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5 Crazy Stories from Eddie Van Halen’s Weekend With Thomas Dolby

Jason Smith / Ian Gavan, Getty Images
Jason Smith / Ian Gavan, Getty Images

A stone statue, the film This is Spinal Tap and the ozone layer all took a beating when Thomas Dolby spent a weekend at Eddie Van Halen‘s home, as the pop star explains in his new book.

You may know only know Dolby from his 1982 pop smash “She Blinded Me With Science,” but as The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology makes clear, he’s led a remarkably diverse and successful career as a composer, performer, producer and technology pioneer. He’s also collaborated with a dizzying array of musicians, including the Grateful Dead, David Bowie, George Clinton and Def Leppard.

The story of his collaboration with Van Halen‘s resident guitar genius begins innocently enough, with Eddie being asked to contribute to two songs (“Eastern Bloc” and “Close But No Cigar“) on Dolby’s 1992 album Astronauts & Heretics. Van Halen explained that his group was in the middle of recording their 1991 effort For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, but invited Dolby up to his home recording studio to squeeze in a couple days of work. Dolby says he soon realized, though, that “every hour of [Van Halen’s] day was like a scene from Spinal Tap.” Here’s five of the best examples:

First Rule: No ‘Spinal Tap’ Jokes
When Dolby tried to break the ice by quoting a famous This is Spinal Tap line about sustain to Van Halen, he was met with a blank stare. When he asked if the guitarist had ever seen the famous rock music mockumentary, Eddie replied, “Yeah, dude, we saw that piece of s—.” He then went on to explain, “We didn’t think it was funny. It was like, someone followed us around with a camera, put it up on a screen, and everybody fell over laughing.”

Andy Johns Vs. The Statue
Legendary producer and engineer Andy Johns (Exile on Main Street, Physical Graffiti and many, many more) was working with in the studio with Van Halen when Dolby visited. Apparently having overindulged a bit, Johns excused himself from the session early. Soon after he left, there was a “deafening crash.” Dolby and his host ran outside, to see that Johns had reversed his large mauve Cadillac convertible into a stone statue. “He’s knocked an arm off one of the statues,” Van Halen complained, adding that his then-wife, actress Valerie Bertinelli, “[is] gonna kill me.”

No Privacy
Dolby was surprised to learn that even in his secluded home property, rock’s most famous guitarist was under surveillance. As the pair took the short drive from Eddie’s 5150 home studio to his house in a custom-painted golf cart, Dolby “suddenly heard the honking of horns and shrill distant cries of ‘EDDIE! EDDIE! YEAH!!’ High up above his property a group of fans had parked their trucks and hot rods on a scenic overlook… and they were screaming and flashing their headlights, amazed to get an actual sighting of their favorite guitar god.”

Eddie Vs. The Environment
Apparently, the importance of energy conservation hadn’t hit home with Eddie just yet. Dolby says as soon as they arrived home from the studio, Van Halen plopped down in an oversized armchair and hit the remote control to turn on the massive gas fireplace “with a loud whooooomf!” This prompted a swift rebuke from Bertinelli: “Eddie! It’s ninety degrees out!” “Crank up the AC then, would you babe?” Eddie replied, “I’m beat.”

Alex Van Halen Vs. Outside Interests
Prior to his visit, Van Halen had warned Dolby that his bandmates, in particular his drummer brother Alex Van Halen, wasn’t thrilled with the notion of Eddie working on other people’s albums. During a chance meeting with Alex in the kitchen, Dolby decided to find out the truth for himself. “I hear you’re not nuts about Eddie playing on my album?” He asked. “You got that right, bro,” the drummer responded. “Last time we let him do that, he did a solo on that little f—er Michael Jackson‘s [Thriller] record. That was the only reason [Van Halen’s subsequent album] 1984 got stuck at No. 2.”

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