Published : Thursday, January 5, 2017 | 9:18 PM
“It’s rare that something so loud comes to life in someplace so quiet, but that’s exactly how it happened with America’s greatest rock band. In the 1970s, Van Halen evolved into a musical force in Pasadena, a Los Angeles suburb of white picket fences, tree-lined streets, and good schools. David Lee Roth reminisced about those environs on the band’s 2007 reunion tour. “The suburbs, I come from the suburbs,” Roth told a packed house at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “You know, where they tear out the trees and name streets after them. I live on Orange Grove — there’s no orange grove there; it’s just me… we used to play the backyard parties there. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
That’s paragraph one, chapter one of a new book about the rock band that two immigrant brothers from Holland started while in high school in Pasadena and later played gigs in suburban backyards and dive bars in Los Angeles back in the 70s, while bigger rock bands at the time were competing for record labels and radio air time.
“Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal” tells the story of the band’s rise to fame and was written over six years with insight from over 230 interviews with Van Halen insiders, including founding bassist Michael Anthony as well as Pete Angelus, Marshall Berle, Donn Landee, Ted Templeman, and Neil Zlozower.
The author, Greg Renoff, tells how Van Halen – led by frontman extraordinaire David Lee Roth and guitar virtuoso Edward Van Halen – transformed from the backyard party band to a stadium act that captivated the rock world in 1978 with its debut album, “Van Halen,” that sold more than a million copies within months of release and rocketed the band to the stratosphere of rock success.
By the end of that year, Van Halen had established themselves as superstars and reinvigorated heavy metal in the process.
In a “Van Halen Rising” manifesto, Renoff writes on the book’s website, www.vanhalenrising.com, how he had a two-part revelation as he was starting research on Van Halen’s pre-fame years in Los Angeles: one, that there was very little specific information about those years available anywhere, and two, that while other rock bands of the time had books and written records of their successes and failures, Van Halen’s history isn’t available in written form.
“This was a major problem,” Renoff writes. “Not just for me, but for Van Halen fans across the globe, because this story needed to be told. Somebody, I thought, needed to write a comprehensive, carefully documented, and compulsively readable book about this lost period in Van Halen history. That person, I decided, should be me.”
Released in October by ECW Press, the book also tells of the group’s perseverance during a time when the popularity of heavy metal rock was declining.
“Record companies rejected Van Halen as early as 1974,” Renoff writes. “In fact, Gene Simmons, then one of the most powerful musicians in America, couldn’t get the band a record deal in late 1976. Despite all these obstacles and setbacks, the quartet refused to quit.”
Then something funny happened in the spring and summer of 1978. “Van Halen,” an album heavier than anything else at the top of the charts, started selling like crazy. Van Halen “went from a third billed band on a theater tour to a group that sent stadium crowds into delirium. Van Halen became superstars,” Renoff writes in the Manifesto.
The book has been earning good reviews since it came out.
“I thought I knew a lot about Van Halen, until I read this book,” writes Chuck Klosterman, author of “Fargo Rock City” and “Killing Yourself to Live.” “It’s exceedingly rare to find such a comprehensive portrait of any band’s pre-history, even for canonical groups like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. So to stumble across this level of research about the early days of VH is like hearing studio-quality demos of songs you did not even know existed.”
“Renoff’s writing is consistently punchy and compelling, like Van Halen at its finest. If you’ve got it bad, got it bad, got it bad for Van Halen, get Van Halen Rising,” says Martha Quinn, original MTV VJ and Sirius XM host.
Rolling Stone Magazine calls the story in the book “the tale of hardworking kids with nothing in common learning to fuse pop and heavy metal into a new sound that completely changed the music world.”
“Most Van Halen fans have heard about the notorious, alcohol-soaked backyard parties in the Pasadena area that the band played as they built a loyal following – but never knew the details,” Examiner.com says. “This is where Renoff’s exhaustive research and meticulous attention to detail truly pays off. Readers are treated to extensive accounts of these bashes… they can almost feel as if they were actually there… a book that’s as entertaining as it is informative.”
The book is 377 pages in paperback. It’s available on www.amazon.com, on www.barnesandnoble.com, as well as through the Van Halen Store, www.vanhalenstore.com.