Michael Anthony — the glue

Jefito has a brilliant post challenging our conceptions of rock music by making an astonishing point: Van Halen is not Van Halen without Michael Anthony?

“Who?” you ask. The bass player. The one not named Sammy, David or Van Halen. For the first time, Van Halen will conduct business without him on an upcoming tour or album or whatever they think they’re attempting.

Jefito says that’s a stupid idea. I agree, but for slightly different reasons.

Jefito’s argument is musical. He’s not impressed with Anthony as a bass player but argues that his backing vocals were a key part of the band’s sound.

That’s one reason to keep him around. I’ll argue that there’s more to it.

The comments on Jefito’s post hint at my point — in a band full of high-strung people, he was the glue that held things together. He kept the band functioning as a unit and was important to its personality. In a band like Van Halen, that’s important.

His departure says everything about why he was needed in the first place. Jefito’s summation:

“I’m speaking specifically to Eddie’s decision to go public on Howard Stern’s show with the news that Michael Anthony had been dumped. The reason for this seems to be Anthony’s willingness to go on making music with Hagar, which is a little like a divorced mother tossing her kid out of the house after he has dinner with his dad.”

It’s worth adding here that Van Halen toured with Hagar just 18 months ago.

Eddie has always been adept at spinning Van Halen’s revolving door as the singers’ faults. At some point, when you’re no longer able to keep a lead singer and you’re no longer seeing eye-to-eye with the bass player who kept things from imploding all those years, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror.

A lot of bands have a guy who served as the glue …

– John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin. It’s always irritated me that Jones never gets his due. First of all, he was damn good on the bass. (Best example: Immigrant Song.) Second of all, he was clearly the only guy in the band who could be counted on to be somewhat coherent through the haze of the ’70s.

– Adam Clayton, U2. Sometimes, being the “glue” means that you’re willing to take a supporting role. The bass line in With or Without You is four notes. Period. And the song would not work any other way. He knows he has had a great ride with one of the world’s greatest bands. And you get the feeling he helps Bono stay grounded. I may be totally off on this, but I picture him filling the “lukewarm water between two visionaries” role posited by Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap.

– Malcolm Young, AC/DC. Kind of a bland rhythm guitarist on stage, but very much in charge.

The new Van Halen will feature Eddie, Alex and Eddie’s son Wolfgang, with David Lee Roth singing. Never have I felt more sympathy for David Lee Roth.


2 thoughts on “Michael Anthony — the glue

  1. As a Van Halen fan from Day 1 (and, yes, that dates me), I think you’ve nailed it. No way this ends well.

    I sort of think of Malcolm Young as the Chevy Truck of rhythm guitarists: Do one thing. Do it well.

    Another excellent bassist, and one who has done a lot more than go along for the ride, is Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses (well, back when he was with them). His dad and older brother also are musicians, and he plays drums, piano and guitar in addition to bass. You can hear the latter in his playing: It’s some of the most fluid and melodic bass in hard rock. I think he’d be lead guitarist, if he wanted to be, in any band that didn’t have Slash in it.

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