Steven Wilson on Eddie Van Halen: “I Was Never a Fan”


Well, this is a bummer: Steven Wilson, former Porcupine Tree frontman and acclaimed solo musician and producer, has said he was not a fan of Eddie Van Halen and the ways the late musician changed the art of guitar forever.

In a recent chat with FaceCulture, Wilson responded to a question about how Eddie’s death had affected him, saying:

“Honestly, it didn’t, because I was never a fan. I know he’s an extraordinary musician, and it’s always sad when an extraordinary artist dies, [but] I was never a fan of the so-called shredder mentality. And I think in many ways, he was the father of that whole kind of movement.

“I never understood that ‘playing as fast as you can’ thing. And I know that wasn’t all he did — I know he was a more flexible musician than that — but I think that the legacy that he has, Eddie Van Halen, is in creating the shredder phenomenon, which is something so vile to me. That kind of idea that you play music almost like you’re playing an Olympic sport is kind of anathema to my kind of ideas on creativity and music.”

Wilson has attempted to take the classy route here by offering some back-handed praise, i.e. the “flexible musician” line, but his criticism is so far off-base I’m wondering if he’s ever even listened to more than one or two Van Halen songs he happened to hear in passing. Yes, Eddie was a “flexible” player — his rhythms were phenomenal, and an important part of the band’s sound — but his leads, which Wilson takes issue with, were FAR from “an Olympic sport” or simply “playing as fast as you can.” They were thoughtful, well-articulated and arranged musical statements that stood on their own but also always served the greater purpose of improving the SONG as a whole, something Wilson — as a producer, if nothing else — should be able to appreciate. All those huge Van Halen hits? They’re four-minute pop jammers, simply orchestrated with heavy guitars! Nothing about Van Halen was sport-like. If you wanna take issue with the players who followed in his footsteps, OK, do so — although I’d argue the justice of radio and pop culture served as its own jury to limit any sport-like shredding contributions (until you got to over-the-top acts like Nitro, who were the movement’s final straw) — but don’t hate on EVH for that. I get that Wilson’s whole brand is being the “artful” and “thoughtful” guy rather than the dazzling musician, and that’s totally fine, even why we love his music, but his commentary on EVH is way off and ill informed, even ignorant.

I’m not the only one to take issue with Wilson’s comment. Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, who has his own band now, tweeted, “Damn this bums me out hard. Been a huge fan of his for years. Deadwing is one of my favorite albums of all time,” referring to Porcupine Tree’s 2005 effort.

Glad I got that out of my system. I will now resume liking both Van Halen and Porcupine Tree despite my inherent internet rage.

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