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Can the Waldorff-Astoria contain the egos of the Van Halen contingency alone?

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inducts Van Halen, R.E.M., Patti Smith, Grandmaster Flash, and The Ronettes

Van Halen has made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Let the battle begin.

The list of inductees for the 2007 class is impressive :  R.E.M., Patti Smith, Van Halen, The Ronettes, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

There are some great names in that list, and some timeless recordings from them.  Van Halen, on multiple levels, is the most fun.  I bet VH-1 is kicking themselves for allowing this year to be the year their contract to televise the ceremony lapses .  The spectacle that could ensue, when three of the most runaway egos in the history of rock collide, could be a thing of legends.

For those of you who don't know the story, Van Halen became one of the premier hard rock bands of the '80s mostly due to the showmanship of frontman David Lee Roth and the guitar acrobatics of Eddie Van Halen.  After several successful albums and tours, culminating in the landmark 1984, David Lee Roth left the band and was replaced by Sammy Hagar.  Much silly squabbling, name-calling, and acrimony followed — and that was just among the legions of Van Halen fans who debated the merits of the respective lineups ad nauseum.

Of course, there was a lot of sniping between the two camps.  Sam and Ed took numerous shots at Dave, and Dave frequently fired back.  In fact, legend has it Van Halen named their album OU812 (Oh, you ate one, too) in response to Roth's Eat 'Em and Smile.  Classy. 

Sammy's run in Van Halen was likely every bit as commercially successful, despite some fan bitching, and perhaps exceeded Dave's run in the minds of some critics.  Everything seemed hunky dory in Camp Van Halen during the Hagar regime until it all came crashing down and Sammy either quit or was fired.  Not to be outdone, Sammy and Eddie made sure the bickering that had gone on when Roth left the band was nothing compared to the infantile nonsense that occurred following Sam's ouster.

As Sam left, Dave got back in the band.  Briefly.  Dave sang two songs on the first Van Halen compilation.  Eddie quickly remembered why he could not stand Dave, and Dave was sent packing.  Enter… Gary Cherone.  Nothing united Van Halen fans quicker than the hiring of the former Extreme frontman.  Dave fans and Sammy fans absolutely hated III, the album featuring Cherone.  Cherone was quickly shown the door.  Rumors of a Roth reunion came and went.  Sammy returned for a brief stint that again ended badly.  Following this, bassist Michael Anthony was apparently shown the door as well.  His replacement?  Eddie's son Wolfgang.

I recycle all of this because when Van Halen is inducted into the Hall of Fame, any and all of these guys just might attend.  Hell, it is tradition for the inducted bands to perform.  Which configuration of this rock 'n' roll trapezoid will appear on stage?  Michael or Wolfie?  Sammy or Dave?  Will there be jabs of one type or another thrown?  Will Valerie Bertanelli show up?  Just how juvenile will these guys be leading up to and during the event? 

Less exciting but more satisfying for me will be the induction of R.E.M.  I was late to the R.E.M. party because in the days of my youth I was listening to Van Halen and their brethren.  I still like some of the classic Van Halen, but I have traded in some of the other hair metal acts of the '80s and R.E.M. was one of those replacement bands.  I considered them an upgrade over Cinderella.  So does the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Even though founding drummer Bill Berry left the band in the late '90s, it is a safe bet he will be in attendance and on-stage during the band's celebratory performance.  David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar left under childish, acrimonious circumstances, Berry simply retired.  He has appeared at a handful of the band's gigs since his retirement and will almost certainly be present this spring.  It will be a wonderful sight and sound to behold.  I wonder which two songs they might play (bands rarely play more than that at these events).  Will both songs come from the Berry era (Murmur through New Adventures in Hi-Fi) or will they choose to play one from the post-Berry records (Up through Around the Sun).

I know there are a lot of fans clinging to the belief they never did anything worthwhile when they left indie-label I.R.S. for Warner Brothers.  Not me.  They would have earned the induction if they released nothing but Automatic for the People.  That they made some great records before that and a fistful of great songs after is gravy.  If I were to choose, I would select one song from the I.R.S. years and one from the Warner.  I would choose… "Fall on Me" and "Nightswimming." 

As for Ms. Patti, The Ronettes, and Grandmaster Flash… I am sure they are all deserving on one level or another.  R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe might be giving an introductory speech and an acceptance speech all on the same night as he has been an avid fan of Smith's work for many years.  I have not listened to much of her work and what I did hear did not register with me but it has been praised by many a critic. 

Grandmaster Flash represents perhaps the first hip hop artist to make the Hall.  Pity, that.  Let hip hop have its own Hall of Fame- far, far away from my Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Of course, if it were my Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grandmaster would not be the first to get evicted- just the first to get evicted before even getting moved in. 

For reasons defying all understanding, the induction ceremony will take place in New York, while the Hall itself is located in Cleveland.  The Class of 2007 will be inducted in March.

About Josh Hathaway

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