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Remembering Eddie Van Halen

There was an almost 30 year period, from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, when every band in America had a guitar player who thought he was Eddie Van Halen. Of course, there is only one Eddie Van Halen. And his passing yesterday after a long battle with throat cancer caught me off guard, brought to mind many memories and to my heart many wistful waves of nostalgia, and afforded a wonderful opportunity to connect with lots of great old friends.

The first text came from the Drake — love the Drake — at just after 2:30 yesterday afternoon. “Pour one out for Eddie Van Halen, dead at 65.” After we exchanged a few messages regarding the details and once I confirmed the awful news with a quick search of the internet, the first phone call I made was to our youngest daughter, Carley. It went straight to voice mail.

She immediately texted me two words: “I heard.”

She knew. She knew exactly why I was calling. Her follow up text informed me that she was in class and would call me soon.

My next call was to Todd Adkins. Todd was my best friend in high school and we were roommates during our Freshman years at OC. I think it was the summer between our Freshman and Sophomore years in high school when Todd’s aunt made him a cassette tape copy of Van Halen’s phenomenal debut album. She recorded it from her LP to the cassette, wrote “Van Halen” on it with a black ballpoint pen, and gave it to Todd. And we absolutely wore that tape out. My October birthday meant I got my drivers license before anybody else in our class and we played that tape on a continuous loop in my 1974 Monte Carlo. One night, very soon after I began driving, I spent the night at Todd’s house on Telegraph Lane off I-30 and St. Francis. We spent most of the whole night terrorizing his neighborhood, doing things we should not have been doing, with the windows rolled down and that Van Halen tape blaring .

The very first time I ever heard “Eruption,” Eddie’s screaming guitar solo that leads into their blistering cover of “You Really Got Me,” was spinning that tape that belonged to Todd. “Eruption” is one-hundred-seconds of pure jaw-dropping, face-melting, guitar genius. I’m not sure I had ever heard anything like it. And I was hooked. Todd and I rolled that tape way too loud on an oversized boombox during late night basketball games in Glen and Becky’s backyard. We listened to it before football games and while we were washing our cars, to and from concerts and on long road trips. We took it to college, pulled our stereo speakers out into the courtyard, and blasted that tape across the tennis courts, up to the student center, and through the lobby in the girls dorms. When I hear any cut off that incredible album, I think about Todd.

Todd and I only talk every two or three years or so. When he saw my name flash on his phone, he just knew someone had died. He was not relieved to learn that it was Eddie Van Halen. We talked together about our wives and our parents, our younger sisters and our kids. And we remembered the Texxas Jams and the late night basketball and the cruising and screaming along with Diamond Dave as Eddie’s guitar deliriously pierced our brains and infected our souls.

As I started my truck to head home last night, “Atomic Punk” was playing on the stereo. “Nobody rules these streets at night but me, the Atomic Punk!” Yeah, I had already been listening to that first Van Halen album all day. I plugged it in on my way to work yesterday morning, the day Eddie Van Halen died. I listened to it to and from lunch that afternoon, and it was in the player when I started for home. It’s not a total coincidence. There’s always about a 70-percent chance I’m listening to something by Van Halen.

When I got home, I immediately pulled out all six of my original Van Halen LPs and went through the liner notes. I reviewed the ticket stubs from the six times I saw Van Halen in concert. I remembered that my first Van Halen show was the 1986 Texxas Jam, and I had won the tickets off the radio. I noticed that my ticket from the 1990 concert at Reunion Arena was $12.50, the 1992 show at the Erwin Center in Austin was $22.50, and the last time I saw Van Halen, with Carrie-Anne on the floor at American Airlines Center in 2004, the tickets were $97.50. Worth every last penny every single time.

There were also the concerts that didn’t happen. We were at the 1988 Texxas Jam with Van Halen headlining when, two songs into their set, Sammy Hagar’s voice completely gave out. They were doing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and he couldn’t get through the first chorus. Sammy stepped off the stage while Eddie, Alex, and Michael finished the song. Then those three did a wild cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” with Michael Anthony taking the lead on vocals. Then Sammy came out and announced they couldn’t continue that night, but they would make it up to us and do a free concert in Dallas at a later date. That fall of 1988, we all had tickets to Van Halen’s Oklahoma City concert at the Myriad Gardens; then we all got refunds when the band cancelled. Three years later, on a late November afternoon in 1991, Dallas radio stations announced that Van Halen was playing that free concert in the West End. That night. We were in Marble Falls by that time and I was broadcasting a high school football playoff game that evening. I couldn’t have made the four-hour drive in time anyway.

Speaking of Sammy Hagar, I am not a Van Halen fan who lives and dies in the David Lee Roth versus Sammy Hagar wars. So many fans of the music are in the “either/or” category – you have to love one and hate the other, you have to choose – and I’ve never been that way. I truly believe you can put 5150 and OU812 up against Van Halen’s first album and 1984 and they’re all so solid. They all stand up, side by side, because the driving force behind all of it is Eddie. It’s his band. It’s his songwriting. It’s his passion. It’s always been about Eddie for me.

The Eddie Van Halen poster I had on the wall in my room as a teenager growing up in Dallas? The one I took with me to college and hung in my dorm and my apartment? I’ve still got it. It’s hanging up in my garage today. It’s always been about Eddie.

Two Sundays ago, Carrie-Anne and I were driving home from church, listening to Van Halen’s “Right Now.” I said, “Do you remember when they played this song in Dallas? Remember the video clips they were playing and all those funny slogans they were showing during this song? Remember when Eddie played this solo?” She replied, “All I remember is that when he played his solos, he played too long.” She doesn’t get it. I love her dearly. But she doesn’t understand.

Eddie always did something with the guitar you had never seen or heard before. Every time. Even two hours into the sixth time I had seen him live, I was still surprised. Still overjoyed and almost overcome. His fingers moved so fast and he used every square centimeter of the guitar, from top to bottom. His sound is uniquely his – you know it’s Eddie by the second note. That guitar solo in the middle of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It?” You know why it sounds just like Eddie Van Halen? Because it is. Only he can do that. And he always had so much fun. He was always smiling, laughing, while he played. He made it look so easy and so fun – the way he interacted with his band mates and with the crowd, the way it seemed so effortless. Of the tributes you’re seeing on the news, of the video clips, he’s smiling in all of them. He loved what he was doing and you loved being in his presence while he was doing it.

I heard from David Byrnes yesterday and the conversation quickly turned to how old we are. Darrin Carpenter checked in with me and we discussed 5150 — he had been listening to it that morning, just like I had been listening to Van Halen I. I texted Mike Osburn and we acknowledged the sadness we both were feeling and the gratitude for the chance to re-connect with old friends. Carley called me back and I vowed to get her to an Aerosmith show before Steven Tyler dies. She made it to Tom Petty with me in 2016, but I never got her to a Van Halen concert. I always thought we would have time. I just assumed Eddie Van Halen would always be playing guitar somewhere. Valerie checked in with me. She knew it was tough news for me. My brother-in-law, who teaches at a Christian high school in Edmond, Oklahoma texted me this morning to let me know he was beginning every single class period today with “Eruption” in honor of the greatest guitar player in history. He’s got a surround-sound system in his classroom; I’ll bet it’s awesome. Even as I’m typing this post, I can hear Van Halen coming from Elaine’s computer in the office next door. She’s remembering, too.

Here’s “Eruption.” Let’s all listen to it one more time.


Positively Negative

Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Pat Verbeek…

Mainly to assure my co-workers and appease a couple of our church elders, I submitted myself to a Covid-19 test yesterday. I came out positive for burning nostrils and watery eyes and negative for the coronavirus. Everybody around me can breathe a huge sigh of relief. While wearing a large mask.

The Houston Texans should have fired Bill O’Brien at least four years ago, long before he traded away Jadeveon Clowney, DeAndre Hopkins, and all those draft picks. The Texans have the highest payroll in the NFL this year and they have started out 0-4. Reminds me of another embarrassingly futile NFL team in Texas.

When a team begins a football season at 1-3, it has a 14% chance of making the playoffs. That statistic will probably be skewed a bit this year because the NFC East is led right now by a team with one win. The Cowboys might win this division with a 7-9 record. But they already have a 100% chance of extending their streak of consecutive seasons without winning a divisional playoff game to 25 years. They should design another commemorative patch. “Silver Substandard” or something like that.

Missions Month is my favorite season at Central.

I’ve added our middle daughter Valerie’s brand new blog, “The Kitchen Sink,” to my links on the bottom right hand side of this page. Valerie is the newly-married, newly-employed Youth Minister at the Contact Church in Tulsa. She just launched the blog over the weekend and just posted her first article about our (Christians) and her (personal) relationship between our citizenship in heaven and our national politics. You can click here to read it or scroll through the links on the right. Man, I really love this girl. I admire Valerie. I wish I had the same passion for the Kingdom when I was her age. I’m really blessed to be her dad. I’m very thankful to God.



Established 1960

The Dallas Cowboys are recognizing their inaugural season of 1960 this year with a commemorative patch on their uniforms and, evidently, by replicating the results from that expansion campaign. The Cowboys have allowed 146 points through their first four games this season, the most since those first-year Cowboys gave up 136 through their first four contests. They’ve allowed 38+ points in three straight games for the first time since 1960. And, had the Falcons not completely lost their minds in a once-in-a-lifetime onside kick meltdown two weeks ago, the Cowboys would be on their way to matching that first year’s 0-10 start.

It’s genius, right? Commemorating the 1960 origins of the team by playing like them?

Actually, that’s not fair to the 1960 Cowboys. That very first edition did not have a single draft pick on the roster. That team was built by an expansion draft in which the other twelve NFL teams were allowed to protect 25 of their 36 players and the Cowboys had 24-hours to select three men from each team’s bottom eleven. And that team played with heart. They didn’t win a single game that season – a 31-31 tie with the New York Giants in week eleven was the only non-loss – but they played hard enough to capture the city’s imagination and build a solid following.

This current Cowboys team makes those 1960 forerunners they’re trying to honor look like the ideal.

In yesterday’s blowout loss to the Browns, the Cowboys gave up 333-yards and 24-first downs — wait for it — in the first half! Cleveland averaged 7.7-yards per play over the first two quarters and, at one point, scored 34-unaswered points to take a 41-14 lead. The Dallas defense let the Browns second and third string backs run for 307-yards, the most rushing yards given up by the Cowboys in a single game in franchise history. The Cowboys defense is giving up a touchdown for every twelve passing attempts! This defense is all bad angles, over-pursuit, sloppy tackling, and zero discipline. It’s historically bad. 1960 bad. Which, again, is an insult to everyone who played in 1960.

But it’s not just the defense, the special teams are also killing the Cowboys. Watching Tony Pollard return kicks is like watching Rick Perry on Dancing with the Stars: he’s doing it terribly, I have no idea who chose him for the job, and his partners have to pretend like it’s good. Only the Cowboys can block an opponent’s PAT and have it turn into two points for their opponent. While the offense is rolling up points like a pinball machine, they have also turned the ball over a league-worst nine times in the first four weeks. And the Cowboys offense is the third most penalized offense in the league. It’s undoubtedly a complete team effort.

So, yes, let’s honor those 1960 expansion Dallas Cowboys. Let’s hear it for that collection of misfits and castoffs who lost their first ten games and finished without a win. At least those Cowboys had a clue. They knew where they were going and they had a plan for getting there. They had a creative and energetic general manager, a brilliant and innovative head coach, and an owner who stayed out of the way.

And. The. Fans. Had. Hope.



October 2, 2017

Three years ago today, great American songwriter and rock star Tom Petty died in California. I was in Edmond attending a preacher’s conference at Oklahoma Christian University. I talked to Carrie-Anne about it over the phone several times that late afternoon and into the night. Our youngest daughter, Carley, and I cried together on the phone a couple of times that day, so grateful that we had seen Tom Petty in concert the year before, floor seats at American Airlines Center in Dallas for her 16th birthday. And so sad that he was gone. I still get emotional when I hear the live version of “Breakdown” on the radio. Or any of the songs from that classic third album that served, along with Van Halen’s debut, as the soundtrack to my teenage years. Or anything from his final release, 2016’s “Hypnotic Eye,” that contains so much honest and hard reflection on his own life and the cracked society around us.

Tom Petty’s music has always connected to something deep inside me. It’s his unique and nasally voice, his slow southern accent, and his wry and dry sense of humor. It’s his laid back style, his incredible versatility, and the way he made all of it look so easy, like he wasn’t even really trying. Mostly, though, it’s the lyrics. Nobody can write a three-minute song that gets right into your soul like Tom Petty. His words connect. They always have. Whether you’re a rebellious teenager beginning to test the boundaries of the structures around you or a divorced middle-aged guy surveying the landscape of your life and asking all the existential questions, Tom Petty’s lyrics are always real and true.

You can’t go wrong listening to a Tom Petty song today.


3-2 (2OT)

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