If you haven’t read Greg Renoff’s Van Halen Rising, you should. That book tells the tale of the birth and rise of a teen-aged Van Halen killing it at “backyard parties” in Southern California. Then go grab Noel Monk’s new book Runnin’ With The Devil, which picks up the story shortly thereafter, beginning in 1978 as the band’s debut album was poised to completely upend the hard rock world. He would manage the band until the end, when he was “relieved of all duties” in 1985. Shortly afterwards, singer David Lee Roth would leave the band for a solo career.
Monk began as the tour manager. He did not know of Van Halen, but had a lot of bonafides with Warner Bros. after taking on the sole Sex Pistols tour of America, which was an unmitigated disaster. Monk recounts those 12 Days On The Road in his fantastic book of the same title. The guy knows a little about precocious and spoiled rock stars, bad behavior, and when boys go wild on the road.
So in a nutshell, the “man on the street’s” take (i.e. mine) on the band’s personalities seems to be confirmed by Monk. Diamond Dave is one of the all time great frontmen — and he knows it. He’s petulant but smart, with a huge ego and a work drive to match. Edward (as the author calls him, and clearly his favorite) is a virtuoso who would prefer to “noodle” alone on his guitar than almost anything else, excepting the occasional groupie and line of “krell,” i.e. cocaine. Alex is the party monster in a band of party monsters, and a sometimes bully, while bassist Michael Anthony is the gee-whiz-everyman of the band, unfazed at their success, and happy to be along for the ride with his high-school sweetheart.
Sex and drugs abound — no surprise there — but it’s Monk’s business duties and, especially, his decision-making, that I found most illuminating. The infamous “no brown M&M’s” tour rider that demanded the dressing rooms be well-stocked with the candies, excepting the brown ones, is legendary. According to Monk, who put that clause in place, it was simply to ensure that the other, more important issues in the contract had been addressed. If someone had actually sorted through the candy as required, Monk tells us, he could feel reasonably assured that things such as safety measures had also been looked after. He also convinced the band of the importance of branding and merch, and employed roving security groups to confiscate all bootleg t-shirts on site. That move likely earned the band millions of dollars in additional profit. Some of these "business decisions," were, of course just rumors, such as the one that David Lee Roth had his penis insured by Lloyd's of London. Not true, but Monk did look into paternity insurance, to which all of the insurance agencies said "No thanks." However, Noel knew enough to "leak" the story, David played along, and the story took on a life of its own. Now that's good management!
Monk comes across as honest and hard-working, with Van Halen’s business and artistic interests at heart. Of course, he gets screwed by the band in the end, but so did Michael Anthony. There’s plenty of stories from both in the studio and on the road, with bad behavior and misadventures from all comers. There’s also a pretty mind-blowing explanation of the long-rumored DLR sex tape, with questionable intent from the former manager of the band. But Monk seems to have no axe to grind, even after his shoddy dismissal. Should you believe some of the wild times documented in the book?
Let’s give Diamond Dave the last word on Runnin' With The Devil, via a statement on his Twitter account:
“In anticipation of inevitable inquiries & questions posed to David Lee Roth in regard to the publication of this 'book,' Mr. Roth’s responses are as follows:
Answer No. 1: Yes
Answer No. 2: Probably
Answer No. 3: My lawyer says I can't remember.”
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