Last month, after Van Halen dropped A Different Kind of Truth (Interscope) — the rock legends' first album of all new material with original singer David Lee Roth in almost three decades—fans and detractors alike took to the Internet to vote yea or nay on the comeback gigs. But it wasn't just fans checking out the new stuff: the group's two former singers, longtime Roth adversary Sammy Hagar and Boston native Gary Cherone, also weighed in. I tracked them down for their takes on Truth, weeks before Van Halen were due to hit the TD Garden without them.
AGING WITH THE DEVIL "In your 20s, it's the hottest time of your career," says Sammy Hagar of David Lee Roth. "But when you're 50, 60 years old and you still try to be that person, it's impossible."
"He's gotten sillier," a jovial Hagar said of Roth over the phone just before Chickenfoot played The Tonight Show last week. "This new stuff, I'm just watching some of the YouTube things, and I saw the video and I'm just goin', 'Geez . . . okay, I dunno.' I guess whenever you're young, in your 20s, it's the hottest time of your career. You're physically strong, you got it all together, and you want it bad, and you become something that works, and it helps you get to where you want to be — and that's all good. But when you're 50, 60 years old and you still try to be that person, it's impossible."
Roth was long the archetype for the sun-bleached, spandex-clad California beach boy frontman, strutting about like a new wave Mick Jagger throughout the '80s, doing high-flying splits off Alex Van Halen's drum riser, and influencing a stream of second-rate imitators. These days, he's taken to a more vaudeville-style act, complete with a headset and a slide area onstage to shimmy on centered between guitarist Eddie Van Halen and his bass-playing son, Wolfgang.
"The stuff that I've seen, the band is on fire," Cherone says while driving through Boston on his way to watch the Celtics game last week. "When [Eddie's] on, he makes it looks effortless. There's a reason he inspired the next generation of rockers. I'm not a big fan of [Roth's] headpiece. I'll give him a nod for trying something new; it looks a little awkward. It's like, you don't reinvent the wheel. You know what it reminds me of? It's a little 'master of ceremonies.' I did a little theater, and it's a little theater for me. Again, he's a showman, he's reinventing himself. He's doing a sort of James Brown soul dancing which is good, I get it, and he can do whatever he wants — he doesn't have to prove anything to anybody."
Coming out of Extreme in 1996, Cherone had the unenviable task of joining the Van Halen soap opera after Hagar had been fired or quit (depending on whom you ask) after 11 years, and in the middle of a much-hyped Roth return for a two-song greatest hits contribution. To many fans, Cherone's three-year stint remains a footnote. But Cherone himself appears to have perspective on that episode in his career as well as on the new disc.