Eddie Van Halen doesn’t listen to music.
This is not a fake-out or a misdirection, nor is it a seemingly straightforward statement that actually means its opposite. Eddie Van Halen does not listen to music. “I don’t listen to anything,” he tells me from a greenish couch inside 5150, the expansive home recording studio built on his seven-acre residence in Studio City, Calif. I’d just asked if he ever revisits old Van Halen albums, but his disinterest in those records is merely the tip of a very weird iceberg: Unlike every other musician I’ve ever met, he does not listen to any music he isn’t actively making. The guitarist maintains that the last album he purchased was Peter Gabriel’s So, when it came out in 1986. He’s not familiar with the work of Radiohead, Metallica or Guns N’ Roses. He appears to know only one Ozzy Osbourne song Randy Rhoads played on, and it’s “Crazy Train.” He scarcely listened to Pantera, even though he spoke at the funeral of the group’s guitarist and placed the axe from Van Halen II inside the man’s casket. He doesn’t listen to the radio in his car, much to the annoyance of his wife (“I prefer the sound of the motor,” he says). He sheepishly admits he never even listened to most of the bands that opened for Van Halen and worries, “Does that make me an asshole?” Sometimes he listens to Yo-Yo Ma, because he loves the sound of the cello. But even that is rare.
“It’s an odd thing, but I’ve been this way my whole life,” he continues. “I couldn’t make a contemporary record if I wanted to, because I don’t know what contemporary music sounds like.”