Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen – Noel Monk (Dey Street Books)
A little house keeping up front: I am a huge Van Halen fan, the band remains among my favorite bands of all time, with that said if you go into this book expecting a “typical” rock band book, then you will likely go away disappointed. This book really focuses on the quicksilver launch and meteoric rise of Van Halen to the highest ranks of rock superstar status, followed by the seemingly inevitable crash and burn that followed.
The author of Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, Noel Monk got started with the band as the tour manager for the band’s first tour of the States and later Europe. His hard work and steady hand through the pitfalls of such a jaunt lead to the band signing him up to become their fulltime manager. It is from the point of view the book takes its form; focusing on the ins and outs of the minefield that is the music business.
Monk does offer many insights into the inner workings of the band, as well as their larger than life personalities in some cases and their fragile grip on stardom in others. The book served as a reminder in some cases of the band’s exploits both on and off stage as well as shining a light of some of the things even fans would not know about the band. Having come of age as a radio personality and music journalist during the era that the book focuses on, the book offered an interesting perspective/confirmation of many things that were suspected about the band.
Monk delves deeply into the all but certain crash side of the story; the internal squabbles, the personality conflicts, and the massive chemical dependencies that contributed to the bands downfall. It was something that even the steadiest of hands on the wheel and the sheer brilliance of Edward Van Halen’s guitar pyrotechnics could not overcome.
While the band continued to churn out great music with Sammy Hager fronting the group, there is an element of wistfulness for what could have been if Van Halen had remained on the trajectory they had from their start. That “what if” only gets amplified, with the sideshow quality of the band’s recent reunion of sorts, with Eddie’s son (with Valarie Bertinelli), Wolfgang on bass; you just can’t capture the lightening in a bottle twice.