For Van Halen, the stars seemed aligned for a triumphant 2007. Next month, the group will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the plan was to follow that with a summer reunion tour that would feature David Lee Roth back at the mike for the first time since the Reagan years.
But, once again, the backstage soap opera of Van Halen is the story of the day.
The Van Halen tour has been "shut down," according to a top official at Live Nation, the huge concert promoter that finally surrendered in the face of the chaos surrounding guitar hero Eddie Van Halen. Roth, meanwhile, says he is unsure whether the mercurial guitarist will even travel to New York for the Hall of Fame induction March 12.
"We have fragile politics in Van Halen, please accept that as a partial answer," Roth said. "But I don't know if the Van Halens are going to go. ... I hope they do, but right now, I just don't know. Hope springs eternal."
Eddie Van Halen declined interviews through his publicist and girlfriend, Janie Liszewski. Conversations with the business team behind the tour paint a picture of a rock star who is somewhere between Axl Rose and Michael Jackson on the music-industry scale of eccentric recluses. The result is that the Van Halen venture imploded before takeoff, even as the Police, the Eagles and Genesis have stopped feuding among themselves and are efficiently gearing up for lucrative reunion tours.
"I cannot tell you how frustrating and completely nuts this has been," one key business figure in the tour said while asking not to be identified on the outside chance that some portion of the reunion might be salvaged. "Right now, I have to say, I don't see that happening."
It's a disheartening situation for the Van Halen fans who long to see Roth back on stage with the iconic metal band. Among those devoted fans is Wolfgang Van Halen, the 15-year-old son of Eddie and, according to Roth, the driving force behind the reunion.
Wolfgang, a precocious musician, was "the maestro" at the reconstituted band's lone rehearsal, picking the set list and using his iPod to remind his father of the nuances of his solos on the old albums. Wolfgang was in fact tapped by his father to play bass on the tour, replacing founding member Michael Anthony, a topic of some sensitivity considering the child's age and Anthony's status as one of rock's best back-up singers and most relentlessly cheerful presences.
Eddie Van Halen remains, by all accounts, a truly gifted guitarist and rock auteur, but the decision to jettison Anthony in favor of a teenager may have been the first sign that the new enterprise was guided by creaky logic. Still, it's been fascinating to watch, and all eyes will be on the Hall of Fame banquet to see who shows up, who plays and how Roth interacts with Sammy Hagar, the man who replaced him as lead singer in 1985 and who will be inducted as an equal.
Van Halen was a monster of rock and, for a time in the 1980s, one of the biggest bands in the world. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Van Halen albums have shipped more than 56.5 million copies to stores, a total that puts them ahead of the career totals posted by U2, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Prince.
Roth said that he and Anthony will be in New York for the Hall of Fame, as will Hagar, the affable "red rocker."
Last month, Hagar publicly chided Eddie Van Halen for taking his son on tour. He also added that "the guy is a genius, but he's just out there and it's hard for people around him."
"I'm going to put some words in Ed's mouth," Roth said. "Whatever explanation he may give about having his son in the band, I'm going to superimpose: He wants to play with his kid while he's still at the top of his game and able to."
Geoff Boucher writes for the Los Angeles Times.