Dear Mr. Roth (Ink19, 1999)
Earlier in the month, when the David Lee Roth concert was announced, I tried to arrange an interview with the man. When I called Roth’s manager, Louie, he was very short with me. Louie had a gruff voice and sounded fat and Italian. “I’d like to arrange an interview with David Lee Roth,” I’d said to him on the phone. “You and about 15 million other people,” he responded. The newspaper I worked for wouldn’t to pay my way in without a Roth interview. I paid the $30 ticket price however, with little doubt that I would be stimulated.
In the week before the show, I read everything I could find about or by David Lee Roth, including his autobiography, Crazy from the Heat. The thought process and voice I heard in his writings and interviews were fast and loose but also rich and pointed. David Lee was tangential but brilliant and insightful and hilarious. Sometimes Roth’s flow didn’t make sense, but then neither does William Faulkner’s.
Roth cares about art and so I assumed that his Crispen Glover-like awkwardness was the real reason he never rejoined the mainstream after Van Halen. I believed Roth to be pure of intent. I was charmed, and gladly gave over my $30.
Jannus Landing is an outdoor venue that holds about 1000 people. While DLR could have drawn 800 people, it rained mildly and intermittently the entire night, so there were only about 600 people in attendance. 300 of these attendees had mullet haircuts. I have never seen more, or a wider variety of, mullets. Every genotype. Mullets to the waist. Mullet couples. I saw two men who had recently cut off their mullets, leaving unnatural stubby nubs on their necks that looked exposed and tender. The mullets distracted from how expensive the alcohol was and made sure my friends and I weren’t bored for the two and a half-hours it took Roth to commence rocking.
David Lee Roth eventually came on stage to the tapping intro of “Hot for Teacher.” He greeted the crowd with a scripted rock and roll hello, and was immediately hit in the eye with a projectile. Dave stopped the song, made a fuss and started on song two, “Panama.” Holding his eye, he stopped the song a bar in, and retreated backstage.
A fat Italian man in a clear rain slicker rolled out onto the stage. He had the gruff voice of Louie the manager, “Anyone who knows who hit Dave, you point em out and we’ll give you $500 cash! Just hand ’em over to us!” Near the front of the stage, blaming hands and fingers pointed in every direction. The promoter for Jannus Landing stood near, was visibly upset and concerned over the prospect of a public beatdown on his stage. Louie the manager got the bounty up to $600, but then left the stage.
There are those who think the crew lied about David being hit, that they were trying to create a false tension. A false excitement. “Is Dave gonna play!?” Some thought it was all a scam — at least they were thinking.
20 minutes later Dave came back out to the tapping intro of “Hot for Teacher,” gave the same exact rock and roll hello, and proceeded to do what I never wanted him to do: he made me feel sorry for him by trying to conjure up the past.
D.L.R. had a tight bod wedged into a silver spandex outfit. Though famous for his thinning hairline, he looked amazing. But despite his youthful physique, his concert was a constant reminder of the past: Roth’s “new” guitarist was on loan from world famous LA based Van Halen tribute band, “Atomic Punx.” He was a carbon copy of Eddie Van Halen circa 1982, right down to the fluffy hair. Of 14 songs Roth performed, 11 were Van Halen songs (played very well). We joked that Roth could have given this Van Halen tribute some provocative artistry by mixing in a few Van Hagar numbers. That would have been subversive.
Despite the performance, I still believe David Lee Roth cares about art, but he seems to not understand rock and roll as an artform. Who cares though? It was freakishly interesting.
I peed in the stall with the door shut as the others in the restroom discussed the philosophies and conflicts of Roth and Van Halen – topics that, like religion, never get old or die. A female friend later told me the conversations in the ladies room were similar, with the girlfriends were wondering out loud if David Lee’s extroverted, surreal, sexual displays (pouring Jack Daniel’s down his spandex, masturbating with the microphone, licking his fingers) were meant to excite them, “cause I think it’s gross,” my friend quoted the girls who found Dave’s act homoerotic. “My boyfriend is just too excited by it!” David Lee Roth is an aging diva. If he performed in gay clubs, they’d go nuts.
At one point I recognized Louie the manager in the public bathroom, drunk, beer in hand. “Louie,” I said, “I’m Michael from the newspaper. I spoke with…” He was much nicer this time as he interrupted, “Oh hey, I’m sorry we couldn’t do anything for you as far as interviews·”
I spoke as he slid away from me, “Yes, I’d still like to interview him. I’d like to keep in touch over the next few weeks and when you guys get off tour·” I gave him my card. Then Louie, still in his clear rain slicker, handed down the definitive statement regarding David Lee Roth, his career, his motives, his life: “I’ll tell you what,” Louie said as “Pretty Woman” blasted from the stage outside, “When we come back with Van Halen, you get first shot.”
As if it were news to anyone: Dave was merely auditioning every night in hopes of re-joining his toothless bandmates in Van Halen. I was still stunned that Louie’d reveal the motives so bluntly. But if there’s a snowflake’s chance in Florida that it does happen, I hope he was telling me the truth about giving me the scoop. And therein lies the rub: It seems like such a far away notion that that reunion would ever happen, but we’d all pay $30 (maybe $50) to see it. And in the meantime we’ll all dog Dave as he travels the demeaning road, trying to get us what we want.
After the show, in search of journalistic opportunity, I tried to get on the tour bus. A professional looking lady in a mini-skirted powersuit stood outside the door. “Hi, have you seen Louie?” I asked her, “He wanted me to meet him here after the show.” I figured if Louie saw me he’d remember and it would turn into a meeting with David Lee Roth.
“No, they left,” She said as a gray-haired man came down the stairs of the bus with the kind of metal suitcase often associated with ransom money. The lady went on, attempting to put me off very professionally. As she talked, the suitcase man reached the bottom of the stairs. Right below us, he stumbled, and a gun fell out of his pocket onto the ground in front of us. The serious lady looked at me, worried about the journalist.
“I’m not gonna say nothin,” I assured her, touching her shoulder. I smiled uncontrollably. “Have you seen Louie?” I laughed.
It may not have been the artistic validation of David Lee Roth I’d come looking for, but in pondering the artistic ideals and philosophies in question at this Van Halen tribute concert, I realized it was one of the most interesting concerts of my life.