Listen to Eddie Van Halen’s Smithsonian Talk
Eddie Van Halen has never loved giving interviews, and as the years have worn on, he's spoken up less and less in public. So even if he'd had nothing to say during his Feb. 12 appearance at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, it would have been a special occasion.
Fortunately, the talk — part of the museum's ongoing What It Means to Be American series — proved one of Van Halen's more relaxed and entertaining Q&A sessions in years, packed with personal anecdotes about everything from his youth as a Dutch immigrant to what keeps his creative spark burning today.
Some of the highlights from the hour-long chat, which you can (and should) listen to below, include Van Halen talking about the night that Jimmy Page inspired his vaunted tapping technique, as well as his description of the financial necessity ("I couldn't afford pedals") that produced his relentless tinkering with equipment — and ultimately ended up defining his trademark sound.
Other choice bits include recollections from Van Halen's long friendship with guitar legend Les Paul, as well as his memories of his first day of school in America, which prompted a moving recognition of the two kids who became his first friends in the country, and stood up for him when playground bullies were tearing up his homework and making him eat sand.
Perhaps more than anything, the interview underlined the fact that for Eddie, Van Halen has always been a family band. With his brother Alex and son Wolfgang in the audience, he reflected on the experience of seeing the pride in his father's eyes as the band achieved worldwide fame, and shared some terrific advice from the old man — "If you make a mistake, try to do it twice and smile" — while indulging in some paternal pride of his own, warning that everyone needed to brace themselves for Wolfgang's upcoming solo LP, which he says "blew my mind."
"I feel like a 60-year-old punk kid who plays guitar in a rock 'n' roll band," mused Van Halen after being congratulated on his recent birthday. "I'm so blessed and so honored to be able to do that — making music with my son and my brother."
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