Steve Rosen

Chasing EVH Memories
Steve Rosen
Photo courtesy of S. Rosen.

From 1977 through 2003, music journalist Steve Rosen formed and fostered a personal and professional relationship with guitar legend Edward Van Halen. In the mid ’80s, Van Halen signed a contract with Rosen to write an authorized biography, but it was never finished. In the new book Tonechaser – Understanding Edward: My 26-Year Journey with Edward Van Halen, he looks back at that incredible time.

Writing the self-published, 580-page Tonechaser proved to be an emotional roller coaster. One topic Rosen examines is how Van Halen broke off their association for reasons he doesn’t fully understand. He started on the book in 2020, a few months before Van Halen’s death. It’s not a biography. It’s the Rosen/Van Halen story – good and bad.

You rediscovered some interview tapes in 2020, which made you think about the book again.
I had these amazing experiences with Edward, and I wrote every day for 14 months, afraid if I missed a day, the momentum would’ve been lost. It became a routine, and it wasn’t easy.

Did Edward severing ties, and his death, affect the book?
I don’t think there was an agenda. I didn’t want it to be a dark book. I had to consider whether to write thinking, “I had this amazing relationship with this guy, then it started falling apart.” Do I write it from the standpoint of the amazing part of the relationship, or does it become a darker book when the relationship was falling apart? Do I bring the context of Edward saying, “Let’s do that original book” back in ’85-’86? I thought of all those things.

Yes, he passed a couple months after I started writing. Did that affect me? It affected me profoundly, as it did everybody who loved him and his music. Is it fair for me to write this book if he’s not here? I don’t know if he would’ve even been aware of the book coming out had he still been around, or if he would’ve had any inclination to read it.

Have you heard any reaction directly or through the grapevine from band members, family, or friends?
I have not heard a single word. I suppose part of me was hoping I’d never hear anything from them, part of me was thinking, “I wonder if I’ll hear from them?” and part of me was also thinking, “I hope I hear from them.”

The last thing I wanted to do was hurt any of the Van Halen family – Wolfgang, or Valerie, or Alex. I didn’t want to hurt David [Lee Roth], Michael [Anthony] or Sammy [Hagar], either. I tried to present everything as honestly as I could. Every quote is on tape.

Did you connect with him more personally or as a journalist? And did you have to be a journalist or musician to make that deeper connection as opposed to being a regular guy?
I’ve always posited that if Edward hadn’t been Edward Van Halen, or he’d been just some guitar player in a band, would we have become friends? That’s how I always looked at it. I tried to answer that question sporadically through the book.

Edward knew that I wrote for magazines and interviewed musicians. I don’t think the writing ever came into the picture with him. I don’t think he had any idea who I was in the music journalism world. If I’d have been a librarian or worked in a bank, and still knew what I knew about music and Clapton, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, and Steppenwolf’s Michael Monarch, I’d like to think we still would’ve been friends. Being a songwriter, I could talk to him about songwriting. Maybe the fact that I was a music journalist did mean more to him. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to introduce him to Les Paul, Billy Gibbons, and Ritchie Blackmore. Beyond that, we still could’ve talked about music. The chemistry, on some level, still would’ve been the same.

Why is Tonechaser self-published?
Not one agent I contacted even returned an e-mail, so I reached out to my friend Neil Zlozower. He did the photos on Van Halen II and was their official photographer for years. He also did the amazing front and back cover photos for my book. He said, “Publish it yourself!” I began the process, which is not an easy thing. It was expensive. I never thought once about censoring or editing myself. I passed the 250-page mark, which is typically what a music bio is, and thought, “I’m just going to keep writing until there’s nothing left to say.”

This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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