Van Halen’s Drop Dead Legs at 35

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.

Drop Dead Legs, muthafuckas!

By Daedalus Howell

Daedalus Howell is the writer-director of Pill Head and the upcoming Wolf Story, and author of the novels Quantum Deadline and the Late Projectionist, and the editor of the Bohemian and Pacific Sun. As a writer-filmmaker he creates and examines storytelling as an art, business and lifestyle. If you're in, or interested in the trade, sign up for his newsletter below. Learn how he went from small-town newspaperman to a feature film director here.

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