"I hate the word maturing", singer David Lee Roth once said. "I don’t like the word evolving – or any of that bullshit. The point is to keep it as simplistic, as unassuming, and as stupid as possible." Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock’n’Roll follows Van Halen’s pursuit of the art of artlessness, and describes how they characterize ‘Zen California’ – a state of mind and way of being that above all celebrates ‘the now’. In rock’n’roll terms it stands for the unregulated expenditure of energy; for a youthful exuberance that seems destined to extinguish itself.
While many have attempted to discover the secrets of Van Halen’s appeal through more conventional biographical approaches to their career and music, John Scanlan looks instead at the deeper and unexamined aesthetic and philosophical influences of a band that were always an island unto themselves. Through a series of illuminating moments and impressions – from origins in the decaying Sunset Strip of the early 1970s to eventual retreat into the Hollywood Hills a decade later – he shows how Southern California in the wake of 1960s was the only time and place that Van Halen could have emerged. Along the way, the book explores the brittle relationship between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen; the unique climate of Southern California, and what it lends to a sense of cultural exuberance; the echoes of Zen and Beat aesthetics in David Lee Roth’s appreciation of spontaneity and transience; and the real roots of Eddie Van Halen’s so-called ‘Brown’ sound.
Van Halen is a groundbreaking account of an extraordinary band, caught in the events of a revolutionary time. The book will appeal to all fans of the group, as well as readers with an interest in the history and aesthetics of rock’n’roll, and the culture of California.
Published June 15, 2012 by Reaktion Books. Paperback. 216 pages with 29 illustrations.
John Scanlan is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University. He writes on cultural aesthetics and is the author of On Garbage (Reaktion, 2004).
John Scanlan: "My intention, initially, was to look at Van Halen in terms of creativity and aesthetics. I figured that Van Halen at least represented something culturally significant, in that they could only ever have come from Southern California in the early-to-mid 70s. So, that became a starting point for writing a new book. I wanted to re-establish the idea that they are a 70s band. This was partly because I was so fed up with people associating them with the 80s and hair metal.”
Read a review on the Van Halen News Desk:
New Van Halen book takes an unconventional look at the band’s origins