Former Manager Noel E. Monk Uncovers the Truth Behind All Those Van Halen Rumors: Exclusive Interview
In the new book Runnin’ With the Devil, Noel E. Monk chronicles his years as Van Halen's manager from 1979 to 1985, after serving as their road manager in 1978. Those seven years were the Southern California party band's most decadent and notoriously period, when they traversed the globe with the Party 'til You Die and Hide your Sheep tours.
Monk has no shortage of stories about the youthful exploits of David Lee Roth, Eddie and Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony. Having previously detailed his shambolic time with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious in 1990’s 12 Days in the Road: The Sex Pistols in America, the industry veteran has been asked for years about doing a book about his time with Van Halen.
Now in his seventies and living in Colorado, Monk collected his thoughts on the highs and lows that defined his time as a general in the VH Army, including a messy end where he was fired shortly before Roth split. Monk shares some stories, and uncovers the truth behind many of those rumors, in an exclusive interview with Ultimate Classic Rock.
So what took so long?
I published [the Sex Pistols book] in 1990. At that point, I decided, “You know, maybe I’ll do another book.” But I got tied up with a lot of projects. Over the next 15 years, I wrote stories, so it was all fresh in my mind. I had a lot of stories and a lot of stuff on tape, and it took [co-writer Joe Layden] and I about a year to put it all down, and at that point, we had a book.
You mention in the book that you’d have feelings of anger swell up whenever you heard Van Halen on the radio. How long it take for that to dissipate?
I’d say two or three years. It wasn’t a big deal – I was just annoyed. I never felt that I was ultimately treated fairly. But hey, that’s rock 'n' roll. You take what you get and I had a great seven years, and I enjoyed almost all of it.
This is the first book by an insider of the band.
What bothers me is before this book came out, people who had never even seen a show from '78 to '85 – who had never met the band – are now writing books and proselytizing and doing whatever, and they haven’t got a clue. All of a sudden, eight years ago I turned up dead [laughs]. And then someone was in my office when there was “a photo shoot that almost broke up the band.” God knows where that came from. They make these stories up and I don’t understand. Do they think everyone is stupid? The fans are probably the greatest thing Van Halen ever had when you get right down to it. You cannot undo something that some fool writes. These schmucks write these books … It’s still a fact of life that David got paternity insurance, which never happened. That was written about and people discussed paternity – no one is smart enough to call Lloyds of London and see if you can get it. I mean, you get paternity insurance and then the story’s correct. But all these people say, “Well I researched it, and I know everything …” They know nothing. They never sat with the band for 20 minutes. I lived with them. I was their manager for seven years. These were my friends.
The fans want to know the stories, because for the most part, it’s been a pretty secretive group. Eddie and Alex don’t say a word, Dave wrote his book but it was rambling and all over the place. People want these stories in black and white, so when you talk about the band almost breaking up over a photo shoot around the time of Women and Children First, they want to believe that because they haven’t been given anything else and they’re desperate for information.
And that’s what these phony writers play off of; since there’s nothing out there, they can say anything. That is one of the major reasons I wrote this book. Let me set this straight. Let me tell them what happened.
Do you feel like you, or managers in general, tend to become scapegoats when things start to go wrong internally with a band?
Absolutely. You’re not gonna blame yourselves. You saw how things were said about me – just about the bookkeeping. When it came down to it, they did a line audit, and every penny for seven years was accounted for. It came out to be spotless.
One of the most shocking parts in the book is how former manager Marshall Berle videotaped the band members having sex. Shouldn’t they be worried that one day those tapes might see the light of day?
Marshall once gave me one of them. Basically I threw it in a box. It’ll never see the light of day. But the one that was most afraid was David, because 70 to 80 percent were of David. The only one that really has the majority of them is David – that was the deal: “Get rid of Marshall, but I get to keep all the tapes.”
So Dave got to keep the tapes? Marshall doesn’t even have them?
I don’t know what Marshall has – I don’t. I know that David has a tremendous amount of them. Marshall took some very funny tapes, and he would take little snippets of the show.
An early rumor surrounding the band was that they were looking to replace Michael Anthony as early as the around the time of Van Halen II.
I never heard that myself. That to me is put out 20 years later. He was a real integral part of the band. That voice was seminal to the band. He was a fun guy and he played a good bass. The thing that probably hurt me the most is how they treated Michael. You have this incredibly brilliant guitar player – probably one of the most brilliant guitar players ever. If you’re that good of a guitar player, why do you have to downgrade an OK bass player who fits in, who has an incredibly beautiful voice? What is the point in knocking him?
A lot of people point to the Us Festival because it’s the only full show you can pull up online or watch on bootleg. Were there any other shows professionally recorded that might see the light of day?
Not that I know of. Professionally recorded and hidden? No. People ask me what’s the best show I ever saw them do. That question is backwards. The question is, “What’s the worst show you ever saw them do?” Because I never saw them, no matter how f---ed up they were, do a bad show – except the Us Festival, our biggest show, they f--- up. They were always brilliant.
Was there any truth – and it could have just been drunken talk – around the time of Fair Warning that Eddie became so disillusioned that he wanted to join Kiss?
[Laughs] I actually never heard that one – but that’s interesting! He might’ve believed that at one time in his stupor, but it never happened. That he wouldn’t take a dime for doing “Beat It” – that happened. F---in' idiot. “Oh, I love Michael, Michael loves me.” He’s got the dumbest, most brilliant guitar player on the face of the earth. Why wouldn’t you love this guy?
How much of Eddie building his home studio 5150 do you think was to assert his control of the band?
With all due respect, Van Halen is Edward and David. That’s it. There’s no “Van Cherone” – there’s no “Van” anybody. I’d like to see any of those other “Vans” jump off a drum riser 15 feet in the air, do a split and when they landed, we’d take ‘em to the hospital. No one could do what David could do – I give him his just due.
Were you surprised when Dave left the band after you were fired?
Not at all. You gotta understand that the way I saw it, and I tried to explain this in the book, was ’84 was the year we finally broke. I saw us going another five or eight years before David’s ankles went out. I thought that we had a huge future ahead of us – this was gonna be the biggest band in the world, playing stadiums across the world. We didn’t do it. We did not live up my expectations. We were three years away from being the biggest band in the world.
What were your thoughts when they brought Sammy Hagar into the band?
I didn’t give a s---. Van Halen was over. They brought Cherone in -- What did I think? Nothing. This is not Van Halen; this is Van Cherone. This is Van Hagar. But without Edward and David, and I gotta press this point, there is no Van Halen. You cannot take the two seminal people who created that band and take one of them away. And right now, this guy Hagar [Laughs], is trying so hard to be Van Halen, he’ll even split it with David. It’s unbelievable! He will give up anything to have his legacy that he’s “a real Van Halen.” Give me a f---in' break.
There was a huge sense of excitement when Dave came back, especially in 1996 and even now.
I wasn’t there, I didn’t live it, I don’t know what went on. I just know David was the hardest working guy. He would stretch for an hour or two before a show – in front of a mirror, of course, and never pulled a hamstring. I don’t think that in ’96 he would be able to do physically what he did 11 years before – the body breaks down. Edward can play forever, but he cannot slide across the stage on his knees. He doesn’t have knees or a hip or most of his tongue. You can only last so long. And that they’re going out now is typical nostalgia tour. They’re not the band that made them great. They are the band that people want to dream about – they’re the fantasy band. Now you’re not going to see a Van Halen show, you’re going to feel good. I saw a little bit of what they did [recently], and it was pathetic. Don’t get up there and embarrass yourself and be a shadow of what you were.
If you had to do it all over again, would you do it?
Do I look stupid? [Laughs] Of course I’d do it – I had a f---ing ball!
Masterpieces: The Very Best Albums From More Than 100 Classic Rock Acts