“Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock,”
By Sammy Hagar
The most obvious question that everyone will ask is; do you get the dirt about Van Halen in this book or not? The eventual answer is yes, sandwiched between the story about his life and his career that lead up to his first invite to talk with the remaining band members after David Lee Roth left, then what happened after he was fired from the band when he couldn’t leave this second wife late in her pregnancy.
What happened before and after “Van Halen” is just as interesting as what happened during the “VH” years and makes “Red” a terrific read.
The background story into who Mr. Hagar is often painful. His parents constantly fought because of his father’s alcoholism and drifted from house to house around the town built around the local steel factory. Sammy caught the music bug and a strict work ethic around the same time, which had been hampered by his own drug use. He’s neither shy nor ashamed in giving the full catalog of what he tried and each effect they had. He wasn’t bashful at all when explaining how he came to the point in his life when he realized that the pot he was smoking (in excess) was standing in the way between him and the success he knew he was waiting for him.
From there, his life was consumed by his obsession in learning how to sing and play the guitar better than before while struggling to break into the music business. Mr. Hagar makes no bones about the fact that his drug use were like a deployed anchor dragging the ocean bottom while trying to catch some wind in his sails and gain speed and maintain momentum. It wasn’t until brushes with rock bottom and getting pulled away from his path that he realized something had to change.
Interspersed with his stories about music and practicing to be a performer, Mr. Hagar also discusses his brushes with the supernatural that cross the gambit from fortune tellers to at least one alien abduction. The “upload” from the mysterious beings lead to him looking into numerology and the relationship between math equations and colors (Red and the number nine have a lot in common…) If these stories come from any other performer, a reader would have to throw the “BS” flag once or twice during each anecdote, but there’s something about these stories from Mr. Hagar that are so strange they ring true. There’s randomness to some of these stories that bring a touch of realism to these stories that make me believe that what he’s telling us is the truth or he missed his calling to be a great Science Fiction writer of our time.
Mr. Hagar also details his work-ethic beyond music and spells out his formula for success in his business ventures like his own brand of tequila and Cabo-Wabo club – if it’s not something he can’t pour his heart into, he’s not interested. If he can’t give it 100% of his passion and attention then he knows the project is doomed and he avoids that failure like it’s the plague. He explains why having a little money opens doors and success gives you the comfort and confidence to try new things. He could easily be a billionaire, but to him what’s the point of working so hard you’ll drop dead of exhaustion and no longer be around his kids who grew up to be virtual strangers to him? What’s more important, living a life comfortably or accumulating the vast amount of wealth while missing out on what really counts?
None of this is the real reason why any of us would read “Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock,” By Sammy Hagar; the real reason why any of us would pick this up is because we really want the dirt on what went on behind the scenes in one of most controversial turn-abounds in Rock or Heavy Metal history. Why exactly would someone like Sammy Hagar who was having incredible success on his own lend his talents to a band that was made incredibly famous with another high-profile performer like David Lee Roth? Even after listening to the unabridged version three times I’m not exactly sure why besides the fact that Mr. Hagar loves the collaboration with other performers and he had a special relationship with the band during the first few albums they did together.
The relationship Sammy had with the leaders of the band was strained by the deal the record companies made saying that Hagar had to do one album with the band, then a solo album, alternating between being with “Van Halen” and a solo performer. His dual success with the band and on his own caused a lot of jealous between Mr. Hagar and the Van Halen brothers and caused a rift between Alex and Eddie Van Halen and their bass player Michael Anthony.
Much of the fighting or animosity between the Van Halen brothers and Mr. Hagar and Mr. Anthony might seem petty to mere mortals like us, on the outside looking into the lives of these rock gods one might think that they had a perfect life and they should have found a way to just get along. Yet like all Greek Mythology, base human emotions come into play and cranked up all the way to 11 (I know, I’m mixing in some “This Is Spinal Tap” with this analogy…) after fueled with hubris and jealousy, drugs and alcohol, and herculean feats of adultery and fornication. After “Red” is done there’s no other conclusion to come to; you believe in what Mr. Hagar says that there was no other way for his partnership with ”Van Halen” to end. When he became a bigger player in “Van Halen” than The Van Halen Brothers the fallout was inevitable.
What’s deeply tragic, though, is the pattern of increasingly paranoid behavior of the Van Halen brothers towards everyone else. Bass player Michael Anthony was put in the middle and when he chose not to pick sides, he was essentially fired for “disloyalty” to the brothers. That’s not the only example of how petty things became, as Eddie spiraled out of control and ruined his health and his reputation as an artist diminished exponentially. “I love you, you pay my rent” mantra to his fans even after it was clear that his talent for playing the guitar had all but been spent. While the younger Van Halen drank excessively, sometimes red wine right out of the bottle, it was never his fault things were falling apart, it was someone else’s. There’s no doubt that after reading this book your opinion of one of the greatest bands from the 1980’s and 1990’s will ever be the same, nor the allure of fame and fortune.
The less said about the tour that Mr. Hagar and other former “Van Halen” front man, David Lee Roth, did together, the better. Let’s just agree that was a total circus surrounding a train wreck and move on. That anecdote is a funny read and very informative, but in the end, there’s a melancholy after-taste; I’m not sure who benefited the least from that tour. The pages about those exploits were necessary for this to be truly “uncensored,” but still left me personally hollowed out.
This book is neither for the over-sensitive nor the faint of heart, there are some strong language and explicit descriptions of things he’s seen and done. This isn’t a book for people who are die-hard fans of “Van Halen” since their idols are clearly smashed on the floor and shown for what they really are inside. There are going to be a lot of mixed feelings once this book is read and put away when it’s done.
While Sammy Hagar came out on top from the Van Halen experience as he left richer and more popular than ever before, there was a lot of cost and consequences. For example, perhaps it’s unfair of me to blame the loss of his first marriage on his association with that band since he doesn’t, but he was exposed to a lot of temptations that he might not have otherwise without “Van Halen.” It seems to at least one reader that his time with the band simultaneously lifted him up and dragged him down or placed him in a position for great opportunities only to retrain him with ridiculous rules, contractual regulations and petty jealousies. While “Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock,” By Sammy Hagar might seem to be a story about triumph over adversity it also reads like a cautionary tale about being careful about what you ask for.