“Sammy wrecked Van Halen.”
“Van Halen or Van Hagar, you gotta pick one.”
“That poodle-permed cunt.”
Almost universally, the blame is placed squarely on Sammy as the oyster-shucking asshole that ruined Van Halen. A man who is to tequila as Jim Belushi is to cigars. That’s really unspeakably naive, you know. Sammy held his own in Montrose, gamely if somewhat awkwardly investing lines like “I play with the angels with my paper wings” with a little chest hair. He’s not a goddamn clown. Sam was part of a larger plan; he was just the stupidly-grinning, pube-headed manqué of Eddie’s smash ‘n’ grab evil good-time empire.
Ed wanted to economize the operations of Van Halen, maximizing revenue while minimizing friction. In the video for “Jump”, the first VH promo video, Eddie proudly diddles a synth before even picking up his guitar. When he does, it’s for a few perfunctory swipes before he launches into a stunning distillation of the entire EVH formula into a 2-measure solo before the break gets larded out with yet more synths. It’s like he’s saying, “Hey, I finally figured it out, you fucking dummies, all it took was 10 years of working my ass off but here I am at the top of my game and you can eat my Dutch shit, you bunch of lazy wankers.” Just look at that fucking smile! That’s exactly what he’s thinking.
As of 1984, the synthesizer had already been welcomed into the VH arsenal and was making itself at home under the nimble ministrations of Eddie and unnamed keyboard goons whose penumbral presence at stage far left brought moody atmospherics and cosmopolitan flash to the VH live experience. Around this time, the band began to show a preference for spandex and loose workout wear and adopted a more friendly and approachable stance. Post - “Jump”, they were no longer distant, hard, leather-clad dervishes spinning frictionlessly in their own cold self-contained orbits, drifting mid-stage from time to time as the centrifuge of audience appreciation brought them together, but always returning to their isolated retreats under the shifting lights. They were just four dudes that happened to be in the most awe-inspiring band of the ’80s (not counting the E Street Band or High Rise) and were totally cool about it. Fratty, good-time vibes ensued.
Dave is not a bro. He is a freak. He’s also a recalcitrant asshole with a big fucking mouth. Prong 2: Eliminate Dave. Dave went. Once he was happily climbing skyscrapers and hanging out with Steve Vai, Ed welcomed Sammy to the fold. It was a match made in heaven, if heaven is the bucket seat of Ted Templeman’s Ferrari. Sammy was well-suited to the new, relaxed Van Halen, as he was (and is) the kind of dude that would rather sip Mai Tais by the pool while being lathered down with Panama Jack by a porky Dana Barron lookalike than accept an invitation to a Dave-style all-night rollerskate coke party. To the extent that any band whose frontman wore ballet flats could be called “tough”, VH were no longer tough.
Dave was a lean, leering, big-cocked prima donna who could handle his own shit. One whiff of violence and Sammy’d blow the rape whistle ‘round his neck (can’t you imagine him having one?) and VH security would cold-cock the dumb redneck who insulted Sam’s poodle perm. Here’s a thought experiment: Try to imagine what Hagar’s dick looks like. If you aren’t clawing through your scalp in a hopeless attempt to remove that image from your brain right now, you’re barely human. The thought of Sammy even having a dick is enough to turn my brain into corn pudding. Dave may dress like a Jazzercise instructor and dance like a shitfaced grandmother, but at least he has some sex appeal. A little something for the ladies while Ed sets the star machine ablaze in every teenage boy’s head.
With the arrival of Sammy, VH officially became a boys’ club. The fair-weather fans departed with Dave (if they hadn’t jumped ship at “Jump”), leaving the serious good-timers to pick up the tab. Challenged by such complex fare as “Spanked” and “Pleasure Dome”, the VH faithful were inducted into a world where fame, masturbation and self-doubt were no longer compartmentalized by Dave’s colossal ego, but flowed together in the magnificent mud of Van Halen’s mighty synthesized Mississippi, ignited by Sammy’s steamboat howls.
As any Montrose fan will tell you, Sammy is an inveterate slinger of lyrical smut. So why are his half-assed come-ons qua Van Halen just as perfunctory and false as the forlorn forcep-clacking of a Hell House abortion doctor? Only Sammy knows what was lost in the fire. His lewdness is a gross parody of Dave’s inspired couplets, the mundane efforts of an anonymous copywriter struggling to emulate a successful ad campaign. What happened, Sam? “Poundcake” sounds like it was written by a fucking alien. Some poor little green dickhead who banged Porky’s, Snowballs and Mayberry R.F.D. simultaneously into his main brain vein and spit out a down-home vamp on tits-and-ass in a froth of chlorophyll.
Yeah, Sammy was great in Montrose, sucked in ‘85, and sucks as the Red Rocker. No, he didn’t destroy Van Halen. Van Halen “destroyed” Van Halen. But even “destroyed” Van Halen sounds better than Oingo Boingo. I shamelessly goose-step in rhythm to “Best Of Both Worlds” when I hear it over the grocery store PA, even though it ain’t no “Runnin’ With The Devil”. I draw the line at that goddamned stockbroker Gary Cherone, though; the guy looks like he got kicked out of a Bret Easton Ellis costume party for being sober. If there was ever a personnel change orchestrated entirely from golf carts, that’s it.