The rocker was a natural, but painfully shy. At the age of 12, to help him overcome his stage fright, Van Halen, who got his start playing with his dad, admits, his father introduced him to alcohol. "It wasn't really the partying. ... I don't mean to blame my dad, but when I started playing in front of people, I'd get so damn nervous. I asked him, 'Dad, how do you do it?' That's when he handed me the cigarette and the drink. And I go, 'Oh, this is good! It works!' For so long, it really did work. And I certainly didn't do it to party. I would do blow and I would drink, and then I would go to my room and write music."
Drinking and partying were very much a part of the band as was headbanging. As the clip from the US Music festival shows, dad may have started it, but David Lee Roth kept the onstage party going. (Start around the 3:30 mark.)
Around 2006, after stints in rehab, Van Halen wanted to get off the drinking, according to the Esquire profile. So he switched to Klonopin to handle his nerves onstage. Then he got hooked on that, and had to switch to antidepressants. The performer recounts that for about a year, he was "catatonic." "All I wanted to do was stop drinking. But instead I literally could not communicate. Yeah, I was gone. I don't know what dimension I went to, but I was not here." He sat on the couch and watched episodes of "Law & Order."
Then, he says, slowly he got better. "The doctors helped me out with this amino-acid treatment stuff, or whatever it was. And slowly I came out of it, and the first thing I remember, really, was picking up a guitar, and my whole hand was locked into a fist. And I thought, 'OK, I guess I won't be playing anymore.'"
But he did. And he does. Says Van Halen, "I can honestly say I will never drink again. It's a whole new world. I'm 57 years old, and I know I'm not going to live to be 114, so I can't say I'm halfway done. It's a sullen truth, but this is the first record I've made sober. There's a certain place that you have to get to where things just flow, and I have to say that when I drank and did blow, it might have created a false sense of getting there easier. ... At the same time, it also gives you a false sense that what you're doing is great. Now I'm so aware of everything that sometimes I'm afraid to pick up my guitar."
Van Halen also reveals that he has been fighting cancer, resulting in pieces of his tongue being removed. For that reason, he smokes only electronic cigarettes that give off fake smoke.
The band is still a family affair, with Wolfgang (his son with ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli) playing bass. Wolf started playing with the band six years ago at age 15. Van Halen said it all came about kind of naturally. "I didn't really ask him, 'What do you want to do in life?' You know? Just like my father didn't, either. I just said, 'Why don't you play bass?' 'Well, OK.' 'Hey, Wolf, you wanna go on tour with us?' 'Yeah, sure, why not?'"
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