Strolling through a Barnes & Noble store one afternoon I noticed a book about Van Halen called “Runnin’ with the Devil.” I mentioned to my wife that I thought I might like to read it. I never gave it another thought until Christmas morning when I received a copy as a gift from her. Before I get to the book, let me give you my general thoughts about Van Halen. When the first Van Halen record came out in 1978, I was 15 years old and I was just starting to get very deeply into the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, etc. I was a punk and new wave fanatic. I adored The Cars first record from the minute it came out, and I despised bands like Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon, etc. But to me, Van Halen was different. That first record, with “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Jamie’s Cryin’” and the cover of “You Really Got Me” was - and still is - excellent in my opinion. I continued to listen to Van Halen records for the next one or two releases, but by the time they were doing “Pretty Woman” and “Dancing in the Streets” I thought they sucked. I will admit that when I was in college and the 1984 record came out (think “Panama” and “Jump”), I liked that one pretty well. It was after that record that the band split and while they soldiered on with Sammy Hagar, I have never liked them since that time.
So let’s get to the book. The very first thing I learned as I began reading was that the author, Noel Monk, was the band’s manager from 1978 to 1984. Perfect for me since that is the time period that I had interest in: essentially all of the David Lee Roth era of Van Halen. It was instantly apparent that this was not going to be a band biography. Instead, it would be more of a “tell all” book and a memoir of Noel Monk. I also immediately learned that Noel Monk was the road manager for the one and only U.S. tour by the Sex Pistols, which occurred just before he became manager of Van Halen. I had already read his very good book entitled “12 Days on the Road with the Sex Pistols.” I did not realize that he was the author of that book until I started reading, but it gave the guy a bit of instant credibility from my point of view.
I liked the fact that the book told the story of the band in chronological order, from one record and tour to the next. My favorite tidbits from the first record and tour were these:
1) The manager was on tour with the band before he ever heard the record. That lost him some credibility with me.
2) That first tour was opening for Journey. The author claims Van Halen blew them off the stage on a nightly basis. I believe it.
3)David Lee Roth was an egomaniacal asshole but he had the business sense and was the most driven to succeed. I certainly believe that as well.
As the book went on through the next records and tours, it primarily emphasized the hedonistic tendencies of the band, the dysfunction, etc. The author makes no secret that that things will end badly for both he and the band. As the book progresses, he seems to take more and more shots at the band while taking more and more credit for the job he did managing them. Despite this fact, I found myself believing most of the stories he related, although I suspect some level of exaggeration was involved, i.e:
1) Monk takes credit for finding a way to get the band out of a bad contract and doubling their royalties.
2) Monk also takes credit for having the band do its own merchandising, creating a huge source of income for he and the band. He spends a bit too much time bragging about his efforts to stamp out bootlegging of merchandise at the band’s concerts.
The entire storyline involving the marriage of Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli is entertaining.
The book never waivers in painting all members of Van Halen as completely screwed up with the exception of bass player Michael Anthony. Anthony is described as a quiet, faithful, all-around excellent dude, if not an awesome musician. The dude married his high school sweetheart and is still married to her to this day. I doubt that’s easy when you’re a rock star in the 1980’s.
It is interesting to learn that Van Halen split all profits equally among the four members even though only Eddie and David wrote songs. I find that to be an excellent thing. Unfortunately, when the album 1984 broke big, the boys kicked poor Mr. Anthony out of the royalties, which was entirely unfair when you read the details.
“Runnin’ with the Devil” was an easy read. I got through it in less than a week, which for me is fast. I felt like some of it was sour grapes, but the author was careful to include positive stories about the band as well. It was certainly an entertaining book, but not a great piece of literature by any means. If you liked David Lee Roth era Van Halen, I would recommend it. I do enjoy learning things about the business side of the music industry, and this will definitely give you some insights into that. I could relate a lot more, but I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone who might decide to read it.