PART FOUR: OH NO! COACH CHERONE!
So where does Gary Cherone fit into all this? Well, he hasn't arrived at LSU yet (unless we want to break chronology and refer to Curley Hallman), but he could. Let me explain.
In 1995 Van Halen was one of the few hard rock dinosaurs to survive the "Grunge Asteroid" that struck Earth a few years prior. Bands like the Stone Temple Pilots were still motoring ahead, joined by new, different outfits like Bush, Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day. There was also a little band out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana called Better Than Ezra that burst onto the national scene with their Top-40 hit "Good" (It went #1 on the Hot Modern Tracks Chart) and their album "Deluxe" which went multi-platinum.
But still, after all those years VH was one of the biggest bands around. Their album "Balance" debuted at #1 on Billboard, led by the thunderous lead single "Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)" and the tasty, pop-rock follow-up "Can't Stop Lovin' You" which went Top-10 (Yes, two more Van Hagar hits featuring "love" in the title). "Balance" would sell over 3 million copies, as MTV was still playing their videos (MTV once played videos, swear to God.) and the band's tour likewise finished in the Top 10 that year. On a major positive note, Eddie gave up drinking (It lasted for a little while) and played stone cold sober to open that tour in Pensacola, FL.
However, things with Van Halen were quickly growing stale. And remarkably, it reminds me of the current state of LSU football. The energy was simply lacking. Fans griped VH was becoming increasingly lazy as they grew older, as the shows were barely two hours long and the band had recorded only 4 studio albums in 10 years with Sammy, as opposed to 6 albums in 6 years with Roth. Likewise, many LSU fans have yearned for the fiery Les Miles they witnessed the day of the 2007 SEC Championship game. The Les that snarled and blurted "Have a nice day!". With his big salary and guaranteed buck, some fans have questioned if Miles still has the passion. Like Van Halen in 1995, LSU is still enjoying good success, but not the glory of years past. Fan enthusiasm is still strong, but not as passionate. LSU hasn't won 10 games or more since 2007 and is 1-5 vs Top-Ten teams during that stretch (The only win being at a #10 Auburn squad in 2008 that finished 5-7). Likewise VH had drifted away from the 7-million selling Van Hagar debut "5150". Sammy and Eddie weren't smiling and hugging like they used to, even though they were still successful. And yes, even with a 7-1 record and team ranked near the top 10, many LSU fans just aren't having a good time anymore either. Van Halen left sold-out shows in separate limos, LSU fans leave victories pouting. Certainly both were a bit jaded by their success, and a victim of it.
Many of you will find it hysterical I'm making this one of those "Where were you?" moments. That's fine. We're way past shame at this point. It was the summer of 1996 and I was at Lafayette's Wednesday night hot spot "Poet's". Local music stars "Spank the Monkey" were playing and they were definitely not playing Van Halen. Longtime buddy, USL Sigma Nu brother and now Lafayette politician Mark Cockerham came up to me sometime during the DJ part of the night (Somewhere between Pearl Jam's 90's slow dance champion "Yellow Ledbetter" and "The Macarena"), relaying what he had just seen on MTV, "Hey, did you hear? Sammy's out," He said, giving the thumb gesture over the shoulder, "They got David Lee Roth back."
I was probably the only 20-year-old in the joint that had any interest in this news (Mark knew this, he shared it with me only). The only others were my friends … who were clowning me because I found it important. "He still likes them?!!", somebody yelled.
You'll have to remember this was before the internet took off, so confirming such somewhat petty news wasn't that easy. I actually called a local hard rock radio station on the way home from my car cell phone, which was the size of a small ice chest.
"Hey, did you hear Sammy Hagar got fired from Van Halen?" I asked. "
"No. But it wouldn't surprise me." This overnight stoner was obviously no fan of Van Hagar.
The news was soon confirmed and I was not overly shocked. Hagar had indeed been fired and yes, VH had rehired Roth (behind Sammy's back, Hagar alleged) to begin working on new music in the studio. The news was actually pretty huge on the national scene. Van Halen received a standing ovation at the 1996 MTV Music Awards (There was Chris Rock pumping his fist), as they appeared on stage with DLR for the first time in a decade. Unfortunately Roth refused to take the "baby steps" towards the full reconciliation Eddie had requested. Dressed in what appeared to be Z Cavarachis pants (They rocked at Milton Elementary) and sporting a sweet comb-over, Roth started rambling on the mic, somewhat stealing the show from Beck, the artist to whom Van Halen was presenting the award. DLR quickly became the egomaniac the band had grown to hate years before. Dave and Ed almost threw fists backstage. This reunion lasted all of fifteen minutes, kind of like when Bill Belicheck became the head coach of the Jets. Or perhaps like firing Les Miles and reintroducing Saban at "The Bayou Bash", only to divorce again before "The Golden Band from Tiger Land" finished their set. Van Halen was able to record two new songs with Roth (Which he claimed was the band's trick all along) to be slapped onto that greatest hits package (CHA-ching!). There was no tour and really nothing given to the fans who had waited a decade for this reunion to happen. Van Halen had teased them in heartless fashion.
If this public relations nightmare wasn't bad enough, it was soon followed by the news of Roth/Hagar/Roth's replacement. It was the dude that sang "More Than Words" in Extreme, Gary Cherone. Oh boy. I could smell trouble immediately. However my friends who knew hard rock tried to sway me, telling me Extreme jammed pretty hard and that Cherone had been inaccurately cast for his band's one epic, Valentine's Day card ballad. Like a football coach scouting future talent, I gathered up Extreme's cds (I owned none and we had now progressed from cassettes) and gave them a listen. Ok, the guy could wail pretty good. I'll give this a shot.
Ugh. I was embarrassed the day lead single "Without You" hit radio stations in 1998. It sounded nothing like the band I had grown to love and subsequently neither did the rest of the album titled "3" (You know … third singer, "Mach 3", lightning doesn't strike in the same place thrice). Eddie said he wrote most of this album on the toilet. I concur. Rumor was Warner Brothers actually rejected the album on first listen, and demanded a better product. They apparently didn't get it. While Cherone sounded eerily similar to Hagar (probably not by accident), and Eddie's playing was probably more amazing than ever, the songs were simply not catchy or …. um, good. One such gem called "How Many Say I" (It basically had the same message as that old Phil Collins number "Another Day In Paradise) featured Eddie playing piano and singing while Gary chimed in with very light harmonies. With all apologies to Don Maclean, for Van Halen fans this number was "The Day The Music Died". During his live, national radio show, Howard Stern goofed on the atrocity and actually played it for his guest, who was none other than David Lee Roth. Stern was begging for Roth to destroy it.
"What do you want me to say," giggled Dave, "You want me to salute the sinking of The Titanic?!!"
This new singer had hair as short as mine (not blonde either) and let me just say his onstage antics weren't exactly macho.
"Have you seen Van Halen recently," an older, USL classmate asked me one day on campus.
"Yep", I responded.
"They are absolutely worthless", he added.
I could not disagree. MTV aired one of their shows from Sydney, Australia. I watched it. No.
Van Halen's effort with Gary Cherone was the band's worst selling album in their history, although it still managed to go gold. Regardless, such a result would be like LSU going to the Humanitarian Bowl. Going to Boise, Idaho … simply not up to the standards of the firm. VH started another album with Gary, but they didn't bother finishing it. Rumor was Warner Brothers gave the band an ultimatum … get Sammy or Dave back, or bag it. VH and Cherone soon parted ways, although it was far less ugly than the partings with the two previous singers.
I will say this … Gary Cherone was put in a no win situation (Made Smoke Laval's task look easy) and he clearly didn't. He did sing the old Roth stuff Sammy refused to live, which many fans were grateful for. Alex, Eddie, David, Michael and Sammy were all inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame as members of Van Halen … Cherone was not. However, Mikey was classy enough to mention him in the band's induction speech.
The point is this. Like Van Halen in 1995 … LSU football has reached a point of somewhat mundane success. If you jump out of an airplane, you better have a parachute that works. For you LSU fans who want to fire Sammy Hagar (Or having "the want" to launch Les Miles), just be careful what you wish for. Maybe you'll get another great replacement. Or maybe you'll get Coach Cherone … the man who will lead your Tigers to 7-5 records and beautiful December days in Shreveport.
"We really loved you Les, really! Please come back "Mad Hatter!"
There is one big flaw in this long, ridiculous rant. I really have no good Van Halen parallel for Nick Saban leading the Alabama Crimson Tide back to a national power. There really isn't one.
After Roth started doing solo work outside of VH around 1985 and Saban broke away from LSU in early 2005, the two enjoyed initial success. Roth of course had a #3 smash with a remake of the Beach Boys "California Girls" and a #12 hit with Marion Harris' "Just a Gigolo/I A'int Got Nobody (My god, it was first released in 1921). Both songs were off of a 4-track LP called "Crazy From the Heat" and both were accompanied by two of the most memorable music videos of the 80's, perhaps of all-time (and both technically occurred while Roth was still in VH). Post VH solo albums "Eat Em And Smile" and "Skyscraper" both sold and toured very well, while delivering #16 hit "Yankee Rose"in 1986 (Give me a bottle of anything, and a glazed donut – TO GO!) and #6 sing-a-long "Just Like Paradise"in 1988 (Roth apparently climbs mountains too). However Dave's solo days were hardly approaching the success his old band was having with Mr Hagar.
Soon after that, Roth's solo career went "Bottom's Up" in the 90's. His hairline disappeared and so did the record sales. DLR was soon in Vegas with some crazy shtick and that also bombed. He grew more bizarre and lame as the years passed, and it was very sad for those who worshipped him. Roth sang a pretty pathetic version of "Jump" with the Boston Pops at the Fourth of July of 2004 and shortly after released a Blue Grass version of VH classics called "Strumming With The Devil" (This stuff writes itself!). Jay Leno tried, but could simply not keep a straight face when Roth performed his twangy version of "Jump". Roth had been to the edge … and indeed, there he stood and looked down. Havens like the Paragon Casino in Marksville were now DLR's stomping grounds. While driving, I saw a billboard in Lafayette promoting such a show a few years back. I shrugged and kept driving. Perhaps the highlight of Roth's career after leaving Van Halen was making a cameo appearance on an episode of "The Sopranos". He was playing a high stake game of cards with Tony and his crew. Heck, nothing better to do … Ed and Al weren't calling.
Nick Saban inherited a terrible Miami Dolphins team that finished 3-13 the year before he arrived. His first Dolphins team won six straight games (including a triumph over the New Orleans Saints in Tiger Stadium) to finish the 2005 season 9-7. They missed the playoffs, but everyone predicted Miami to make some serious noise the following season. The only noise made was "I'm not going to be the coach at Alabama", which Saban became, as he hauled his fin to Tuscaloosa after a 6-10 sophomore, pro effort.
And that's where the Roth/Saban comparison goes awry. Roth simply didn't have an Alabama. He didn't rise to power again in another band (although he would again in his own). Saban on the other hand has rocked on with a 33-3 record over the last three years with the Crimson Tide, including a win over Texas in the 2009 BCS National Championship.
And quickly, while a good chunk of fans were never totally enamored with Hagar, they never reached the fury levels LSU backers did during the Tigers clock management meltdowns at Ole Miss in 2009 and against Tennessee this season. Sammy would've had to convince Van Halen to record an album of ABBA covers or something.
Thanks for reading so far my friends. On Friday, I'll try to finish what I started.