Archive for October, 2020

Tony Lewis, singer and bass player for the Outfield, passed away this week. Their album Play Deep and the hit single “Your Love” came out in the summer of 1985. It was hard to avoid that song, and I owned the cassette. As I think about that summer, I realize I almost lived that song.

Keep in mind that this is the summer BEFORE I became a Christian. I was dating girlfriend #2 at the time. Things were difficult and arguments had become increasingly frequent. I just didn’t know what she wanted. You know, from me.

We were living at the intersection of lust and guilt, and it wasn’t going well.

A business associate of her father’s lived in another country and had a similarly aged daughter. She had come to visit for a few weeks and this put some stress on an already stressed relationship. After a big argument, they both went to another continent.

“Josie went on a vacation far away, come around and talk it over…”

We worked in the same retail store, and there were a variety of people I’d go on break with, including girlfriend #2. Suddenly I discovered I was spending lots of time with a particular person. Temptation begins to set in. Little comments are made. Mutual? I think so, but I’m not sure so.

We never spent time together outside of work, but suddenly we did. What if she found out who I spent time with while she was away? Hmmmm.

Well, I didn’t use her love. There were no shaking hands, no need to “keep it under cover.”

And now for the rest of the story.

Things were weird(er) when she got home from galivanting around the globe. She talked of being hit on by the other girl. About the time I went back to college she told me she’d gone over a guy friend’s house and she left with “shaking hands” after there was at least some kissing.

The shoe was on the other foot, so to speak. I was devastated. I spent lots of time listening to Rainbow’s Bent Out of Shape album featuring songs like “Can’t Let You Go” and “Stranded”. I struggled to deal with the fact that I resisted temptation and she didn’t.

Little did I know it was the beginning of the end. By early December we were on a date at D.B. Cooper’s when she told me she wanted to see other guys. All I could think of was that line from “Don’t Do Me Like That”, “baby it would bury me, if you were in the public eye, givin’ someone else a try”. Yeah, a serious blow to pride. A series of blows.

1985 was a strange year romantically. Temptation, heart break. “Your Love” reminds me of that strange time of my life. It is another connection with my youth that is sort of broken. The song remains if the singer doesn’t. Songs have a strange power over us.

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You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. Isaiah 26

For years I had a print of Isaiah 26:4 on the wall in my office. It had been given to me by a mentor when I moved away to go to seminary. Many times we can believe a verse but not understand the fullness of the verse. This is one of those verses for me. Over time I’ve come to understand it more fully.

2020 has seen a host of problems to divert our attention from Christ. My mother passed away in January, and my “2nd mom”( a nearby aunt) passed away too. Covid with its threats to our health and our jobs is distracting to the extreme. For many people the election has also captured our minds. We struggle with trusting God in these things and peace seems impossible.

Hebrews 12 reminds us it gets back to where you fix your eyes or your attention: Christ or your problems. Corrie ten Boom noted that “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.” The mind that is not stayed or fixed on Christ is a troubled mind, overcome with worry and fear. Our circumstances are beyond our control and when we focus on them we grow overwhelmed, fearful and depressed.

Jesus says in Isaiah 26 and in Hebrews, “Look at Me!” That’s what it means to stay your mind on our God. To adapt the advice of Robert Murray M’Cheyne; for every look at the world take ten looks at Jesus. In other words, for the time you spend on social media, talk radio or the news spend even more in the Scriptures hearing His voice and in prayer “letting your  requests known to God” with thanksgiving. Staying your mind on Christ is impossible apart from the means of grace. Our trials and troubles should drive us back to Jesus through the means of grace. This is part of Paul’s instruction about anxiety being remedied by prayer in Philippians 4.

The Word reveals the twin mountains of grace: who God is and what He has done for us and our salvation. Here in Isaiah 26 we see the command to trust in the Lord (not just for the moment but forever) connected to the soul-satisfying truth that He is an everlasting rock. Our trust won’t outlast His reliability, security, and steadfast immovability on our behalf. Our temporary trials and tribulations can’t move Him. They can’t change His love for us; that always and forever, never stopping, never giving up love.

When our eyes are fixed on this Jesus, our minds stayed on His steadfast love then, and only then, can we trust. That trust is manifested in making our requests known with thanksgiving. It is as we trust that we experience that perfect peace that guards our hearts and minds from the doubts and accusations of the Enemy. This passage reveals that God wants to comfort those in trouble, not turn His back on them.

(Our community Bible reading got me to thinking. I prepared this for a devotional book not realizing that they were supposed to be from a different chapter. Hope this is beneficial.)

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Performing in the late 1970s with his Frankenstrat

The first time I heard Van Halen was in the living room of my cousin. I’m not sure how they had escaped me, but my cousin was looking out for me. We’d gone from Elvis to the Beatles and now Van Halen.

Soon we had black t-shirts with a Van Halen logo ironed on the chest. It became my middle school golden boy.

The first thing to notice was the guitar sound which was unlike any other at the time. While Clapton was Eddie’s first love, and he copied all Eric’s licks, he sounded nothing like Slow Hand. He was Fast Hands. His guitar exploded out of the speakers. His sound was big and fat.

This was hard rock, but it was also “pop”. AOR had been dominated by longer songs with extensive solos. The longest song on Van Halen was “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” at a whopping 3:47. It was an album of radio play songs jam packed with great riffs, fills and solos. Radio discovered the duo of “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me” which clocked in just over 4 minutes. The first was a career-defining instrumental (okay, solo) and the second was the amped up remake of the Kinks’ classic. Here we find two of the defining features of the first incarnation of the band: guitar pyrotechnics and cover songs. This was the only one on the first album but when they seemed to have trouble coming up with material, there were covers. Another characteristic of the band’s music was their harmonies.

This first album was only 35 minutes. It was essentially their live show, played lived in the studio and recorded over the course of 3 weeks for about $40k. Van Halen II would come a year later and only be 32 minutes long, beginning with a cover of “You’re No Good.” It was not the strongest song on the album to say the least. But I get ahead of myself.

They toured as an opening act for Journey, with Montrose as the act in the middle. The lead singer for Montrose was, of course, Sammy Hagar. Critics weren’t kind to the band. But Eddie would influence generations of guitarists and last longer than most of those critics. By October of that year it would hit platinum status, eventually selling over 10 million copies in the U.S. alone. It remains their second best seller, and for good reason. This is a great album.

The sequel was not as good, and neither were the sales. It has sold about 6 million copies in the U.S. which is still great. In my opinion the best song was “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” but radio favs included “Dance the Night Away” and “Beautiful Girls.” While the guitar work was still there, David Lee Roth’s personality seemed to shine thru more consistently. He provided the party boy atmosphere that would follow the band.

The band members posing together and leaning in toward the camera at a worm's eye view

There were no covers on Women and Children First. Of course it was 33 1/2 minutes long, but it was a great half hour of rock and roll. It kicked off with a bang with “And the Cradle Will Rock”. This time around the lyrics were much darker than the earlier albums. “Everybody Wants Some!!” would become a concert staple until Roth left the band. The incredible first side was rounded out by “Fools” and “Romeo Delight”. Other notable songs were “Loss of Control” and “Take That Whiskey Home” making the first 7 songs a hard rock blitz of greatness. Amazingly, sales sold to 3 million in the U.S.. This is probably my favorite Van Halen album.

It was about this time that my cousin and I stopped spending time together, moving in different circles of friends. But Van Halen was one of my favorite bands. Most of my school book covers, made of paper shopping bags, had the logo on them.

The band’s music got darker with Fair Warning. It was a mere 31 minutes long. I guess this happens when you consistently release albums every 12-13 months and tour most of the time. That dark, foreboding character begins with “Mean Streets” which has some incredible guitar work.

“Someone shouted “Fair Warning!” Lord, strike that poor boy down!”

Other great songs included “Sinner’s Swing!”, “Unchained” and “So This is Love” which is probably the most upbeat song on the album. The last two songs have a very dark sound and are dominated by keyboards. Without strong singles sales dropped further to only 2 million in the U.S. (most bands would love this but compared to earlier sales this was disappointing). Once again there were no covers. That was about to change.

Diver Down had 5, count ’em 5, cover songs though one was the silly “Happy Trails” to end the album, focusing on their harmonies. They went back to the Kinks for “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”. One popular song was their version of “Dancing in the Street” but the big and enduring “song” was the combination of “Intruder” and “(Oh) Pretty Woman”, the Roy Orbison classic. With the advent of MTV, the video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman” was on the heavy rotation until it was eventually banded for what appeared to be a sexual assault. MTV would be key in reviving album sales for the band. This album would sell 4 million copies in the U.S. but things would get brighter.

I really didn’t like this album aside from the Orbison cover. I hadn’t liked Fair Warning either at first (it did grow on me). But this one never did. And there were rumors starting to go around that Eddie was spending more and more time playing keyboards. This album was sort of a transitional album for them. David Lee Roth was setting more of a tone in the attitude of the songs, but Eddie was de-emphasizing the guitar pyrotechnics.

I almost didn’t get 1984. It broke the pattern of releases every 12-13 months. It was released 2 years since Diver Down. Now I was a senior in high school and going to concerts, John “Jolly” Graves wanted us to go. It was a great show, living up to their reputation for live acts and antics. I think Autograph opened for them, but they were uninspiring. The actual concert Tee would last long enough to go to seminary with me.

There were plenty of great songs on the album, even if there wasn’t as much guitar. Synth heavy songs like “Jump” and “I’ll Wait” were hits. The latter is much better. But with MTV, “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” became popular and are great guitar songs. These songs propelled them to sales of 10 million units in the U.S.

While sales were good, all was not well in Van Halen. It was turning into the Diamond Dave show, and the other 3 guys felt left out. Having returned to the heights the band imploded after the tour. Dave’s big, odd single on his first solo album was “Just a Gigolo” which was rightfully spoofed as “Just a Big Ego”.

A painting of a man holding up a globe with the Van Halen "VH" flying-V logo around it

I was familiar with Sammy Hagar’s solo work, enjoying his albums Standing Hampton and Three Lock Box. I wasn’t sure about him replacing Roth, but I was willing to give it a try. It was a two-year gap, again, but they returned to March releases. Like 1984 it was recorded in 5150 studios, and was entitled 5150. It would be less “Panama” and more “Jump”. The keyboards were dominant but the guitar solos were solid. Sammy’s song writing was a great change of pace and they produced over 43 minutes of music instead of the usual 31-33. It was a songwriting partnership that worked. This was reflected in the initial sales, surpassing 1984’s #2 on the charts. Long term it would “only” sell 6 million units in the States.

But it did have some great songs like “Best of Both Worlds”, “Why Can’t This Be Love?”, “Dreams” and “Love Walks In”. In concert Eddie still put on a show, and you can find a 12-minute version of Eruption online. But it was more about the songs than the guitar at this stage.

At the time the band changed, so did I. I mean, I owned that album on cassette and would listen to it, hopefully, as I got to know a new girl. But more importantly I became a Christian 3 months before it came out. Three months after it came out I was introduced to Christian bands other than Amy Grant. I discovered bands like Daniel Amos, Steve Taylor, and Petra as well as artists like Phil Keaggy.

By the time OU812 came out 2 years later I wasn’t that interested. The songs seemed to be more about sex than love. I had friends in seminary who were still into Van Halen, but I’d moved on emotionally. When the old songs came on the radio, I’d listen. I picked up the debut album a few years ago for $5 for a Christmas download deal. I still love it. When Roth came back I gave the album a few listens but it wasn’t the same (it had been decades at that point). The live album from Tokyo is great in terms of the music. But like Ian Gillan, Roth seemed to have trouble remembering all the lyrics. I nearly picked it up earlier this year. Thanks to Spotify and then Apple Music I’ve been able to listen when I’m in the mood. Eddie’s death prompted time with Women and Children First and Fair Warning. More may follow.

Van Halen the band, and Eddie the guitarist had an emotional tie to me. Aside from being married to Valerie Bertinelli I wasn’t too interested in Eddie Van Halen the person, like I was with some other guitarists. But his death is another blow to my “childhood”. More and more of the connections with my childhood are disappearing for death takes us all. Loss is about lost connections. Eddie’s amazing guitar was a constant in my life for 8 years. I’m thankful for that.

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