The Great Debate

We struggle with that most serious of questions: Roth or Hagar?

St. Louis loves Van Halen. This can be proved mathematically: Observe the light speed with which the band sold out the gi-normous Savvis Center for its Wednesday, July 28, show, forcing a second show the following night. Analyze the crowd differences between Sammy Hagar's shows in Duluth and those here in the Lou. Check out how empty Six Flags will be on the concert nights. Give a listen to KSHE. The evidence is right there: This is a Van Halen town.

But there is a schism in the sect. Van Halen fans are split into two definable camps: those who love the antics of original frontman David Lee Roth and those who prefer the tequila-fueled power of the more-recent lead, Sammy Hagar, who is fronting on this tour. (No one seriously defends the merits of third frontman Gary Cherone, the Joe Besser of Van Halen.)

Shortly before leaving on a vacation, I asked a member of each VH camp -- calendar editor and Roth fan Paul Friswold and staff writer and Hagar-hugger Mike Seely -- to settle this argument once and for all. When I returned, they presented me with a book-length debate that ranged from the sexually transmitted diseases of pop stars to the bombing of Starbucks. Here, edited for length, libel and sanity, is that debate. -- Jordan Harper

Mike Seely: Many feel that Hagar did not succeed as Van Halen's lead singer because he could not escape the long shadow cast by Lee Roth. I beg to differ: Van Hagar did not succeed because Sammy was already fucking large on his own merits. He was exceeding 55 onstage long before speed limits were officially on the rise nationwide. Diamond Dave had to wear goofy outfits and suspend himself from wires in concert, whereas the Red Rocker just fucking rocked. Would Diamond Dave have been as popular had he adopted Hagar's non-shtick shtick? Hell no.

Paul Friswold:The fatal flaw here is two-fold: One, Sammy Hagar never rocked. Not even close. Mr. Hagar was a perpetual also-ran from the time he left Montrose, as his paeans to fast driving and boxes with multiple locks will attest.

Second, the idea that Dave would ever try to adopt a persona other than his own is laughable. David Lee Roth is guilty of many indiscretions career-wise, but imitation is not among them. Dave is Dave. Suppose positions were reversed, and Dave did succeed Mr. Hagar in Van Halen. I highly doubt Dave would scratch his chin and think, "Hmm, that straggly, semi-permed hair and multi-belted yellow jumpsuit worked pretty well for Hagar. I guess I should get me one of those and corn-row the wig and learn the lyrics to 'I Can't Drive 55.'" Hardly.

Dave would instead strap on the chaps, mount an enormous inflatable microphone and tell Van Halen, "My name is David Lee Roth, and I've got an idea for a song about a girl named Jamie who gave it up too soon to a guy like me, and now I'm gonna pork every girl in the front row."

But sometimes the universe aligns all the particles in perfect formation, and everything falls into place with magical precision. Such was the case with Van Halen, and so Dave was first (in every sense of the word). And history has shown us that Mr. Hagar, in his role as second (best) Van Halen vocalist, was more than willing to slavishly (and poorly) imitate Dave's perfection. Here's a guy who claimed on The Daily Show that he was a teetotaler for many years, until he had to warm Dave's shoes (which happen to be a fantastic, rhinestone and besequined pair of kicks). Then he began drinking (from the pressure, or the knowledge that he was failing miserably as Dave Jr.) and cultivating his three-rungs-below-Jimmy-Buffet "Cabo-Wabo" persona. Mr. Hagar, fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.

MS: I'm all for androgynous rock stars, but nobody did androgyny like Bowie, and nobody ever will. So Lee Roth's assless-chap tomfoolery amounts to a "can't beat it, join it" attitude. Piss poor. Hagar, however, is a study in contradictions. What we know of the Red Rocker is he enjoys kicking it on the beach in Mexico and drinking in moderation. The guy has his own tequila brand -- surprisingly good, by the way -- and is a staunch advocate of long-haul drinking. Oh sure, he'll drink, but he never loses his shit. This is unique among frontmen of the cock-rock genre. Diamond Dave, meanwhile, loses his shit every time he opens his mouth. Remember, it's Hagar who's been welcomed back with open arms by the Van Halen brothers, who told Lee Roth to go play a game of hide-and-go-fuck-himself when he attempted a hostile takeover of the band a couple years back.

PF: All chaps are assless; if they have a back, they're called "pants." And Diamond Dave in chaps is about as androgynous as Ron Jeremy on Viagra; he's pure hetero-smarm.

"Welcomed back with open arms?" Look, just because Mr. Hagar is more than willing to be the rebound-hump, sloppy-seconds kinda guy that he is and return to the employ of Alex and Eddie doesn't mean that Alex and Eddie are happy about it. After the abysmal failure of the Cherone experiment, who did the Van Halens invite back to the band? Dave, as seen on the MTV Music Awards. I'm sure Sammy was sitting by the phone down in Cabo, with a little suitcase packed and a thesaurus with all the synonyms for "thank you" underlined, but the call didn't come. Not for, what, four or five years? Dave is invited back as a full-time employee of Van Halen Enterprises, and he submarines it. Van Halen the band remains dormant for the next few years, rather than call Hagar. When you would rather put your band on hiatus for half a decade than call the one guy in the world who you know will crawl through a doggy-door to get back in the band, you're not exactly welcoming anyone back with open arms. Grudgingly accepting the burden of a second banana many moons after your first choice snubs you is not a ringing endorsement of anyone.

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