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Sammy Hagar seldom disappoints. When I heard he was tapped to replace ass-clown extraordinaire David Lee Roth in 1985, I anticipated uninspiring results. I was correct (your mileage may vary). And when I saw there were “tell-all” excerpts from his new book in the latest Rolling Stone, I figured there would be some avert-your-eyes ugliness. I was correct.

Look: it’s obvious that Hagar is a good businessman. The dude has made tens of millions from his own brand of tequila. Who knows how much coin he has pocketed from the Van Hagar albums and the recent tours? His book will sell plenty of copies and who can hassle that? The question could be begged: why would a very wealthy dude take the time to write a book detailing the degeneracy of his former bandmate? To make money, obviously. Of course, he also has a tale to tell, particularly as he may want to set the record straight regarding his involvement in the band (and the on-again/off-again status of the various redux reunions). It is a poorly-kept secret that Eddie Van Halen is difficult to get along with, and who could blame Hagar for wanting to put his imprint on the permanent record?

(Breaking news, real-time edit: he is now claiming he was abducted by aliens! And here I was, just praising his business acumen. Holy “let me learn from Charlie Sheen and up the ante to move more product”, Batman!)

The parts of the book that focus on pre-and-post Van Halen life will probably appeal only to the most ardent Hagar fans (are there ardent Hagar fans? Anyone whose life has been missing the inside scoop of the Montrose years or an elaboration on why he can’t drive 55?). And yet, whatever its literary merits, it may ultimately become a useful historical document. Since the semi-reclusive Eddie Van Halen is less than likely to ever write an autobiography, this may be the closest eye-witness account we’ll ever get from someone who lived through it—not necessarily the good but definitely the bad and most definitely the ugly, of which more shortly. Not necessarily the studio antics that produced OU812 or F.U.C.K., but rather some explanation (or evidence) for why exactly Eddie Van Halen went from being one of the best guitarists of his generation to the punch-drunk burnout he’s become.

Keith Relf.

Who? Exactly.

Quite possibly the best vocalist you’ve never heard of, you still have heard him if you are passingly familiar with rock music. Trust me. He was the voice of the Yardbirds.

Who?

Come on. You know, that semi-influential band that gave birth to the holy trinity of English guitarists. In order: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Any questions?

In his book Orthodoxy, author G.K. Chesterton explains the inevitable travails of “The Maniac”. He describes the problem of the madman that believes the whole world is involved in conspiracy against him, and that in order to live in that world, an individual has to shrink their perceptions down to an ever-tightening pattern of logical reasoning that eventually they cannot break out of. Thus we are left with a spiraling prison of logic, whereby we are left trapped, unable to escape.

On Talking Heads’ third album, Fear of Music, the band traces a similar journey as described by Chesterton.  Released in 1979 on the heels of its first two records and its first charting single, Fear of Music careens with conviction into a suffocating and paranoid masterpiece.  From the opening Hugo Ball-inspired chants of “I Zimbra” (featuring King Crimson’s resident guitar maestro Robert Fripp) to the closing anxiety-ridden sound-scapes of “Drugs”, the album plods into ominous and dark arenas similar to those once traveled by David Bowie on the album Low. The cover says it all: a bleak and black metallic floor laden only with quasi-industrial and pre-PC green lettering.

It’s hard to believe that 1991 was 20 years ago. In the wake of that anniversary, many have been harkening back to reflect on the top records of that year: U2’s Achtung Baby, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Metallica’s (self-titled) “Black Album” just to name a few. Yet as grunge and the new wave of punk slowly emerged, an entirely different sound was inching over the horizon. Just three years from the brilliant Isn’t Anything, My Bloody Valentine (named after a Canadian horror film), had produced its masterwork, Loveless, a record of such sheer grandiosity and nuanced ingenuity, that it would become the reigning influence of independent rock, as well the expected candidate for every rock critic’s record collection, for years to come. It would also be the last musical statement from the band to date.

Bandleader Kevin Shields invested innumerable hours of studio time trying to create new and unprecedented sounds with this record, at times emerging from all-day sessions with absolutely nothing on tape. The process also found Shields barring any employees with Creation Records from access to the sessions. It was this kind of secluded and extensive work ethic that ended up nearly bankrupting the record label. However, it also ended up providing one of the most profound musical statements to emerge out of that year.

Has it really been 20 years since 1991? That year that never seemed all that long ago until now is unequivocally one of the landmark rock album years, a 12-month span whose voluminous output of brilliant records places it in the same hallowed ranks as 1967, 1969, 1977, and 1984. This was the year that gave the world instant classics including Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album”, U2’s Achtung Baby, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and Primal Scream’s Screamadelica as well as flawed-yet-still engaging works by R.E.M., Guns ‘N Roses, and the Smashing Pumpkins, not to mention revered cult favorites by My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, and Fugazi, just to name a notable few. Even without getting into singles, it’s clear that any fan of rock music should investigate at least a good dozen releases from this year as part of his or her formative musical education.

What makes 1991 such a memorable year in rock is not just that it packed so many fantastic full-lengths into its span (which it undeniably did), but that those releases were (explicitly or not) emblematic of seismic generational and cultural shifts. The key event of 1991 was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War, finally putting an end to the collective dread of nuclear annihilation that had cast such a shadow over and informed baby boomer culture the world over in so many profound ways. Meanwhile, a younger generation of restless rock fans only just discovering what daring music existed just outside the mainstream was both looking for icons of its own while chaffing at the previous year’s dominance by dance pop and hip hop. Whether it was by overthrowing the old guard, engaging in self-reinvention, or by modernizing a particular approach for the new decade, change was a concept that imbued many of 1991’s seminal rock albums.

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