“The manager who shepherded Van Halen from obscurity to rock stardom goes behind the scenes to tell the complete, unadulterated story of David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen and the legendary band that changed rock.”
With an intro like that, I will admit that I was very excited and anxious to get my hands on a copy of Runnin’ With The Devil from Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden. Monk was Van Halen’s manager from 1978 – 1985, so I couldn’t wait to read all of the dirt on the guys from the man who was there by their side to witness it all. What I got was a book full of the usual sex, drugs and roll and roll that usually goes along with just about every band throughout the history of rock and roll.
The book was a pretty quick read, but I found that it lacked the “holy shit” moments that I was hoping for coming from their manager. There were quite a few funny moments throughout the book such as The Ketchup Queens (groupies and their love of the condiment) and Eddie accidentally hitting Journey frontman Steve Perry in the head with a bowl of guacamole a short time before Journey was set to take the stage. There were a few very interesting revelations (at least for me) such as Dave’s crippling fear of flying and that the band’s initial deal with Warner Brothers had them making less than $1.00 off of each copy of their debut album that was sold. That album, often referred to as one of the greatest debut albums of all time, quickly went platinum and Monk told the guys how much they were making on royalties. That applied not only to their debut album, but to their next release as well. The label had even put an option in their original contract that would allow Warner Brothers to extend that same offer for another two albums when that deal ended. In other words, Warner Brothers owned the band and stood to make a ton of money off of their albums. Was if fair? Of course not, but it happened time and time again to young bands with stars in their eyes who were eager to get signed. Luckily for the band, Monk changed that and so much more that enabled the guys to really start rolling in the money.
Monk was a smart business man who started out as the band’s tour manager and then became their personal manager. In those years, (in some ways) he was to Van Halen what Bill Aucoin was to KISS. He helped to create a hype and buzz around the guys in ways such as how they arrived at in-store appearances and major festivals such as 1978’s Summerfest. He also went after bootleggers of Van Halen merchandise in the parking lots at shows which led to fights and even his own arrest. He knew that the guys were poised to make a ton of money off of their merchandise if they had a better deal, so he did just that and worked out a deal for them to be in charge of their own merchandising. Was it a smart move? By 1982, the band was grossing a quarter of a million dollars every night in merchandise and half of that was pure profit. Every….single….night! He was part business man, part ringleader and part older trustworthy uncle that you went to for advice. He taught a nervous Eddie Van Halen that a blowjob from a fan can’t get her pregnant when she gets a lawyer and starts screaming claims of maternity. He comforted a terrified David Lee Roth full of anxiety on a routine flight because he was gripping the armrest so tight that he almost left indentions on it from his fingers.
Monk paints a picture of Dave having a vision for the band from the very beginning and being the most intelligent. Eddie was a virtuoso and just wanted to play the guitar with Alex being jealous of the praise always being thrown at Eddie. Michael was the quiet member who rarely spoke up and just went with the flow to keep the peace, which would come back to bite him in the ass during the 1984 tour. Oh how I wish he would have spoke up and not been screwed out of so much money by his bandmates. Monk knew that these guys were going to be huge from their first shows opening for Journey and Montrose. The funny thing is, he had never heard one single Van Halen song until that very first show.
I have mixed feelings about this book and I guess you could say that I am on the fence as far as how much I liked it. I don’t think there were any major revelations in it, but learning about some of the business aspects that Monk did that benefited the guys was pretty cool. Was it a dick move by the band towards the end of Monk’s run with the band to cut him out of everything (merch, publishing, royalties and touring revenue) and he was the one who established those for the guys so that they could start making real money? A few weeks later, Monk’s wife went into the hospital for surgery and the band sent corporate flowers,” ala the company Christmas card in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Then, a mere half hour later, they sent over Monk’s termination papers. Was that a dick move? To the guy who took the band under his wings when they were so naïve and wet behind the ears and helped guide them in the direction that they needed to go in order to make them worldwide superstars. With this book, you have to take the good with the bad and there was plenty of both for you to enjoy or straight up piss you off.