The Roth Journals

Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock'n'Roll

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Quote Originally Posted by mohican View Post
I saw someone at Links finding out about this new vh book from Amazon. It's not yet released. Here's a little write-up about the book from its own publisher blog.

Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock'n'Roll

Van Halen, a critic once noted, seemed to be ‘halfway between a Los Angeles traffic jam and an abstract painting.’ It was an observation that seemed to sense that whatever this thing Van Halen was … it might be a lot less obvious than it first seemed.

Van Halen explores the cultural circuits of a phenomenon that, somewhat bizarrely, set itself up as ephemeral, stupid, and meaningless – or, in other words, as impervious to critical evaluation. ‘I hate the word maturing,’ singer David Lee Roth once said. ‘I don’t like the word evolving – or any of that bullshit. The point is to keep it as simplistic, as unassuming, and as stupid as possible.’

This is a book that seeks to capture Van Halen’s pursuit of an art of artlessness and to understand the ways in which they came to be characteristic of what historian Kevin Starr has identified as ‘Zen California’ – it was a state of mind, a way of being, that above all else, celebrated ‘the now’. In rock’n’roll terms it stood for the unregulated expenditure of energy; for a youthful exuberance that seemed destined to extinguish itself.

Van Halen: Exuberant California / Zen Rock'n'roll is not a standard biography or life story, but a cultural genealogy of an attitude and how it informed the music. The book nonetheless takes a roughly chronological approach to its subject in order to understand the key developments in Van Halen's career in the years 1974-1985. In tracing the aesthetic dimensions of this ‘Zen rock’n’roll’, Van Halen's roots are seen in a number of less obvious influences – the unique Southern Californian climate and its relation to a sense of cultural exuberance; the echoes of Beat aesthetics in David Lee Roth’s attitude to creativity; and, Eddie Van Halen’s ‘bebop’ sensibility, and the real roots of the so-called ‘Brown’ sound.

This book will appeal to fans of the music of Roth-era Van Halen, readers with an interest in the history and aesthetics of rock’n’roll, and the cultural history of California, as well.


1 Out Upon the Ocean
2 Islands: Sunset Strip and the Seventies, c. 1974-77
3 The Golden Dream, California
4 Hanging Ten, c. 1977-1982
5 Hollywood Flotsam, c. 1980-82
6 The Tao of Dave: Surf Life
7 Diver Down, Temperature Up, c. 1981-82
8 Think Like the Waves, Like A Child, c. 1982-83
9 Sail to the Moon
10 Wipeout, c. 1984-2007
11 Soundtrack