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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Aftermath of a Rock N' Roll Divorce

Nearly every rock band has compared the musical relationship between its members to a marriage, so the aftermath of a breakup can easily be compared to a divorce, leaving the fans divided. My friend Dan Dedekian brought this scenario to my attention as a song from Van Halen's "OU812" album played on his iPod and it left him wondering "when a band breaks up, why are the fans forced to pick a side?".

Speaking of band breakups, the most obvious example in Rock music would be the 1996 departure of Sammy Hagar from Van Halen after 11 years, the result of a bitter feud between Sammy and Eddie Van Halen. When Sammy had joined the band in 1985, fans were already divided, as the followers of his solo career embraced the union while fans of the original lineup labeled the band "Van Hagar" for their disapproval of his influence on the musical direction of the band. When news broke that Sammy was no longer in Van Halen, his fans followed him on the revival of his solo career, while fans of the original era took to message boards, expressing their disapproval of the music Hagar made with the band and accusing him of ruining Van Halen. Unfortunately for those who chose to take Eddie's side after the breakup, Van Halen has released very little music over the years aside from one poorly received album and a handful of tracks recorded for hits compilations. However, the wait may finally be over, as a newly recorded album with original frontman David Lee Roth is in the mixing stages and is due for an early 2012 release. Meanwhile, Sammy released 6 solo albums before forming Chickenfoot with original Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, along with guitarist Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, with two hugely successful albums under their belt already.

As a fan of Van Halen's music from both eras, like my friend Dan, it's hard to understand the need to choose a side rather than embracing the music made by both Roth and Hagar as important parts of the catalog. Sammy, who typically pushed to include only a few of the Roth-era tracks on the setlists during his tenure, performed more Roth-era tracks on their 2004 "reunion" tour as he finally came to appreciate all of the music from the band's history. Eddie Van Halen, on the other hand, has tried to make fans forget about the Hagar era of the band, and even gone as far as editing album artwork on the band's webpage, replacing Anthony's face with his son Wolfgang, who replaced Anthony on bass. Yet the song that played when Eddie married current wife Janie was "When It's Love" from the Hagar era of the band, proof that even he cannot deny the music he made with Sammy.

Picking sides after the breakup of a band is basically a way of saying that you're not a fan of that band, but only of certain members. Slash's departure from Guns 'N' Roses (also in 1996) started a domino effect that left Axl Rose as the sole member to carry on the name. His attempt over the years to hang on to the success of the music that the original lineup created is as desperate and sad as the music on the one album he's since released as "Guns 'N' Roses", the once mythical "Chinese Democracy". The current lineup of G 'N R is at best a solid tribute band, at least on the nights Axl doesn't storm off stage in true diva fashion. Meanwhile, all other original members have been involved in a number of projects like Velvet Revolver. Slash released a solo album in 2010 with a number of guest vocalists and is working on a followup, while Velvet Revolver searches for a new singer.

Eddie Van Halen treats his frontmen like singers for hire, as he's recorded albums with 3 different ones, and in the end it was those singers that went on to make new music while Eddie waited for the next to come along. Axl Rose felt that he was the only member needed to carry on the name of the band whose debut album is on every Top Rock Albums list, yet he's seen no success since the departure of Slash and the other members that followed. There is a lesson to be learned here, not just for the over-inflated egos of Rock's most prolific figures, but for those who choose to follow them.

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