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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Every single day since Oct. 6, I've listened to nothing but Van Halen. I mean that quite literally. Because that's the day the world lost one of the true legendary musicians and rock gods of all time — the revolutionary guitar wizard, Edward Van Halen.
I've been a fan for pretty much as long as I can remember. I grew up in Marshalltown, and we got MTV in our house in 1983 when I was 9 years old. I remember Van Halen before that, but still, the band's sixth album — its first true magnum opus of the video era, '1984' — was released several months afterward and it wasn't long before 'Jump,' 'Panama' and 'Hot For Teacher' were in heavy rotation on a loop.
Before them, heavy music always had a certain darkness surrounding to it — Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, Kiss, Iron Maiden.
But not Van Halen.
Frontman David Lee Roth was brash and flamboyant, and Eddie? Man, he was always smiling. The only word to describe them? Joy. Pure joy.
But personally, the band has always held a special place in my heart. You see, Van Halen was the first rock concert I ever attended — May 26, 1986. Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Des Moines. I was 12 years old.
The only thing that could have made the day better? Me being five years older with a job and a driver's license, so I could have attended the Iowa Jam earlier in the day at the Iowa State Fairgrounds (Metallica played that day … with Cliff Burton, who was killed four months later in a tour bus accident on Sept. 27 of that year).
Getting off track here … let's come back to that.
As The Gazette started its preparation for the 2020 college football season, I began digging into our archive for old Iowa and Iowa State content, often doing so while I was buried in a Van Halen deep dive, blasting their music every night for a month and celebrating the life of one of my true-blue heroes.
One night, I stumbled upon a magnificent gem of a Gazette file photo and promptly tweeted it out:
On that day (Sept. 13, 1986), Roth — by then riding the wave of a burgeoning solo career after exiting Van Halen in 1985 — strode onto the Kinnick Stadium turf at halftime and performed a jubilant version of his hit, 'Yankee Rose,' with the Iowa State marching band. 'Diamond Dave' was holding court that weekend around Iowa, playing shows at both Hilton Coliseum in Ames and Five Seasons Center in Cedar Rapids.
Overnight, the tweet caught the eye of Iowa and Iowa State football fans, several of them tagging friends, old classmates, nostalgia sites and even ex-Hawkeyes, one of which was the very player I named in the tweet — former Iowa quarterback Mark Vlasic, who had replaced Hawkeye legend Chuck Long under center in 1986 and led the Hawkeyes to a dominating 43-7 victory over the visiting Cyclones in the season opener.
Vlasic passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns that day in his first start, and helped turn former walk-on receiver Jim Mauro into a Hawkeye folk hero with a then-team record-tying three touchdown receptions, including another one from wingback Robert Smith.
Getting off track again ...
The tweet made enough rounds that it eventually caught the attention of several Van Halen fans, too, including historian Greg Renoff, author of the band's biography, 'Van Halen Rising,' and co-author of longtime Van Halen producer Ted Templeman's book, 'Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer's Life in Music.' After a short back-and-forth, Renoff mentioned to me that finding the footage of that day was his 'holy grail,' which was backed up when I discovered an old tweet of his from 2018:
Once Renoff quoted my tweet, more fans came out of the woodwork with memories and, even better, more photos.
After that, I wanted to help.
So I reached out to John Campbell, the retired sports director at KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids. I remembered from our years under the same roof that John had meticulously kept and archived all of his old footage.
I assumed he was the man on duty that day at Kinnick.
I assumed right. And John didn't disappoint.
'Sam, I do have the video you are looking for. He was wearing colorful tights and a hat and just kind of going crazy,' he emailed me.
Score. Awesome stuff.
It's been a fun trip down memory lane. That year, I was 12 going on 13. I vividly remember an argument not only among my own friends, but the rock community at large — 'Van Halen or Dave, who's better now?'
The Van Halen show I attended actually was 'Van Hagar,' i.e., the new version of the group fronted by veteran rocker Sammy Hagar. The first album with the new-look lineup to feature the updated sound, '5150,' was released in March and was a multiplatinum smash.
Meanwhile, after testing the waters with his hit 1985 EP, 'Crazy from the Heat,' Roth returned with a bang in July with his full-length debut, 'Eat 'Em and Smile,' with a sound more akin to old-school Van Halen, thanks in part to Roth finding his very own guitar virtuoso in Steve Vai.
In my group of friends, Roth was the clear winner. But I was the outlier. Because of my experience at Vets, it was Van Halen all the way. I assure you it was a life-altering experience for this kid. But I will admit Dave had the better opening act — he had Cinderella on tour that fall. I had to watch Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
But now? In 2020? Van Halen is just Van Halen. It's all great.
Rest in power, EVH.
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