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Archive for February 8th, 2012

Kung Fu According to Van Halen

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Though he would probably disagree with me, John (Sifu Cheng) is the only person I’ve ever seen move faster than Eddie Van Halen’s fingers in his classic guitar solo, “Eruption”.

Until a recent visit to our old neighborhood, I hadn’t thought about that image in a long time.

Driving through the entrance gates of Country Club subdivision was like being sucked through a time portal. The further we followed the winding streets of our childhood stomping grounds the faster we warped back to the 1980’s.  I flipped on the radio and half expected to hear Dire Straits and Sting demand, I want my MTV!” or Huey Lewis explaining the “Power of Love”.

With the windows down and the spring wind rushing through the car, we circled the block. For the briefest of moments as we drove past my house, I swear I smelled baked chicken, rice pilaf, green beans, and freshly brewed tea, my family meal most every night.

As we rounded the corner to his house, John and I pointed out the many areas we used to play in as kids: Brent Morris’s wall, Amanda Bridger’s trampoline, Joey Weaver’s front yard, and the sparse remains of the woods that once surrounded our neighborhood. It was funny. Driving to John’s house, we realized were following the exact path as our running route some thirty years earlier.

Stopping in front of John’s house, I killed the engine. With the overgrown lawn, the open mailbox, and the two newspapers lying in the driveway, it appeared no one was there. We got out and walked around to the backyard.  Man, you talk about a tsunami of memories crashing over me.

With the warm breeze to our backs, we just stood there, silent, reverent, taking in the sights and sounds of our past.

The backyard grass was high and out of control except in the very center. It was the exact spot where John and I had spent over ten thousand hours training, pounding the grass to dirt. Apparently, the massive amounts of sweat, blood, and tears we shed on that hallowed chunk of ground had destroyed any grass seedling’s chance of ever producing.

In my mind, I could still see John’s weatherworn picnic table sitting on the now cracked and empty back patio. Sitting atop of that very table was the fuel that had kept us going through those grueling workouts: John’s jam box, cranking out the melodious sounds of Van Halen.

Always towering above the portable stereo was our stack of Van Halen cassettes, each album chosen for a specific segment of our workout. While Diamond Dave heartened us with his signature howl, Eddie’s screaming Kramer guitar pushed us faster.

Beginning with the self-titled debut album Van Halen, John and I warmed up to the classics “Running with the Devil” and “You Really Got Me”.

Women and Children First was next withAnd the Cradle Will Rock”. For the kicking drills, we popped in Fair Warning and kicked across the length of the lawn to the sounds of “Unchained” and “So This is Love”. For empty hand forms, we rocked to the mighty Diver Down with the hits, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”, “Little Guitars”, and “Pretty Woman”.  Also from that album was the great remake of Dancing in the Streets. John doesn’t remember it but I promise I remember him competing in the musical forms division at Johnny Lee’s tournament in Shreveport with that song.

Whenever we sparred, we listened to the colossal-mega-hit album 1984.  Has there ever been a better Van Halen album?

Aside from training to 1984, the best memory I have of that album was in ninth grade. John, Brent Morris, Drew Van Devender, and myself, preformed “Jump” at a school talent show. With John as David Lee Roth, he jumped, did the splits, and nailed aerials better than Diamond Dave did himself in the Jump video. I played Eddie, Brent was Alex, and Drew was on keyboard as Michael. Though we placed second, we were the only act to receive a standing ovation and an encore request from the audience. It was incredible!

As for John moving faster than Eddie?

At that time, John’s best competition weapon was the spear. I remember he’d grab his weapon, pop in the cassette, push play, and then run to our training spot as “Eruption” exploded through the small speakers. He’d then bust out the spear form, keeping perfect time with Eddie’s smoking fingers. At the song’s end with the guitar fading, John held the spear’s base, dropped to the splits, then effortlessly snapped back to his feet with the spear flipping in his hand. It was awesome. Eddie would’ve been proud.

Incidentally, in writing this, I learned that Diamond Dave has rejoined the band and they cut an album. The first one since 1984.

Interesting. Perhaps I should write about Journey. Maybe Steve Perry will come back. Then the world will be perfect again.