with David Lee Roth again for a new record and the obligatory tour. Hell, they could have put Jack Blades backstage playing the bass parts incognito (just like they did with fellow Night Ranger keyboardist, Alan “Fitz” Fitzgerald who has found himself as the touring keyboard player for the Van Halen) and I wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about it.

No, the big news is that Diamond Dave’s back and they have a new album coming out next month. As much as I like that idea, I have to confess that there’s always the risk that such make-nice events are plagued in mediocrity. So with a healthy amount of cynicism, I went into the album’s lead-off single bracing for the impending shit ball that I worried that I would hear.

Video: Van Halen – “Tattoo”

So I’m surprised that it’s not that bad, and I’m not surprised the reason it’s not bad is because it’s a complete lift of an old unreleased song from the band’s club days. The lyrics are different–more on them later–but the riff is the same, helping to explain why the band has yet to release a comprehensive overview of their unreleased history, particularly since it’s so readily available on the internet.

The reason they haven’t considered this seems to be because they’re still picking though the bones off the leftovers, just like they did on their last effort with Roth, 1984.

But when Sammy Hagar tries to butt in and suggest that all of this raiding the vaults is some kind of bad thing, I’ve got to point out a fact to him: “Tattoo” is just mediocre enough to prove that a dressed up old Van Halen song with David Lee Roth is still as good as any Van Hagar tune where Sammy worked his ass off.

Maybe it’s all of those years without hearing Roth vamp against the familiar tone of Eddie’s guitar on “Tattoo” and a blistering solo that seems to come without effort that has my headspace in such a generous state. I’ve played the cut a few times and with each spin, I find myself putting up with the fact that the chorus absolutely blows and that Roth’s lyrical update is a hit or miss affair. I expected a bit more contempt from the man, particularly when the bridge brings on the clumsy “Swap meet Sally/Tramp-stamp Kat” part. This joint needs an f-bomb or two that announces the return of the frontman we’ve all been whining about returning to the fold for the last quarter-century.

Same is true for the video, which looks like it was slapped together some random afternoon and nobody considered how awesome V.H. videos used to be. You know, the ones where they just strap band members on to stage wires and swing them around the stage during soundcheck.

Now that’s entertainment!

Van Halen videos circa 2012 find Roth smiling like an old sock monkey on Xanax while making sure he is keeping the contractually drawn distance between him and Eddie. Sure, you can still find him shuckin’ and jivin’ like an aging circus barker and you can almost see Eddie’s contempt for Roth’s shenanigans around the 1:35 mark.

Some things never change.

There is a lot of history that Eddie tends to forget about, and I don’t for a minute feel that he and David Lee Roth are operating with much personal interaction. It appears that it’s now Eddie’s turn to eat ‘em and smile, knowing that Van Halen’s commercial resurgence is completely out of his control and in the hands of a loudmouth lead singer bouncing around stage on an inflatable microphone.

It also appears from the video that Diamond Dave has dialed it down a bit, if not from aging then maybe with a few terms and conditions laid out to make this reunion even possible.

He looks a bit humble in the video, smiling like a grateful new hire that’s just learned that he won’t have to wait 90 days before he’s eligible for health insurance.

Yes Dave, the benefits start immediately.

I’m willing to bet that some of that generosity is because Dave won’t see Edward that much on tour. Who wants to bet that they’ll all get separate tour buses and individual backstage areas?  Dave and Ed probably will only see each other during their times on stage together, knowing very well that it was all very different when their egos worked together instead of against each other like they do now.

I kind of miss the Dave that just didn’t give a fuck. The one who would stand up to Eddie and tell him shit like, “You’re a guitar god! Nobody wants to hear you play keyboards!”  The most rebellion we see from Dave in the video is how he didn’t bother to look at the lyric sheet before shooting. To compensate, he farts around on stage, trying not to get smacked in the teeth by Eddie’s headstock and trying to figure out who that young guy playing bass is.

I will say this about that young man: he works a gnarly tone from that Frankenstein designed bass, one that’s completely different from what Anthony would have brought to the song. And while the harmonies are missed and would have been the cherry on the top here, I can’t say that I’d want to give up on the guttural punch that Wolfie provides “Tattoo.”

Towards the final verse of “Tattoo,” Roth suddenly shifts gears and incorporates something relevant into the song, somehow redeeming all of the song’s missteps and planting the seed that I may need to give A Different Kind Of Truth a legitimate chance when it’s released February 7.

His time working as an EMT must have given him a reminder that Van Halen is a band perfectly suited for the salt of the Earth. They represent the kind of anything-goes celebration that America’s blue collar workers need to believe exist, and Van Halen shows of lore certainly reflected that possibility of a perfect decadence.

Roth brings down his bravado for a moment while he remembers a certain tattoo on his Uncle that reflected more than just a lame attempt of cosmetic rebellion, they sometimes went beyond skin deep.

“Uncle Danny had a gold tattoo,” he tells us. “He fought for the unions… Some of us still do,” hinting that Roth knows the real enemy he sees around him in 2012 ain’t the state worker with the union card, it’s the ones who suggest that unions are the reason for the growing disparity between the rich and poor. Roth goes on to illustrate his point: “On my shoulder is the number of the chapter he was in / That number is forever like the struggle here to win.”

It’s nice to know that we have Roth’s support as we work hard to get out of this economic funk, but it’s even better to know that he’s back in Van Halen ready to enlist in the weekend entertainment committee once again.

5 thoughts on “Show Me Your Dragon Magic: Thoughts On The New Van Halen Single”

  1. I don’t care who is in the band, that song sucks and would have been laughed off of previous records. Tattoo? Really? Like 15 years ago that might have had relevance, but in 2012? Blah. Back in the crypt for you, V.H.

  2. Expectations are so high, that this album is bound to fail. The video was mediocre at best. It lacked energy! We all want so much for the band that once was. Spandex, long hair, attitude, sex appeal and a raw energy that made VH sound awesome. I bet when this album comes out, we will all be wondering what happened.

  3. Uncle Danny had a coal tattoo. Not a gold tattoo. The song is about how tattoos reveal some of who a person is. From soccer moms with tramp stamps to laborers with unintentional but permanent marks that resulted from their toils.

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