There’s always hope for Van Halen as long as Diamond Dave can bang that high note

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 26, 2003

By Steve Newton

Judging by the photo montage in the booklet of David Lee Roth’s new CD, Diamond Dave, it’s clear the former Van Halen howler hasn’t jettisoned the boisterously cheesy persona he cultivated during his early-’80s solo career, when flamboyant videos for “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” were staples of the then-new MTV channel. There’s a picture of Roth in cowboy drag, surrounded by pregnant, smoking, Budweiser-chugging blonds in curlers. Another one shows him on a fake beach in a green satin jumpsuit, gesturing gleefully while being serenaded by a ukulele-strumming hottie wearing a lei and not much else.

Then there’s the cover shot of him lounging in a neon-green armchair, sporting shiny purple leathers and fingering an orange scarf while his airbrushed silver locks blow back toward two babes in body stockings and aviator helmets. As he confirms from an undisclosed location in Vancouver, the King of Kitsch is back in form.

“Well, certainly!” the 48-year-old showman enthuses. “I never really stopped, you know. There is an approach here that is old-school, mix and match. What I do for a living is somewhere between Groucho and Kurosawa, somewhere between Spider-Man and Mark Twain.”

Chatting with Roth on the phone, you get the impression he’s part genius, part nutcase. His off-the-wall outbursts make strange sense sometimes, other times not even close. But one thing the guy isn’t is boring. He’s never been easy to ignore, ever since that first raspy howl introduced “David Roth” to the rock world on “Running With the Devil”, the opening track from Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut. His over-the-top approach continues with the first single off Diamond Dave, a version of Steve Miller’s “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma” retitled “Shoo Bop”.

“We did a video for it,” Roth says. “If you liked ‘Hot for Teacher’ or ‘California Girls’, you’ll love the characterizations. It’s more like social commentary. You ever notice that the best humour isn’t funny at all? I don’t know that people really laugh at the characters I depict in my videos; it’s certainly not belly laughs. At worst these are the hallucinations I have that your reality causes in me.”

Say what?! Okay, now the motor mouth’s losing me. Seeking clarity, I steer the conversation to a simpler topic: Roth’s upcoming concert at the Orpheum on Friday (June 27). The notion of him leaping madly about to the frenzied strains of “Panama”—that’s something I can relate to. The current tour carries on until the end of September, with stops at such disparate venues as the Trump Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Stubb’s Bar-BQ in Austin, Texas.

“We’re gonna play everywhere that’ll have us,” claims the singer, “and some that are still whining about it. This is gonna be every outdoor shed, club, casino, and whorehouse on the map. Hey! Isn’t there another map that goes with this one?”

Last year Roth teamed up with fellow Van Halen alumnus Sammy Hagar for the heavily publicized Sam & Dave Tour. But it wasn’t as if the coheadliners got along that well. “Can you define ‘get along’?,” Roth quips. “Can you define ‘not talking’? I think Sam came out to prove somethin’, and I don’t know that he necessarily proved it to himself. The rest of the band had a great time! And the audience, again, had a superb time. But Sam has had a difficulty with me for many, many years. He sounds like somebody who’s unhappy.”

When the subject turns to that most reclusive of Van Halen members, pioneering guitar god Eddie, Roth’s cosmic outlook asserts itself again. “Eddie is on Treasure Planet somewhere,” he offers. “Eddie has kind of… I don’t know, let’s give a title to what’s happened to Eddie: ‘Stevie Wonder in turbulence’! Who knows what’s goin’ on with that bunch! They have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, though. At least they’re consistent, so that bodes well.”

Still, anyone who pines for the heyday of Van Halen shouldn’t abandon hope for a reunion of the original, Diamond Dave–fronted lineup. According to Roth—who proudly claims that his voice is “bombproof”—there’s always the chance of reconciliation. “Oh, as long as I’m healthy and can bang that high note like a freebie from a Vegas call girl, there’s always… I mean, Hope Springs Eternal is more than just the name of a stripper in Dallas. Yes, that’s right, chief!”

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