photo & text by nacrowe
the music business is notoriously BRUTAL and filled with SHARKS and VAN HALEN were no different as articulated by their former manager, the late NOEL E. MONK in his memoir RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL: A BACKSTAGE PASS TO THE WILD TIMES, LOUD ROCK, AND THE DOWN AND DIRTY TRUTH BEHIND THE MAKING OF VAN HALEN (DEY STREET, 2017). for all its BAWDY behind-the-scenes detailing of the MORAL DEPRAVITY, CHEMICAL OVERINDULGENCE, SEXUAL DEBAUCHERY and unrestrained EGOMANIA of this INFAMOUS band at their peak, what actually made the book captivating was its LUCID and SOBER depiction of FRAYED INTER-PERSONAL RIVALRIES and business dealings and maneuverings from a management perspective. the running thesis for the book are THE LENGTHS (EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL, CHEMICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, SPIRITUAL) a competent manager must endure to keep a growing business intact that is paradoxically DETERIORATING as it is expanding. for me that dynamic of having to appease the unappeasable, of having to manage an UNSTOPPABLE FORCE (VAN HALEN) meeting an IMMOVABLE OBJECT (their INSATIABLE GREED, DRUG ABUSE and utter LACK OF LOYALTY), is what makes this memoir so COMPELLING.
im just gonna come out and say that the band fired MONK after the touring cycle for their blockbuster 1984 (WARNER BROS, 1984) album. there was no financial malfeasance or bad career advice on the part of MONK, the band had just decided to find new management utilizing connections through their expanded family network. they effectively cut MONK out of a merchandising operation he spearheaded to expand their revenue and offered him crumbs as a possible booking agent. all in all it was a brazenly COLD and DISRESPECTFUL end to a relationship that saw the band benefit from his renegotiating their contract with WARNER BROS (due to a clerical mistake the he caught) as well as nurturing their remarkable journey from a promising local act from PASADENA to arenas and world stadiums the globe over. MONK's immediate previous gig to VAN HALEN was ironically the infamously doomed SEX PISTOLS' AMERICAN tour. if anything, surviving that TORTUROUS FIASCO of a moving operation intact proved his worth to the brass at WARNER BROS that initially positioned him with VAN HALEN as their touring manager. he effectively taught them the ropes of becoming an effective entity on the road. its just interesting that this FRANKENSTEIN that he nurtured grew to consume him with it.
it is hard to take any lessons from this memoir. it was his relationships that he leveraged on their behalf and in the end the band BETRAYED him. BETRAYED his efforts. BETRAYED his loyalty. but that in essence is the gig. it seems COUNTERINTUITIVE that in business one must be able to rely on others while concurrently TRUST NO ONE. but that seems to be the message of RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL. DAVID LEE ROTH, ALEX VAN HALEN and EDDIE VAN HALEN come off as supremely TALENTED yet overly PETULANT children with next level NARCISSISM. only bassist MICHAEL ANTHONY comes off with his reputation in tact as a PLEASANT, AGREEABLE person who keeps his indulgences relatively in check and his moral compass somewhat unblemished. goes without saying he got SCREWED OUT OF ROYALTIES by the other three in the process as well, relegating him to a wage earner in the band in spite of his sacrifices and years of service to VAN HALEN.
what i learned from this memoir was the INCREDIBLE extent to which both ROTH and the VAN HALEN brothers were irredeemably SELFISH ASSHOLES. that is to say not much since i already had a confirmation bias regarding such going into the book. in business there are seemingly no rules and no moral victories, at least where VAN HALEN is concerned. they make MOTLEY CRUE as depicted in THE DIRT (review linked HERE) come off like a bunch of morally upright choir boys. in odd circuitous way, that group with its legendary EGOMANIA is still a touring entity and its members are still somewhat looking out for the interest of one another in complete contrast to VAN HALEN. who knew?