Sammy Hagar: Everything That’s Wrong with Rock’n’roll: Column #03

It all started so innocently. I was out at the local watering hole to see Disfear when I spotted my pal Digger. Digger’s great, one of those “man about town” types. I always see him out at metal and punk shows, usually clutching a brewski or two, always with a story to tell. (These stories usually end with Digger getting beaten up in his front yard by the boyfriend of the girl he was hitting on, him getting tossed out of the club for drunk/disorderly behavior, or waking up somewhere and having no recollection of how he got there. On this most recent Fourth of July, he came to a barbecue we were having. He had four hours before he had to be at work and proceeded to become very rowdy and intoxicated, eventually puking all over the yard. I gave him a ride to work and went back to the party. As soon as I got there, I got a phone call from him saying that he had been fired, and would someone please come pick him up so he could party some more? Like I said, Digger’s great.) (He did eventually get his job back. I guess they just expect this sort of thing when you work at a strip club.)

We became friends when we realized we both share a deep and abiding love for Van Halen. I know it isn’t “punk” to like Van Halen, but I don’t care. Digger and I can while away hours talking about their greatness. We once experienced a sort of extended trance state while watching Eddie solo on a bootleg concert DVD from the eighties. (It’s kind of embarrassing, really, but it happened. We can’t explain it.)
While I love VH, I think Digger actually worships them. He recently read David Lee Roth’s autobiography (the incredibly entertaining Crazy from the Heat, released in 1995) and told me he “felt like a new, better person.” It was startlingly akin to a conversation with someone who had undergone a religious conversion. I can think of worse people to worship than David Lee Roth, I guess.

On this particular day, Digger was surprisingly sober, and he was visibly excited. He asked me if I had heard who was coming to Common Ground this summer. (Now, for the uninitiated, the Common Ground festival is one of those classic rock/slightly washed-up radio rock/surprisingly popular country singer fests that pop up all over the heartland every summer. This one is in Lansing, Michigan. Most of these pukepiles have the decency to be free. (Usually heavily subsidized by the local “rock” station and watered-down beer sales.) Lansing though, despite having one of the absolute worst economies in the country, charges thirty bucks a day. There are lines around the block. I don’t understand it either. I’ve only been once before, when I scored free passes to see Poison. They were, uh, pretty great, actually. Like, really rockin’. Geez, I swear that I actually like good music; it’s just not that interesting to write about, really.)

It turns out that Sammy Hagar was playing one of the higher profile shows of the week. I was a little surprised that Digger was so excited, as he hates Sammy Hagar on a level most people reserve for say, Hitler or Stalin. (I’m good friends with a woman from Latvia who grew up under Communism, whose grandparents were in the gulag under Stalin, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t hate Stalin as much as Digger hates Sammy Hagar.)

He’s entirely right to hate Sammy in this way, as Sammy Hagar not only ruined Van Halen, he is the living embodiment of everything that is wrong with rock’n’roll. (The Minutemen are one of my favorite bands. Imagine how elated I was when I found out that the title of Double Nickels on the Dime was a dig on Sammy. Double Nickels, of course, also contains a David Lee Roth-era VH cover. See? It’s actually totally punk to like Van Halen.) We hate Sammy Hagar from the depths of our souls. So why was Digger so excited to go see him?

It turned out that Digger had a plan. He felt it was unacceptable for Sammy Hagar to show up in his town and play a concert and expect people not to say anything. So he was going to find some Sammy Hagar records, get to the Common Ground festival early enough to secure a front row center seat, endure the opening acts, and then, when Sammy hit the stage, he was going to burn the LPs in front of him while chanting pro-Diamond Dave slogans. (Most likely resulting in permanent ejection from the Common Ground Festival and possibly his arrest.) He asked me if I’d like to come along.

How could I say no?

Now, I own a record store. In Michigan. Michigan has the worst economy in the nation. Consequently, I make no money. I really didn’t want to spend thirty bucks to see Sammy Hagar, especially when I wasn’t even going to enjoy the concert at all. So I set out on a quest to get free tickets. I mean, I own a record store, right? I should have some connections for free Common Ground tickets. I know they give them out—I got some to see Poison two years ago, remember? But alas, no free tickets were to be found. I asked friends at radio stations, prominent folks around town, random people on the street; the answer was always the same: no dice. I thought I was home free when I found out my old pals the Hard Lessons were opening the show. Even they couldn’t get me in for free. (Their drummer, upon first learning that they were opening for the Red Rocker, had this to say: “Oh God, we don’t have to meet him, do we?”) We were going to have to pay if we wanted to see this crazy plan through.

Luckily, at the last minute (I’m talking several hours before the gates opened), Digger came through with not only free tickets to the show, but a pass into the “sponsors’ tent” and six free drink tickets. (The Sponsor’s Tent has a free buffet. This was shaping up nicely.) I arranged to meet Digger and our friend Brad in the sponsors’ tent an hour before the show. They said that they would take care of sneaking in the anti-Sammy signs and any other contraband we might need.

Only while I stood in line waiting to get in did I begin to think this was a very bad idea. Sure, I had a few second thoughts in the week leading up to this event, mostly because I thought I would have to pay thirty dollars to see an artist I can’t stand, but there were also a few nagging “what if we get arrested” type thoughts floating around the old noggin. (I have a teaching degree I might eventually use. They don’t look too kindly on an arrest record when hiring teachers here in Michigan.) But these things didn’t bother me that much. Everybody’s gotta get arrested sometime, and thirty dollars is a small price to pay for the smiting of one’s enemies. No, it wasn’t these thoughts giving me pause as I stood in the hot sun, waiting to get into the Common Ground Festival. It was the Sammy fans.

Now, I, like most Razorcake readers, didn’t think anyone actually was a Sammy Hagar fan. (If Razorcake readers think of Sammy Hagar at all… ) I kind of assumed it’d just be the three of us out there, yelling at Sammy in an empty park. Certainly, no one has ever walked into my store demanding Sammy Hagar records. But here they were. And boy, were they… big. Like, huge, strapping guys. Guys who used to be on the football team in high school twenty years ago, and who’ve just let all that muscle turn into fat. Guys with Sammy Hagar and “Cabo Wabo” T-shirts on. (Have they never seen P.C.U.? Do they not know that you don’t wear the T-shirt of the artist you’re going to see? Again, I thought this was common knowledge. I guess if you’re a Sammy Hagar fan, you’re a pretty huge idiot and have no respect for social conventions anyway.) Guys who are talking about how much they hate Barack Obama. Guys who seem like they’d kick the asses of any uppity little punks who didn’t like Sammy Hagar. This could be trouble.

I eventually made it inside the festival and found Brad and Digger using up those drink tickets in the sponsors’ tent. I didn’t want to look like a wuss, but I was pretty nervous about the ass-kicking we were more than likely to receive. When Digger left for a second to use the restroom, Brad admitted to having the same feelings. He was relieving these feeling with copious amounts of brew. I don’t drink, so I was stuck with my vague feeling of unease.

The opening band had taken the stage, so we wandered on over to get a good spot up front. (Shameless Plug Dept.: The opening band, the Hard Lessons, totally rocked out, by the way. They’re good people, they work hard, and they deserve any success that comes their way, even if they won’t let my band open up for them anymore. (There was an incident with some pyrotechnics and an angry club promoter. We won’t go into that now.)) The crowd was starting to fill in and I was getting mighty nervous. Brad continued to drink heavily, while Digger stared at the stage without speaking. I think he was mentally preparing for what was to come. We were minutes away from a pretty severe beatdown.

The Lessons finished their set and got off the stage in record time. A large banner descended from the rafters, obscuring the stage. It was red, with a big picture of Sammy Hagar on it. We were too busy laughing at it for me to get a good look at it. The people around us were starting to suspect that we were not their kind, and were giving us dirty looks for laughing at Sammy’s banner. (The banner fell down before they even had all the gear on stage. Proof that god hates Sammy Hagar too? Maybe…) 

Now, this might be a good time to tell you about Brad. Despite being a crazy, drunken Dutch metal head, Brad is an all-around sweetheart. He doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body. He was there to drink free beer and laugh at Digger’s antics. (Side note: We are, I think, the only two people in our group of friends who still enjoy said antics. We are also, not coincidentally, the only two people who haven’t gotten in a fistfight with Digger or had their girlfriends hit on relentlessly by Digger. Or gotten in a fistfight because Digger was relentlessly hitting on our (non-existent) girlfriends. Just to clear that up.)  Though Brad hates Sammy Hagar, he bears him no ill will. Or, at least, he didn’t until Sammy’s pre-show video came on. (I do not understand why an artist thinks that we would want to watch pre-taped footage of them doing things before they play. Open note to any band thinking of doing this: I would rather you played another song instead of showing me footage of you fooling around backstage or some other such horseshit.)

I know Brad very well, perhaps better than I know anyone else. I know when he is becoming angry, because it happens so rarely. And standing there, watching him watch footage of Sammy Hagar cavort and drink tequila with Toby Keith, I knew he was getting very angry. Because Brad despises Toby Keith. Anyone hanging out with Toby Keith is the enemy. Sammy Hagar was now the enemy. This was going to be trouble. (In the interest of full disclosure—and also because it’s embarrassing for Brad—I do need to point out that Brad, who is a gigantic metal fan and loves the Ramones as much as any human should, which is to say totally and with complete devotion, absolutely loves modern country music. He is constantly watching the music videos for these artists, and it perplexed me greatly, until recently. I finally realized that Brad is attempting to fill the void that hair metal left in his life, and modern country music videos, with all of their hot, scantily dressed women, explosions, double kick drum, styled hair, and stadium-filling antics fill this void for him. This love does not extend to Toby Keith, however. )

As soon as Sammy hit the stage, Brad was giving him the double middle finger salute, as was Digger. Though Sammy was blasting “I Can’t Drive 55” far too loudly for me to hear what they were saying, I could see that both Digger and Brad were yelling some very unkind things in Sammy’s direction. Digger produced a tape copy of Van Halen’s 5150 album from his pocket (5150 was the first record Sammy did with Van Halen, if you weren’t aware.) and threw it at Sammy, but he missed. Undeterred, he disappeared into the crowd for a second, reemerging with beer bottle in hand, and then scored a direct hit on Sammy’s shoulder. Brad, meanwhile, had started a “Diamond Dave” chant. A solitary Diamond Dave chant, but he was trying.

As soon as that beer bottle hit Sammy, the crowd started to turn on us. I was stuck in the middle of two rapidly deteriorating situations. To my immediate left, Brad had attracted the attention of a rather sizable Sammy Hagar-loving lunkhead. If Sammy’s fans are essentially Neanderthals, having somehow missed a rung on the evolutionary ladder, than this guy was King Neanderthal. King Neanderthal was decidedly not digging Brad’s heckling, and shoved a large, meaty finger in his direction and demanded to know why he “was being so negative, maaaaan.” Now, this would possibly have been a time to… I don’t know. Lie. Pretend it wasn’t us who were heckling Sammy at all. Distract this guy by pointing behind him and saying “look over there!” and then running away. Really, any of these things probably would have worked. (Because this dude was BIG. Big and irrational.) But, that’s not what Brad did at all. He answered his question with one very succinct sentence:

“Because I hate Sammy Hagar.”

This did not go over well. I became very nervous, because I was (I thought) seconds away from getting my ass kicked. Though I was not personally the one who told King Neanderthal that I hated Sammy, I would obviously have to intervene if Brad started to tussle with someone nine times his size. This intervention would be completely useless, of course, because the King was also nine times my size.

I hadn’t been beaten up since the ninth grade, and I really didn’t intend to start the habit up again now. But what to do? I have two options I usually employ when in this situation: a) run, or b) reason with my assailants. Neither of those was gonna work here. Meanwhile, the whole time I’m thinking this out, Brad and the King are having this conversation:

King Neanderthal: “I’ll kick yer ass, man.”
Brad: “Fine. Do it then.”
KN: “I will.”
Brad: “Ok then. Go for it. Hit me.”
KN: “I’m about to.”
Brad: “Shhh.”

(See, when Brad is super, super drunk, he does this thing. No matter what anyone says to him, he will simply put his finger to his lip and say “shhhh.” It’s funny when you’re his friend. Probably not so much when he is insulting your favorite musical artist.)

This was going downhill fast, and I had no solutions. I thought I’d better check in and see how Digger was doing. I looked to my right, and that situation wasn’t going so well either. Digger was being accosted by no less than six rather large women. They had him surrounded, and were pushing and jostling him around. They were yelling something at him, but all I heard him say in his defense was “please don’t pull my hair.” Not good.

I had no solution for this either. It was at this point that I just resigned myself to getting my ass kicked. I looked over towards Brad, figuring that if it was going to happen, I’d rather get the crap knocked out of me by King Neanderthal than six old women—that would just be embarrassing—but what I saw was simply miraculous. You see, the King had a friend. He was slightly smaller, and he appeared to be of greater intelligence. (His knuckles weren’t dragging on the ground, and he wasn’t wearing a Sammy Hagar T-shirt.) He seemed to be the kind of guy who just wanted to drink some beers and enjoy some music, without getting all irate about some hecklers. In this crowd, that made him a damn genius.

You know how when you play peek-a-boo with very small children, they really think that you have disappeared when you hide from them for a moment? (Uh, so I’ve been told. I don’t really hang out with a lot of small children.) Apparently, this works on an adult with a child’s level of intelligence as well. All the King’s friend had to do to defuse the situation was move between him and Brad. Really! As soon as Brad was out of sight, the King promptly forgot all about him and went on enjoying the show, as if he hadn’t spent the last ten minutes violently angry at all. It was the damnedest thing I’d ever seen.

At that precise moment, Digger, having somehow escaped his six old lady tormentors, sidled up to me and said, “It’s time to show Sammy the signs and get the hell out of here before we get killed.” I had to agree. Digger had been hiding two large posterboard signs down his pants, waiting for the right time. The time was now.

On one sign, Digger had written “Fuck You Sammy,” and on the other he wrote “You Ruined Van Halen.” Sammy had chosen this moment to come right to our side of the stage, so Digger and Brad hoisted the signs high for him to see. I’ve got to assume that Sammy Hagar gets a lot of signs at his concert that say things like “Mas Tequila” or “You Rock, Sammy!” or something like that. So, being used to all this positivity in sign form, he probably doesn’t do a lot of reading of these signs. He just points, maybe shakes his fist, then gets on with the concert, which is pretty much what he did, at first, to our signs. Then—and this made the whole day worth it—there was a moment of recognition. Sammy literally hung his head in shame. He finally, without a doubt, knew that he had ruined a once mighty classic rock band. We dropped the signs and literally ran for the exits. Our work here was done.

Later, while talking to the guitarist for the Hard Lessons, I told him what we had done. He said that we had really pissed Sammy off. Triumph!

(I’ll spare you, good readers, the details of the aftermath of this little excursion, where we tricked most of Lansing into thinking that we had been arrested for messing with Mr. Hagar. (I still run into people who say, “Aren’t you the guy who got arrested for throwing things at Sammy Hagar?” to this day.) But I will say this: Digger got fired from his strip club job, AGAIN, for our antics. Apparently, strip clubs the world over consider Sammy Hagar a friend and compatriot. When the word got back to them, Digger was immediately canned. No, I am not making this up.)