Runnin with the Devil – A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen – by Noel Monk and Joe Layden
If you went to high school in the early 1980s as I did, going to a Van Halen concert gave you instant access to “The Cool Kid’s Table”. Nobody put on a show as wild and as raunchy as these guys did. Forget about a “quality” show, these guys basically delivered a 2-hour party when they performed. They toured so regularly back then, that if you did miss a show, it wasn’t THAT big of a deal because odds were that they would be back to your town next year, and would basically put on the same wild show.
Author Noel Monk was the band’s road manager, and later manager of the band during those days, and this book is essentially a backstage pass. (My guess is co-author Joe Layden collaborated in terms of flow and providing Monk with a thesaurus to give the book a lot of big, unnecessary words.) When we get an intimate glimpse into the life of Van Halen, we pretty much see what we expect. There’s a lot of cocaine, alcohol, fighting, cocaine, groupies, jail, cocaine, sex, debauchery, and more cocaine. Dare I say that, although this book really doesn’t feature any startling revelations that most fans don’t already know, it’s still a fun, quick read.
Give credit to the author for not boring us with his own life story, or the life story of the band members themselves. He’s smart enough to know what the reader wants, and cuts immediately to the chase. We first meet the band when they start a tour to support their first album (in support of Journey and Montrose), which is when Monk enters their lives as road manager.
We also already know that David Lee Roth and the Van Halen brothers are basically jerks, and that Michael Anthony, ironically, is a very sweet guy. So Anthony doesn’t get a lot of attention in the book. Even though we end up not really liking the other three, the author does a good job giving them credit where credit is due, and spends a fair amount of time sharing good times as well as bad with each of them.
Although the author would become the band’s manager, the main focus here is the touring. More specifically, what when on backstage after the show was over. If you’re looking for a book that spends entire chapters on the making of each album, you’ll be disappointed. Each album gets very little page space, yet in a strange way, this is forgivable. In fact, it’s probably welcome. I’ve always been of the opinion that these guys never would have been popular had it not been for their live shows. It seems like in most cases, a new album was made because it was necessary – and helpful, so the band could schedule yet another tour around it. Plus, Monk states over and over again that he rarely went to their recording sessions anyway. No, he was mainly needed, it seems, to put out fires during the tour and make sure that the show went on, despite all of the X-rated drama.
Not surprisingly, the band imploded during the 1984 tour. In addition to the 3 members firing Michael Anthony (he would stay with the band only as a salaried player for the next 20 years), they also fire Monk at this time. Why? Who can really say. Since Roth and the Van Halen brothers were drunk and stoned all the time, they probably just had to let off some steam. As Monk states in the book, after his firing he never saw the band again.
So, naturally, after he’s sacked, the story ends. He feels that it would be wrong to comment much about the band after his departure, and that’s a fair feeling. Personally, I would have loved another chapter where he could reflect on all the nastiness after he left, and just provide some thoughts around the highlights. Maybe “lowlights” is a better word. Again, fans know that the drama just got worse in the later years – not surprising when you consider that Edward Van Halen has basically fired everyone in the band that wasn’t related to him at one time or another.
So it’s rock and roll. Sometimes rock and roll just isn’t pretty. Everything in this book is pretty much what you would expect. I would say this is a must read for fans – even if the internet has probably already given you access to most of these stories already.