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Runnin’ with the Angels

October 22, 2020

I remember less about the frog dissection than about the thrill of hearing Van Halen’s self-titled album for the first time.  Our 9th grade biology teacher, Ms. Fotheringham, had allowed us to bring favorite music into the classroom, probably believing that the unusual privilege would mitigate the apprehension we might feel in splaying open our individually-assigned, freshly-dead amphibians.  For my part, the cool points earned through having brought in the brand-new portable 8-track player with detachable stereo speakers my folks had gifted me for Christmas vanquished any anxiety I might have otherwise felt.

A fellow student, the specific identity of whom is lost to the dustbin of memory but who had an older sibling more attuned to the ‘now’ than us junior high innocents, brought in a brand new tape by a band none of us yet knew.  He said the music was “super hard” and mongered the rumor that Van Halen might actually be KISS without make-up, a possibility reinforced in our susceptible young minds by the mention of Gene Simmons right there on the back cover.  We cut and prodded as ordered but frog innards could not match the draw of that wild electric guitar sound emanating from those lo-fi plastic speakers; by operation’s end the hook was swallowed and poised for setting.

A few days later I walked the two blocks to my friend Mitch’s house from where we were to be picked up by another bud, Dallon, to head out to a Church dance.  Thanks to the fellowship innate to our shared Church congregation (ward), Mitch and Dallon had not abandoned me as a pal when, being a year older, they had ascended to high school and drivers’ licenses even as I remained bottled-up back in junior high.  I pushed Mitch’s doorbell multiple times as unrecognized hard rock at high, distortion-level volume emanated from inside, drowning out the chime.

When she eventually appeared at the door, Mitch’s sister Michelle, a high school senior, explained the delay by showing me that, with their parents out for the evening, she had placed the speakers facing each other in the middle of the living room.  She had left just enough space in between for the pillows on which she was laying back to enjoy her latest record purchase at maximum volume.  Mitch had just gotten out of the shower so she invited me to check out her set-up and the “so rad!” new tunes while I waited.  I reclined on her carefully-arranged pillows and she proceeded to launch “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me” at me in a back-to-back barrage so deafening it shook the whole house.  Just as Mitch finally came downstairs, Dallon was pulling up in his folks’ faded blue Ford Galaxie 500 Wagon and it was time to go.  Leaving Michelle behind in the throes of an all-out “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love” assault on her eardrums, I knew I had been reeled in and netted.

View from Spruce Knob

The dings came one right after the other as I began the long drive back from my day-trip escape to West Virginia’s Spruce Knob.  I touched the bell symbol on the dashboard screen to advise Android Auto – why doesn’t she rate a name like Siri and Alexa? – that I wanted to hear her emotionless-yet-friendly voice.  Complying, she read me the two arrived messages, one from my son and the other from my daughter, both somberly informing me of the passing of Eddie Van Halen, sad face with tears, sad face with tears.

A quick shift from Helion Prime’s “science-based metal” over to public radio confirmed the bad news.  I listened for a bit as Steve Vai explained to a well-meaning but out-of-his-depth interviewer that there was more to EVH than the guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” before requesting that my vehicular assistant turn off the radio and instead play me some songs by Van Halen.

I entered the moment intent on honing in on and solemnly admiring the instrumental genius of the now late guitar god but quickly found myself not only energetically vocalizing each long-ago emblazoned riff and solo but also sing-shouting along to David Lee’s every shriek, squeal, and yelp.  Despite harboring genuine sorrow, it was impossible to be sad while listening to Eddie play.  Maybe he doesn’t have to be gone after all…

From → Music

  1. Great account of your first experience with Van Halen, thanks for sharing.

  2. Really, the only thing I know about Eddie vH was that he played the excellent solo on ‘Beat it’. But can I offer you a chocolate to help soothe your loss? (As recommended by Monty Python)
    We use only the finest baby frogs, dew-picked and flown from Iraq, cleansed in the finest quality spring water, lightly killed, and sealed in a succulent, Swiss, quintuple-smooth, treble-milk chocolate envelope, and lovingly frosted with glucose.

    • Posted comment before finishing article = looking like a dick. (Sigh)

    • Honestly not sure there’s much there for you in the EVH catalogue, VC. That’s ok though. No reason to let the hopped-up Camaros get you down; Rolls Royces will always be cool. Screw them damn millenial Mini Coopers though; they don’t know anything about what’s good.

      As for baby frogs, here in the States we replaced the glucose frosting with high fructose corn syrup back in the Nixon administration.

  3. Dick Alston permalink

    God I love your writing and insightful memories.

    On Thu, Oct 22, 2020 at 12:15 PM Victim of the Fury wrote:

    > Victim of the Fury posted: ” I remember less about the frog dissection > itself than about the thrill of hearing Van Halen’s self-titled album for > the first time. Our 9th grade biology teacher, Ms. Fotheringham, had > allowed us to bring favorite music into the classroom, probab” >

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