In less than a year, Van Halen went from making $750 a show while touring as support for bands like Journey and Black Sabbath to a $75,000 payday co-headlining the California World Music Festival at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Former Van Halen manager Noel E. Monk writes about this steep ascension in his new book, Runnin’ With the Devil. Although Monk hadn’t heard a note of Van Halen’s music when he agreed to come on board in 1978, initially as a tour manager, it soon became apparent to him that the band was special. And Monk had been around special before. He’d helped stage-manage Woodstock, was San Francisco concert impresario Bill Graham's right-hand man, befriended artists including Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead, worked with The Rolling Stones, and had most recently been tour manager for The Sex Pistols. He chronicled his time with the latter punk legends in his 1990 book, 12 Days on the Road: The Sex Pistols and America.
In Runnin’ With the Devil — co-written with Joe Layden and published June 13 by Dey St. — Monk tells with a raconteur’s tone the kind of juicy stories (ketchup-fetish groupies, booze- and coke-fueled hotel-trashing, ridiculous rock-star requests) that fans want to read. He also has plenty of more soulful memories about a young, hungry Van Halen seeing the world for the first time — and of singer/sexpot David Lee Roth, guitar genius Eddie Van Halen, bassist/nice guy Michael Anthony and drummer/hell-raiser Alex Van Halen beginning to realize their collective musical powers.
The son of a New York garment rep, Monk saw untapped vast earnings and led Van Halen to establish their own merchandising company, including manufacturing, which became a massive revenue source for the band. He’s also quick to credit former Van Halen production/art director Pete Angelus and Roth for their creativity on Van Halen music videos like “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Jump,” which helped make the band early MTV darlings.
Runnin’ With the Devil deals much more with the band's business and inner workings than their music. But with Van Halen, that's still page-turning stuff.
Monk was Van Halen's manager from 1978 to 1985, when he was dismissed by the band. On a recent afternoon, he called in for a phone interview from his Colorado Springs home. (I didn’t notice until later that the last four digits of his phone number are 5150, which happens to be the name of Eddie Van Halen’s recording studio, so I didn't get the chance to ask if this was a coincidence.) In the spirit of Van Halen, who embodied good times perhaps more than any other mega-band, the interview got off to a freewheeling start; the first thing Monk said on the phone was, “Ah yeah, is this Pam’s Whorehouse?” He soon added, “So we should have a little fun with this.” And that’s what we did. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
In your book you write about the acrimony that developed between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. Was there ever a time early on when those two guys would hang out as friends away from the band, that you can remember?
How could they? We were on the road on that first tour eight, nine months. We got three, four days off maybe. So basically we were with each other all the time. How were you getting away? You do a show, hang out at the bar until 5 in the morning, you get up and get on the bus you drive to the next show, you get laid. [Laughs] It’s difficult. And I tried to show how it evolved and how it degenerated and the why.
You write about how, after Van Halen’s 1978 self-titled debut LP, the next four albums were quickly recorded and often rushed, and when you finally got them more time, they made this amazing album, 1984. But all that time together in the studio helped drive the band apart, specifically Eddie and Dave.
You’re talking about the other side [of making music], and that’s egos, drugs and “I’m a superstar.” Time does not melt that away, it enhances it. You come off the road, you gotta do an album, you do it in three weeks, it’s not your best album. I tried to explain that. The first album is the best first album I’ve ever heard a band do and 1984 was equally as brilliant. The ones in between didn’t live up to it, but we had such a fan base and they were such a brilliant [live] band.
For a few years, there’s been a story going around [originated by Gene Simmons] about Eddie Van Halen asking to join Kiss in the early ’80s. Are you aware of anything like that ever happening?
No. I don’t think it happened. The one thing about the fans is they live off any innuendo or hearsay.
So you don’t think the band came close to breaking up earlier, like in ’81 or anything like that?
No. That was all fan gossip and writer bullshit.
When Dave made his first solo EP, did he ever hint he decided to do that at least partly because he didn’t think Eddie was in condition to make another Van Halen album at that time?
No. I think he wanted his own career. I don’t know. I never spoke to them again after we broke up in ’85, so I can’t talk to that. Who can say why he did it? David’s an anomaly. I think he made a mistake, a big mistake. But that’s me thinking and not me knowing.
If you had to be roommates with either [Sex Pistols singer] Johnny Rotten or David Lee Roth, who would you pick?
Do you mean what hotel would I jump off the roof of? I loved rooming with Sid [Vicious, Sex Pistols bassist]. Sid and I got along really well. He was to me the nicest guy in the band. But that question is a moot point. I would have slashed my wrists after a week.
In your book, you wonder if subliminally one of the reasons Eddie Van Halen married actress Valerie Bertinelli was to spite David Lee Roth, who you write about being more fame-driven than Eddie was. Did Dave ever date any famous people that you’re aware of?
David was the first one who said, “I’m gonna marry a star.” But you’ve got to understand, I never saw him go out with anyone for more than a week or two.
You write about the rest of the band in 1984 moving to get Michael Anthony’s quarter split of the royalties taken away retroactive to the 1984 album, and him signing that addendum. Why do you think Michael agreed to that? Do you think he saw huge potential in future touring earnings or was worried about getting ousted from the band if he didn’t sign?
I don’t understand it, never will. I really liked Michael. He never gave me a problem, ever. I didn’t understand why they did it to him, what he allowed to be done to him. Basically, what I would have said [to him] was, “Leave tonight and say goodbye and keep your $20 million. And they can’t do a show tonight. What are they going to have? No bass player and no [backing] vocal?” I couldn’t believe what they did to him. Usually, David and Edward and Al would have come to me and said, “What should I do”? Michael never came to me and said, “What should I do?” Because I would have told him what to do.
Did working on the book and looking back on your time with Van Halen change your opinion about that band in any way?
No, it never changed. I thought they were the most brilliant stage show. Period. Watching David and Edward and Michael was just extraordinary every night. Someone once asked me, “What is the best show you ever saw them do?” And I said, “No, that’s not the question. The question is what is the worst show they ever did?” Because they never did a bad show except once …
The US Festival [in 1983].
Right. The US Festival. They never did a bad show. They could be fucked up out of their minds, and they were brilliant. So that to me was amazing. Remember, I saw hundreds of their shows. The first year I saw every one, and usually I saw 90 percent of them.
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If Van Halen and David Lee Roth hadn’t split in 1985, what kind of music can you picture that version of the band making next?
My feeling was, in ’84, that I saw the next five or six years of them becoming the biggest band in the world. We didn’t make it. We could’ve been playing stadiums in ’85. We didn’t get to where we could’ve gotten.
Did any rock bands after Van Halen really impress you, like Guns N’ Roses?
I thought they were good. They weren’t Van Halen. I looked.
Did you retire after parting ways with Van Halen?
I took on a band called Prophet. They were good, but they weren’t brilliant. But right off the bat they wouldn’t listen. They screwed up their career. And at that point, after 25, 30 years in the business, I was disillusioned.
What was the most challenging thing about writing a book about a band that fired you all those years ago?
We couldn’t come to a contract. I had done seven years [on a 30-day contract], and they decided they could do better without me. When you read the book you’ll see their reason, which I don’t quite agree with. [Laughs] They lost their merchandising company. They really lost Van Halen. They lost a lot, and so did I. People say they fired me — yeah, they did, because I had a month-to-month contract. But by that time I wanted rid of them as bad as they wanted rid of me.