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210 × 148 × 16 mm
216 pages
29 illustrations
01 Apr 2012
  • £14.95

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Van Halen Exuberant California, Zen Rock’n’roll John Scanlan

‘I hate the word maturing,’ singer David Lee Roth once said. ‘I don't like the word evolving - or any of that bullshit. The point is to keep it as simplistic, as unassuming, and as stupid as possible.’ Examining Roth’s sentiment, Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock‘n’roll follows the band’s pursuit of the art of artlessness, and describes how they characterize what historian Kevin Starr terms 'Zen California' - a state of mind and way of being that above all celebrates ‘the now’. In rock‘n’roll terms it stands for the unregulated expenditure of energy; for a youthful exuberance that seems destined to extinguish itself.

While many have attempted to discover the secrets of Van Halen through an analysis of their musical role models, John Scanlan looks instead at deeper aesthetic and philosophical influences, such as romanticism and the Beat movement. Through illuminating moments and impressions - decaying Hollywood in the 1970s; Ted Templeman and Sunset Sound Studios; Top Jimmy and the Zero Zero club; the building of Eddie Van Halen’s Hollywood Hills studio in 1983 - the author shows how 1970s California was the only time and place that Van Halen could have emerged. Along the way, Scanlan explores other aspects of the band, such as the relationship between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen; the unique climate of Southern California, and its relation to a sense of cultural exuberance; the echoes of Beat aesthetics in David Lee Roth’s attitude to time and the moment; Eddie Van Halen’s ‘bebop’ sensibility; and the real roots of the so-called ‘Brown’ sound.

Van Halen is a groundbreaking account of an extraordinary band, caught in the events of a revolutionary time. The book will appeal to all fans of the group, as well as readers with an interest in the history and aesthetics of rock‘n’roll, and the culture of California.

‘Through its ten chapters . . . Scanlan takes you through the journey of Van Halen, via various in-depth musings of a social and historical persuasion that, the author suggests, uncover more potent truths than their regularly touted musical inspirations. It's an engaging way of reading up on the ins and outs of California Zen, romanticism, and the evolving 60s-80s Hollywood music scene . . . a refreshing history lesson [by] a very articulate and knowledgeable writer. (7/10)’ — Classic Rock magazine

‘Making unlikely connections between Van Halen and movements as seemingly remote as the Beats and Bebop, Scanlan convincingly makes the case that the relationship between Roth and Eddie Van Halen reveals something of the essence of California . . . it is a tale concerned with the "art of artlessness", and the importance that living in the now had always assumed in the culture of California.’ — Dagens Næringsliv's D2 Magazine

‘Diamond Dave as a Zen master? Eddie Van Halen as musical monk? Thats the case John Scanlan makes - tongue only partly in cheek - in this learned but lively take on Van Halens rise to the pinnacle of rockstardom, improvising all the way. Philosophy you can dance to.’ — Barnes and Noble review

‘excellent . . . an enlightening read that significantly adds to the scholarship on Sunset Strip musical history’ — LA Letters, KCET (Southern California Public TV) A Los Angeles Times Recommended Summer Read, 2012

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John Scanlan is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University.He has previously worked at the Universities of Glasgow, St Andrews and Bristol. He is the author of On Garbage (Reaktion, 2004), Van Halen: Exhuberant California, Zen Rock & Roll(Reaktion, 2012), Memory: Encounters with the Strange and the Familiar (Reaktion, 2013), Easy Riders, Rolling Stones: On the Road in America, from Delta Blues to 70s Rock (2015),


1. Out upon the Ocean
2. Islands: Sunset Strip and the 1970s, c. 1974–7
3. The Golden Dream, California
4. Hanging Ten, c. 1977–82
5. Hollywood Flotsam, c. 1980–82
6. The Tao of Dave: Surf Life
7. Diver Down, Temperature Up, c. 1981–2
8. Think Like the Waves, Like a Child, c. 1982–3
9. Sail to the Moon
10. Wipeout, c. 1984–2007

Discography and Soundtrack
Photo Acknowledgements