I love Van Halen. I always have. When I was a kid, that was one of the first bands of my obsession. When David Lee Roth went solo, I followed his solo career and became a DLR fan. That's how I was introduced to the guitar sorcery of Steve Vai. It was also around that time I learned of Joe Satriani and his special relationship with Vai, and the endless teenage headbanger debates over who was the greatest guitarist in the world took up a disproportionate amount of my time.
When Vai left Van Halen, he joined Whitesnake — another band I loved — and made a solo record. Those were good times. I was sorry to see him leave Dave, but I was convinced Vai would join a band I loved and make them even better. I was pretty sure of that at the time. Looking back on Slip Of The Tongue, I'm not sure I was right.
It was also around that time that Vai released a solo record called Passion & Warfare. The metal dweeb in me could not wait to get that record and I have faint memories of buying it at a record store in SouthCenter Mall out in Seattle. I remember buying it and listening to it and just not getting it. I was used to Satriani's style of instrumental guitar and Passion & Warfare was not that. I didn't understand it. I'd read interviews with Vai and listen to him 'explain' it and I'd listen to it again, often disappointed because it still didn't register for me.
The one exception on that record was "Sister." I could hear it. I could feel it. It connected with me, on my terms, where I was at that time. Even then I understood how strange it was that this should be the song that clicked for me, because it is no exhibition of dazzling chops nor was it an exercise in stupid teenage aggression. It is a jazzy piece of music with nuance and texture, and let me assure you, kids, nuance was lost on me at age 17. Yet there it was, this simple, elegant piece of music.
Like Phil Keaggy's "The Journey Home," this song has a distinct beginning, middle, and climactic end. Vai establishes the theme and repeats it with subtle variations before dropping out, introducing a related but different theme before bringing back the original melody, this time feeling just a little more dramatic.
I can't tell you how many times I rewound my cassette, listening to this song. I played air guitar to that song. I even learned the drum fills and periodically dropped my air guitar to pick those up. I still see my old bedroom when I listen to it, and think about the hours I spent listening to this one song.