Jacques Doucet, comentarista esportivo na WAFB-TV em Baton Rouge e fã fanático do VH, está publicando uma série de cinco partes esta semana sobre "LSU Football & Van Halen – The Best of Both Worlds: Deuses do Rock, sucesso / substituições altamente criticadas e fãs apaixonados que lutam e discutem sobre ambos. "
É basicamente um acúmulo do jogo do LSU deste sábado em Alabama /. A premissa é essa .... Nick Saban é David Lee Roth e Les Miles é Sammy Hagar.
Por Jacques Doucet – bio email
Por Jacques Doucet – bio email
PART ONE: THE SCHOOL OF JACQUES
LSU is playing Alabama this week. What a perfect time to finally write this.
There will be no writer's block. I will promise you that.
Yep, there's no doubt. Not even a sliver. There are few things I have paid closer attention to during my life than LSU Football and the mighty Van Halen. C'mon Jacques, give us a break (One break, coming up.). Whether that's cool or embarrassing, these are the facts. From the time I was a little boy until now, the two have sort of been like a religion, an escape, a hobby, my favorite reality show (VH truly gives ‘Jersey Shore' a run for its' money. It's a "Situation" alright) … whatever you want to call it. I picked up on both around the same time. Sometime during the year of 1986, I bought VH's "5150" (still my favorite). It certainly wouldn't be the last. Without shame, I bounced around my room playing a tennis racquet to "Why Can't This Be Love". Despite what you've heard, I no longer do this. No really. Shortly after (October 3, 1987 to be exact) I attended my first Saturday night in Death Valley. #7 LSU beat the #19 Florida Gators and a freshman running back named Emmitt Smith 13-10 before 79,313 rabid fans. It was over. I was likewise hooked on the purple and gold. By the time that Monday rolled around, I could recite names like Tommy Hodson, Wendell Davis and Harvey Williams…along with their statistics. From that point forward my team/band had been established. These were my rock stars.
Through the years I've seen both do great things. When many high school kids around the country had moved on from the happy-go-lucky jams of the 80's to the downtrodden despair of Pearl Jam, Nirvana & Alice N Chains in the 90's, I stuck my chest out (Not much of one, I might've been 140 pounds) when Van Halen cleaned house at the 1992 MTV Awards. VH took home three awards, including "Music Video of the Year" for the smash hit "Right Now". Everyone at my North Vermilion High School (A Garth Brooks worshipping ground at the time) cracked jokes to me about "those stupid, old headbangers" and that "cat music" I liked. The opening drill to "Poundcake" does sound a bit like a cat stuck in a dishwasher. I'll give them that.
Likewise, no youth was a bigger advocate of Fightin' Tiger Football than this guy. I may have been the first 13-year old ever, to get a letter published in Tiger Rag magazine. I took countless friends to games (Thank you dad, I love you) because I wanted them to get hooked on the rush just like me. Indeed, many of those childhood buddies are full blown LSU addicts to this day. I annoyed my date to senior homecoming to no end, by making countless trips to my truck for LSU/Ole Miss scoring updates. Can't blame her, I would've been peeved too. After all, that LSU team went 5-6 … what was I thinking? Later on a college date, another young lady let me have it. "You didn't talk me at all during the fourth quarter!" That fourth quarter, just so happen to be the final stanza of LSU's epic 28-21 win over #1 Florida in 1997. It was crystal clear this striking blonde had no grasp of football or the magnitude of what we had just witnessed. It's also equally clear why I'm still not married.
Both Van Halen and LSU Football have been major bummers to me as well. I've watched both go through long, disappointing periods that spanned over a decade for each. For LSU this was 1989-1999. There were eight losing seasons, three fired coaches and thousands of empty seats in Tiger Stadium. I was there the night Florida squashed LSU 58-3 in 1993 before a listless crowd in Dead Valley. ESPN actually issued an apology to their audience for airing the atrocity, although Steve Spurrier didn't see the need. I was also part of the only 40,000 or so that gathered to watch Southern Miss beat the Tigers 20-18 in 1994. My cousin Damon looked at me with utter amazement when I turned down a Kappa Sigma party to attend that disaster. Curley Hallman was soon fired. Gerry Dinardo had some magic, but was likewise launched five years later (But I hear his old restaurant is still doing quite well).
It was at that same time in 1999, that Van Halen embarked on its' longest stretch of non productivity ever. From around Y-2K to the present, some of the most gifted musicians to ever walk the earth have simply wasted years, opportunities and their amazing talent. NO new albums, a whopping three new songs recorded (New VH songs are a lot like the Olympics. You get one roughly every four years) and likewise two cash-grab tours. Sure I was a sucker and went to these concerts, just like they knew I would (Las Vegas & Houston in 2004, New Orleans in 2007). I dished out my $150 to see the aging rockers go through the motions and then say goodnight. March 12, 2007 should have been a special occasion for Van Halen and those of us who have supported the band while enjoying their timeless music. The group was being inducted into "The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame", a truly special distinction and acknowledgment of Van Halen's incredible career. They managed to screw that up, too. Only two band members showed up.
Neither of them had the last name Van Halen and neither was currently in the band (And probably never will be again). The band Velvet Revolver gave a less than heartfelt induction speech before butchering VH tunes "Ain't Talkin Bout Love" (Soundbyte's version is better, honest to God) and "Runaround" (No one could even recognize what the heck these guys were playing). Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony tried to salvage some of the evening by performing a tune backed by Paul Shaffer and his horn section. Pass me a tissue. This is truly sad.
The parallels between the heavyweights of college football and hard rock are endless and have become more apparent to me as the years have passed. They are both iconic forces in their respective fields. They are tried and true forces that never get old and are as timeless as Coca-Cola, although some people refer to "Van Hagar" as Pepsi (The second version, still pretty good, just a little sweeter). LSU is college football's 15th all-time winningest program (709-387-47 entering this year). Van Halen is the music industry's 19th all-time selling artist (56.5 million sold in the US alone according to RIAA). LSU has one Heisman Trophy winner (Billy Cannon), VH has one #1 hit ("Jump"). LSU changed college football forever with Cannon's "Halloween Run", while Van Halen revolutionized guitar forever roughly 20 years later with Eddie's jaw-dropping solo on "Eruption".
LSU and Van Halen both play for maniac fans that enjoy screaming, pumping their fists and drinking their weight in booze. These fans likewise take this stuff a little too seriously. LSU folks argue over their coaches, while VH fans debate their lead singers. Both machines mean big business and big money. LSU sells 92,000 tickets for each home game, earning the school roughly $4 million dollars every time the Tigers tee it up in Death Valley. Van Halen's most recent tour in 2007-2008 was one of the biggest of the year, packing arenas coast to coast and earning a staggering $93 million dollars for Live Nation. VH is the only artist to ever deliver 11 straight multi-million selling albums. Not even Led Zeppelin, Elvis, Michael Jackson or The Beatles can say that. We have enjoyed them together like milk and cookies, or better yet beer and boudin. Take a walk on the LSU campus during game day and I guarantee you'll hear "Dance the Night Away" or "Panama" blaring out of some stereo, from some tailgate party somewhere.
And finally to my ultimate point … the perceived success and sometimes the failures of both LSU football and Van Halen have often been linked very strongly to the front man. It doesn't matter if it's a coach or a singer … wins or album sells often fall at his feet. This article focuses on two pairs of such men so strikingly alike, I've come to the central conclusion they are basically the same. Let me say this pure, clean and simple … Nick Saban IS David Lee Roth and Les Miles IS Sammy Hagar.
Don't worry, I'll prove it. After all, I'm the devil. Come running with me.
PART TWO: ROCK GODS
They were giants worshipped by the fans and they knew it. They were egotistical maniacs who devoured those who stood in their way. They intimidated their peers and likewise many members of the press. They were extremely hard to work with, even harder to work against. They were driven, relentless, extremely image conscious and yes, highly intelligent. Throw out the spandex and eyeliner and they are very much the same man. Meet the Rock Gods …. David Lee Roth and Nick Saban.
In 1984 David Lee Roth was arguably the biggest rock star in the world. With his good looks, larger-than-life personality, gravel voice and acrobatic splits Van Halen reached the pinnacle of their commercial success. Behind the band's first (and to this day only) #1 hit "Jump", the album 1984 went on to sell over 10 million copies and launched VH into an amazing, new stratosphere. MTV played their videos like the tape machine was broken and Roth's mug was all over the screen. Hold that thought for a moment …
Roughly 20 years later Nick Saban was the DLR of college football. His band was kicking some serious butt too. Instead of leaping from the top of drum risers, Saban thrilled his fans by throwing headsets and screaming at people. "I love it when he does that", fans would often tell me. "Yeah, cause he's not yelling at you", I thought to myself. Like Roth, Saban sure had the movie star looks. Women loved him, men in purple shorts wanted to be him. Fans were hanging from the ceiling at the Superior Grill for his weekly radio show for crying out loud! There sat the Messiah, next to Jim Hawthorne and some chips and salsa. "L-S-U" chants rained down and fans were so awestruck they stared at him like teenage girls now stare at Justin Bieber. What should have been somewhat mundane, was pure madness and excitement. "Look at all the people here tonight!", indeed. And they were all there to see the coach. Saban's #1 act rose to the top of the charts by defeating traditional powerhouse Oklahoma for the National Championship. It was LSU's first national title in roughly 50 years, as grown men in their 50's cried. The world, clearly, was in Nick Saban's hand. He had resurrected the dead. He could have stayed in Baton Rouge forever. Now, hold THAT thought for a moment …
Roth and Saban were also not the official bosses of their respected outfits, yet they called all the shots. Van Halen was Eddie's band (it's named after him and his brother/drummer Alex, duh!). Yet despite being the most amazing guitarist on the planet, EVH was amazingly timid, shy and insecure. Because of that he suffered through years of alcohol abuse and really played no large part in band decisions. He simply wrote and played their brilliant music, obviously the most important of contributions. Roth meanwhile basically dictated everything. He told the band what to wear for their photo shoots and videos. He chose the artwork for all the album covers. He lied about the age of the band members to make them younger. He told Eddie not to marry sweetheart Valerie Bertinelli because it would hurt Van Halen's rock cred. He even prevented "Jump" from being released for years, because Roth said, "no one wants to see a rock god play keyboards".
Likewise, Saban was technically not the boss at LSU. Really?!! Wow … he had all of us fooled. While Skip Bertman was officially the Athletic Director, Saban answered to Bertman about as much as Tony Soprano answered to Uncle June. Fuh-get about it! What Nick wanted, he got. A brand new, multi-million dollar, immaculate fortress used almost solely by his program known as "The Football Operations Building" (Often referred to as "SabanLand" or these days "Area 51")? You got it! Another multi-million dollar, towering palace next to Tiger Stadium called "The Cox Communications Building For Student Athletes"? Sure! And what about a new "Tradition Fund" that will stick it to all the fans, by raising their ticket prices exponentially to pay for the first two things I talked about? Sounds good Nick! This guy rammed through a lot of stuff ... however, it all benefited the LSU program tremendously.
Now back to those thoughts you're holding. Just when David Lee Roth and Nick Saban had it all, they got bored, restless and wanted more. They needed a new challenge, a new thrill, a new rush. You could say Roth wanted to be Ozzy … you know, breakaway from his band and make it big on his own. It was the dream of enjoying success similar to that of modern day solo smashes Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé. Nick Saban meanwhile wanted to be Jimmy Johnson … prove he could win a Super Bowl, just like he'd won a college national championship. So the two super stars both turned their backs on the powerhouses that had made them famous to begin with. Don't forget … not many of you had ever heard of Nick Saban before he arrived at LSU (We're giving WHO 1.2 million dollars?!!) and certainly no one knew of David Lee Roth before Van Halen. Regardless, they had their fill of their respective organizations and were ready to bounce. So they did. And for years … both would truly regret it.
PART THREE: HIGHLY SUCCESFUL, HIGHLY MALIGNED REPLACEMENTS
They had HUGE shoes to fill. They apparently were in over their heads. They weren't up to the task … this gig was simply too big for them.
Meet Sammy Hagar and Les Miles.
One ran around in a yellow jumpsuit screaming about breaking the speed limit, the other wore a highly perched, pristine white hat yelling "Ya-HOO!". The two had similar success before accepting the biggest offer of their lives. Hagar rode the coattails of the slightly absurd single "I Can't Drive 55" and his platinum selling album VOA into the biggest band in the world. He was perceived as a hard worker who had built a highly loyal fan base and enjoyed a solid solo career … but certainly nothing spectacular. Ditto Les Miles at Oklahoma State. Miles got a ton of mileage out of beating Oklahoma two out of three years while coaching the Sooners' little stepbrother and likewise used that flashy accomplishment to vault his way into his own juggernaut. Hagar was basically a singer who put out gold albums, but hadn't sniffed anything the magnitude of Van Halen. Miles was a coach that went 8-5, 9-4, 7-5 during his last three years at OSU … good, but simply not on par with the 13-1 National Champion LSU fans had celebrated with St. Nick not long ago.
Hagar and Miles were also both hired for one big reason ... they were nothing like their predecessors. After dealing with pushy, pain-in-the-neck egomaniacs, Van Halen and LSU both desperately wanted a "team player". The Red Rocker and The Mad Hatter fit that criteria perfectly. Both were down to earth, approachable and not interested in being the center of attention. While Roth always had that "look-at-me" persona on stage, Hagar was more an extention of the screaming crowd. He high-fived fans, signed anything they threw on stage and talked TO them, not ABOVE them. Eddie could likewise write any music he wanted to and no one would gripe. "There's no governor, no ruler anymore," EVH said at the time, "I can do whatever I want."
And so could Skip Bertman. There was finally peace in the valley off of Nicholson Drive. Bertman no longer had to worry about a football coach going above his head to the Chancellor. Miles would report to the AD, like he should. And this Les Miles guy would feel damn fortunate to be the coach at LSU.
All Sammy Hagar and his soaring voice did was lead Van Halen to four straight #1 albums (they never had one with Roth), an endless supply of Top 40 hits and a string of sold out tours. Les Miles? He won 34 of his first 40 games at LSU while leading the Tigers to #5, #3 and #1 finishes in the national rankings. Nick Saban never enjoyed such a remarkable run with LSU. Miles would hoist the National Championship trophy in 2007. Indeed, it was the "Top of the World" for Sam and Les alike.
These career moves would make Hagar and Miles very rich men. More money and stardom than either had ever seen before. They were transformed from being somewhat unknown into household names, in large part because they were handed the keys to a Ferrari.
However … despite all their accomplishments, some fans have simply refused to accept either. They don't like the "new guy" and they never will. There's always been that "Yeah, but …" or "It just wasn't the same". Sammy Hagar and Les Miles have to be the most successful, yet under appreciated replacements of all time. Largely because under the new regimes the ends often times simply didn't justify the means for many LSU and Van Halen fans alike.
Diehard, ol' school Van Halen worshippers were simply not happy with the band's new sound or direction. To them things became way too polished, commercial and fluffy. VH with Hagar seemed to be serving up a steady diet of keyboards and power ballads. Love was in the air, for sure. This was sounding more like Journey than the take-no-prisoners outfit that delivered bone crushing anthems "Hot For Teacher" and "Unchained". The most perfect example of which was my mother over hearing me listen to "5150". "I love that song." she said, "It's so pretty." "That" song was "Love Walks In", a romantic, wedding day feel, ‘ladies' choice' jingle that Diamond Dave wouldn't have touched with a ten foot pole or his inflatable microphone. Indeed, this was the new goody-goody VH you could take home to momma. It was definitely more romantic than raunchy.
Some critics blasted Sammy, saying he was too ordinary, boring and called him out for dopey lyrics like "Only time will tell, if we stand the test of time." As for "How do I know when it's love?" "Please!", they said, " We don't know and we don't care. This is NOT Van Halen!"
Shortly after Les Miles took over in Baton Rouge 2005, Tiger fans also feared they were quickly becoming soft. Miles' laid back persona was a stark contrast to the perpetual, energized aggression of his predecessor. Mount St. Saban was a moving, perpetually erupting volcano that would sprint from one practice field to the next, waving his hands and barking orders at players and coaches. Miles on the other hand stood very stationary with his arms folded at practice and seemed to watch most of time (at least when the media was allowed to observe practice). During games, players who committed stupid penalties were often given a pat on the butt by Miles, instead of being read the riot act as they were in years past. And LSU also seemed rarely able to put their foot on their opponent's throat and win in dominate fashion. It always seemed like the Tigers were sliding by or prevailing in some downright miraculous fashion (Yes, I know all about Saban's "Blue Grass Miracle", save it). The discipline, the fundamentals, the attention to detail appeared to be slipping. And yes, some folks simply didn't like "that goofy hat".
Both Hagar and Miles also ruffled a few feathers by not embracing the past. Sammy basically refused to sing Roth-VH material in concert, establishing a limit of four for each show. One of those tunes typically was "You Really Got Me" (VH's first Top 40 hit, but a cover of The Kinks nonetheless). Fan favorites like "Jamie's Crying" and "The Cradle Will Rock" went into permanent hibernation, which frustrated and angered many of the bands tried and true fans. And while Miles wasn't unfriendly to former LSU Tigers that played for Saban, he didn't exactly bend over backwards for them either. There were grumblings the new coach didn't really reach out to or utilize the Tigers who were now in the NFL. It just didn't seem to be something he was overly interested in doing. And naturally, if there was an opportunity to eliminate Saban out of an old picture, the new regime (Like VH did to Roth) certainly took it.
Both replacements were also perceived to be extremely lucky. If I need to document the perceived luck Les Miles has experienced during his 5 ½ years at LSU … perhaps you too are stuck in 1984.
I have often heard many DLR fans say Sammy Hagar should thank his lucky stars for David Lee Roth every morning. They say otherwise, Hagar would've drifted into obscurity like Loverboy, Eddie Money and Billy Squier. Likewise, Miles detractors can ask, "Where would Les Miles be right now, had Nick Saban never left LSU?"
And how could they NOT be successful? Hagar inherited a band from God and Miles enough NFL talent to give the current Dallas Cowboys a challenge (That's a joke!).
However … Van Halen and LSU's new directions earned them their share of new fans. Those aboard the Van Hagar train said the band hadn't "sold out", they were simply expanding their creative boundaries and horizons. Instead of singing about booze and babes all the time (which they still did plenty, although Sammy seemed to prefer herbs of the earth), VH was growing up and maturing as a band. To this day "Dreams" is one of those true spiritual pick-me-ups … an astounding anthem that continues to be played in sports arenas around the world. Sammy's vocal range was quite astounding and nobody could imagine DLR trying to pull off such a number, and no one wanted to see him try. Hagar was indeed a singer that could sing anything … high, low, fast, slow, ballad, rocker … whatever Eddie threw at him. If you never have, do yourself a favor and listen to Sammy's final wail on the song "5150". Case closed. And for the critics who said Van Hagar was "too soft" … apparently they had never listened to "Get Up" or "Judgment Day" … tunes just as heavy as anything VH had ever recorded with Roth. And unlike DLR, Hagar was a talented guitarist, opening the door for many new options during the live show. Hagar sang actually against the use of drugs and greedy televangelists in the self-reflective, VH cult classic "Mine All Mine" and ominously belted lyrics about the end of the world on "Seventh Seal". There was even a little country with the VH rock-n-roll in the 1988, #13 hit "Finish What Ya Started".
And there were plenty of LSU fans that seemed to embrace Miles and his more in-control-demeanor. They said only out of control maniacs like Saban screamed and yelled all the time. That kind of behavior was unproductive and unprofessional. CEO's don't act like that, children do. Likewise, they didn't even want to imagine what Saban would've been like, had he been forced to deal with two storms called Katrina and Rita. The king of control would've likely lost his mind. Saban could dictate to his football program, he could try to dictate to the media, but Mother Nature was one opponent he simply could not defeat. Skip Bertman would praise Miles' handling of his team during the two hurricanes for years to come. "One of the most noble and incredible things I've ever seen in sports." Skip would say.
Many fans also loved Miles "let 'er rip" philosophy over Saban's conservative approach. Les would fake punts (out of his end zone during his first game for Pete's sake!), field goals (Meet Colt David and Josh Jasper) go for it on fourth down (Amen Jacob Hester!) and take big gambles. These were all things Nick cringed over, and at times got beat at LSU. One of Saban's biggest flaws was sitting on leads and placing too much pressure on his defense. It cost him the SEC West in 2002 in a last second loss to Arkansas.
Those of us that live and will die here in South Louisiana, could also appreciate Miles' priority on his family. From the get go he has spoken of them at press conferences and on his weekly radio show. He makes a place for them, and that place is very high.
As the years passed … even the most staunch anti-Miles/anti-Hagar pundits began to quiet down some. LSU delivered a national title during Miles' third year, Van Halen delivered their hardest-hitting Hagar rock during third album with Sammy (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge). Not so many people were begging for DLR or "Little Nicky" to return. "The replacements" were building a legacy of their own.
PART FOUR: OH NO! COACH CHERONE!
So where does Gary Cherone fit into all this? Well, he hasn't arrived at LSU yet (unless we want to break chronology and refer to Curley Hallman), but he could. Let me explain.
In 1995 Van Halen was one of the few hard rock dinosaurs to survive the "Grunge Asteroid" that struck Earth a few years prior. Bands like the Stone Temple Pilots were still motoring ahead, joined by new, different outfits like Bush, Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day. There was also a little band out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana called Better Than Ezra that burst onto the national scene with their Top-40 hit "Good" (It went #1 on the Hot Modern Tracks Chart) and their album "Deluxe" which went multi-platinum.
But still, after all those years VH was one of the biggest bands around. Their album "Balance" debuted at #1 on Billboard, led by the thunderous lead single "Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)" and the tasty, pop-rock follow-up "Can't Stop Lovin' You" which went Top-10 (Yes, two more Van Hagar hits featuring "love" in the title). "Balance" would sell over 3 million copies, as MTV was still playing their videos (MTV once played videos, swear to God.) and the band's tour likewise finished in the Top 10 that year. On a major positive note, Eddie gave up drinking (It lasted for a little while) and played stone cold sober to open that tour in Pensacola, FL.
However, things with Van Halen were quickly growing stale. And remarkably, it reminds me of the current state of LSU football. The energy was simply lacking. Fans griped VH was becoming increasingly lazy as they grew older, as the shows were barely two hours long and the band had recorded only 4 studio albums in 10 years with Sammy, as opposed to 6 albums in 6 years with Roth. Likewise, many LSU fans have yearned for the fiery Les Miles they witnessed the day of the 2007 SEC Championship game. The Les that snarled and blurted "Have a nice day!". With his big salary and guaranteed buck, some fans have questioned if Miles still has the passion. Like Van Halen in 1995, LSU is still enjoying good success, but not the glory of years past. Fan enthusiasm is still strong, but not as passionate. LSU hasn't won 10 games or more since 2007 and is 1-5 vs Top-Ten teams during that stretch (The only win being at a #10 Auburn squad in 2008 that finished 5-7). Likewise VH had drifted away from the 7-million selling Van Hagar debut "5150". Sammy and Eddie weren't smiling and hugging like they used to, even though they were still successful. And yes, even with a 7-1 record and team ranked near the top 10, many LSU fans just aren't having a good time anymore either. Van Halen left sold-out shows in separate limos, LSU fans leave victories pouting. Certainly both were a bit jaded by their success, and a victim of it.
Many of you will find it hysterical I'm making this one of those "Where were you?" moments. That's fine. We're way past shame at this point. It was the summer of 1996 and I was at Lafayette's Wednesday night hot spot "Poet's". Local music stars "Spank the Monkey" were playing and they were definitely not playing Van Halen. Longtime buddy, USL Sigma Nu brother and now Lafayette politician Mark Cockerham came up to me sometime during the DJ part of the night (Somewhere between Pearl Jam's 90's slow dance champion "Yellow Ledbetter" and "The Macarena"), relaying what he had just seen on MTV, "Hey, did you hear? Sammy's out," He said, giving the thumb gesture over the shoulder, "They got David Lee Roth back."
I was probably the only 20-year-old in the joint that had any interest in this news (Mark knew this, he shared it with me only). The only others were my friends … who were clowning me because I found it important. "He still likes them?!!", somebody yelled.
You'll have to remember this was before the internet took off, so confirming such somewhat petty news wasn't that easy. I actually called a local hard rock radio station on the way home from my car cell phone, which was the size of a small ice chest.
"Hey, did you hear Sammy Hagar got fired from Van Halen?" I asked. "
"No. But it wouldn't surprise me." This overnight stoner was obviously no fan of Van Hagar.
The news was soon confirmed and I was not overly shocked. Hagar had indeed been fired and yes, VH had rehired Roth (behind Sammy's back, Hagar alleged) to begin working on new music in the studio. The news was actually pretty huge on the national scene. Van Halen received a standing ovation at the 1996 MTV Music Awards (There was Chris Rock pumping his fist), as they appeared on stage with DLR for the first time in a decade. Unfortunately Roth refused to take the "baby steps" towards the full reconciliation Eddie had requested. Dressed in what appeared to be Z Cavarachis pants (They rocked at Milton Elementary) and sporting a sweet comb-over, Roth started rambling on the mic, somewhat stealing the show from Beck, the artist to whom Van Halen was presenting the award. DLR quickly became the egomaniac the band had grown to hate years before. Dave and Ed almost threw fists backstage. This reunion lasted all of fifteen minutes, kind of like when Bill Belicheck became the head coach of the Jets. Or perhaps like firing Les Miles and reintroducing Saban at "The Bayou Bash", only to divorce again before "The Golden Band from Tiger Land" finished their set. Van Halen was able to record two new songs with Roth (Which he claimed was the band's trick all along) to be slapped onto that greatest hits package (CHA-ching!). There was no tour and really nothing given to the fans who had waited a decade for this reunion to happen. Van Halen had teased them in heartless fashion.
If this public relations nightmare wasn't bad enough, it was soon followed by the news of Roth/Hagar/Roth's replacement. It was the dude that sang "More Than Words" in Extreme, Gary Cherone. Oh boy. I could smell trouble immediately. However my friends who knew hard rock tried to sway me, telling me Extreme jammed pretty hard and that Cherone had been inaccurately cast for his band's one epic, Valentine's Day card ballad. Like a football coach scouting future talent, I gathered up Extreme's cds (I owned none and we had now progressed from cassettes) and gave them a listen. Ok, the guy could wail pretty good. I'll give this a shot.
Ugh. I was embarrassed the day lead single "Without You" hit radio stations in 1998. It sounded nothing like the band I had grown to love and subsequently neither did the rest of the album titled "3" (You know … third singer, "Mach 3", lightning doesn't strike in the same place thrice). Eddie said he wrote most of this album on the toilet. I concur. Rumor was Warner Brothers actually rejected the album on first listen, and demanded a better product. They apparently didn't get it. While Cherone sounded eerily similar to Hagar (probably not by accident), and Eddie's playing was probably more amazing than ever, the songs were simply not catchy or …. um, good. One such gem called "How Many Say I" (It basically had the same message as that old Phil Collins number "Another Day In Paradise) featured Eddie playing piano and singing while Gary chimed in with very light harmonies. With all apologies to Don Maclean, for Van Halen fans this number was "The Day The Music Died". During his live, national radio show, Howard Stern goofed on the atrocity and actually played it for his guest, who was none other than David Lee Roth. Stern was begging for Roth to destroy it.
"What do you want me to say," giggled Dave, "You want me to salute the sinking of The Titanic?!!"
This new singer had hair as short as mine (not blonde either) and let me just say his onstage antics weren't exactly macho.
"Have you seen Van Halen recently," an older, USL classmate asked me one day on campus.
"Yep", I responded.
"They are absolutely worthless", he added.
I could not disagree. MTV aired one of their shows from Sydney, Australia. I watched it. No.
Van Halen's effort with Gary Cherone was the band's worst selling album in their history, although it still managed to go gold. Regardless, such a result would be like LSU going to the Humanitarian Bowl. Going to Boise, Idaho … simply not up to the standards of the firm. VH started another album with Gary, but they didn't bother finishing it. Rumor was Warner Brothers gave the band an ultimatum … get Sammy or Dave back, or bag it. VH and Cherone soon parted ways, although it was far less ugly than the partings with the two previous singers.
I will say this … Gary Cherone was put in a no win situation (Made Smoke Laval's task look easy) and he clearly didn't. He did sing the old Roth stuff Sammy refused to live, which many fans were grateful for. Alex, Eddie, David, Michael and Sammy were all inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame as members of Van Halen … Cherone was not. However, Mikey was classy enough to mention him in the band's induction speech.
The point is this. Like Van Halen in 1995 … LSU football has reached a point of somewhat mundane success. If you jump out of an airplane, you better have a parachute that works. For you LSU fans who want to fire Sammy Hagar (Or having "the want" to launch Les Miles), just be careful what you wish for. Maybe you'll get another great replacement. Or maybe you'll get Coach Cherone … the man who will lead your Tigers to 7-5 records and beautiful December days in Shreveport.
"We really loved you Les, really! Please come back "Mad Hatter!"
There is one big flaw in this long, ridiculous rant. I really have no good Van Halen parallel for Nick Saban leading the Alabama Crimson Tide back to a national power. There really isn't one.
After Roth started doing solo work outside of VH around 1985 and Saban broke away from LSU in early 2005, the two enjoyed initial success. Roth of course had a #3 smash with a remake of the Beach Boys "California Girls" and a #12 hit with Marion Harris' "Just a Gigolo/I A'int Got Nobody (My god, it was first released in 1921). Both songs were off of a 4-track LP called "Crazy From the Heat" and both were accompanied by two of the most memorable music videos of the 80's, perhaps of all-time (and both technically occurred while Roth was still in VH). Post VH solo albums "Eat Em And Smile" and "Skyscraper" both sold and toured very well, while delivering #16 hit "Yankee Rose"in 1986 (Give me a bottle of anything, and a glazed donut – TO GO!) and #6 sing-a-long "Just Like Paradise"in 1988 (Roth apparently climbs mountains too). However Dave's solo days were hardly approaching the success his old band was having with Mr Hagar.
Soon after that, Roth's solo career went "Bottom's Up" in the 90's. His hairline disappeared and so did the record sales. DLR was soon in Vegas with some crazy shtick and that also bombed. He grew more bizarre and lame as the years passed, and it was very sad for those who worshipped him. Roth sang a pretty pathetic version of "Jump" with the Boston Pops at the Fourth of July of 2004 and shortly after released a Blue Grass version of VH classics called "Strumming With The Devil" (This stuff writes itself!). Jay Leno tried, but could simply not keep a straight face when Roth performed his twangy version of "Jump". Roth had been to the edge … and indeed, there he stood and looked down. Havens like the Paragon Casino in Marksville were now DLR's stomping grounds. While driving, I saw a billboard in Lafayette promoting such a show a few years back. I shrugged and kept driving. Perhaps the highlight of Roth's career after leaving Van Halen was making a cameo appearance on an episode of "The Sopranos". He was playing a high stake game of cards with Tony and his crew. Heck, nothing better to do … Ed and Al weren't calling.
Nick Saban inherited a terrible Miami Dolphins team that finished 3-13 the year before he arrived. His first Dolphins team won six straight games (including a triumph over the New Orleans Saints in Tiger Stadium) to finish the 2005 season 9-7. They missed the playoffs, but everyone predicted Miami to make some serious noise the following season. The only noise made was "I'm not going to be the coach at Alabama", which Saban became, as he hauled his fin to Tuscaloosa after a 6-10 sophomore, pro effort.
And that's where the Roth/Saban comparison goes awry. Roth simply didn't have an Alabama. He didn't rise to power again in another band (although he would again in his own). Saban on the other hand has rocked on with a 33-3 record over the last three years with the Crimson Tide, including a win over Texas in the 2009 BCS National Championship.
And quickly, while a good chunk of fans were never totally enamored with Hagar, they never reached the fury levels LSU backers did during the Tigers clock management meltdowns at Ole Miss in 2009 and against Tennessee this season. Sammy would've had to convince Van Halen to record an album of ABBA covers or something.
Thanks for reading so far my friends. On Friday, I'll try to finish what I started.
PART FIVE: REUNIONS, RECONCILIATIONS & THE FUTURE
As the years have passed and the rockers have grown older, Van Halen and its members have reconciled (or tried) in different ways.
In an unlikely, yet totally predictable turn of events, ex-Van Halen singing/howling/screeching rivals David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar agreed to team up for a 2002 summer tour. The two tried to play nice and alternated who opened and closed each show. Technically there was no "headliner", they agreed to be equals (Yeah, sure they did). Thousands of fans gathered to see the two square off, as the tour was a smash. I personally went to the show at The Woodlands just north of Houston and had an absolute blast. Dave opened, Sammy closed … just like I wanted it. In my opinion and my dear friend Taylor Begnaud's (a long time Roth fan, who said Sammy was a wimp) Hagar wiped the floor with Roth. Sammy's voice was still amazingly powerful, his banana yellow t-shirt and Capri pants just as astonishingly bright. He had great energy, phenomenal crowd interaction and still had all of his crazy hair. Just two songs in, Begnaud turned to me and said, "He's better than Roth already."
DLR and Sam would end up fighting the entire tour … about everything ... from the dressing rooms to who was on the guest list. Sammy did try to get Dave to do a duet with him on stage, anything. Kidd Rock was along for the ride and somehow got the two to interact, telling them "they were letting the fans down". Roth wouldn't do it. "Sammy throws a party," DLR snarled, "But I AM the party."
Michael Jordan never would have tried to leap for a free-throw line dunk with the Wizards, yet Roth had no problem attempting to do everything he pulled off in his heyday. He wore blue metallic spandex, something that crossed David Bowie and a fruit roll up (Roth was still amazingly fit, I'll give him that). He blow dried, bleached and grew out what was left of his once legendary locks, but like LSU's offensive line depth it was pretty thin. He threw in a few roundhouse kicks and saved one full split for the grand finale "Jump" (during which he did the sign of the cross before attempting). However, hearing him try to sing was a bit like watching Brett Favre hop and limp to the sideline. The best days were over.
This tour would be like Nick Saban and Les Miles agreeing to become co-head coaches at Penn State or something. Picture it … Nick runs the defense, Les runs the offense. Saban buys Les a watch, Miles buys Saban some sedatives. Not likely to happen any time soon, "aight?".
The tour basically ended up being a Van Halen tryout. Most reviewers agreed Hagar outperformed Roth, and perhaps not by accident Sam and Van Halen reconciled not long after. Hagar was back in VH for a 2004 summer tour. The band tried to complete a new, full-length album, but were moving at the pace of an LSU two-minute drill. VH basically punted, finishing three less than stellar tunes (One called "Up For Breakfast", which included lyrics ‘She puts the cream in my coffee, the butter on my biscuit'. Amazing John Lennon never thought of this.) which were slapped onto ANOTHER greatest hits record and hit the road.
The 2004 Van Hagar reunion was a train wreck. Sure, it grossed $55 million dollars, putting it in the top 10 of tours that summer. However the performances were far from the "5150" magic of 1986, mainly because of Eddie. I really don't want to beat up on EVH for his alcohol issues. It's like criticizing Les Miles for his clock management … it's piling on, everyone has done it. But the guitarist was amazingly smashed every night, and it certainly did not improve his performance. I watched a rock God lay on his back in Houston for what seemed like an eternity for a "guitar solo" that was nothing more than stupid noise. Even the most diehard fan in the building was like "Uh, when is he gonna stand up and play something. This is embarrassing."
Les Miles would have to leave LSU and then return to Baton Rouge for such a parallel. That will never happen. If and when Miles leaves for whatever reason, he won't ever return to coach. When Miles does finish with the Tigers, he'll have a hard time being as successful as Mr Hagar as been outside of VH. While his "Mas Tequila" solo days haven't sold boat loads of albums, his tequila certainly has. Hagar pawned 80% of "Cabo Wabo" for a cool 80 million dollars not long ago, while his new band Chickenfoot (featuring guitar wizard Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) had a debut gold album. Gold albums these days are pretty big accomplishments … not many people are buying CDs anymore. While some people may bash him, please never feel sorry for Sammy. He swims in his Cabo San Lucas pool … and his money.
One final note on these two that may blow your mind. Sammy Haga (63) is 6 years old than Les Miles (almost 57). That just doesn't seem to add up, does it?
The only likely future parallel, is still a bit absurd. But if you ask me, it's the most likely of the absurd. Little Nicky comes home.
During the 2007 college football season, I spent an entire week in Tuscaloosa, Alabama preparing for and then covering one very significant event. It was only one the most anticipated regular season games in LSU football history. The time had come. The Tigers were taking on their former coach. Not just any former coach, but the man that built them into a powerhouse and was so loved by fans during his stay in Baton Rouge. Nick Saban was now the enemy.
At one of his press conferences that week, Saban got pretty reflective. Not tremendously emotional … but relatively deep. He basically admitted leaving LSU for the Miami Dolphins was a big mistake. Saban referenced not Van Halen, but instead The Eagles. Well, one of The Eagles anyway.
"You know that Joe Walsh song ‘Life's Been Good'" Saban said, "Maybe I should've listened to that a little, instead of always looking for the next big thing. You know, be happy with what you got."
I wanted to joke, "Well coach, maybe LSU fans should take another Eagles cue and just "Get Over It."
Knowing my history with the man, that was probably not a good idea. After all, I'm the guy who mistakenly parked in Saban's spot years before during LSU spring football practice. Once I realized this mistake, I hustled outside to the parking lot in an attempt to move my car before he arrived. Too late. I heard the slam of the Mercedes door, as Saban had parked somewhere other than his parking spot. He began his militant march, with Sports Information Director Michael Bonnette alongside, shaking his head with one of those "You're in big trouble now" looks on his face.
"Sorry coach," I begged, "I didn't know that was your spot."
"It's alright," Saban grumbled, "We'll just tow it next time."
The coach wasn't done with his witty/grumpy banter. It was now time to address the media who had gathered, to cover the exhilarating rush of football in March.
"I tell you what. If we coach the way you guys park, we may not win a game this year."
Rim shot! Nick is on a roll! I often said that asking a question at a Nick Saban press conference was like playing Russian Roulette. This was before LSU began utilizing microphones for reporters to ask questions, so everybody would blurt things out all at once. Once it was clear YOUR question had risen above the others and he would address it, then came the agonizing wait on HOW he would address it. In this very young reporter's case, more times than not he would make an attempt to embarrass ... and succeed. The other reporters would often laugh, but they would get theirs too. What goes around, certainly goes around. Everybody got their fair share of Saban Salt, believe me. No one was immune.
With that said, will I ever cover another Nick Saban press conference at LSU? Will he ever return to wearing the purple and gold? Could he return to Baton Rouge? Impossible. You're dreaming! It'll never happen. Those days are over, that ship has sailed. That's what people say, anyway.
Well, let me say this. If David Lee Roth can return to Van Halen, Nick Saban can return to LSU.
In 2007, with all apologies to Jim Henderson and his epic Saints-to-the-Super Bowl-call, hell had frozen over and pigs had flown. After years of bad blood, venom, and hard feelings … David Lee Roth indeed returned to front Van Halen. At a huge press conference to officially make the announcement, he hugged Eddie and fired off the one liners that had made him a true rock-n-roll icon.
"These are songs that are as familiar to the public as the roof of your mouth is to you," DLR cracked, "This is not an old band, it's a new band. Meet us in the future, not the pasture. Next question!"
This was the day classic VH fans had waited nearly 25 years for … and it finally had become a reality. However, in typical Van Halen fashion, they simply couldn't get everything right. Like a football team electrifying the home crowd with a touchdown, only to blow the extra point, Eddie Van Halen fired popular bassist Michael Anthony (Responsible for all those killer VH background harmonies and their trademark sound) because he was too tight with Sammy, in favor of his teenage son Wolfgang. Really, Eddie? Are you serious? Indeed he was. Taking a kid on tour who had never been part of one single Van Halen studio recording. I did tell you Van Halen doesn't really seem to care about their fans, didn't I?
The tour was huge. Tickets were obscenely overpriced and they still sold like fireworks on the Fourth. I'll never forget the show I attended, mostly because of what happened that day. After working a long stretch of days, I was finally off on this particular Friday. We were going to hit New Orleans, have a blast all day and then enjoy the show. However, when Steve Schneider calls your cell phone before 8 am, you know there's trouble brewing. Indeed there was. John Brady had been fired as LSU's head basketball coach and I was certainly needed. A slow sports day this would not be. After leading off the noon news with the breaking story and then covering an emotional ensuing press conference, I was able to get to NOLA, although much later than expected. This was actually a good thing, since I did not pace myself well on this occasion.
The funny thing is, Brady actually threw a media appreciation party for us that Sunday to thank those who had covered him for so many years. He had us all over and it was a ton of fun. We had great food and told stories and laughed about the past. I joked with the coach that his firing on Friday had held me up getting to New Orleans and the big concert.
"Well who'd go to see, man?" Brady asked, in his very distinguished delivery.
"Van Halen." I answered.
"Oh yeah! I heard about that," he replied with a raised voice, gesturing his hand towards me, "I would've gone, if I knew I wasn't gonna be working!"
Classic John Brady, classic band. Good stuff.
While Brady was being exiled, Roth had truly won the lottery. Within a year he had gone from playing for maybe 1,000 people at a casino in Marksville, to 16,000 or so at the New Orleans Arena. The name Van Halen means a lot, doesn't it? As I mentioned earlier, the reunion tour netted $93 million dollars for Live Nation.
Nick Saban is closing in on 60 years old, but physically he really shows no signs of slowing down. I'm not sure if he'll last as long as Bobby Bowden did or Joe Paterno has … but I can totally see him coaching until 70 or even a bit beyond. So never rule out an LSU return. The Saints won the Super Bowl. It snowed several times in Louisiana last year. David Lee Roth returned to Van Halen. Soundbyte played The Varsity. Never say never.
FINISHING WHAT I STARTED
Make no mistake about it. Somebody, somewhere is arguing over Nick Saban and Les Miles right now. However, as someone who has done his best to objectively cover LSU and sports for a dozen years, it's pretty hard to argue Miles is a better coach than Saban. That's not being nasty, mean or rude, it's just a fact. Saban is the best coach in college football. He took over an LSU program in the tank with a 3-8 record and transformed them into a national champion just three years later.
He stepped into an Alabama position that had been a bit mediocre and made them the champions of college football world. And again, just three years later. Those credentials are solid steel. Now look, Miles resume is very strong. If LSU finishes 9-3, he'll own a 60-19 record over 6 years at LSU. That's winning 80% of your games and averaging 10 wins a season at college football's highest level. However the clock mismanagement issues and other perceived coaching blunders have been damaging to his credibility.
If Miles can somehow beat Saban Saturday, it would certainly be very refreshing for a season soaked in negativity. But my gut tells me we're heading towards another Bama Bummer.
And yes, even as we approach the year 2011, somebody, somewhere is arguing over who's better - David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. Roll your eyes, laugh, call it pathetic, but it is absolutely true. When all of the members of VH are dead and gone (Even you Wolfgang!) there will be two old men rocking on a porch somewhere debating Van Halen and Van Hagar. This battle seems a bit closer. The majority of fans out there will tell you they prefer the classic days of Van Halen over the newer material. Just to prove my point … each year I throw a charity concert for wounded warriors and troops for Louisiana called "Red, Rock & Blue". I can't afford Van Halen, but I can afford something that is probably just as good, if not better at this point … The Atomic Punks.
The Atomic Punks have been the ultimate classic VH Tribute band for over 15 years (The only VH tribute to be endorsed by the actual band). They are absolutely incredible, worth much more than the $15-$25 you'll pay to see them play. Last year's show at The Varsity in Baton Rouge was astonishing. These dudes brought their A game and then some. A large, enthusiastic crowd attended, pumped their fists and stayed until the final encore. Guitarist Lance Turner plays Eddie note for note … all the complicated solos, with flawless execution. He's worth the price of admission alone. Brian Geller does a spot-on Roth, Scott Patterson rocks the intro to "Hot For Teacher" just like Al and Joe Lester plays the wild bass just like Mikey. The Punks also have a Van Hagar spin off called 5150 … it's the same members, except Mark Huff (now the new lead singer of Quiet Riot) plays the role of Sammy and steps in for Geller. Huff nails all the towering notes, including "Dreams" with no issue.
The first time I called the band's manager (Patterson), I suggested we do the bands in chronological order. You know, do the Roth stuff first and then lead into the Hagar era.
"So what do you think about that idea?" I asked over the phone.
There was dead silence for a moment. Then finally he answered.
"It's your show dude," Patterson answered in his Carolina drawl, yet laid back California delivery, "We can do it that way if you want. But that place is likely to clear out."
I laughed and listened some more.
"Look man, I've done this forever," he added, "I've played all over this country. Most of the people are coming to see The Atomic Punks. It's probably gonna be at least 60-40, maybe 70-30. Hell, it might be 80-20!"
So there you go. I would say it leans more towards 60-40. Most people prefer classic VH, but I don't have to feel that way, and I don't. While I respect that Van Halen probably delivered it's hardest-hitting, most timeless music with Roth, doesn't mean I have to like it more. And I don't.
I'm a Van Hagar guy and started loving the band because of Sammy. I loved to hear the guy sing and deliver all the tunes that gave you goose bumps. If Sammy comes anywhere within four hours or so … I'm likely going to be there. Not because I love to hear solo songs like "Shocka Doobie", but because I want to hear those four or five tunes that hit me so hard when I was younger. I want to hear "Dreams", "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Top of the World". And I don't mind a little "One Way to Rock", "Three Lock Box" and "Heavy Metal". I enjoy that and I won't apologize for it. Roth himself might be playing at The Varsity, and I'm not sure how fired up I'd be to go. I may acknowledge that David was a bigger star than Sammy, and most people think he was better. But it doesn't mean I have to like him more. And I certainly don't.
They say you're more impressionable when you're a kid. I agree with this 100%. Those initial experiences with LSU football and Van Halen nearly 25 years ago are still a major part of who I am today. Listening to "5150" brings back all those old feelings and memories of having absolutely nothing to worry about during my days in Milton, Louisiana. Sure, it's a bit dated with all the keyboards and stuff, but so what. It was the album that got me started with my favorite band and nearly 25 years later that band is still pretty important to me. Contrary to what you may think, I don't listen to Van Halen all day, I know all the songs backwards and forwards. They're more like a sports team that I cover and keep up with. I'm always on top of their latest news. And like a true fan, some of my favorite VH songs are the ones many casual fans have never heard of, like "The Dream is Over". I doubt there are many Pink Floyd fans that will tell you their favorite tune is "The Wall" and certainly not many Radiohead worshippers who say "Creep" is their fave either. Likewise, I don't listen to "Jump" much.
In that same vein … Todd Kinchen's zig-zag catch and run to beat Texas A&M in 1990 is one of my favorite LSU moments ever. Many national guys would look at me and say "Huh?". My initial rushes with LSU football not only led to a passion, but something I could pave into a career. All those games and stats I knew as a kid no longer made me nerdy … they made me knowledgeable about my profession. And had people asking, "How did you remember that? How old were you?".
So in the end…
If you like Les Miles more than Nick Saban, or vice versa … awesome. Heck, if Gary Cherone is your favorite Van Halen singer, good for you. Just remember this … LSU Football and Van Halen ARE the Best of Both Worlds and you don't have to pick sides. Regardless of who's coaching and singing … you can respect and do your best to enjoy them the same.