Today marks the 35th anniversary of my purchase of Van Halen’s final album with David Lee Roth, 1984. On cassette.
I was nearly 12 and freshly loosed into the hothouse of puberty; the psychic gulag of junior high loomed at the terminus of yet another endless summer and Van Halen was a sonic salvo. This was the year Orwell thought would be such a drag and yet here was some scissor-kicking, oversexed rodeo clown with a belting baritone and a blond mane that down to his assless chaps. David. Lee. Roth. Big Brother wasn’t watching us. He was covering his eyes.
Fast forward to the last song on side one: Drop Dead Legs. This big-bottomed walk-down that ably secures Roth’s status as the poet laureate 80s hard rock. The lyrics don’t sound “written” so much as improvised upon the notion of a woman’s legs, which, despite the song’s title, rate only a single mention. From this thesis statement, Roth digresses into a surreal monolog that references the undead, dentition and a beloved Depression-era cartoon character. Sure, the lyrics don’t make any sense on the page but in the ear… Actually, they don’t make any sense there either. But Roth made it sound convincing.
The entire second stanza should be put through the Enigma machine — I suspect that lines like…
Dig those moves… Vampire.
Set me loose, get it higher
Throw my rope, loop-de-loop
Nice white teeth. Betty Boop.
…might actually be cipher for the Meaning of Life. Or at least the meaning of middle school. Worked at the time.