Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Little Ol' Me vs. Van Halen 3: The Trade That Cost Me Dearly!

Being an old school Van Halen fan who had begrudgingly weathered the "Van Hagar" years, I was absolutely livid when the band chose former Extreme singer Gary Cherone to replace Sammy Hagar and knew that nothing remotely listenable could result from this line-up.

Of course, the fact that I was living just a few miles from Eddie's residence meant that, not only did I see the legendary guitarist in public from time to time, but also heard many a rumor about his condition, which, at the time, was reported to be "the complete opposite of sober".

Now, many a great rock album has been recorded under the influence of booze and, in fact, I've met many for whom a little nip was like jet fuel when it came to getting revved up in the studio, but something about EVH's condition led this writer to believe that the once-formidable guitar innovator was no longer musically productive under the influence.

Upon getting my hands on an advance copy of Van Halen III, the first Van Halen album to feature Cherone, a quick glance at the credits revealed that the album had been produced by "Eddie Van Halen and Mike Post".

Wait, THE Mike Post? The "Hill Street Blues" theme Mike Post?

Now, I wouldn't have batted an eye had Post been involved in the songwriting, but, instead, he was credited a co-producer, which, to me, sounded about as suspect as hiring Diane Warren to sweep your studio.

Putting all apprehensions aside, I hastily inserted the CD into the best stereo system I could find (in my car) and hit "play". My neighbor was raking the yard at the time and, after I had given the album one listen from start to finish, he wandered over and asked what was wrong. Apparently, he had seen my face drop numerous times as I sat in my $500 jalopy with the thousand-dollar sound system and was worried that I'd just been informed of a death in the family.

"No," I replied. "I was just listening to the new Van Halen album."

Over the next couple days, I would re-listen to Van Halen III on numerous occasions in hopes that what I had heard previously had somehow been the result of collected ear wax or speaker malfunction, but it only took a few seconds to realize that the crap emanating from my stereo was, in fact, an actual album that the members of Van Halen had seen fit it to release under their name.

That was the part that I couldn't get. Was there nobody in the Van Halen camp that had the balls to pull Eddie and/or Alex aside and tell them that their new album completely sucked?

Granted, the band's last couple of melodically-thrifty albums with Hagar (specifically Balance) had lowered the bar considerably, but Van Halen III was an abomination by any level of measurement.

Yet, according to numerous articles I was reading. album sales had been strong out of the gate, leading me to feel a sense of empathy for those who had actually plopped down money for this turd.

It was then that I knew what I had to do.

Having recently released my first album under the name Time Bomb Symphony called If You See Kay (an admittedly sophomoric title that was a veiled middle finger to the labels for whom the material had initially been recorded and who "may or may not have still owned the rights"), I came up with an idea to a) drum up a little publicity for my album, and b) give back to those who'd bought VHIII and been as disappointed as I had been:

My offer: Those disappointed by their purchase of VHIII could send their copy of the album to me and, in return, I'd send them a copy of If You See Kay.

Now, being no stranger to "creative self-promotion", I knew that even if my campaign got some traction after being picked up by reputable media sources, the percentage of those who heard or red about the offer and actually physically went to the trouble of mailing in their unwanted copies of VHIII would be minimal.

After crafting a press release that was humorous, yet professional, I fired it off via email to a few notable online rock news sites and hoped for the best. Within days, Wall of Sound - then part of the ABC news network - ran my story.

It wasn't until my offer was featured on Mancow's Morning Madhouse, a heavily syndicated radio show, that all hell broke loose. As a result, I now had dozens of radio station contacting me to do on-air interviews.

Then the copies of VHIII started to show up in my mail box.

Day One: 12 copies of VHIII arrived.
The next day: 25 copies.
Day 3: A USPS delivery truck showed up at my door and dropped off five mail bags full of nothing but VHIII.

That day, I also received a strongly-worded letter from VH management instructing me to halt my campaign immediately OR ELSE. Pfft.

With many radio and press interviews already scheduled, I chose to continue with the campaign and, by Day 5, had received over 800 copies of VHIII.

Hilariously, I had simply taken the first 40 or so copies I had received down to the local Second Spin used record store and sold them for something close to a buck each, but when I informed them of how many I was now in possession of, they informed me that not only were no more new copies of VHIII being purchased, but exactly ZERO used copies had been sold either.

Ruh-roh raggy!

I quickly got on the phone with every other used CD chain in the L.A. area that I could think of and was only able to move 50 or so copies before the entire world became aware that VHIII was a total turd.

By the time all was said and done, the campaign had done what it was supposed to do: increase demand for my CD, but I also had to do a larger second-pressing than initially planned due to the fact that over 1,500 rock fans had sent in their VHIII and were now owed a copy of If You See Kay.

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