Van Halen Rising. ECW Press. Renoff, Craig. 2015
Why is Van Halen Rising met with so much acclaim? Because it covers the subject in an academic manner and gives the reader precious content previously unavailable anywhere else. Despite their popularity, it’s remarkable how little is known of Van Halen’s early days. In that sense they really are an exception when it comes to Rock and Metal, where the really big bands have been covered and perhaps over-explained over time. It isn’t the case with Van Halen. Little was known of the band’s early-mid ’70s period, until now that is.
It’s rare to find a book that delves into a band the way Van Halen Rising does. It’s a gold veritable mine of information on the band. It’s even rarer when the book is not an official band-approved release. The subtitle “How a Southern California backyard party band saved heavy metal” rings true. The author ensures the reader knows that fact by the end of the book, and judging by history and figures he presents, he’s not wrong. In a period where sales were declining, established bands became softer or went in different musical directions (i.e. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, KISS) and disco was taking over.
To say that record companies did not have much belief in Rock at this point would be a gross understatement. Yet Van Halen managed to give Rock the shot in the arm it needed. To the untrained eye, Van Halen popped out of nowhere and became an instant sensation in 1978. Alas it was a long, slow, steady climb for the band as documented by Van Halen Rising.
It was incredible to read about Van Halen’s story in such detail. The Van Halens and their upbringing, their struggles, moving to America, being trained on instruments, falling in love with rock music and forming their bands… And then some. Knowing the name of the teacher who taught the brothers for instance, that’s going above and beyond.
The same can be said about David Lee Roth’s story (although he seems to be exactly who you thought he would be in high school). Roth’s prowesses and reputation in his teenage years, playing with Red Ball Jet, being cocky to the Van Halen brothers, it goes on and on. There is considerably less on bassist Michael Anthony, but that was a given. From playing backyards to clubs, demoing songs, getting “discovered” by Gene Simmons, dealing with record companies, the backlash against Rock music etc. it never lets us down.
The book uses a lot of quotes to form it’s style and dialogue. It’s a style that can cause the reader to lose interest in certain instances, but never with Van Halen Rising. Sometimes it would be their neighbours talking and painting the scene, or their friends and fans, but whoever is talking it never gets tiresome. I don’t think I’ll ever remember any of those people’s names, but their contributions to the book and Van Halen’s history are not to be undermined. There’s a reason people like Ted Templeman and Chuck Klosterman are giving it hefty praises and why fans are so into this book.
It’s a wonderful book. Many have been written about the mighty Van Halen before, but none ever reached the degree of sources and knowledge Van Halen Rising has. This one takes the cake no doubt about it. It’s revealing, fun and it tells the story as accurately as l believe is possible.
Greg Renoff did VH a solid by writing this book. Everything is properly sourced and attributed to the right people or source. I wouldn’t have it any other way, especially when you’re dealing with a book on a topic where information can sometimes be scarce (in this case VH’s early days). The sources and index sections are also very welcome. Van Halen Rising is a wet dream for the band’s fans. 5 stars.