What a fantastic title for a book, and given it’s a “Van Halen book”, it’s the only title for it, right? Band biographies and rock star tell-alls are a dime a dozen. I’ve read all the Megadeth and KISS member bios, each tragically ‘funny’ in their own way. Some are true to their promise to reveal-all, if not slightly – even elaborately – embellished (Ace Frehley of KISS fame), others sluggish and laborious (Bruce Dickinson, I’m looking at you).
Runnin’ With The Devil, my hard rock friends, is a tell-all on a grand scale, all thanks to Van Halen’s former manager, Noel Monk and his close proximity to the band from day one, to the days leading up to David Lee Roth walking away in the mid 80s’; the ‘classic’ and formative period of Van Halen. Noel Monk became the band’s confidant, mopping up their mess on the road, and during which time guiding them from unknowns to household names. Monk is the man!
The difference in this book is simple. As Van Halen’s manager from 1979 – 1985, Noel Monk saw it all, from his first meeting with Van Halen in the late seventies when, as a road manager for Warner Bros., Monk had just finished duties with the Sex Pistols and their infamous North American tour. Monk was asked to go on the road with a young Van Halen band who were about to release their debut self-titled album, an album that went on to sell more than 10 million copies. Monk’s life became Van Halen, his dedication obvious from the early pages of the book.
I tore through Runnin’ With The Devil in a day. The stories are tragic. There’s more booze and drugs in this book than can be found in most rock bios. Pipped only by Dave Mustaine’s A Life In Metal (my benchmark for rock star bios).
Runnin’ With The Devil begins with Monk describing his life on the road as a tour manager for Warner Bros., with a brief chunk describing the Sex Pistols’ tour. This establishes Monk’s road cred. You know from this that Monk is a capable, dedicated guy. No shrinking violet; no push over. Fast forward a few months and Monk is describing a young, wet behind the ears Van Halen on their first ever tour as support act for Journey. The rocket ride from there seems relentless. Touring, touring and more touring; 3 week recording sessions for follow up albums; more touring; more albums; repeat. Tours begin to merge into one another, the stories almost the same except for a common theme: the band’s descent into drug and alcohol-fuelled oblivion. Delusion, comas, mayhem and exhaustion drive even more unbelievable stories, each becoming more extraordinary as pages turn. By the end of the book I was shaking my head in disbelief.
Have you heard about the Paternity insurance from Lloyds of London that David Lee Roth is rumoured to have taken out? You’ll finally get the truth from Noel Monk.
I love Noel Monk’s honesty. The guy comes across as a decent human, doing all he could to hold the band together, to bring deals through the door and to help shoot the young men from Pasadena into rockstar stardom (which Monk does well over the years). Seismic proportions is the best way to describe the stories in Runnin’ With The Devil. The stories are messy. They’re incredibly sad. Stories about Eddie Van Halen’s behaviour are child-like. Wait until you read the meeting between Eddie and Noel Monk to discuss a Paternity claim against the star guitarist. You can’t make this stuff up. But you get the strong impression that Monk is not a man to add icing. Hotel rooms trashed, groupies enjoyed, drugs devoured by the truck load. It’s amazing that Van Halen managed to achieve anything at all. Noel Monk seemed to hold it all together. Author and journalist Joe Laydon brings the stories to life.
The book is fun, the stories tragic and often bordering on the ridiculous. A nice side effect is that I enjoyed revisiting the Van Halen albums in order until 1984, one by one, as I flicked through pages. That was cool. Nice to put perspective into the music, knowing the mayhem unfolding behind the scenes.
Honestly, folks, you won’t buy a better rock-stardom tell-all. The end is tragic, the journey loud and full of booze. Spandex, wailing guitar solos and, Rock’n’Roll, Baby!
Runnin' With the Devil
A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen
Beginning in 1978, Van Halen's rise was one of the most thrilling the rock world had ever seen-their mythos an epic party with a sweaty, sexy, finger-tapping guitar solo as an encore. During this infamous run of success, debauchery, and drama, few people were closer to the band than their manager, Noel Monk. A man who'd worked with some of rock's biggest and most notorious names, Monk spent seven years with Van Halen, serving initially as their tour manager then as their personal manager until 1985, when he and David Lee Roth exited as controversy, infighting, and egos consumed the band.
Complete with sixteen pages of never-before-seen photos of life with the band, Runnin' with the Devil offers Monk's backstage view of Van Halen's journey from obscurity to headliners, only to watch it all fall apart. Messy, loud, and most of all fun, this is a look inside Van Halen unlike any you've ever seen...