David Lee Roth Clouds Minds In 1997, In The Loder Files

Van Halen frontman dodged questions about a reunion that's finally happening.

Where do old interviews go to die? Since 1988 they’ve gone into the MTV News vault, but we’ve been exhuming them to bring you these classic natterings. Here’s the latest in the series, which runs every Tuesday.

Is David Lee Roth nuts? I mean really, who hasn’t wondered? Roth was already clinically extroverted when he erupted out of the first Van Halen album. You’ll recall the Diamond Dave effect: the leopard-skin spandex, the leg-splaying leaps, the demented leer fizzing madly beneath the haystack of surf-punk hair. Five more hit albums did nothing to tone him down, of course. And then the band dumped him.

That was 23 years ago. Since then … well, you know. For Van Halen, there followed the Sammy Hagar years — very successful (although most unpopular with Roth partisans). Then, after Sammy got dumped in turn (or quit or whatever — let’s not relive it), there came the Gary Cherone year, which produced one album, “Van Halen III,” which was universally hailed as abysmal. Then … nothing. Or not much. That was 10 years ago.

Since then, Roth has released a series of solo efforts to diminishing effect. (A 2006 bluegrass version of the Van Halen hit “Jump” may have been his oddest musical moment.) He spent much of his downtime nipping at the heels of Eddie Van Halen, lobbying for a reunion of the band’s original lineup. He was pretty sure it had finally happened in 1996, when they called him back to record two new tracks to be tacked onto a greatest-hits album; and he was certain it was on when they invited him to join them in presenting an award at that year’s Video Music Awards. Unfortunately, he turned their appearance into a celebration of Diamond Dave, and his return to the fold. Backstage, an infuriated Eddie told Roth he was … nuts, probably. There would be no reunion.

The following spring, Roth, now resident in New York, was arrested for attempting to buy marijuana in Washington Square Park. This was a low point — Diamond Dave busted scoring a five-dollar bag of beat weed among the local skate kids. Oh, how the mighty, and so forth.

That November, Dave turned up for an interview at the MTV studios. He was a little … I don’t want to say nuts, but certainly mercurial. Or maybe just cagey. All we really wanted to know about was the state of his relationship with Van Halen — would there ever be a reunion? Roth was more interested in talking about gurus and therapists and childhood sugar problems. Great. Well, entertaining, at least.

The long-yakked-about reunion of the original Van Halen lineup continued failing to happen. Eddie Van Halen underwent tongue-cancer and hip-replacement surgery, got divorced, and went into rehab , reportedly for his famous drinking problem. He also found time to banish bassist Michael Anthony from the VH lineup — a long-brewing move — and to replace him with neophyte bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s son. Ironically, not to say ridiculously, when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, exiled members Anthony and Sammy Hagar were the only two who showed up for the ceremony.

Then something surprising happened. Well, surprising to anyone who was still paying attention. Last September, three-quarters of a Van Halen reunion finally materialized, with Roth back onboard. Reviews were good, but then a string of dates had to be postponed in order for Eddie to get unspecified medical attention. Now, though, the boys are back. And they’re scheduled to stay on the road at least into June. Can you believe it? No, really, can you?

(Assuming they actually played Milwaukee last night, Van Halen is scheduled to play Pittsburgh tomorrow.)

Enjoy digging through The Loder Files? You’ll find more here, and there’s much more to come from the vaults — check back every Tuesday!