By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Editor-in-chief of Pasadena Weekly
JJournalists Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill knew Eddie Van Halen, having interviewed the late Van Halen guitarist during the musician’s career.
Now the two share their conversations with the legendary guitarist in “Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen”.
“This is the first chance I’ve had to step back and watch the whole story,” Tolinski said. “It made so much more sense to me now. However, I curse the fact that I didn’t do this while he was still alive. I would have loved to have the chance to tell him about more important observations.
In “Eruption,” Tolinski and Gill offer an oral history of Van Halen, who died of cancer on October 6, 2020. Since the band Van Halen released their self-titled album in 1978, the Ax Man has been hailed as an icon.
“Eruption” is based on more than 50 hours of never-before-seen interviews Tolinski and Gill have recorded with Van Halen over the years, most of them done in the legendary 5150 Studios in his Los Angeles home.
“Eruption” is drawn from these discussions as well as conversations with family, friends and colleagues, including other major guitarists like Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Steve Vai and Steve Lukather (Toto, Michael Jackson, Ringo Starr , Elton John).
“I was delighted to have the opportunity to write this,” said Tolinski.
“I got to know Ed more professionally than personally. I knew both sides of it. I saw him quite regularly several times a year. I had this personal / professional relationship with him. Chris Gill and I thought we were qualified to tell his story in a more definitive way.
“Eruption” tells about the ups and downs of rock legend. As well as discussing his greatest triumphs as a revolutionary musician – including a dive into Van Halen’s masterpiece “1984” and the story behind playing on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” – the book examines his early struggles as a young Dutch immigrant unable to speak. English. This resulted in permanent problems with social anxiety and later problems with alcohol and cocaine.
Van Halen and his older brother Al and their parents moved to Pasadena in 1962 when Eddie was 7, with less than $ 50, suitcases and a piano. During the nine-day boat trip, Eddie and Al played the piano for change.
The boys attended a separate school in Pasadena and were ostracized because they knew little English.
“Eruption” shares his penchant for expressing himself through the piano, maintaining a rigorous practice schedule under the watchful eye of his mother. At the age of 12, he applied the same diligence to learning the electric guitar, spending countless hours locked in his bedroom developing the technique.
The writers are guitarists, so, says Tolinski, they understood Van Halen’s passion. Tolinski was editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine for 25 years. During this time, Gill was editor-in-chief of Guitar Aficionado.
A native of suburban Detroit, Tolinski left Manhattan for a friend’s summer haunt on Cape Cod during the pandemic. He spent his time writing “Eruption”, calling it “a traditional old school writer’s retreat.”
Tolinski said “Eruption” is different from Van Halen’s other books.
“A lot of these great gossip books about Ed and Van Halen came out, about all the arguments and struggles within the band,” he said. “Most of the stuff I’ve read kind of missed the point to some extent. He was arguably the most innovative guitarist since Jimi Hendrix and one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century.
Skipping that point and only covering turbulence within the group, he added, is unnecessary.
“It was really when I got to Guitar World that I paid a lot of attention to what Ed was doing,” he said. “It became a personal relationship. The only thing he loved about Chris and I was that while we certainly respected him as a guitarist, we didn’t worship him like a god. He saw us as a contemporary. We spoke to him as a musician, as a human being. I think he enjoyed it.
Like many, Tolinski considers Van Halen to be one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. Beyond that, he added, “he was important as an inventor. His Frankenstein guitar has been incorporated into the Smithsonian’s permanent collection for his innovation.
“He’s been this figure, this smiling guy and this all-American kid in these videos. But there is a lot of depth to what Edward brought to this world. It was the Les Paul of the modern era.
“Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen”
By Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill