Basement Songs: Sammy Hagar, “Marching to Mars”
I had an epiphany at a Sammy Hagar concert. That’s right; I had a “sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something” in the middle of a Red Rocker show. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s the only way I can describe my moment of clarity amongst thousands of screaming metalheads full of alcohol, pumping their fists in the air.
Try not to hold it against me, but I’ve been a Hagar fan since the first time I heard “Heavy Metal” over a camp counselor’s transistor and “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy” the following summer. When Sammy jumped in as the lead singer of Van Halen, I thought he kicked ass; as a red rocker loyalist, I sided with him when he exited VH the first time, which is why I was at the Universal Amphitheater during the summer of 1997 with my brother, Budd.
Hagar was touring in support of his album, Marching to Mars, his first solo outing since leaving Van Halen. It’s a tight, well-written collection of songs featuring some inspired work by guest musicians like Slash, Ronnie Montrose and Mickey Hart. Budd and I decided to drive to the show and scalp tickets, upholding an American tradition passed down through generations. We scored seats 18 rows back, smack dab in the middle of diehard redheads: Aging bikers, balding frat guys from yesteryear, and plenty of cougars on the prowl. Together we all witnessed Hagar and his newly formed band, the Waboritas, blaze through a set that reached back to his days with Montrose and covered every period of his long career, including several Van Halen classics.
At that time Budd and his wife, Karyn, were expecting their first child, my nephew. Hagar’s high octane anthems became a cathartic release from the anxiety and stress that comes with preparing for parenthood, especially the first child. The music, along with the numerous drinks and the secondhand smoke from the surfer dudes blazing up a couple seats over, put us in fine form. For me this was an opportunity to spend some quality time with my brother, as both of us assumed that nights like these would be few and far between once his son was born.
The music wailed and we soaked up the euphoria of the moment. During Hagar’s touching ballad to his newborn daughter, “Kama,” Budd was so moved that he actually kissed me. Malchus men have an aversion to public displays of affection, so receiving a wet one on my cheek from my brother was shocking. One doesn’t expect to reflect too much on life and cosmic issues while listening to the performer who coined the phrase “Suckers walk/Money talks/But they can’t touch my three lock box,” but that’s what occurred while Budd walked off for last call at the concession stand.
Watching the ageless Hagar prance around on stage I suddenly thought of Steve, my best friend who lived thousands of miles away on the east coast. Besides Budd, the only person I knew who remotely tolerated Hagar was Steve. The music of the Hagar-led Van Halen had always been around while our relationship became more than a friendship; the songs of 5150 and OU812 were rock radio staples throughout the summers when Steve and I became brothers. I suddenly wished Steve was there with us, experiencing this great, unpretentious rock concert. That’s when a thought so vivid entered my intoxicated mind that I fell back in my seat. Hagar’s drummer began the chugging, marching band beat of “Marching to Mars” to close out the show before the encores and I sat in my own world having an epiphany.
Soulmates. What constitutes a soulmate? I know that Julie is my soulmate because when we’re together I feel complete; I feel as if I’m whole. But that night, with the cosmic rock beat compliments of Mickey Hart and the spacey question of “Is there life in the universe?” got me thinking. “If a soulmate is someone you have a deep affinity to, someone you believe you will be connected with forever, that connection doesn’t have to be romantic; that person could be a brother or a best friend.”
My head swirled at the thoughts floating around. Budd returned and we sipped Johnny Walker. I don’t know, I may have kissed him and draped myself over his body the rest of the show.
The ridiculously loud encores finished and we filed out o the Universal Amphitheater with the rest of the weary fans. The ride home was short and sweet (at the time we lived around the corner from the venue). Budd dropped me off outside and I thanked him profusely for an enlightening night. After several hand claps and exaltations, Budd drove away and I shuffled over to the side stairwell to my apartment building. Before I hit the first step up to the gated entrance, I dropped to my hands and knees and threw up in the bushes; then I made my way up to our second floor apartment, where I found Julie already in bed. Covered with the rank odor of b.o., booze and smoke, I opted to sleep on the couch as a courtesy to my understanding wife.
With a thump I landed on our couch, my head spinning from the liquor and the deep thoughts I’d had. Navel gazing at a Sammy Hagar show — who’d have thought it possible? As I sat staring at the Seurat painting hanging in our living room, I knew what I had to do. Even though it was 3:15 in the morning on the east coast, I had to share my epiphany with Steve. My sole intention was to leave a rambling message on his answering machine, something I’m prone to do after a couple drinks. To my horror, he picked up! Without much idle chitchat, I dove into my long explanation.
“Steve, you know I love you, man, you’re my brother and I was at Sammy Hagar and thinking about how we’re all interconnected and how the important people in our lives complete us and what that means and I came to this conclusion that those people are, like, our soul mates. And the more I thought about this I realized I had to tell those people I felt this way about and so that’s why I’m calling you now at 3:15 in the morning, brother, because you’re more than just my brother. You’re something else that makes me tick; that makes me want to be a good husband to Julie and someone I look up to and want to make proud. And when I had this… this epiphany, it was like time stopped and I’ve only had that happen to me one other time. And that time was when I kissed Julie for the first time and I knew that I was going to marry her. So I just wanted to tell you that and I’m sorry for calling so late and waking you up because I didn’t think you’d even answer and please tell your wife that I said ‘hi’ and that I’m sorry for calling so late and that’s all I’ve got.”
I’d like to think that Steve was smiling on the other end. I’m sure some part of my drunken ramble must have taken him back to our college days and the nights spent in my parents’ basement listening to the likes of the Reivers and the Smithereens and making drunken mixtapes for girls. I crashed hard and woke to the sight of Julie just shaking her head at me, as if to say, “fool.” Later that day Steve called to check on my well-being and thanked me for the things I said; he said they meant a lot to him. My hangover lasted for two days after the concert, but it didn’t matter; I was smiling through the pain.