I was introduced to Van Halen in the 7th grade. A fellow classmate did a class presentation about Van Halen and had brought his copy of their latest cd, Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now. He didn’t like the band (they weren’t really popular to listen to in Middle School) and so he sold the cd to me for $5. It changed my life.
A few weeks before, I had gone to my middle school’s talent show. There, one student played a guitar solo and I was enraptured. When I listened to the Van Halen cd, I heard that same guitar solo the student had played in the talent show. It made me want to learn how to play it as well. Thus began my journey of learning how to play the guitar, going deep into the Van Halen rabbit hole, and becoming a life-long fan. I still get chills listening to Van Halen songs and they are the band that has had the most impact on my life.
In light of this, I was curious to know more about Van Halen, especially Eddie Van Halen. This book is the first of four books that I’ll be reading this year that are Van Halen-related.
Runnin’ With the Devil was written by Noel E. Monk and released in 2017. The title comes from Van Halen’s first song off of their first album, and one of their best-known. Monk was Van Halen’s manager from 1978 – 1984, the years coinciding with frontman David Lee Roth. It was a deeply personal account of the beginning of one of the greatest rock bands in history. As a fan, it was a shock to the system.
Parts of Runnin’ With the Devil took a sort of vendetta-esque approach. In 1984, Monk was fired as Van Halen’s manager and as part of the firing, was unable to share anything about the band for 30 years. Well, time’s up, and Monk unleashed with a vengeance. There were tales that I was surprised that he shared. Let’s say that it didn’t paint any members of the band in a good light with the slight exception of Michael Anthony.
The reason it was a shock and a sad book was that I was not ready for the level of debauchery, deceit, and destruction contained within. I know, I know, they are a rock and roll band. What did I expect? Well, nothing like this. It was hard to connect the music I love with the people involved. Most members of the band were in such a perpetual state of chemical addiction that I’m really surprised they continued to turn out new music, much less stay alive. It was also really disturbing to see how little regard they had for the property of others. They regularly trashed hotel rooms and limos, even one account of one man’s personal and deeply-prized limo.
Monk did a great job writing about the business of the band. I actually learned a lot and really enjoyed that part of the book. There was great information about contract negotiations, the corruption of billboard charts, and merchandising. Based upon Monk’s description of his time as a manager, Van Halen owes a lot of their money-making to Monk. He got them out of a bad contract with Warner Bros., set up a great merchandising business, and worked on commercial contracts.
This book covered the David Lee Roth era of the band. The next book I’m reading covers Van Halen’s early rise before 1978. Another book by Sammy Hagar will cover the “Van Hagar” era of the band. The final book is solely about Eddie Van Halen. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books this year.
My only complaint about the book is that I was hoping for more information on Van Halen’s music-writing process. Monk usually steered clear of studio time, preferring to let the band have at its creative process, so the book lacks musical detail.
Due to Monk’s proximity to the band during such a formative time, this book is probably going to be one of the better accounts of that period. I’ll be curious to see if there is a response in book format from any of the band members. It’s be good to have a counterbalance to the information presented in the book. I’d love to see an autobiography written by Eddie. I’m glad I read the book, but now as I listen to songs during written during that era, it has cast a new, a not a necessarily good light, on the songs and band.