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Book Review: Runnin’ With The Devil

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Daily Music News, DVD Reviews

vhRunnin’ With The Devil:
A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen

Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden

When the former manager of Van Halen between 1978-1985 publishes a book titled: “Runnin With The Devil A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and The Down and Dirty Truth Behind The Making of Van Halen”, I’m runnin’ to the bookstore to grab a copy because I can’t wait to dig in and wait for my jaw to drop.  But the question would be, just when would it drop, how far, how often and at exactly what point would I shake my head and say no, that couldn’t have happened that way. Well the answer is it dropped early and often and never once did I roll my eyes or scratch my head saying how?  In fact, just the opposite.  What Noel Monk has done is systematically broken down component by component, year by year, tour by tour, band member by band member exactly how in a 7-year period VH went from four guys equally sharing in a dream to become the biggest rock n’ roll band ever to subdividing into so many unequal parts that it would take some skilled mathematicians weeks to sort out the mess that ultimately led to the band’s demise in its original incarnation by 1985.   But man..what a ride.     

I think for most Van Halen fans a lot of what led to David Lee Roth’s departure in 1985 wasn’t necessarily, did he get fired or did he quit but more of a question of how did this happen?  I think one of the underlying themes most music critics across the world would recognize was that Eddie was the musical genius behind VH and Roth was the guiding force leading the ship.  Monk actually states flat out that in the beginning Roth made the lion’s share of the decision making.  But what the reader will find out over each chapter is just how this relationship between Eddie and David evolved overtime and at what point did the VH brothers simply start to alienate themselves not only from their bandmates but their management team and even their families.

What simply won’t shock anyone is the general demeanor of Michael Anthony, a very talented and frankly underappreciated part of this story.  Simply put he just went with it; along for the ride and happy to be here.  Now, in most normal life circumstances this is a valuable asset but in the Van Halen universe it led to mistreatment, bullying and ultimately more take it or leave it demands than most human beings are capable of handling.  Anthony handled all of it then some and continues to do so this day, with the outmost in class and dignity.

Monk gives the reader so much detail, so many funny stories, that it’s hard to say where his strength is as a writer.  I can tell you that as manager, Monk always put the band’s fate as his #1 priority.  That is stated repeatedly based on each decision that had to be made during those formative years.  The decisions were not always popular ones with the band but they respected his intellect and for the most part did not rock the boat collectively.  But individually, each had the capability of capsizing at any given time based on their very fragile personalities and increased drug and alcohol abuse.  There are some very candid accounts of the good, the bad and the ugly throughout the book so be aware that it’s not something you should let your teenage daughters stroll through during some down time.

Overall, I was impressed with Monk’s candor, his style of writing and most of all his selflessness; right up to the bitter end Monk accepted his fate.  He knew he could only do so much with this band and that self-destructive behavior was bound to lead them into an eventual collapse.  We all know Roth went onto a very successful solo career and that Sammy Hagar and later Gary Cherone fronted Van Halen to varying degrees of success.  The Hagar years were arguably even more successful than the Roth ones but that’s an argument for a different day and maybe a different book.  If you want to escape back to the beginning of Van Halen’s history, and learn how did it all happen, then this books for you.  This is not a history of Van Halen but more like a time capsule where the reader can push one of 7 buttons and instantly connect back in time to whatever year you like.  I know I pushed all of them and each reconnected me back to those days.  I thanked my mom for buying me Fair Warning for my 13th birthday and that is the gift that keeps on giving.  So will this book for all of you who choose to read it.


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