Remembering the First Time with Van Halen

Today marks the 46-year anniversary from Van Halen's multi-platinum debut album. To celebrate this occasion, I thought I'd share the following story from my youth.

In the fall of 1978, I was starting out in Middle School, and I made friends with another student, Gene, who was just beginning to play guitar like I was. We met because Gene was carrying a notebook emblazoned with the KISS logo, and at the time I was a big KISS fan. (Hey, no judgment.) Gene and I eventually played together in several bands throughout our Middle School and High School years, and we've remained in touch over the years. I visited Gene and his wife recently, and Gene recounted the story of when I came up to him during our 7th grade year to say, "Dude - you've got to hear this new album I just bought!!!" The album in question was Van Halen's debut offering, which had been released earlier that year.

Van Halen (album)

When Gene came by my house after school, the track I immediately dropped the record needle on was - of course - "Eruption." Gene's mind was completely blown, as mine had been when I first listened to the album end to end. I had a reel-to-reel deck at the time, and we recorded "Eruption" on tape so we could slow it down, and yet it was still so @#$% fast. Neither of us had seen Eddie's signature two-handed tapping yet, so we had no idea what EVH was doing to play at such a mind-numbing tempo.

remember-that-first-time-van-halen

By my Freshman year of High School I would play "Eruption" at the backyard parties and other gigs that typical High School bands would get, though never as cleanly as EVH. (And these days I probably couldn't pull off playing the bulk of "Eruption" without some serious practice.)

Nevertheless, EVH turned my world upside down - but in a good way. To this day I phrase a bunch of chords on the guitar in ways I learned from playing Van Halen's assorted catalog of songs, and my efforts to learn what EVH was doing on each of Van Halen's albums made me a much better guitar player. There are few albums that I can literally say altered the course of my life, and if you read my blog from a few years ago titled My List of 20 Most Influential Albums, you'll see that I listed Van Halen's debut album at #3.

Seasoned Stories of Sailing Ships and Swirling Seas

As he boarded his venerable longship, the mighty Viking warrior, Rudolph the Red, readied his sturdy craft to sail the turbulent waters of the North Sea. Once again, the fierce leader and his men would reign terror over the poor, unsuspecting villagers of the British Isles as the Vikings pillaged their way through farms and fields of Scotland and England.

As the crew completed their final preparations for the perilous voyage, the rugged chieftain leaned over the bulwark of his vessel to kiss his wife goodbye, and he said to her, "Tomorrow, we shall be victorious in battle. But today, we sail forth into a storm."

As she cast her gaze toward the sun as it slowly rose above a clear horizon, she asked her husband, "How can you be so sure?"

"Because," he replied, "Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear."

rudolph-the-red


POSTSCRIPT:

I will admit that I saw the punch line from this brief bit of humor several years ago, and I chuckled when I read it. However, I couldn't find the source of the original pun, so I decided to write my own story, albeit with some AI-generated artwork. This illustration of Rudolph the Red was generated by the application at http://bing.com/images/create, where I asked it to create "a 3d image of a viking with red hair on a ship that is sailing through the rain." I think the image fit my story rather well.

Smile

What Hawaii Looked Like A Century Ago

The following video from the National Archives shows what Hawaii looked like in 1924, which was 100 years ago this year, and by way of coincidence was the same year that my grandfather arrived in Hawaii to begin his four-year tour of duty in Oahu with the U.S. Army. Hawaii was a radically different world back then; Queen Lili'uokalani and the Hawaiian monarchy had been overthrown within a single generation prior to this film's creation, and much of the hills and valleys were still overgrown with acres of vegetation that are sadly missing now.

PS - the following photo is of my grandfather, Abner Dechant, as a young, Army Private standing on the beach in Hawaii back in the late 1920s.

Abner Dechant - Hawaii 1929

What You Least Expect

No one expects the Muppet Inquisition! Amongst their weaponry are such elements as surprise, farce, ruthless puerility, and an almost fanatical devotion to Jim Henson!

No One Expects the Muppet Inquisition

Power Tip for Remote Workers

Always remember to double-check that your microphone is muted before you start brushing your teeth during a meeting.

middle-aged-computer-geek-brushing-teeth

Rush and the Soundtrack of my Life

I have spoken before on how Rush has been the soundtrack of my life, which reminds me of the following story. "Dreamline" was the first song that I heard from Rush's Roll the Bones album, and in those pre-Internet days I didn't know that the album was being released, so my first hearing of that song caught me entirely by surprise. My wife and I had recently returned to the United States after having lived in Germany for the past 3½ years, and I had picked up our car in New Orleans and was making my way westward along I-10 toward Fort Huachuca (which is 90 miles south of Tucson).

As I was driving through the vast, empty expanses of Texas, I was channel surfing on my car's stereo to find the best rock stations in each town I passed through. When I made it to El Paso, I was passing by Sunland Park Mall as I tuned to a local station where the DJ said, "Here's the latest single from Rush," and those famous notes of Alex's epic intro came blaring over the car stereo's speakers, which were quickly joined by Geddy's bass and then Neil's thunderous drums. I cranked the car stereo to 11, and I was so immediately enamored with the piece that I could've wrecked the car if I wasn't careful.

That brief, specific moment in time is frozen in my consciousness; I can still see exactly where I was as I literally drove headlong down the highway into an uncertain future. My wife and I were closing a major chapter in our lives and opening another, and "Dreamline" will forever be tied to that memory.

But then again, how could it not when the song's lyrics are:

"They travel on the road to redemption
A highway out of yesterday - that tomorrow will bring
Like lovers and heroes, birds in the last days of spring
We're only at home when we're on the wing
On the wing

When we are young
Wandering the face of the earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we're only immortal
For a limited time

Time is a gypsy caravan
Steals away in the night
To leave you stranded in Dreamland
Distance is a long-range filter
Memory a flickering light
Left behind in the heartland

We travel in the dark of the new moon
A starry highway traced on the map of the sky
Like lovers and heroes, lonely as the eagle's cry
We're only at home when we're on the fly
On the fly

We travel on the road to adventure
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone
We're only at home when we're on the run
On the run..."
[1]

I have hundreds of stories just like this, which is why - as I mentioned earlier - Rush has been soundtrack of my life. I occasionally sit back and watch any of the live videos that Rush released over the years, and the feeling that best describes each viewing experience is "nostalgia." I know that sounds trite and simplistic, but I have countless memories that are emotionally connected to all of Rush's songs. The live videos are an added plus, because I saw Rush on many of those same tours, and the videos bring back memories of the times in my life when I went to those concerts. Some of those shows were when in was high school and I attended them with my older brother, some shows were when my wife and I were newly married and the tickets that cost a pittance by today's standards were a fortune for me at the time, and in recent years I attended several shows with my older brother and a group of close friends - and every time was a mind-blowing event. Rush never "phoned in" a gig - they always brought their "A Game" and killed it on stage. (Which, of course, is why Neil had retired prior to his untimely death; he knew he couldn't continue playing at that level forever.)

[Deep Sigh.]

I miss Rush.


FOOTNOTES:

  1. See https://www.rush.com/songs/dreamline/ for the song's full lyrics.

Making a Point while Missing the Mark

I recently read the essay Sometimes reforming: Martin Luther, the church and the rest of us, and if it had ended with "Sometimes the most we can do is 'give a witness' by our dissent and hope for reformation when future generations take up the cause for social and spiritual transformation," I would have thought that essay was a brilliantly-worded treatise on why Christians should reflect on Luther's words and actions this October 31st. Unfortunately, the essay didn't end there, and its author, Bill Leonard, spent the succeeding paragraph lashing out at non-Baptists and pro-Trumpers. (And just to be clear - I am decidedly NOT pro-Trump. I have publicly spoken out against Trump on many occasions, but that's another story.)

Throughout the "On All Hallows' Eve 2023" paragraph, Leonard doesn't mince words when he equates the actions and attitudes of those with whom he disagrees with the 19th-century pro-slavery crowd and suggests that evangelicals are on an equal footing with the rest of today's sin-obsessed society. (Note that from a historical perspective, Leonard's pro-Baptist sentiments conveniently overlook the pro-slavery views held by the Southern Baptist Convention that upheld slavery and helped pave the way toward Civil War. Leonard also fails to mention that it was largely evangelicals from the Second Great Awakening who opposed slavery, and he makes no mention of Methodists who referred to slavery as the "execrable sum of all villainies," but I digress.) Leonard's entire "All Hallows' Eve 2023" paragraph is nothing short of "denomination bashing," which is a behavior that ultimately portrays all of Christianity in a bad light, and for which people have said to me on numerous occasions: "That's why I wouldn't want to become a Christian: you Christians are always fighting each other."

When viewing this essay as a whole, what started out so well as a history lesson about Martin Luther and a call for contemplation on the role of dissent within our Christian lives quickly descended into a veiled attack on those with whom the article's author disagrees, and in so doing Leonard completely negates his opening quotation from Luther: "I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion." With that in mind, I would suppose that some form of sarcastic kudos are warranted for the essay's author; his dissertation on Luther is so misguided that he completely misses the meaning of Luther's original prose, and he manages to publicly humiliate the church in the process. So I offer a brusque "bravo" to Bill Leonard for his essay; his opinions are exactly what the church needs today, but only if the church intends to fail miserably in modern society.

A Picture Can Wound a Thousand Broken Hearts

I wanted to reshare this photo because it was very personal to me. My wife and I have a bed very similar to this in the bedroom where our four-year-old granddaughter sleeps peacefully when she comes to visit, and I can imagine that the child who owned this bed was sleeping peacefully in it before she was senselessly slaughtered this past weekend. And what had the child done to deserve such a violent and militaristic execution? She was alive, and that was it. For thousands of years people have killed millions of Jews simply because they existed, and many of these genocides have been largely ignored by unsympathetic historians because the victims were Jews and no one seemed to care about their suffering. This is racism at its worst, and it must stop.

Hamas Kills Innocent Babies

Over the past few decades, I have also heard much about the plight of the Palestinians, and if I'm being honest, I have to agree with some of the arguments that I have heard in their favor. I believe that Palestinians should have an independent state where they can live in peace, and if you study your history, you'll see that on multiple occasions Israel offered huge swaths of land with which the Palestinians could have created a free state for themselves. But the Palestinians refused these offers, because the terrorists the Palestinians voted into power, namely Hamas, do not want to peacefully coexist with Israel. Hamas has been very vocal over the years about its intentions to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, which is what lead to Saturday's surprise attack and the deaths of hundreds of innocent Jewish people for the simple crime of not being dead already.

I occasionally see people driving around with the "COEXIST" bumper sticker that is fashioned from the iconography of several major religions. While this is a noble-sounding sentiment, it reveals much about the naiveté of the person who emblazoned their vehicle with such innocent absurdity. The problem with preaching this particular message of coexistence is that it completely ignores the actions and emotions of people who do not share a common sense of right and wrong. Americans had a difficult time understanding this disparity when 9/11 happened; the thousands of innocent lives who died in the Twin Towers and Washington DC hadn't done anything to warrant their tragic deaths at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists, but the enemy we faced was so blinded by hatred that it could not be reasoned with. Sadly, this is where Israel finds itself today. Hamas cannot be reasoned with. Hamas doesn't want to coexist. Hamas only wants to hate Jews and kidnap families and rape women and kill innocent people - like the child who owned the bed in this photo. Being ex-military, I am angered by this image. I am repulsed by what it depicts. I want vengeance for what Hamas has done. But that's not my place, and if I'm not careful, I may find myself so consumed by hatred for Hamas that I'm no better than they are.

Cursing by Keyboard in the Early Morning

If, like me, you were ever forced to read Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," here is my 21st-century homage to his most-famous work:

Cursing by Keyboard in the Early Morning

It's half past two, I'm still awake,
Typing madly, cursing mistakes.
Myriad tasks my ire rouse,
No end in sight, and my head aches.

Emphatic din of keys and mouse,
Resound throughout the tiny house.
Word just crashed with hard drive errors.
I scream in silence. (Can't wake my spouse.)

Word's "auto-save" denies my prayers;
Four thousand words beyond repair.
No cloud drive clone, I could just weep.
I start again, fraught with despair.

I long for blankets warm and deep,
But I have my deadlines to keep,
And hours to work before I sleep,
And hours to work before I sleep.


POSTSCRIPT:

While I admire Frost's usage of iambic tetrameter throughout this poem, I thoroughly dislike the rhyming scheme that he employed. Nevertheless, my trifle of a poetic offering is more or less a form of parody, so I tried my best to stay true to Frost's pattern.

Smile

Yet Another Fan Appreciation Post for Rush

My brother shared the following video on social media of Rush during their "R30" tour, in which they were celebrating their 30th anniversary. Despite having seen the video before, I quickly found myself wrapped up in nostalgia as I rewatched Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, and Neil Peart as they treated their fans to a musical retrospective of their storied career.

It's difficult to believe now, but the first time I saw the "Triumvirate from Toronto" in April of 1981, Lerxst and Dirk were just 27 years old and Pratt was just 28 - yet they were already on top of their game and the undisputed masters of progressive rock's heavier side. Rush was touring to support their Moving Pictures album, which came rapidly on the heels of their Permanent Waves, Hemispheres, A Farewell to Kings, and - of course - 2112 albums.

There are few bands who have managed to release a comparable collection of monumental, musical masterpieces in so short a time. The Boys from Willowdale join the ranks of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Yes, and a handful of others whose sphere of influence spans across tens of thousands of other world-class musicians.

While I admit that the occasional uneducated malcontent will utter some senseless trifle like, "...but I don't like Geddy's voice," those people can easily be discounted because they're generally not musicians. To put that another way, if you're a musician and you've seen Rush, then you know.


UPDATE: This post used to link to "https://youtu.be/F9NTk0qG1Ig" for the video.