Wrestling with Van Halen and a Different Kind of Truth

I was scanning the headlines of my new favorite website Grantland when I landed on a review of Van Halen’s new album. Just seeing “new” and “Van Halen” in the same sentence has tremendous stopping power for [people of a certain age.] My relationship with the band has been quite a journey. Not long after I became a fan of the original Van Halen in the mid 1980s they broke up to become “Van Hagar.” Even though I didn’t immediately like this new edition it was OK because I could listen to all the original band’s releases from 1984 and before over and over again on my JVC car stereo. (It was one of those after-market deals. And it actually did go to 11. It was so loud one night that it caused a passenger to vomit. I did feel bad, but that was epic.)

And not long after I bought in to the new version and Sammy Hagar as a wonderful extension of Eddie’s lead guitar, they started naming their albums with clever mixes of letters and numbers—which always seemed so un-heavy metal like to me. There were other un-heavy metal things going on as well. Eddie was playing keyboards. There was a video in which he played his guitar with a drill. (Really?) Sammy looked close to 50. The whole thing was just getting too confusing so I let Van Halen go.

But then Sammy left. Like many fans of the original band, I was captivated by the rumors of the brothers Van Halen hooking back up with David Lee Roth. “Could life and the universal order be so kind as to allow us a second round with the original Van Halen?” I thought. The answer was “no.”
But now. Now all indications are that Van Halen is giving it another go and that’s what Chuck Klosterman over at grantland.com is currently wrestling with. That is, he is wrestling with his own reaction to this event: the return of Van Halen and their new album A Different Kind of Truth. Even though it shouldn’t, we are always surprised when we are forced to face the fact that we don’t really love the things we thought we loved; that the things that made us feel so alive at one point in our lives don’t have the same effect now. I love the way he ends his review—a good one, by the way, that you can read by clicking here—posted below.

I’ll be as straightforward as I possibly can: I don’t know what I’m trying to express here. My feelings are mixed to the point of being meshed. Going into A Different Kind of Truth, I unconsciously suspected my takeaway would be, “This is a bad album, but I love it nonetheless.” My actual sentiment is closer to, “This is a good album, but I just don’t like it, no matter how much I try.” And I’m disappointed in myself for feeling that way, somehow, which only proves that the things I understand most will always confuse me forever.

There is something very familiar between and behind the letters and words of Chuck’s review. There’s an acquaintance of a sort. There’s a pathos. It goes beyond how the music shapes us and more into how the music continues to inform us through what it is, but also what it isn’t, not only about who we are, but also who we are becoming and who we once were. It reveals profound things to us, that is, if we’ll pay attention. Although certainly a different kind, truth in this case emerges when Van Halen attempts to become what it no longer is while we at the same time ask it to be what it can no longer be. It’s in these places where we truly discover heart, or what most people mean when they use the word “me.” And maybe even truth at some level.


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