10 Crazy Tales From the New Van Halen Book ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’
The golden age of Van Halen with David Lee Roth at the helm has never really been dished on, unless you count the singer’s own somewhat scattershot 1997 autobiography, Crazy From the Heat. That all changes with the release of Runnin’ With the Devil: A Backstage Pass Into the Wild Times, Loud Rock and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen. Penned by Noel E. Monk, who was the tour manager for the band beginning in 1978 and became their manager the following year until early 1985, the memoir provides his personal insight and account of the inner workings of the Van Halen machine. The book features a trove of firsthand accounts of incidents, anecdotes and details about the band even the most hardcore fan probably isn’t aware of. We've compiled 10 of the craziest tales we found in the book, but be warned: There are spoilers.
For years, the story went that designer Dave Bhang drew the iconic winged Van Halen logo. He may have, but according to Monk it was appropriated almost exactly from a poster of Jimi Hendrix -- the guitarist to whom Eddie Van Halen would be most compared in the early days. To get back at original manager Marshall Berle for using the band’s funds in ways that were interpreted as deceitful, the group allegedly ransacked his office, taking anything that wasn’t bolted down. Monk ended up with a box of leftover items that he forgot about after tossing into the back of a closet. A couple years later, he came across it and, upon closer inspection, found the Hendrix poster replete with a logo that Monk says is “nearly identical” to the now instantly recognizable Van Halen emblem.
By Monk's account, one of the more disturbing aspects of original manager Marshall Berle's behavior was the way he filmed the band’s backstage shenanigans, including them having sex with groupies. Monk estimates “several hours” of indiscretions were shot, not surprisingly with Roth in “75 percent of the X-rated films.” It gets worse. Berle reportedly transferred the footage to VHS and held a private screening for a mostly female audience of secretaries and staff at Warner Bros.' Burbank offices. By Monk's account, the women were “predictably and understandably horrified.” Somewhere, the tapes are supposedly still out there.
David Lee Roth may never have had second thoughts about launching himself off the drum riser for one of his soaring, patented toe-touching splits, but according to the band's former road manager getting him above the clouds was another story altogether. The high-flying singer didn't like air travel. Monk describes it as “a near-crippling fear of flying,” which he attributed to the singer being a control freak who couldn’t deal with having none over the circumstances.
Touring as the support act for openers Montrose and headliners Journey in 1978, Van Halen had ample time to get the party started after their set. Yet one time when Monk went back, he says he found the backstage area and its inhabitants dead silent. He then noticed what looked like a long splash of green paint on a full-length mirror in the dressing room. Upon further inspection, the “paint” turned out to be guacamole -- a bowl of which was thrown at David Lee Roth by Eddie Van Halen in retaliation for the singer hurling a bowl of peanuts at the guitarist. But he missed and nailed Steve Perry instead. Monk found the Journey singer in the bathroom softly crying to himself and helped him get cleaned up for the show, likening the incident to "heartless mean children" picking on a kid in the middle-school cafeteria.
Black Sabbath tapped Van Halen for support on a 1978 tour, and by all accounts the two bands got along famously. One night, however, there was a bit of a problem when Monk got a panicked call from Sabbath's tour manager, saying guitarist Tony Iommi had misplaced his prosthetic finger tips (he lost his real ones in an industrial accident years ago). The band was already onto the next gig, and Monk was tasked with checking the venue for the missing digits.Thankfully, they were merely left behind in the dressing room, and Iommi was reunited with them the following night and able to go ahead with the show unencumbered.
Worried – or inspired – by a paternity suit that had been brought against Eddie Van Halen (which was later dismissed), David Lee Roth allegedly got the idea to take out an insurance policy so the same thing couldn’t happen to him. Unfortunately, no company would provide coverage – including Lloyds of London. Monk thought it would make for a good story, though, and let it leak to the press that the singer had taken out a million-dollar paternity-insurance policy. To this day, there are people who believe it’s true.
Monk didn't go out on the road for the first week of the Fair Warning tour, opting to take care of the business end of things in Los Angeles first. A few days into the tour, he received a distressed call from the band's road manager saying Roth had "kind of went nuts." Roth going a bit crazy was nothing new, but this time Monk says things were different: "He wouldn't settle down ... so we put him in a straitjacket." Never mind the fact that the singer had to be restrained; the fact that the road crew actually had a straitjacket on hand shows just how rowdy things could get.
Eddie and Alex Van Halen’s father is known to fans for his appearance on the Diver Down song “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now),” on which he played clarinet. On a more personal note, Monk says the way Dad bonded with his sons was to get drunk with them. “I’m not talking about a father sharing a beer with a couple of grown children of legal drinking age,” he writes. “I’m talking about a guy getting s--- faced with his teenage boys in the hope that the camaraderie of drinking would encourage honesty and transparency in their relationship.”
Faithful fans of Van Halen often point to Fair Warning as their favorite of the “classic six-pack” of the David Lee Roth era. Upon its release in 1981, though, it was hardly the hit the band was hoping for in the wake of the three platinum sellers that preceded it. Deeming the record the band's "least accessible," Monk says he met with the promotions team at Warner Bros. and was informed that the palms of radio programmers would need to be greased to gain airplay. The radio stations were tiered in three ways: $5,000 for a major market, $3,000 for a secondary market and $1,000 for those “located in the hinterlands.” The band’s platinum streak was kept alive – reportedly at the cost of nearly a quarter million dollars.
Throughout Runnin’ With the Devil, Monk iterates what we all know: Michael Anthony is one of the nicest guys in the business. Unfortunately, Monk claims the rest of the band took advantage of him, comparing the situation to Lord of the Flies. During the tour to support 1984, Roth and the Van Halen brothers allegedly collectively decided to cut the bassist out of royalties. “From that moment on,” Monk says, “Michael was basically a wage earner.”