Buy Red at Amazon.
I didn’t discover Van Halen until their 1984 album, and I have television to thank for that. I don’t have an older brother who might have introduced me to many of these hard-rocking late 70s groups (as a number of my junior-high classmates did), so I had to rely upon the pre-Jersey Shore MTV to broaden my musical horizons. It helped, too, that during this time our cable system also came with WGN in Chicago, and “Jump” had been the unofficial theme of the Cubs. That summer I asked my conservative Catholic parents for a copy of 1984 for my birthday, and to my surprise I got it… and I actually played the whole thing for my dad because he wanted to hear that song. This may not seem odd to you, but in my house this defined surreal – the Cubs on mute while I sat in the living room with my 48-year-old, Eucharistic minister father blasting “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” on the stereo.
During this time I had a vague idea of who Sammy Hagar was. “I Can’t Drive 55” had come out then, and before that he had another song that enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV, called “Three Lock Box,” which I – deep in my British 80s group phase – didn’t care for:
This wasn’t even the hit off that album, and I swear it’s all I saw when I turned on the TV.
So when I hear that David Lee Roth left Van Halen and Sammy had been tapped to replace him, like many people I found that odd. It isn’t common for a singer with an established solo career to join an established band, but after reading Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock you’ll come to find that Hagar doesn’t particularly embrace common. I recall wondering about Van Halen’s future given the lineup change, but one day during my sophomore year I arrived at school to find half the student body wearing the 5150 tour shirt purchased from the concert at Jacksonville Coliseum the previous weekend. On the back in bold: VAN HALEN KICKS ASS.
Well, that answered that.
What inspired me to pick up Red, however, was not a fervent admiration of Van Halen. To this day 1984 is the only album I have of theirs, though when I married I inherited more – all Roth-era. Hubby will listen to solo Hagar and his stuff with the Cabos, but still resists “Van Hagar” for some reason. I don’t ask why.
Being the avid Rush fan, I was more interested in Hagar’s perspective with regards to dealing with Ray Danniels, brought in to manage the group following the death of their previous handler. Danniels has also managed Rush since the beginning of their career, along with a few other groups of fleeting significance. I had known for a while that there is no love lost between the two, but I figured reading Red might enlighten me further. Now, if you are a Rush fan thinking the same thing, I’ll warn you that this part of Hagar’s history doesn’t appear until very late in the book. The singer’s life from birth to that point, luckily, does keep you entertained.
Be ready to read closely, too, for Red comes off like a long, rambling conversation in a bar, with Hagar holding court. Everything from his poorer than dirt childhood in Fontana, California to his rocky relationships with his first wife, his Montrose bandmates, and later on the Van Halen brothers, is relayed in choppy sentences that read as though they’ve been arranged one way then another to make sure the story comes out right. There are moments in Red where Hagar seems to skip like a record, and you’ll suspect contradictions. He does drugs, he quits. He’s offered drugs and swears he’s not interested, yet chapters later he’s describing doing blow with This Rock Star and That Chick. That sort of thing.
As a “juicy” rock tell-all, Red has its moments, and you may come away with the idea that Hagar has a high opinion of himself as compared to others (definitely where David Lee Roth is concerned). He is confident, yes, and business savvy and quasi-spiritual – but you don’t get the sense that he feels entitled to his success. From the stories he shares, it’s clear he’s worked his ass off to earn everything he has, and stands today as perhaps one of the best examples of the old school musicians who didn’t sit around and wait for things to happen. In an age where somebody achieves instant fame through a fluke viral video (is it “Friday” yet?), one can appreciate a guy like Hagar.
The Van Halen brothers may be the only exception.
Rating – B- / C+ (Waffled on this – there is a good story here, but some may find the rough narrative jarring.)
Kathryn Lively has not seen any incarnation of Van Halen live. Sucks.