One weekend I curled up with a bottle of wine, cranked my iPod, and settled in to read an autobiography I’d wanted to get my hands on since I first heard about it. That book was Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar.
After a decent solo career, Sammy Hagar was the man who stepped into the shoes of David Lee Roth, who had left the band Van Halen at a time when the band seemed to be at the height of its popularity. At the time, it was pretty much split as to whether the move would work, but all fans were holding their breath waiting to see the end result. It ended up taking Van Halen to new heights with a different, less showy feel to the band that was more about the great music they were putting out. Behind the scenes, though, it was a different story as Hagar illuminates here.
Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock is in some ways a typical rocker’s story. He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in quite a dysfunctional family and found solace in music. There’s plenty of drugs, sex, and rock & roll as Sammy doesn’t try to hide from his past and some of the things he’s done that he might not be so proud of. I liked the very frank, honest, and unapologetic style of the book.
I didn’t know much about Sammy Hagar’s early years before I picked up Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock but it was interesting to read about his early years in Montrose and what the rock scene was like in California in the 1970s. These sorts of details make the book a good read not just for Sammy’s story but also for a bit of rock & roll history. Reading of the struggle of his early years and what he had to do just to keep his head above water as a musician, I felt like there was no way anyone could begrudge this man the success he has now.
The most controversial part of Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock will likely be his detailing of the behind-the-scenes antics of Van Halen. Those who worship the ground Eddie Van Halen walks on will probably be a bit put off by the picture Hagar creates of the man. To be fair, Hagar does seem to place the blame squarely on Eddie’s well-known problems with alcohol. Brother Alex has the same issue as well although Alex just seemed to follow along his brother’s lead when dealing with issues with the band. Hagar details the arguments and fights that permeated his time working with them, leading up to neither brother showing up when Van Halen was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Hagar doesn’t tell the story in a way to evoke sympathy or to try and sway people to “my side”. It comes off as more of a matter-of-fact telling of events. In fact, when I saw Hagar interviewed about this book, he was asked about reuniting with Van Halen after this book came out and his thoughts were that Eddie would write his book and tell his side of it, and then maybe they could go ahead. He didn’t seem to bear any hard feelings on his part about what he knows will be directed his way. What’s telling, though, is the foreword from Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony where he states that Hagar “tells it like it is”. A book from Anthony who was sort of the one observing all of the changes in Van Halen over the years would be the ultimate read for fans, but barring that his endorsement of Hagar’s book is a
I found Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock to be an easy read and very interesting. Sammy Hagar wrote a good autobiography and didn’t hide from the things he’s done that might not have cast him in the greatest light. I appreciate that honesty instead of trying to spin everything as others have done. Reading the adversity he faced growing up I found it quite remarkable that he’s come out of it as good as he has. His business sense is probably the key there as he’s managed to carve out a niche for himself in the tequila business that no one else could envision.
And good for him, I say.
Categories: Book Reviews