Saturday, March 22, 2014

No. 75 – Hot for Teacher

Performer: Van Halen
Songwriters: Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth
Original Release: 1984
Year: 1984
Definitive Version: None.

When Scott was a kid, he used to have those Choose Your Adventure books. This entry allows you, the reader (or even readers), to choose your blog. You can choose the short version or long. It’s up to you.

The short version:

Great video. Don’t go to any performer’s opening show if you can avoid it. You might regret it.

The long version:

I haven’t thought it all the way through, but if Hot for Teacher isn’t my favorite video of all time, it has to be in the top 5. What’s not to like? It’s funny, loaded with hot babes and is, of course, for a great song. The video, combined with I’ll Wait (good ol’ No. 707), got me to turn the corner on Van Halen.

Scott saw them on the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour as a guest of a friend in 1991, and he became a fan almost instantly. He said it was the best crowd he’d seen.

So on our Toronto trip in 1992, Scott brought along a Van Halen mix tape, and it was one of the musical cornerstones then. I asked Scott to make me a copy, and he did. He also made a copy of a bootleg he found—he’s always been king of the boots—and used a picture he made of me holding up the Van Halen OU812 sign next to the CN Tower that he used as a tape cover.

I listened to those tapes a lot for the next year—as well as an audio tape I’d made of Live Without a Net—so I was ready to rock in 1993 when Van Halen announced they were going to tour to support … well, I guess the huge success of Right Now (actually a live album of the same name).

The tour would launch in June at Pine Knob in Clarkston down the road a few miles from my place in Grand Blanc, so I told Scott: Come on up. We’ll do a little tailgating in the parking lot and take in the show. Van Halen were going to do a two-night stand, and I got tickets for the opening night.

I hadn’t been to Pine Knob since Midnight Oil destroyed my hearing in 1990. Scott and I arrived early and pulled into the parking lot close to the amphitheater. Let the great tailgating begin.

We set up a couple folding chairs and a small charcoal grill and did brats and beer. It never occurred to me that what we were doing was illegal. I just assumed it was OK—who doesn’t tailgate in the parking lot of an outdoor venue—but we were the only ones I saw tailgating. No one stopped us, so I guess it was OK, or at least we avoided security.

Vince Neil, recently booted out of Motley Crue, was the opening act, and he was comically terrible. Scott and I, perched at the top of the hill—as far away as you can get from the stage and still be in Pine Knob—mocked the over-the-hill hair-metal boy trying to be Kurt Cobain about as much as humanly possible.

Mercifully, his 30 minutes ended, and it was time to get serious. I was ready to be wowed as much as Scott had been in 1991. It would be the final transformation in my becoming a full-fledged Van Halen fan. It was a final act, all right, but not the one I expected.

Instead of coming out under cover of darkness and launching full roar into something like There’s Only One Way to Rock in 1986 or Poundcake in 1991, they sort of ambled out in broad daylight and lurched mildly into a song I didn’t know. What the Hell? New tour, new setlist apparently.

Unfortunately, that was pretty much the whole show in a microcosm: What the Hell? There was no spark, no energy, and every time it seemed they were building momentum, they’d shift gears and do a slow song or a long-winded solo and let the air out of the crowd. Sammy never strapped on his geetar except during his solo stint—all keyboards were backing tracks—and that seemed to make a huge difference.

They certainly didn’t do this song. Scott and I weren’t expecting it anyway, but we agreed there had been a perfect opportunity for it, right after Alex’s Caribbean-tinged drum solo. Its funkiness had the crowd going, and it would have been perfect to come out of that right into Hot for Teacher. It would have ignited the crowd for sure, but it didn’t happen.

So the show was a huge letdown. Given the buildup, it was the worst concert I’d ever seen until the Prince debacle in 2012. (Google “Chicago Prince opening night 2012,” and you’ll see what I mean.)

Later, I heard that Eddie had been drunk and pretty out of it that night. I also heard that the spark that had been missing that first night was there the next, at least according to the reviewers who were there (Rolling Stone, Doug). In fact, Doug said the band apologized to the crowd repeatedly for the show the previous night, not that there would be any refund.

Well, that sucked, and although I still love some songs, my flirtation at becoming a full-fledged Van Halen ended unrequited.

No comments:

Post a Comment