Jamie’s Cryin’—The Life and Loss of Edward “Eddie” Van Halen (Jan. 26, 1955–Oct. 6, 2020)
By Elizabeth Cruciani
The year 2020 has been cruel and unforgiving, especially to those in the music industry. Not just because the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to all live performances, but also due to the loss of several talented musicians. The list is depressingly long, but no one was prepared for the announcement on October 6th. The world of rock music and its fans alike were silenced with shock, disbelief, and sadness over the death of Eddie Van Halen. The legendary guitarist extraordinaire and co-founder of the rock group Van Halen died at the age of sixty-five of throat and lung cancer after more than a ten-year battle with the disease.
As I began contemplating ideas on how to write this tribute, my first thought was of the great importance this man had on the time stamp of rock music. Although many refer to him as “Eddie,” his full name was Edward Lodewijk (Ludwig) Van Halen. His Dutch parents named him after composer Ludwig Van Beethoven. They wanted both their boys to become classical pianists. His father, Jan, was also a musician, who played clarinet and saxophone. The Van Halen family moved from the Netherlands to Pasadena, California, in 1962. Little did Edward’s parents know how very prolific and fitting this name would become.
Today we refer to classical influences by their last name—Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. So, should we now refer to Eddie posthumously as “Van Halen”? Wouldn’t be a bad idea. Ironically, Edward was born January 26th, 1955. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was also born in January, on the 27th in 1756. That name is of itself quite a fitting statement. A very influential composer, Mozart represents the Classical Period just as Van Halen now represents the Classic Rock era. In keeping with family tradition, Eddie named his own son Wolfgang. Following in his father’s musical footsteps, Wolfgang joined his dad onstage many times as Van Halen’s bassist in 2006. (That year, my son Roman was born. Recently, he received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church. When going over a list of various possible saint’s names to select for his name addition, one he considered was Wolfgang. I was impressed. However, when it came down to the final cut, Bruno won out.)
Eddie formed Van Halen with his brother Alex, a drummer, in 1972 in Pasadena. He never learned to read sheet music yet mastered the sound of the electric guitar. It’s amazing to watch his finger-tapping technique and smooth note transitions, which produced such melodic and recognizable wails from his axe, the Frankenstrat, one of the most famous guitars on the planet. Listening to his instrumental intro “Eruption” sends chills up and down my spine. His playing certainly reflects his classical training.
Over the years, he also lent his talent to other musician’s projects as well. If you listen carefully to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” the guitar solo is none other than Eddie Van Halen. From the likes of Kiss, whose lead man, Gene Simmons, saw Van Halen play in 1976 and signed the band to his production company, to artists such as Nicolette Larson, Brian May, Thomas Dolby, and Black Sabbath. The list goes on and on.
Van Halen’s influence resounds in the stories of so many who chose to play the guitar. The narratives almost always begin with the words “Eddie is the reason I picked up a guitar.” I saw him play a few times and remember watching in silence with eyes wide open and staring in disbelief at the man’s talent. It was truly an honor to have lived in his lifetime.
So, long live the legacy and talent of Edward Lodewijk Van Halen! Even though Jamie will never stop cryin’, her wails will be heard throughout eternity whenever a Van Halen song is played. From Mozart to Beethoven to Van Halen. Now a part of music history, Eddie’s influence is destined to live on.
Photo credit: Emily Rudolph (San Francisco CA) @emrudolphart
Elizabeth is married and a mom of three boys. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Communications - Radio/TV from Marywood University and used to be an associate editor for a long distance education school and an office manager/writer for a local newspaper. She currently lives in Scranton, PA where she focuses on her family and love for writing. She enjoys music, reading, traveling and trips to the beach.