Van Halen Storytime

It was the summer of 1993. I was fresh out of high school, newly turned 18, wondering where life was going to take me when college started in the fall. The last few months before school took friends in separate directions were spent hanging out—doing as much as we could before it was time to say goodbye.

We’d spent our senior year listening to Guns N Roses dual album: was it Use Your Illusion 1 and 2? The summer before on a concert band tour of Scandinavia, the boys around us made us listen to Metallica. A lot of Metallica. I knew the words to November Rain, was kind of fascinated by Enter Sandman (while also just slightly worried that our Christian brains were going to be forever corrupted by metal), and gave an ear to Snoop Dogg and Tupac on the side. But I really was a child of the 80s whose first love was Duran Duran. They had released The Wedding Album that year and I was dying to see them in concert. So I was by no means a metalhead, but it was that weird transition period from 80s metal to 90s grunge (I did love me some Pearl Jam over Nirvana, actually).

One night, hanging out with one of my best friends and her boyfriend, he excitedly talked about Van Halen playing the Pacific Coast Amphitheater in Orange County the next night. He didn’t have tickets, but was hellbent on scalping some outside  (did we know we might possibly get in trouble for this? Of course not). My gal pal had a family thing she couldn’t get out of and the boyfriend really, really wanted to go, but not by himself. So, she asked me if I would I go to keep him company? As he was a friend of mine as well, I was down.

What did I know about Van Halen? Well, David Lee Roth had an impressive selection of leggings, his California Girls cover of the Beach Boys classic was played on loop on MTV, and I knew the band was named for the two brothers who started it, one of whom was married to Valerie Bertinelli. My choir teacher also claimed she took either piano or voice lessons from the same instructor that taught the Van Halen brothers. There was no fact-checking back then. She said it, we believed.

So that Saturday night, I dressed in my most 90210 outfit (the original, yo)—something as close to a Kelly Taylor fit as one could get. Straight leg Levi 501s with the knees torn, a black meshy bodysuit (with undergarments thank you very much), and a brown leather vest (very Young Guns). I accessorized with a brown beaded necklace and black sling back platforms. 1993, remember?

We got to the concert, parked, and proceeded to hang around outside looking for what we thought were people that had tickets to sell. We could hear the music from outside—the opening act, Vince Neil when he went solo from Motley Crue. He did Motley Crue songs mostly, so I guess he had the rights to them and the band didn’t? In no time a scalper came by, my friend looked at the seats, didn’t like the price, and waved him off. This happened a couple more times. He started to get antsy that we wouldn’t get in to see the show. I was rolling with it. This was oddly exciting. We were two Asian kids from conservative families who just graduated from a Christian high school. We were going to bust out now—sort of.

Just when my friend started talking about giving up the mission and cutting our losses, a couple walked up to us saying they had an emergency and needed to leave and did we want to buy their tickets. The seats and price checked out, we made the exchange and headed in. I have to add that to this day, I have no recollection of cops anywhere. I guess it was Orange County in the early 90s.

As I said, I wasn’t a Van Halen fan but that changed once I actually saw them live. At this point in time, David Lee Roth had quit and Sammy Hagar was their frontman. I soon realized I recognized a lot of their stuff and whatever I didn’t know was made up for by the energy of the crowd. We got offered a joint by the older couple sitting in front of us. We declined. But thanked them for their willingness to share.

If you put the theatrics and singing chops of both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar aside, what was the real magic of the band? Without a doubt, Eddie Van Halen. He absolutely was a guitar virtuoso. When he played, sweat pouring from his famous mullet-winged hair, he was in a trance. It was him and his guitar and the two of them were alone in the world. He’d play his solo riffs and the crowd went wild. Widely regarded as one of the most talented rock guitarists ever, it was an exceptional treat to see him play live—even if I didn’t fully realize it at the moment.

When the show was over, my pal and I drove home—he actually had a bit of a curfew to beat, so even though we were both parched from screaming, we tore down the 91 freeway eastbound, eschewing all the Del Tacos on the way to get home in time. Asian Christian kids, you know?

And that was my first rock concert ever—one I’ve never forgotten.

Today, Eddie Van Halen died after a long battle with throat cancer. He was only 65. Nice to have seen you live, guitar hero.

And now, we must protect Jon Bon Jovi at all costs!

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