unexpected grief

by christie shumate mcelwee

The death of Eddie Van Halen sucker punched me with a serving of unexpected grief. During my 61 years, I’ve lived through the deaths of many famous people, even a few performers close to my age. When Michael Jackson died, I sang along to “Smooth Criminal” in my car. Prince’s demise had me dancing in the living room to “Let’s Go Crazy.” When we lost Joe Diffie and John Prine this spring to Covid-19, I had my husband pull up “Third Rock from the Sun,” “John Deere Green,” and “Angel from Montgomery” while I toasted their songwriting and musical skills.

But Eddie…Eddie made me cry. What was it about the death of this rock and roll guitar player that brought about such unexpected grief? 

Van Halen’s music, especially their 80s videos on MTV, are a part of the soundtrack of my young adulthood. I played the tape of 1984 in my old Honda until it screeched and snapped. I’ve always joked that I was “Hot for the Teacher” in my younger, hotter teacher days. I was no Mary Kay Letourneau or the bikini clad woman in the video, but I do know I was the object of a few high school boys’ crushes. When Sammy Hagar took over vocals from David Lee Roth, I loved the new sound. “Right Now” is still one of my favorites. 

And then there is Valerie Bertinelli, whom I’ve adored since I first saw her bounce that basketball on One Day at a Time. How I envied her 1981 marriage to Eddie. She and I were pregnant at the same time in 1991 and our sons are just two months apart in age. I’ve always felt a connection with her, through her divorce and remarriage and her love of cooking. We’d be friends, if we knew one another. Her online tributes to her ex-husband broke my already fractured heart.

I’m still not sure I am able to explain the tears that fell on Tuesday evening after I read of Eddie Van Halen’s death from lung cancer. Maybe it is this loss on top of the pandemic and this crazy world we all live in now. I’m grieving everything: the deaths of over 200,000 American lives, the incivility of current politics, the lies spread every day, the ignorance and cavalier attitudes that some have toward this virus, the hatred spewed online, and especially the unknown of when our lives will get back to some semblance of “normal.”

So, thank you, Eddie, for your glorious guitar playing, your infectious smile, and that hair, oh that hair. You have reminded me to gather close those I love, forgive past indiscretions, and always always dance with abandon because, “Right now…It means everything.”

Don’t want to wait ’til tomorrow

Why put it off another day

One more walk through problems

Built up, and stand in our way, ah

One step ahead, one step behind me

Now you gotta run to get even

Make future plans, don’t dream about yesterday, hey

C’mon turn, turn this thing around

Right now, hey

It’s your tomorrow

Right now,

C’mon, it’s everything

right now,

Catch a magic moment, do it

Right here and now

It means everything.

Songwriters: Alex Van Halen, Edward Van Halen, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony

“Right Now” is as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1991.

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