Sammy Hagar would like everyone to know that while he’s more than pumped to be going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Van Halen, he has way more important things on his mind at the moment.
“I’m in Cabo right now, and everything’s wonderful,” he laughed, referring Cabo San Lucas, to the Mexican resort town where he owns a cantina. “I’m down by the water. The beach is calling my name. Listen to it!”
It bears mentioning that at this point in the interview, Hagar began to make “waves-crashing-on-the-shore” noises and then launched into a hazy recollection of how he found out about his induction, a long and winding story that included messenger birds, sunbathing and congratulatory phone calls from high-energy celebrity chefs.
“I think the Hall shoulda sent word of my induction via carrier pigeon or something, because down here, communication is a little, uh, unique,” he explained. “The way I found out was that I came back off the beach and there was a message on my machine from someone — I don’t even remember who right now — but it didn’t even really register that I was in. And then Kenny Chesney calls, and Emeril Lagasse — all these friends on this high level — telling me how great it is. And I’m going, ’Wow, this is really a big deal!’ ”
Clearly, though he’s honored, Hagar is taking the news a lot less seriously than most. Which is odd, considering that thanks to more than 30 years of infighting and back-biting, Van Halen’s March 12 Hall of Fame induction and performance at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel (see “R.E.M., Van Halen, Grandmaster Flash Make Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame” ) promises to be contentious.
Given the fact that VH has had three different frontmen — who haven’t always gotten along, to put it mildly — recently replaced its founding bassist with the guitarist’s teenaged son and may or may not even exist as a functioning unit these days, it’ll be a miracle if the group (whoever they are) manages to perform at all.
“The talk amongst us so far has been that we’re probably not going to play, because of the awkward situation with [bassist] Michael [Anthony], and the situation with Dave [Lee Roth] and I, and all of us with each other. I mean, we’re not like mortal enemies or anything, there’s just some weird quirks,” Hagar said. “But Van Halen has always been unpredictable — anything can happen. If we get to play two songs, I’ll be happy to sing one, and have Dave do the other one. I think that would be perfect. If there’s only one song, well, then that could be kinda interesting.”
And that’s just the tip of it. Because while Hagar has been more than willing to talk about the Hall, the other members of Van Halen have remained virtually silent — the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, and hyperkinetic former frontman David Lee Roth released a joint statement thanking their fans, as did Anthony — which has only added an icy chill to the whole situation. Plus, there’s the issue of the third Van Halen frontman, Gary Cherone, who took over when Hagar left the band (or was fired, depending on whom you ask) in 1996.
See, despite the fact that the former Extreme singer fronted Van Halen for nearly three years, and performed on 1998’s Van Halen III, Cherone won’t be coming to the HOF ceremony. It might have something to do with hurt feelings, but probably has more to do with the fact that Cherone isn’t being inducted.
“I got nothing against Gary, but I would’ve voted against him getting in,” Hagar said. “I think he was really just a moment in Van Halen. Dave and I were in the band for so long, and we sold so many records and I don’t think you can deny that. As it stands, it seems a little goofy if you let Gary in. Because, there was questions about me getting in, because I’ve only been in the band 21 years,” which is slightly fuzzy math, considering he’s been in and out of the band for the last 10.
Of course, Hagar didn’t have a say as to which members of Van Halen received the honor. And neither did anyone else in the band. Candidates for the Hall are determined by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s nominating committee, a group of “around 30 writers, writers, critics, artists, agents and record-company people” who not only weigh the merits of various bands, but — in the case of groups with shifting lineups like the Ramones or George Clinton’s sprawling Parliament-Funkadelic collective — must also weigh the contributions of individual members of those bands.
“We basically look at the body of work of the artist,” explained Joel Peresman, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. “And you look at an artist like Van Halen, when David Lee Roth was in the band, they became big during that time, and when things switched with Sammy Hagar, things went to another level. They had incredible success with both people being involved in the band. People have already asked, ’Well, what about Gary Cherone? He was the frontman of the band, too,’ but when you look at the full body of the work, that particular period in their career, it didn’t make sense, because it wasn’t really part of the success of Van Halen.”
It’s a harsh situation, to be sure. And though Peresman maintains that the Hall isn’t in the business of bruising egos, sometimes people get offended. After all, we’re dealing with rock stars here.
“You’re not looking to blatantly insult people, but you’re dealing with a diverse, knowledgeable group of people who have been involved in the music industry for a long time, and they’re going to do what they think is right for the Hall of Fame,” Peresman added. “If someone gets their feelings hurt, that wasn’t the intent, but that might be the outcome.”
Gary Cherone could not be reached for comment on the Hall of Fame snub, though fans on his message board at Cherone.com seem to be OK with him not getting in. After all, as one writes, “Gary will be a future Hall of Famer in his own right.”
As for Hagar, well, despite the initial talk about Van Halen not performing at the Hall of Fame ceremony, he’s optimistic that something can be worked out. One thing’s for certain: Despite the fact that he’s currently scheduled to appear on the second annual Cabo Wabo “Are We Having Fun Yet?” Cruise on the day of Van Halen’s induction, he plans on being in New York, and having a thoroughly, well, Sammy time.
“I’m gonna fly from Cabo to New York, go a day or two early so I can have some fun in New York, and then I’ll jump on my plane, come on back and meet the guests [on the cruise],” he enthused. “I’m bringing my wife and about a dozen of my best friends to the ceremony. It’s too important — I’ll cancel the damn cruise if I have to!”