Billie Eilish and Van Halen

When noticed earlier today that Van Halen was trending on social media, I first assumed that David Lee Roth or Eddie Van Halen had died. But, as Billie Eilish would say “duh.” It’s click bait. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel set Eilish up with a nice viral marketing campaign. She doesn’t know who Van Halen is. Well “duh.” She’s 17-years-old and even back in the early 1980s pretty much anybody who had any taste knew that Van Halen sucked. Seriously my fellow late Boomers and early Gen Xers, back me up on this. Van Halen was about two things. Eddie Van Halen could play his guitar fast. David Lee Roth could do splits on stage. They were one of the most soulless, empty, corporate hair bands ever to come out of Los Angeles. Like every other hair band they became instantly irrelevant the moment Kurt Cobain said “here we are now. Entertain us.”

Van Halen was the band with the guitarist who could shred and the lead singer who could do flying splits on stage you silly teenager.

Interestingly enough, that a 33 or34-year-old woman with the user name “Bernie Bro Star,” a hard core Sanders activist, doesn’t know who Van Halen is, reminded me that in 1980 I was probably one of the few people who knew about Bernie Sanders and didn’t care about Van Halen. My aunt lived in Colchester Vermont, and we would often drive up to visit. That year I noticed Bernie’s signs all over Burlington, and, out of curiosity, I decided to defy my mother’s strict rule against talking about politics or religion and ask my aunt who he was.

“Oh he’s just some Jewish communist from New Jersey all the French and the dirty hippies are voting for this year.”

(OK. I’ve taken a bit of poetic license with my aunt’s response but it was something like that.)

Later on that Summer, we drove up to my cousin’s wedding, which, believe it or not, was held in a roller skating rink just outside of Mt. Bethel Pennsylvania. Unless you’re fellow Boomer or Gen Xer you have no idea how big roller skating was for a brief moment in America in the 1970s. It was like the culture industry was looking around for the next disco and for a cultural millisecond hit on roller skates.

See what you missed by not being alive in the 1970s?

It’s also hard to remember just how big Southern California hair bands were in rural, redneck America. When the DJ at the roller rink started playing disco, my other cousin, a pure American hillbilly with tattoos, a Ford F-150 and a collection of firearms jumped up and started yelling “disco sucks. Disco sucks.” He had obviously had a few beers. “Put on Van Halen. Put on Van Halen,” he shouted. When the DJ finally got around to playing “Dance the Night Away” I was distinctly unimpressed. Unlike my brother, I never had any desire to be part of a hair band, play the guitar or “shred.” Later on, when I saw David Lee Roth on MTV I had to concede that yes, he could do leaping splits on stage and was probably better than I was at karate.

I think if you told me back in 1980 that 40 years later young people would make Bernie Sanders the front runner for the Democratic nomination for President and not have a clue who Van Halen was, I probably would have thought you were crazy. First of all, I didn’t think I would be alive in 2019. At some point in 1980 I had stopped doing my homework because I thought there was going to be a nuclear war. What’s more, nobody back in 1980 respected politicians and everybody worshiped rock stars. Rock stars back then were just about the only thing young people did take seriously. How much better Millennials and Zoomers are than we Boomers and Gen Xers. They get it. We didn’t. They want a better world. We just bought whatever the culture industry was selling us.

Jimmy Kimmel — and it’s sad how much more hair my fellow early Gen Xer has than I do — is wrong about one thing. By 1984, when he was 17 and I was 19, Van Halen was pretty much irrelevant. They held on for a bit longer because Michael Jackson — in a clever move to be one of the only black people they put on MTV — tapped Eddie Van Halen to play the guitar on Beat It, what at the time I thought was about masturbation but apparently it wasn’t. Van Halen’s own music had gone rancid and borderline offensive. In the music video for their song “Hot for Teacher,” for example, women well into their 20s and even 30s do a strip tease act for a group of 12-year olds.

Is this shitty hair band joking about pedophilia is still culturally relevant to Generation Z?

Billie Eilish, on the other hand, avoids being edgy for the sake of being edgy and declares herself the “might seduce your dad type.” Hey wait. Eeew. “Might seduce your dad type.” Aside from replacing strippers with fat guys with synchronized bouncing pot bellies and and older muscle head she’s creepily sitting on while he’s doing pushups, I guess she’s really not much different from Van Halen after all. She’s just a different and much younger kind of edgy. Then again, I doubt she came up with the concept for the music video herself. It was probably some Boomer or Gen Xer who’s a fan of The Exorcist. So he’s being “edgy.” She’s a “bad guy,” just some little girl who’s demonically possessed. She’s seizing being edgy back from the dudes.

I’m pretty sure at least part of this music video is an homage to the Exorcist.
Billie Eilish in the 1970s. She’s that bad type. Might spew projectile vomit on your priest type.

2 comments

  1. Don’t these people have parents? Billie’s mom, a musician, was born in 1959 so she must have a record collection she played for her children, both of whom are also musicians. She would certainly know who Van Halen is. I didn’t grow up in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s but I know most of the popular bands because of my parents’ record collection and also hearing this music on the radio and TV.

    I find it hard to believe any 20-something or younger can plead ignorance about anything before their birth when nearly every memento of 20th century pop culture is online. The most obscure one-hit-wonder band of any year probably has a video playlist on YouTube.

    1. First and foremost it’s a viral marketing campaign designed to get Zoomers and their Gen X parents talking about Billie Eilish. Parents who are pissed at Billie Eilish for not knowing who Van Halen are are most likely to buy their kids her records for Christmas than parents who have never heard of her. Kimmel should get a cut of the profits.

      She knew who Cyndi Lauper and Madonna are and I’m sure she knows who Michael Jackson was. I’d bet she even knows who Michael Stipe and Neil Young are. But hair metal is a very specific Gen X/Boomer cultural phenomenon. That’s what really struck me about it. How could something that was so incredibly big in working class, New Jersey in the 1980s have been so utterly forgotten.

      I don’t think a decade is a big deal. I was born in the mid-60s and I grew up listening to the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane. I also knew who Johnny Ray was because my mother was such a big fan that she said she married my father because she saw a resemblance. I also knew who Elvis was because they played Elvis movies on Channel 9. But I don’t think I would have had any idea who the giants of the 1930s and 1940s were. I don’t think I had ever heard of Duke Ellington until I moved to Duke Ellington Boulevard (106th Street) in my late 20s.

      I kind of like Billie Eilish, if only because she’s consciously creepy and weird and because her singing isn’t based on autotune the way so many other bands are. Yeah, there’s autotune there but it’s a recognizably human voice. I hate most current pop music. Every time I hear that song “Closer” by the Chain Smokers at the gym I feel like slitting my own throat. Post Malone literally makes me cringe.

      p.s. Did I say records? God I’m old. Can I get an “OK Boomer?”

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