The Weight of "Eruption"
Updated: Mar 29
The year my brother was a senior, and I was a sophomore, he often let me catch a ride with him to high school. It was a 20-minute drive in the fall and spring months, longer in winter. 30 mph was the maximum speed for safety on the icy roads that followed along the river—the bags of kitty litter in the trunk weren’t enough to weigh the rear wheels down for good enough traction.
Typically, long drives like this would fly by when in the throes of conversation, but Jeff wasn’t much for words. In fact, neither of my older brothers would talk above a grunt most times. They spoke with their actions. Actions like...oh I don’t know, say...holding their little brother down and putting an athletic cup over his mouth and nose and declaring he needs surgery. “Relax,” I heard. “Breath deep, count backward from ten. You’ll be asleep in no time.”
Jeff drove a Dodge Dart ‘Spirit of 76’, a car I would receive as a hand-me-down a few years later. His awesome Pioneer Ke 2100 stereo w/cassette would not be included.
Although I wasn’t allowed to touch any of its buttons, I sure pushed a few of his on the trips, asking inane early-teen questions like, “Is it ok to fill in your mustache with mascara?” and “What does it mean to ‘caress’ a girl?” Those were the times I’m sure he was thankful for the power booster attached to the bottom of the dash.
I gotta give him one thing—he had great taste in music. I learned more on those drives than at any other time. For example, I could tell you that there’s a pretty amazing catalog of music that Steve Miller had before he threatened to “Abracadabra—reach out and grab ya.”
It was on a particularly stormy morning—the kind where the air is heavy and dark clouds hang so low you could practically touch them—that he pushed Van Halen’s debut into the cassette deck.
From the moment I heard Michael Anthony’s enormous bass sound on Running With The Devil, that album scared the hell out of me. That bass of nothing more than quarter notes was the ultimate tease; it set you up for something you’d never heard before. Something you weren’t prepared for. Eddie Van Halen. Holy H.E. double hockey sticks.
The storm outside hit by the time Eruption came on, and I swear to god lightning struck at that very moment. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was even listening to. What was this instrument? It sounded like a guitar, but was it? The demon-spawn licks were surely impossible to play by one guitarist—some sort of sorcery was happening.
I thought all roads in guitar solos lead to the pentatonic scale, so I should be able to break it down like all the rest. How hard could it be? I had learned a ton of James Taylor licks by lifting the needle off the record and repeating the same riff over and over again.
No offense to Sweet Baby James, but the difference in guitar riffs between him and Eddie Van Halen was as stark as fire and rain.
Learning Eruption was such a ball breaker that my version sounded more like it should be called “Erupture.”
Like me, Eddie probably got his first guitar and learned riffs by lifting the needle himself or by taking lessons and being told which way is the right way to hold a guitar pick. “Stay on the path, boy! Many have forged the way before you.” And yet, my fellow Dutchman forged his own way, ignored the naysayers, and made a leap of faith in himself. He ended up reinventing the way someone could play an electric guitar.
I didn’t have anywhere near the patience I needed to learn it, so I gave up on Eruption. But I did learn a lesson from the song that I still think about to this day: When you think all roads lead to the same place, there’s always another side street, service road, or avenue to explore. Get off that path of least resistance, and take a leap of faith yourself.
In other words—might as well jump.