Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass into the Wild Times, Loud Rock and Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen By Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden

Book Review: Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass into the Wild Times, Loud Rock and Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen
By Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden

Noel Monk managed Van Halen from 1978 until the band fired him in early 1985. With the 30 year non-disclosure agreement now lapsed, Monk tells his side of the story, but not without a tad of bitterness, in Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Passinto the Wild Times, Loud Rock and Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen.

Monk was Van Halen’s manager from 1979 til the band fired him in 1985. He’d managed the Sex Pistols ill-fated US tour in 1978 and stage managed at Woodstock, and seemed a natural to handle the next big thing.

Handling any rock band on the road is a chore, but Monk had his work cut out for him with VH. Monk had to assure Eddie a blow job couldn’t get a girl pregnant and reels in disbelief when he records the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s Beat It –for free. 

Alex was a mean drunk. “Al pouring Schlitz Malt Liquor over himself and his drumkit…was the soberest part of the day for Alex”, Monk writes. And Dave’s ego and ADHD (buoyed on by cocaine) resulted in roadies having a straitjacket on hand, and not just as a joke.

Monk considers the band’s appearance at the US Festival in 1983 to be “one of my worst (days) as manager of Van Halen.” As anyone who was there can tell you (I was), apparently there was such a thing as Dave doing much coke, but the rest of the band took up the slack musically.

Runnin’ with the Devil reinforces the notion that musicians and entertainers aren’t necessarily exemplary human beings. Even before adding groupies and drugs to the mix, the guys come off as emotionally stunted. In Monk’s reminiscence, there are three bad guys here. Dave’s an egotistical blowhard, Eddie plays guitar and doesn’t know about much else, and Alex is a drunken bully.

In the early days, Dave wanted to marry a movie star, but Ed beat him to it. Valerie, like millions of other girls, had a crush on Eddie and met him backstage in her hometown. Valerie wasn’t much different than her TV alter-ego, Barbara Cooper, but she eventually fit right in with the entourage and the rest of the wives.

Valerie did coke because “Ed likes me thin”, but is confused about groupies. She wonders why the guys weren’t hornier after being away from their wives for so long.   

Monk instituted a payola scheme for the band’s least commercial album Fair Warning. It was probably overkill – the album had two radio-friendly songs, Pretty Woman and Unchained and the band was well icons already by 1981, so it was an unneeded boost . Around the same time, Dave’s alleged paternity suit insurance was widely touted in every publication from Time to Hit Parader. It was a PR stunt, but the band had a good reason to exclude Brown M&Ms backstage, as Monk reveals.

Some of the behind the scenes anecdotes really knock the sex and drugs glamour out of the band’s image. What should have been a triumphant bus ride to Paris after the last DLR-era show ended up being depressing and icky. The band comes off particularly pathetic in Monk’s description of the meeting where the band fired him

Eddie, Alex and Dave cut Michael Anthony cut Michael Anthony, the band’s only “nice guy” out of his share of the band’s royalties from the album 1984 on, and made him a salaried player. Even after this, they still resorted to junior high bullying tactics on the road like they resented his mere existence.

Was the acrimony toward Michael Anthony solely because of money, or was there some other reason?

Some critics would question why Anthony would accept the demotion and stay in the band. (Shades of Rick Wright and Pink Floyd?) Although what was Anthony supposed to do? Quit the band and release a solo album that went nowhere and fade into obscurity, or stay with one of the biggest American rock bands ever as a salaried player?

Being a hardcore fan, I’m going to nitpick one detail. Monk says the band rarely played Happy Trails during their concerts, but I saw them do it at least twice, maybe three times.

Van Halen fans should read Runnin’ With the Devil after Greg Renoff’s Van Halen Rising and before Sammy and Dave’s books.  VH Rising has lots of info you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a well-researched look at the band’s origins, (Dave was a rich kid; Eddie and Alex were from the wrong side of the tracks.) And Runnin’ With the Devil’s backstage shenanigans probably won’t shock you if you know anything about the band, but the degree of acrimony between bandmates near the end of the first VH era may leave you flummoxed.   

Monday, August 07, 2017

Book Review: A Fast Ride Out of Here: Confessions of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man by Pete Way (With Paul Rees)

Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider once referred to Pete Way as a "rock 'n' roll version of Dudley Moore's 'Arthur'.”  The reference to Dudley Moore’s perpetually soused but lovable millionaire character in the 1981 movie is certainly understandable.  Way, UFO's former bassist, certainly imbibed more than his share of alcohol back in the day, and he's a personable and easy-going guy, but.. rich? - well, maybe - til he spent all the money on drugs.

Way’s autobiography A Fast Ride Out of Here: Confessions of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man, co-written with Paul Rees, certainly has all the alcohol, drugs and sex you’d expect from a rock star bio, but without the artifice or self-importance. It has dissenting opinions from cohorts including Michael Schenker, Joe Elliot, Ross Halfin, Geddy Lee and Way’s brother, Neill.

Unlike many English rockers born in the middle of the 20th Century, Way actually had a fairly pleasant childhood. He did well on his exams, but once the late‘60s rolled around, drugs, were everywhere. (He first used heroin at 13, a few years before getting into music.)

Pete met Phil Mogg at 16, and they started the band that eventually became the blues-based version of UFO. Once guitarist Michael Schenker joined, the band developed a harder rock sound and broke into the American market.

Way had a manic onstage persona during his UFO heyday, and would zip back and forth with his bass like a true showman. It’s no surprise that he influenced Nikki Sixx and Ironmaiden’s Steve Harris.

A Fast Ride Out of Here is sprinkled with anecdotes about life on the road. Tales of hot and cold running drugs, alcohol, groupies and in-fighting (mainly guitarist vs. singer) abound.

 Of the girls that pursued the band, he writes, “The girls got what they wanted , too….they reasoned that the best way to know someone famous was to be involved with a guy in a band.”

Another anecdote from the UFO days - Pete appeared on the rock ‘n’ roll edition of the TV game show “Hollywood Squares” in 1979 with Todd Rundgren, Chaka Khan and other music stars of the time. He was billed as “Mr. UFO.”

Schenker bailed after the breakthrough Strangers in the Night live album was released. Eventually, Way left to start a new band Fastway, but never played in the band due to contractual obligations with Chrysalis.

Way formed another band, Waysted, in 1983. Ex-UFO bandmates Paul Chapman and Paul Raymond made brief appearances with the band, and Way worked with Schenker on a few projects in the '00s. Like a codependent couple, Way reunited with singer Phil Mogg in UFO many times (and as Mogg/Way in the late ‘90s). The last split, in 2007, appears to be permanent.

Pete traveled with Ozzy when Waysted toured with him, and joined him in search of “waffle dust”, among other adventures. That’s just one sample of the hilarity that ensued on that tour. Way was also a friend of Bon Scott, and hung out with him a just a little over a week before he died.

Joe Elliot’s dry comments counter a few of Pete’s claims, in a friendly way. Photographer Ross Halfin calls UFO “the great lost British rock band” and Michael Schenker comments on his on-again, off again musical partnerships with Way.  

Way’s substance abuse also contributed to problems in his personal life. Two wives died of drug overdoses, and he was estranged from his daughters Charlotte and Zowie for years. The chapter about his time in Columbus, Ohio, with his fourth wife JoAnna is more surreal tragedy than rock excess. It proves, once again, that truth is stranger than fiction.

At 66, Way has beat heroin, prostate cancer and a heart attack. He’s been working on a solo album, "Walking on the Edge", with producer Mike Clink, between health crises.   

A Fast Ride Out of Here will have you laughing one minute, and shaking your head in disbelief the next. Way comes off as such an endearing character, you’ll genuinely like the guy, regardless of his foibles. Funny, heartbreaking and honest, any fan of classic rock or metal will enjoy this book.