PART ONE: THE SCHOOL OF JACQUES
LSU is playing Alabama this week. What a perfect time to finally write this.
There will be no writer's block. I will promise you that.
Yep, there's no doubt. Not even a sliver. There are few things I have paid closer attention to during my life than LSU Football and the mighty Van Halen. C'mon Jacques, give us a break (One break, coming up.). Whether that's cool or embarrassing, these are the facts. From the time I was a little boy until now, the two have sort of been like a religion, an escape, a hobby, my favorite reality show (VH truly gives 'Jersey Shore' a run for its' money. It's a "Situation" alright) … whatever you want to call it. I picked up on both around the same time. Sometime during the year of 1986, I bought VH's "5150" (still my favorite). It certainly wouldn't be the last. Without shame, I bounced around my room playing a tennis racquet to "Why Can't This Be Love". Despite what you've heard, I no longer do this. No really. Shortly after (October 3, 1987 to be exact) I attended my first Saturday night in Death Valley. #7 LSU beat the #19 Florida Gators and a freshman running back named Emmitt Smith 13-10 before 79,313 rabid fans. It was over. I was likewise hooked on the purple and gold. By the time that Monday rolled around, I could recite names like Tommy Hodson, Wendell Davis and Harvey Williams…along with their statistics. From that point forward my team/band had been established. These were my rock stars.
Through the years I've seen both do great things. When many high school kids around the country had moved on from the happy-go-lucky jams of the 80's to the downtrodden despair of Pearl Jam, Nirvana & Alice N Chains in the 90's, I stuck my chest out (Not much of one, I might've been 140 pounds) when Van Halen cleaned house at the 1992 MTV Awards. VH took home three awards, including "Music Video of the Year" for the smash hit "Right Now". Everyone at my North Vermilion High School (A Garth Brooks worshipping ground at the time) cracked jokes to me about "those stupid, old headbangers" and that "cat music" I liked. The opening drill to "Poundcake" does sound a bit like a cat stuck in a dishwasher. I'll give them that.
Likewise, no youth was a bigger advocate of Fightin' Tiger Football than this guy. I may have been the first 13-year old ever, to get a letter published in Tiger Rag magazine. I took countless friends to games (Thank you dad, I love you) because I wanted them to get hooked on the rush just like me. Indeed, many of those childhood buddies are full blown LSU addicts to this day. I annoyed my date to senior homecoming to no end, by making countless trips to my truck for LSU/Ole Miss scoring updates. Can't blame her, I would've been peeved too. After all, that LSU team went 5-6 … what was I thinking? Later on a college date, another young lady let me have it. "You didn't talk me at all during the fourth quarter!" That fourth quarter, just so happen to be the final stanza of LSU's epic 28-21 win over #1 Florida in 1997. It was crystal clear this striking blonde had no grasp of football or the magnitude of what we had just witnessed. It's also equally clear why I'm still not married.
Both Van Halen and LSU Football have been major bummers to me as well. I've watched both go through long, disappointing periods that spanned over a decade for each. For LSU this was 1989-1999. There were eight losing seasons, three fired coaches and thousands of empty seats in Tiger Stadium. I was there the night Florida squashed LSU 58-3 in 1993 before a listless crowd in Dead Valley. ESPN actually issued an apology to their audience for airing the atrocity, although Steve Spurrier didn't see the need. I was also part of the only 40,000 or so that gathered to watch Southern Miss beat the Tigers 20-18 in 1994. My cousin Damon looked at me with utter amazement when I turned down a Kappa Sigma party to attend that disaster. Curley Hallman was soon fired. Gerry Dinardo had some magic, but was likewise launched five years later (But I hear his old restaurant is still doing quite well).
It was at that same time in 1999, that Van Halen embarked on its' longest stretch of non productivity ever. From around Y-2K to the present, some of the most gifted musicians to ever walk the earth have simply wasted years, opportunities and their amazing talent. NO new albums, a whopping three new songs recorded (New VH songs are a lot like the Olympics. You get one roughly every four years) and likewise two cash-grab tours. Sure I was a sucker and went to these concerts, just like they knew I would (Las Vegas & Houston in 2004, New Orleans in 2007). I dished out my $150 to see the aging rockers go through the motions and then say goodnight. March 12, 2007 should have been a special occasion for Van Halen and those of us who have supported the band while enjoying their timeless music. The group was being inducted into "The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame", a truly special distinction and acknowledgment of Van Halen's incredible career. They managed to screw that up, too. Only two band members showed up. Neither of them had the last name Van Halen and neither was currently in the band (And probably never will be again). The band Velvet Revolver gave a less than heartfelt induction speech before butchering VH tunes "Ain't Talkin Bout Love" (Soundbyte's version is better, honest to God) and "Runaround" (No one could even recognize what the heck these guys were playing). Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony tried to salvage some of the evening by performing a tune backed by Paul Shaffer and his horn section. Pass me a tissue. This is truly sad.
The parallels between the heavyweights of college football and hard rock are endless and have become more apparent to me as the years have passed. They are both iconic forces in their respective fields. They are tried and true forces that never get old and are as timeless as Coca-Cola, although some people refer to "Van Hagar" as Pepsi (The second version, still pretty good, just a little sweeter). LSU is college football's 15th all-time winningest program (709-387-47 entering this year). Van Halen is the music industry's 19th all-time selling artist (56.5 million sold in the US alone according to RIAA). LSU has one Heisman Trophy winner (Billy Cannon), VH has one #1 hit ("Jump"). LSU changed college football forever with Cannon's "Halloween Run", while Van Halen revolutionized guitar forever roughly 20 years later with Eddie's jaw-dropping solo on "Eruption".
LSU and Van Halen both play for maniac fans that enjoy screaming, pumping their fists and drinking their weight in booze. These fans likewise take this stuff a little too seriously. LSU folks argue over their coaches, while VH fans debate their lead singers. Both machines mean big business and big money. LSU sells 92,000 tickets for each home game, earning the school roughly $4 million dollars every time the Tigers tee it up in Death Valley. Van Halen's most recent tour in 2007-2008 was one of the biggest of the year, packing arenas coast to coast and earning a staggering $93 million dollars for Live Nation. VH is the only artist to ever deliver 11 straight multi-million selling albums. Not even Led Zeppelin, Elvis, Michael Jackson or The Beatles can say that. We have enjoyed them together like milk and cookies, or better yet beer and boudin. Take a walk on the LSU campus during game day and I guarantee you'll hear "Dance the Night Away" or "Panama" blaring out of some stereo, from some tailgate party somewhere.
And finally to my ultimate point … the perceived success and sometimes the failures of both LSU football and Van Halen have often been linked very strongly to the front man. It doesn't matter if it's a coach or a singer … wins or album sells often fall at his feet. This article focuses on two pairs of such men so strikingly alike, I've come to the central conclusion they are basically the same. Let me say this pure, clean and simple … Nick Saban IS David Lee Roth and Les Miles IS Sammy Hagar.
Don't worry, I'll prove it. After all, I'm the devil. Come running with me.