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Interviews
David Lee Roth

::. Dave's Links




"The Ice Cream Man Cometh"
By: Lyndsey Parker

Launch.com (December 22, 1997)

15 years ago, Van Halen asked the immortal question, "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" Well, the answer is obvious: the good times left when original lead singer David Lee Roth did. Any real rock fan knows that the Cabo Wabo schlock 'n' roll of Van Hagar could never compare with the colossal thrill of Roth Unchained. College-rockers Nerf Herder even wrote an ode to vintage VH, simply titled "Van Halen," lamenting the demise of the once-mighty rock titans. And now, as former Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone faces the insurmountable challenge of living up to the Diamond Dave's loud legend by becoming Halen's third lead singer, it'll take "more than words" to describe how far the band has fallen from the glory days of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and "Runnin' With The Devil." Jamie isn't the only one who's cryin' now.

But all the good times aren't really gone. It's true that Van Halen have enjoyed more commercial success during the 12 years that have passed since the Yankee Rose took off on a wildly unpredictable solo career, but Dave's still partying like it's 1984. And you can read all about it in his new autobiography Crazy From The Heat--a colorful collection of rambling and ranting rock 'n' roll stories that more than lives up to its title. Covering everything from anti-Semiticism to censorship, from the post-breakup Van Halen feud to Roth's brief stint as a Vegas showman, from the infamous marijuana bust to the infamous so-called Halen reunion of '96, from the "no brown M&Ms" urban legend to hard-learned lessons about the corrupt music biz, from Roth's much-touted sexual exploits to his travels all over the Third World...Crazy From The Heat tells you everything you always wanted to know about David Lee Roth but couldn't get a word in edgewise to ask.

The publishing of Crazy From The Heat coincides with the release of The Best, Dave's greatest-hits disc, which not only includes such onetime MTV/ Dave TV favorites as "Yankee Rose," "A Li'l Ain't Enough," "California Girls" and "Just A Gigolo/ I Ain't Got Nobody," but the previously-unreleased bonus track "Don't Piss Me Off"--which, judging from the bold, unapologetic and uncompromising tone of Dave's book, is well-heeded advice.

So, as Dave prepares to return to the studio for his next long-overdue foray into the world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll--just as his former bandmates continue their downward spiral into bar-band mediocrity--he unchains his filthy little mouth for this hilarious, candid, exclusive interview. Like his book, he jumps erratically from one subject to another (note how his answers often have nothing to do with the questions asked), laughing hysterically at his own jokes and offering bizarre anecdotes without any prompting whatsoever. And of course, it all makes for one highly entertaining conversation. Keep on reading and you'll see that when it comes to being interviewed, Dave's motto is still "A Li'l Ain't Enough."

Launch: Your book Crazy From The Heat has a real conversational, vernacular style to it. Is it actually compiled from transcriptions of you talking?

DLR: It's exactly that! I've never written anything longer than lyrics on a piece of paper, and I'm not about to attempt to become an author now! What I did is I got one of those brand-new Sony digital things about half the size of your fist, and I hung it around my neck. Most people thought it was a fashion statement, like some sort of change purse I bought in Ibiza or something. Well, I would never wear a change purse, and I ain't never been to Ibiza, either. What I did was I hired a woman, a graduate from Princeton--a pretty girl who was about my height and even stronger, who plays roller hockey three times a week and is now in her second year of medical school--with the driest, most distant, most "so-show-me" sense of humor off the map. Go girlfriend! So I said I'll tell her my story, because storytelling is my forte. Having 36 stamps in my passport, I've been to enough places where all there is to do when the sun goes down is light a golden lantern and sit around rolling tobacco and telling stories to each other. So, for six nights a week, for between three and seven-and-a-half hours a night, for two months in a row, I told her my story, and figured if I could make her laugh and make her cry and make her fall in love with me and get her to want to kill me and those wonderful things that we do with each other, well then, we've gotta helluva story!

Launch: So I assume you succeeded on all counts?

DLR: Whew! Y'know, she was banging and kicking at my door until six o'clock this morning, and finally I said, "Oh, the hell with it!" and let her out!

Launch: So are you coming out with a Book-On-Tape of Crazy From The Heat?

DLR: Well, for the b-side of my single, I did a reading of the first chapter. But between the greatest-hits CD and the book itself, I think there's plenty of Diamond Dave in the aisleways!

Launch: I think doing a Book-On-Tape would be a great idea, to hear your words in your voice.

DLR: Oh, I've recorded 23 hours already! I recorded the entire book! You know, people usually edit you to three-and-a-half hours or so when you do a spoken-word thing on tape; it's abridged. [In an exaggerated French accent] I will cut notheenk! I am zee artiste!

Launch: You could turn into a Dave Of The Month audiobook club, where each month you get another two-hour installment. That would take about a year to finish.

DLR: Y'know, my way of reading--we grow up in school learning that [in robot voice] WHEN YOU READ SOMETHING YOU FLATTEN OUT INTO A MONOTONE. PLEASE STAND BACK FROM THE RAILING. Well, I don't read like that. There's a whole lot of extra asides, 'cause as I read these epics and sagas, I generally make fun of them along the way. C'mon, don't you? Every other paragraph is like, "Oh, that's bullshit!" And you laugh out loud as you read it out loud. So my version of spoken-word is perhaps a bit left of the usual center. People say, "There's a little bit of philosophy in here." Well, I come from the land of the hubcap and the clothesline--and the hubcap is for the kids to play in! You know--with the little sprinkler that you hook up at the end of the hose and it kinda goes back and forth and there's this five-finger spray and this little barking collie dog trying to bite the water? Got the picture? That's where I come from. Geographically and spiritually!

Launch: Now, your book was originally 1200 pages long?!

DLR: Actually 1300 pages. There were no questions asked, this was not interview format, there was no directive whatsoever. I perceived that this was like if you ran into me at one of our finer local drinking establishments, and just as all good conversations veer right off the road instantly and keep right on going--y'know, 20 or 30 drinks later it's like, "What was my original question, Bob?" You just keep rolling, that's the beauty of a conversation. You get on the back of a good one and you're never sure when you're gonna get off!

Launch: So what wound up on the cutting-room floor, when you whittled your manuscript from 1300 pages down to about 350 or so?

DLR: Oh, you know, the cultural impact of the '57 Chevy Bel Air Coupe, its political emphasis...

Launch: How long did it take you to go through it all and decide what to cut out and what to leave in?

DLR: Overall, probably three months. I brought in a fellow, Paul Scanlon, who was the managing editor for Rolling Stone in its golden years, which in my eye were the late '60s up through the early '80s. And I said, c'mon, let's make this into the requisite 300-and-some pages. I've always said, "Honey, if it's good, you want it to last, don't you?" Unfortunately, most of the literate public--although this book is designed for people who don't read--don't think of books like that. So you get the 300-and-change. Maybe there's two more books to follow! I don't know, why not? I was lucky to ride through a whole lot of really colorful phases in American as well as personal history--whether it was the movie Car Wash or the guy walking on the moon. I remember listening to the radio before Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay. That was when 16mm film had to be put on an airplane an flown to each city that showed it on television--Sputnik was something created by the Russians to spy on us as far as we were concerned, it was something out of a black-and-white monster movie. And all of that adds up to who I am, and rather than discussing how each song was bolted together--what was the exact and specific impetus behind this, and why did this note happen like that--let's tell a story that will illuminate all of that music, or any of those t-shirts that you may still have, in terms of, "Okay, now I understand why he talks like that! Now I know what he's doing with his leg!" This is why I might read somebody else's story. But as far as the note-for-note technical stuff, c'mon! I'm a card-carrying member of the great unwashed! Cut to the chase, man!

Launch: Speaking of cutting to the chase: many people probably thought that your book was going to be this scandalous, tell-all book, most of it just trashing Van Halen. But I think you come across in the book as pretty gracious to your ex-bandmates, as well as to Sammy Hagar. Did you hold back at all?

DLR: Everybody got off easy! Those pencil-weenies all got off easy and they better leave me alone. Beyond that, I'm proud of Van Halen! That was a great and furious team, and of course there's threats of physical violence and great reprimand and harangue and a whole bunch of stuff those pencil-dicks can't even spell! And they know that, and it makes them mad and they can't sleep at night and they fight with their loved ones and their children don't listen to them and their household pets refuse to obey! And all that angst comes out in the music and sells millions of records! And that makes me lucky. If the guitar player would just show up, you and I would be drinking Eurotrash espressos in paper cups backstage at Giants Stadium tomorrow! Voila! Let me send the plane for you, darlin'! We could do that! And it may well be tomorrow, who knows? Eddie Van Halen--and I've said this before because I can't think of any better way to put it--has his own sense of logic, as do all people with some kind of vision, whether it's Eddie Van Halen or the Unabomber. He's using a logic and a program that I don't understand, but then again he leads a very different life than I do. When I was up there [with Van Halen], I was jamming with psychics and therapists and managers and agents and production geeks and somebody's wives. When I joined that band, there were four guys. I think there's a whole lot that has changed in Ed's life, but if it gives him solace and nourishes his very being, then God bless.

Launch: The Van Halen reunion dream is something many people just don't want to let go of. People get really excited about the possibility--the reaction you got at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards proves that. Even on the Gossip Show on E!, they said you were back in Van Halen again and Gary Cherone was out. People just don't want to let that dream die.

DLR: Well, as long as I'm hopping around and as long as I've maintained my sense of humor--and I hope I have--then why would it die? I'm better than ever, man! Why would it die? At worst, the review of the book in Publisher's Weekly--which I'm told is the Billboard Magazine of writing, reading and arithmetic--was, "David Lee Roth's transparent denial of growing up is in fact quite charming. Diamond Dave, may you remain forever young." And that's coming from the Harvard grad-school approach. The other end of the spectrum was Heavy-Metal-Edge-Blade magazine, which said the same thing, but in triplicate! Then right up the middle is Rolling Stone, which is fuddy-duddy. And I don't use the word fuddy-duddy often. The only one who hated it, I understand, was Rolling Stone. So what's new?

Launch: Do you think that's an attitude that's missing today--not necessarily in Van Halen per se, but in rock music in general--that sort of zest for life and hedonism, that rock 'n' roll attitude?

DLR: I think people want the balance more than ever. You know, plant an Ethiopian, feed the rain forest, save the ozone layer--you gotta have that! "Oh woe is me," as a form of self-dramatization, is always fun. It shouldn't be replaced, but there should be a balance. Sooner or later, it's Miller time! Sooner or later, there is some hallelujah, watusi-tailgate, light-up-the-goddamn-sky-it's-finally-the-weekend, okay? And I don't care whether you wear a cowboy hat or your hair is purple, I don't care if you have a wedding ring or a clit ring, sooner or later, there's Miller time! That doesn't mean simple belly laughs, and it doesn't mean high-brow. It just means, "Wanna go have a drink?"

Launch: Well, from reading your book I can say you have elevated recreation to a virtual art form: the backyard parties to used to play in high school, the pranks you played on your bandmates, the publicity stunts you pulled, the huge BBQ blowouts you gave while on tour...

DLR: Somebody asked Picasso once, "What is art?" and he replied, "What is it?" If you perceive every single thing you do as an art project, you'll drive your manager and your spouse crazy, but your audience will hang on to you for up to and beyond 20 years! This is a "here today, gone later today" type of business, and the average lifespan of a singing-and-dancing-for-dinner somebody is what, three years? Three years and gone. So it's not just to be grandiose and attract attention, but rather to make your life in general "survival in style." You know, when you go climbing up to base camp at Mount Everest, they've got bottles of wine up there! You gotta survive in style! It's what separates us from the dogs. Dogs survive.

Launch: So how did you develop this taste for the finer things in life?

DLR: Reading. I learned about a whole lot of it, or at least the approach, from reading how other people did it, or reading how others thought it should be done.

Launch: Like who?

DLR: Everybody from Robert Louis Stevenson to Henry Miller. Everybody from James Clavell to James Bond! I said to somebody over at the gym the other day, "Behold the power and forge your body in the fire of your will!" And he said, "Is that the Bible?" And I said, "No, it's Spiderman, asshole, now get out of my way!" You follow my thinking? I read Tarzan Of The Apes and I thought to myself, "I'm going there!"

Launch: So if you were so influenced by books all your life, did you feel writing your own book would be a real challenge?

DLR: No. This was telling my own story. This is not the same as a novelist, this is closer to like, you ran into me and said, "So, what do you do?" And I said, "Well, I was born a small black child..." That was the approach.

Launch: You seem to be a pretty fearless person. You're not afraid to say what you think even if its unpopular, you're not afraid of acting silly, or stating your mind, or doing risky moves onstage, or mountain climbing, or traveling all over the world. How did you come to be such a courageous man?

DLR: I don't know if it's "courageous." My opinion may affect a record sale or a book sale, but not to any dramatic degree. I mean, I hope you love me, and I hope you love what I do. Hey folks, if you dig the book, tell a friend. And if you hate it, tell an enemy, asshole, 'cause I'm gonna still be here! Tomorrow, and the day after, and for the whole rest of my life! But that's not really "courage"--nobody's firing an automatic weapon at me, nobody's threatening to kill the household pet, there's no compound fractures coming from any specific direction in the foreseeable future! It's just a lot of words and--oh my God!--hurt feelings! Somebody may say a bad thing and hurt my feelings! Oh no! Well hey you motherfucker, I'm gonna kick your ass from here to Jupiter. Now how's that? That you don't hear! That I only hear from Alex Van Halen, and it's meaningless. Until he gets his neck fixed my sister could kick his ass in a street fight.

Launch: I still think it is courageous to go out on a limb the way you do in general. Many people couldn't do what you do.

DLR: I have great respect for other people's opinions, even if I don't like 'em or take 'em. And I expect the same. I don't antagonize anyone in the book just for the sake of being antagonistic, to hurt someone or to ruin somebody's day; any time I name somebody or pin somebody there's some substance to it, or at least a reality to be looked at from a different point of view.

Launch: Do you think this book will shatter any myths people have about you?

DLR: No, I think people suspect me of everything under the sun. Anything I admit to, they'll go, "See? I told you! You can tell from his shoes!" I don't think this shatters any myths; if anything, it illuminates and perpetuates them. And it totally validates you as a detective!

Launch: Was there anything you were going to include in the book but then decided to leave out?

DLR: Not really. I was being prevailed by various powers-that-be to become even more exhaustive about some of the mud-slinging with Van Halen or perhaps some of those "behind-the-scenes" secrets. The Van Halens are very fond of slinging so-and-so's drinking problem versus so-and-so's recovery problem, Ed's therapist versus Dave's therapist, Ed's drinking versus Dave's drinking. I don't give a fuck what you drink! I don't care what you smoke or snort or what your breath smells like after midnight. I don't care about your sexual orientation. I don't care about any of it! Just shut your fucking mouth, plug in your guitar, and let's rumble! That's it, three points of interest: Shut up. Plug In. Let's go.

Launch: You've painted out the mud-slinging media war that took place after you left Van Halen to be perpetuated by your ex-bandmates. But would admit that you helped fan the flames?

DLR: What happens is, they're always going to ask you about it at every single interview. They'll ask for the rest of my career. Van Halen was a very, very powerful force in music, and as long as I retain my vitality it still could be. So it's always going to come up, and it's what the media chooses to dwell on. Yes, there were times when I would whirl upon my attackers. You bet. But Van Halen was clearly in a more settled position that I was, 'cause they didn't need to start a whole new band, and their vocalist in particular chose to abuse that...and abuse is the first-choice weapon of a coward every time. And you can only endure so much before the proverbial peanut gallery until your silence is translated as either guilt or weakness. And neither of those were in my backyard, so occasionally I had to turn and bitch-slap them back into the corner they came from.

Launch: It almost seemed like you were having fun with it, like it was another media stunt.

DLR: There are a lot of people who make a living off of my name. The only interesting thing about Van Halen, after the music stops, is me. It's not that I do so much, it's that they do so goddamn little! So okay, that's my forte, that's what I contribute to the great orchestra. But c'mon, what's the manager got to say that's of interest, unless he mentions my name? What's the drummer got to say that's of interest, unless he's mentioning my name? And the production guy and the singer and the agent and on and on and on...

Launch: Your name always comes up in Sammy Hagar interviews too, now that he's no longer in Van Halen either.

DLR: What is interesting about Sam Hagar? Dave Roth!

Launch: That's pretty sad for him.

DLR: Well, it's unfortunate, but he abused a position he inherited entirely through luck, and that's bad karma.

Launch: Have you talked to him since he left Van Halen? It's almost like you're now on the same side.

DLR: Yeah, now he's all apologetic. Sam is not my peer, and he's a mediocre talent at best. And that's why he's been dismissed by the public at large. Ed Van Halen would routinely look up into the sky and go, "It's as if Sam never even existed!" Well, that's right, Ed! What was your first clue, Ed?

Launch: Switching subjects, have you heard the Muzak-y version of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" by the Moog Cookbook or "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub" by Apollo Four Forty?

DLR: I've heard the one that's techno-dance ["Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub"]. What can I say, the music's rhythmic. I went to completely integrated school. I was in charge of testing for danceability, for all those early songs we had to play in clubs and bars where people were more interested in getting drunk and dancing. So that translates beautifully onto dance floors, or I guess you can slow it down and make it wedding music, 'cause it's got that swing! I love it when people do things like that; it translates back into the future. That classic Van Halen spirit still runs true. Old Van Halen made you want to have a drink, dance and fuck. Current Van Halen is pandering to us that we should drink milk and drive Japanese sports cars.

Launch: Another thing I wanted to ask you about was how you directed many of the early Van Halen videos as well as your solo videos. I didn't know that until I read your book.

DLR: Yes, "Yankee Rose" and "Gigolo" and "California Girls" were made in a time when MTV was way more free-style. It had not grown into the royal court that it is now--it was a border town! Anything and everything went and it was debauched and the board of directors was corrupt, like railroad barons in the Wild West hiring paid gunmen! If today we made "California Girls," I'm convinced it would be the number-one video for the rest of the year, but today they wouldn't put in on the air if it was brand-new. There's a different government. MTV is like Haiti--the government changes radically and you have no idea what's acceptable or unacceptable at any specific time. At the time, "California Girls" cost about $300,000 to make, so today it'd cost over half a million. I would only spend that kind of money if I knew the climate was supportive of it. Otherwise, it'd be kind of a sin. I mean, I tell the guy at the deli to make the sandwich small so I won't have to throw it away! So to spend 500,000 bucks making a film all for naught--which is always the chance you take, whether it's MTV or an art gallery--I don't know. I'll bet dinner on my singing and dancing abilities, but in terms of making that video, hmmm...

Launch: Have you ever considered directing other artists' videos?

DLR: Uh, no thank you. I don't have the patience for other people's artistic pace. I spend so much time on what it is that I do as an artist, that the percentage of time that's left over, I'd rather go down to the sea in ships or, I don't know, there's about 500 books I haven't read yet, or let's go take a five-hour walk somewhere humid. It's more time spent, and other people's opinions and contributions take time to digest and to make sure all the best mistakes stay in the picture. By the time you're done, it's already rainy season again.

Launch: It was interesting to read about the movie you were going to make that ended up never happening. Do you ever think you'll try another project like that again?

DLR: I don't know. Once again, this was on the heels of massively popular videos that came without restraint. The movie was cut from the same stone; we had no restraints. It was the same staff, the same technical approach, the same spirit behind this movie that I'd used to make the videos. That era--and it literally was an era--was some summers ago. I don't know that you could make a movie today without all the prerequisite restraints and constraints that come with financing and production and so forth. You're talking about the mid-'80s compared to the late '90s. It's very different economic and professional climate to operate in; it's a lot more conservative and tight-fisted. In the mid-'80s there was a lot more money bouncing around and society as a whole was bouncing around. There was a couple of good wars going on, a lot more jobs available. Now we're just coming out of our recent crunch economically. Stay tuned. If Bosnia goes wrong, as I predict, we'll all be employed! We'll all have new stereos! And the American automobiles to drive 'em around in, honey!

Launch: Is it true that every song from Eat 'Em And Smile corresponded to a specific scene in your never-made movie?

DLR: Yes. And it was not only scripted out, but storyboarded scene-for-scene, and was ready to go. It had been completely costumed; to this day I have $70,000 worth of costumes, ranging from the Cannibal King to my road manager/ pimp Julius, sitting in my house in Los Angeles. When CBS Pictures went under, suddenly we were without a home, and to transfer a $10 million picture quickly in Los Angeles...well, "quickly" and "Los Angeles" just doesn't go together! It's like the expression "Santa Fe Style"--it doesn't go together. One of the reasons to live and work in Los Angeles is so that one is able to move with the lightning speed of Creeping Dutch Elm Disease. With the blinding, quick spirit of a glacier. You know how some people practice holding their breath so they can swim the length of a swimming pool? We do that from August to December. Happy hour in Los Angeles is from five 'til February. Okay? So you can't transfer a $10 million production from one studio to the next, especially when you look at who's behind the wheel here. C'mon--my haircut's all wrong and my clothes aren't right. Would you let someone like me fly an airplane for ya?

Launch: [No answer]

DLR: See? Hear that pause? That's what's known as "pregnant." So I differ from other directors probably more in this respect than any other: I have an actual job, what I do in rock 'n' roll. And as things bog quite predictably and evidently in terms of major-movie-mogul-movie-making, then hey, it's time to hit the road. I was like, let's just release the album--which was already done--and let's go on the road!

Launch: I think it's fascinating that Eat 'Em And Smile was like a concept album, a soundtrack album. I'd love to know what scene each song went with.

DLR: Use your own filthy little imagination--it's better than anything I can write, I'm sure! No, really, the script still exists somewhere. Who knows?

Launch: That's what's so great about your book: I found out about all these hidden rock archives like that script. Or like the recording and video you did with your jazz ensemble, the Ice Cream Man Band. Is that ever going to be released?

DLR: Sooner or later, of course it will. It's not part of any greater vision. It's a left-hand turn, a vacation. Being diverse is easy, compared to finding a thread musically and lyrically as a musician. To create a signature sound and find something that is thematic and runs true through all of your music is the difficult part. Being wildly diverse and saying, "Okay, today I'm a reggae band, tomorrow I'm a brass band"--that's easy, and I do that as vacations purely. My straight-and-true through-and-through is hard rock, real hard rock. And that's what I am pursuing now: guitars, guitars!

Launch: Do you have any other unreleased recordings in your vaults?

DLR: Yes, and slowly but surely they'll come out. You know, throw a little spice in the rice. But the overall for me is red meat and potatoes, so I'm currently hooked up with Carmine Appiece on drums and Billy Sheehan from the Eat 'Em And Smile gang. And we have the guy who's engineered everything from Bryan Adams to the last few Van Halen albums, actually. He's looking for a smile again, too!

Launch: So when are you going to start recording that?

DLR: Well, what time is it?

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Interview © 1997 Launch.com


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