(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Video: Van Halen, Live in Toronto
Where You Can Stream It: YouTube
The Pitch: During a 1995 Van Halen concert in Toronto, rock and roll legend and guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen played a ten minute guitar solo which distilled his iconoclastic talent into one sublime video.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Widely viewed as one of the greatest guitar players of all time, years of smoking finally caught up with Eddie Van Halen this week and he died of throat cancer at the age of 65. Thinking back over the breadth of his creative output, I was struck by how this video, a snapshot of a single live performance in the midst of a lengthy tour, combines Eddie’s spirit, playfulness, and next-level talent in one face-melting solo. If you’re a longtime fan or someone who’s completely unfamiliar with his work, you’ve gotta see this to believe it.
I distinctly remember being in the car with my dad when I heard “Eruption” for the first time on the radio. As a young kid who wanted to play the guitar, my mind was completely blown when he told me that the sound I was hearing was emanating from just a single guitar. I remember thinking if this was possible, what else was possible? My little brain could barely handle it.
But that’s the thing with Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing: you never really learn how to handle it. It’s always jaw-dropping, whether you’re hearing it for the first time or the thousandth. Years passed, I learned the basics of playing the guitar, and began to understand on a practical level how Eddie was able to conjure those sounds, but the amazement never went away. (And to anyone who thinks it’s easy to play stuff like this when you can “hide” behind pedals and effects, listen to him absolutely shred in the one-minute acoustic “Spanish Fly.”)
This performance (which I downloaded through Kazaa in the early 2000s) gives you a look at not only the blazing speed and ingenuity of Eddie’s finger-tapping, but also a glimpse at the way he was able to slip in homages to his classical music heroes and subsequently bring that type of music to a new generation. A pantheon-level musician and performer, it’s impossible to overstate the influence that Eddie Van Halen had on rock and roll music. But maybe this video will give you some sense of that awe I experienced the first time I heard this maniac let loose and turn a guitar into a makeshift heavy metal orchestra. Rest in peace, Eddie.
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