David Lee Roth
Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg, FL • December 20, 1999
I work at the St. Petersburg Times in Tampa. Earlier in the month, when the D.L.R. concert was announced, I tried to arrange an interview with David Lee Roth. To no avail. When I called Roth’s manager, Louie, he was very short with me. “No”. No exclamation point, but almost. Louie had a gruff voice and sounded like a fat, Italian. “I’d like to arrange an interview with David Lee Roth,” I’d said to him on the phone. “You and about 15 million other people,” he responded in his fat, gruff voice. 15 million, huh? Wow. Since I didn’t have an excuse to get the newspaper to pay my way in had to pay the $30 ticket price. I did so with little doubt I would be stimulated.
In the week before the show, I read everything I could find about or by David Lee Roth, including his autobiography, Crazy from the Heat. The thought process and voice I heard in his writings and interviews were fast and loose but also rich and pointed. David Lee was tangential but creative and insightful. Sometimes Roth’s flow didn’t make much sense, but neither does William Faulkner’s, and he’s in the American literary cannon!
My research led me to believe that Roth really cared about art. And that maybe his Crispen Glover-like awkwardness was the real reason he never rejoined the mainstream after Van Halen. I believed Roth was pure of intent. If nothing else, David Lee is public enigma #1, so I was intrigued enough to pay $30.
Jannus Landing is an outdoor venue that holds about 1000 people. While DLR could have drawn 800 people, it rained mildly and intermittently the entire night, so there were only about 600 people in attendance. 300 of these attendees had mullet haircuts (short on the front, long in the back). I have never seen more, or a wider variety of, mullets. Every genotype. Mullets to the waist. Mullet couples. I saw two men who had recently cut off their mullets: I could tell because both men had unnatural stubby nubs on their necks. The cut was uneven and the nubs looked exposed and tender. Were it not for the distraction of those mullets, we would have noticed how expensive the alcohol was and my friends and I may have been bored for the two and a half-hours it took Roth to commence rocking.
David Lee Roth eventually came on stage to the tapping intro of “Hot for Teacher.” He greeted the crowd with a scripted rock and roll hello, and was immediately hit in the eye with a projectile. Dave stopped the song, made a fuss and started on song two, “Panama.” Holding his eye, he stopped the song a bar in, and retreated backstage.
A fat Italian man in a clear rain slicker rolled out onto the stage. He had the gruff voice of Louie the manager, “Anyone who knows who hit Dave, you point em out and we’ll give you $500 cash! Just hand ’em over to us!” Near the front of the stage, blaming hands and fingers pointing in every direction. The promoter for Jannus Landing stood near, was visibly upset and concerned over the prospect of a public beatdown on his stage. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and beatdowns. Louie the manager got the bounty up to $600, but then left the stage.
There are those who think the crew lied about David being hit and was trying to create a false tension. A false excitement. A false “is he gonna play!?” There were those who were thinking it was all a scam: but at least they were thinking.
20 minutes later Dave came back out to the tapping intro of “Hot for Teacher,” gave the same exact rock and roll hello, and proceeded to do what I never wanted him to do: he made me feel sorry for him by trying to conjure up the past. One of the few things that are black and white, objectively uncool in rock and roll, is when an artist tries to go home again. It’s impossible.
D.L.R. himself had a tight bod wedged into a silver spandex outfit. While he’s famous for his thinning hairline, he looked amazing.
Despite his youthful appearance, the concert was a constant reminder of the past: Roth’s “new” guitarist was on loan from world famous LA based Van Halen tribute band, “Atomic Punx.” He was a carbon copy of Eddie Van Halen circa 1982, right down to the hair. Of 14 songs Roth performed 11 were Van Halen songs (played very well). We joked that Roth could have given this Van Halen tribute some provocative artistry by mixing in a few Van Hagar numbers. That would have been subversive.
Despite the performance, I still believe David Lee Roth cares about art, but he seems to not understands rock and roll as an artform. Who cares though? It was interesting. No matter where you went in the venue and it’s connecting bars, there was something interesting to see or think about: I peed in the stall with the door shut as the others in the restroom discussed the philosophies and conflicts of Roth and Van Halen. Like religion: topics that would never get old or die. A female friend later told me the conversations in the ladies room were similar. The girlfriends were wondering out loud, if David Lee’s extroverted, surreal, sexual displays (pouring Jack Daniel’s down his spandex, masturbating with the microphone, licking his fingers) were meant to excite them, “cause I think it’s gross,” my friend quoted the bathroom girlfriends who found Dave’s act to be homoerotic, “But my boyfriend is just too excited by it!” David Lee Roth is an aging diva. If he performed at gay clubs they would go nuts.
At one point I recognized Louie the manager in the bathroom, drunk, beer in hand. “Louie,” I said, “I’m Michael from the newspaper. I spoke with·.” He was much nicer as he interrupted, “Oh hey, I’m sorry we couldn’t do anything for you as far as interviews·” he was paying attention but drunkenly sliding away from me. Despite my alcohol intake, I managed to be sharp and articulate, “Yes, I’d still like to interview him. I’d like to keep in touch over the next few weeks and when you guys get off tour·” I gave him my card. Then Louie, still in his clear rain slicker, handed down the definitive statement regarding David Lee Roth, his career, his motives, his life: “I’ll tell you what,” said Louie as “Pretty Woman” blasted from the stage outside, “When we come back with Van Halen, you get first shot.” As if it were news to anyone: Dave was merely auditioning every night in hopes of re-joining his toothless bandmates in Van Halen. I was still stunned that Louie’d reveal the motives so bluntly. But if there’s a snowflake’s chance in Florida that it does happen, I hope he was telling me the truth about giving me the scoop. And therein lies the rub: It seems like such a far away notion that that reunion would ever happen, but we’d all pay $30 (maybe $50) to see it. And we’ll all dog Dave while he travels the demeaning road trying to get us what we want.
After the show, always in search of a ripe journalistic opportunity, I tried to get on the tour bus. A professional looking lady in a mini-skirted powersuit stood outside the door. “Hi, have you seen Louie?” I asked her, “He wanted me to meet him here after the show.” I figured if Louie saw me he’d remember and it would turn into a meeting with David Lee Roth. “No, they left,” She seemed to fib as a gray-haired man came down the stairs of the bus with a metal suitcase, the kind often associated with ransom money. The lady went on, attempting to put me off very professionally. As she was talking, the suitcase man got to the bottom of the stairs. When he was right in front of us, he stumbled and a gun fell out of his pocket on the ground in front of us. She looked at me and stuttered, worried at what I’d seen. “I’m not gonna say nothin’.” I assured her, putting my hand on her shoulder. It was so funny I lost my cool and smiled uncontrollably. “Have you seen Louie?” I asked again and laughed.
It may not have been the artistic validation of David Lee Roth I was looking for, but between the pondering of artistic ideals, the philosophies in question at this Van Halen tribute concert and Louie the manager it was one of the most interesting concerts of my life.