In some ways, the new Sammy Hagar memoir, Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, is exactly what you’d expect from a Sammy Hagar memoir. It has sex, drugs and rock n’ roll; although the drugs are mostly consumed by other people, the sex mostly takes place in tents under the stage, and the rock n’ roll is adult contemporary heavy metal.
In the course of the book’s slim 200-plus pages, there’s at least one alcohol-related broomstick accident, a beloved manager is buried with cocaine, and for some reason men keep taking off their pants, mostly just to piss each other off. So, pretty much your typical backstage rock tell-all. Not surprisingly for a rocker who’s most famous song was 1984’s “I Can’t Drive 55”, there are dozens of stories about Hagar driving fast, or talking his way out of speeding tickets, or just waxing nostalgic about his Ferrari 512. But there are also some unexpected revelations. For instance, the guys in Van Halen, whose debauchery and rock star excess has been well documented, also apparently enjoy a good afternoon nap. (In Hagar’s words, they’re “big nap-heads.”) And perhaps most shocking of all, despite his long career in a musical genre not known for self-deprecating humor, Hagar has a pretty healthy sense of humor about himself. The book is littered with one-liners that sound like This Is Spinal Tap outtakes, from “I fucked everything that walked” to “My first band never played a gig, but we had capes.” In one of the book’s funniest moments, Hagar recounts his breakup with the band Montrose and his uncertain financial future. But just as it seems hopeless, he gets an unexpected check in the mail for $5100, his profits from Montrose’s last album.“I had no record deal. I had no way to make a living, except for playing music,” he writes. “So I went out and I bought a $5000 Porsche.”
Hagar called me for our phone interview at the exact moment it was scheduled, right down to the second. At no point during our conversation did he tell me to “Take my license and all that jive.” However, he did say a few things that were just as memorable, some of them involving UFOs. Happy Alien Abduction Day, everybody!
Eric Spitznagel: You’ve consumed plenty of drugs and booze over the years, but if your book’s to be believed, it never became a problem for you. What’s your secret?
Sammy Hagar: I don’t like to be out of control. If I drink too much and I try to stand up and go, “Whoooa, man, I’m loaded,” I stop drinking immediately. I’m not like those guys who just need more and more and more. Whenever I’ve done coke and ended up being up all night and saw the sun come up, I’m like, “Oh man, I don’t want to see that shit again!” It’s never, “Let’s do some more coke right now!” I just have a natural stop bottom.
According to Red, Eddie Van Halen went the other way with drugs and alcohol. You way you describe him, he sounds like the Charles Bukowski of rock.
I don’t think I wrote anything about him that’ll surprise anybody. During the Van Halen reunion we did in 2004, we played 80 shows and people saw him every night. Not just onstage but backstage, in the lobbies of hotels, in bars. Everybody was asking, “Wow, what’s wrong with Ed?” He was walking around without a shirt in snowstorms, dipping his finger in people’s drinks in bars. You don’t know the half of it.
Did he seriously believe he got tongue cancer from putting guitar picks in his mouth?
[Laughs.] He did, yeah. He believed some pretty crazy things. I’d be backstage eating a ham sandwich and he’d come up to me and say, “That’ll kill you!” Oh really? Why’s it gonna kill me? “You can’t eat wheat, man, it’s poisonous.”
The details in Red are often staggeringly specific. For instance, you write about how you conceived your first son while listening to Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog.” How in the world did you remember that?
I’ve just got a good memory. My mom was the same way. When she was 84 years old, she would tell me how many steps there were from her bed to the bathroom, or how many times she had to hit the breaks in her car while driving from her house to my sister’s house. She just had a memory of all this useless information. I’m like that too. I remember everything. I remember people’s astrological signs. I could meet somebody once and then twenty years later I’ll run into them again and go, “Oh yeah, you’re a Leo, right?” It’s a curse.
Your book’s filled with some pretty hilarious sex tales.
Hilarious? How are they hilarious?
They weren’t supposed to be funny?
No! What’s so funny about sex? Are you making fun of me?
Well, what about the story where you got blown by a studio receptionist after telling her, “I’ve got a singing headache.” Do you stand behind that as a non-ridiculous pickup line?
Well, it worked. (Laughs.) No, that’s part of the deal. When you’re young and rich and the lead singer of the biggest band in the world, sex is thrown at you. When I was just starting out, the whole groupie scene was more common. I’m sure it’s still there, but it’s not as prevalent as it was in the 70s and 80s.
I’m not surprised that the members of Van Halen had a lot of recreational sex with their female fans. I just didn’t realize it was happening during the shows, under the stage, in sex tents.
Don’t you wish you would’ve been there? Being in the biggest rock band in the world, that was a special era. We had fifteen trucks on the road, eleven buses full of roadies. When we rolled into town, we owned that town. It made you feel like somebody. But those days are gone. There are some country artists that are that big, and maybe U2, but that’s about it. It’s not that way anymore.
Yeah, that all sounds great. But I’m talking specifically about the sex tents.
[Laughs.] What about them?
Who’s idea was that? Who was the first guy in the band to say, “You know what we need under the stage? Tents where we can have sexual intercourse with our fans!”
Honestly, I think it was the production team that built our stages. I think they just thought it was part of the deal. They were like, “Well, this is Van Halen. The guys must want sex tents, right?” Because everyone in the band took solos, you needed a place to go change or rest. You didn’t stand on the side of the stage where everybody could look at you. I did ten shows with Aerosmith last summer, and they had tents. But they had mirrors and wardrobe people and hairdryers and stuff.
Not exactly the same as sex tents.
No, sir, it’s not. [Laughs.]
In the book you claim that you sometimes had sex with between seven and eight fans at a time. When you’re onstage, looking at the audience and deciding who’s going to be in your underground sex tent orgy, how do you know who to pick? Is there some sort of system? Something to do with numerology? One blonde, three brunette, two red-heads, etc.
No, no, I just went for the ones that looked strong.
Strong? Like how much they could bench-press?
No, how attractive they were. Van Halen was a good looking band. And they had a pretty big female following. Or at least they did when I joined. When we first started, it was mostly guys in the audience. But then we came out with hits like “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “When It’s Love” and “Finish What You Started” — very sexual, female, relationship-oriented songs — and pretty soon we had about 50% women in the audience. It was like going to a Kenny Chesney concert today. A lot of chicks.
And yet despite giving them sex appeal, Van Halen is back in the studio with David Lee Roth. What’s that all about?
I heard it’s not going so good. This is what I’ve heard through the grapevine, that they’ve already fired one producer and Ed and Dave supposedly can’t be in the same room together. If they can’t be in the same room together, how can they make a record? I think I’m doing Van Halen a favor with my book. It may put a fire under their asses to swallow some pride and make another record for the fans. You know how long it’s been since they’ve had a record? 1995, when we made Balance. And then they did one record with Gary Cherone, which doesn’t count. They’ve done nothing but greatest hits ever since. I’m dogging them, cause it’s time. They better make a great record for their fans. I don’t care if it’s with David or me.
Let’s talk about David Lee Roth. You obviously don’t like the guy, even though you did a co-headlining tour with him in 2002. What specifically about his personality grates on you?
Straight up? He’s not a friendly guy. He’s not a nice guy at all. And he’s no freakin’ fun. Here’s a guy who makes an image out of being a party animal, getting the babes and having a good time. But on tour, you knock on his dressing room door and he won’t come out. It’s like that Cheech & Chong skit. “Dave’s not here, man.” He doesn’t want to jam on stage, he doesn’t want to listen to music and do a few shots of tequila, he doesn’t want you to bring a few girls to his dressing room. He is not the guy that I expected him to be. He’s just an act. Or maybe he just didn’t like me. Maybe I’m too much fun for him. Or maybe I sing too well and it scares him. I don’t know.
When you toured with him, did he have any sex tents?
Naw. [Laughs.] He had five big bodyguards, ex-football players, around him at all times. No babes could get near him, nobody could get near him. And the crazy thing is, Dave wasn’t at the top of his game at that time. It’s not like he was the biggest star in the world anymore. He was just out there pretending and pushing people around. That’s the only thing I have against him, is that he’s not what he pretends to be.
My favorite story in Red doesn’t involve Van Halen at all. It’s 1977 and you’re opening for Kiss at Madison Square Garden. The crowd is booing you. You remember what happened next?
Oh yeah, absolutely. [Laughs.]
Allow me to quote directly from your book: “‘Fuck you,’ I said and dropped my pants, pulled out my dick, and smashed my fucking ’61 Stratocaster to pieces onstage.”
I still can’t believe I did that to a Stratocaster. That guitar would probably be worth $200,000 today.
See, to me, that’s not the crazy part. The crazy part is you dropping your pants and waving your ding-a-ling at Kiss fans.
Oh yeah, sure. And I would probably do it again. I’m still friends with Paul (Stanley). I don’t see Gene (Simmons), but I still see Paul every now and then. He comes to shows if I’m playing. He came to the Van Halen reunion tour in LA (in 2004) and hung out. He’s a good guy. And every time he sees me, either he’ll bring it up or I’ll bring it up, “Paul, can you believe that shit?” “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe you did that!” It’s funny now, but at the time, when you’re faced with that kind of rejection, it can be heartbreaking.
Before reading Red, I didn’t realize you had an interest in mysticism. You’ve apparently consulted with psychics and studied numerology and had crazy dreams about UFOs. Why haven’t we seen more mystical themes in your music?
I didn’t write about it much in Van Halen, but I have done a few songs that have sci-fi themes. There’s “Space Station #5” on the first Montrose album, and then on the second album there’s “Spaceage Sacrifice.” My first solo album, there’s “Silver Lights” and “Hot Rocks,” which are about UFOs coming and taking people away. The next one had “Little Star” and “Someone Out,” which is about how we’re not the only ones. “I feel so scared and lonely to think we’re the only ones, when I know there’s someone out there and someday they’ll come.” People say there’s no other life in the universe. But you know how big the universe is? It’s freakin’ huge! If we’re really the only ones out there, that’s scarier to me than thinking there are aliens. So, my whole career I’ve been writing about these kinda things. But they’ve never been the hits. They’ve only been the underground songs. If anything in the book has been played down, it’s my mystical side, because I don’t want to sound like I’m crazy.
Why would people think you’re crazy? Because of your opinions or your experiences?
My opinions are way out there. But yeah, definitely a few of my experiences, too. I can’t even go there. [Laughs.] I tried to keep my opinions out of this book, even about the Van Halen years. My opinions are not important, and they might come across as jaded. My opinions about the UFO stuff, well, I could write a whole book just devoted to that. I love it, man. I’m into it deep.
It sounds like you really want to talk about this stuff. So why aren’t there more UFO stories in Red?
Joel Selvin, the guy who did all the interviews for this book and really made it happen, he talked me out of it. He’d be like, “Aw, people don’t want to hear that shit.” He’s always been a wise-ass. He’s a prick, and he’s very blunt, and he was great for me, because he really kept me under control.
Okay, let’s just cut to the chase. I’m just going to come out and ask it. Have you ever been abducted by aliens?
I think I have.
What? Really? I was kidding. You seriously believe that?
[Laughs.] Now you’re making me sound like a crazy person.
How is that crazy? I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened to you.
Remember the story in the book, where I have a dream about being contacted by aliens in the foothills above Fontana?
Yeah, yeah, I’ve got the page right here. “I saw a ship and two creatures inside of this ship… And they were connected to me, tapped into my mind through some kind of mysterious wireless connection.” You’re telling me that wasn’t a dream?
That’s right. It was real. They were plugged into me. It was a download situation. This was long before computers or any kind of wireless. There weren’t even wireless telephones. Looking back now, it was like, “Fuck, they downloaded something into me!” Or they uploaded something from my brain, like an experiment. “See what this guy knows.”
And this actually happened?
That happened. That friggin’ happened, I’ll tell you right now. Another thing happened when I was about four that I didn’t put into the book. One time I saw what I considered to be, well, at the time I thought it was a car with no wheels. We lived out in the country and I saw this thing floating across a field, creating this big dust storm. I threw rocks at it and shit. And I don’t know what happened after that.
You blacked out?
I guess. I just have no memory of it. And that wasn’t a dream. It was during daylight.
I can understand your apprehension. Alien abduction is a tough sell.
Especially back a few decades ago, when this stuff happened to me. I couldn’t talk about it because I didn’t know how to explain it. I didn’t understand the technology. But now I’m pretty sure it was a wireless situation. Either a download or upload. They were tapped into my brain and the knowledge was transferred back and forth. I could see them and everything while it was happening. There was a visual involved, almost like…. I don’t know. [Laughs.] Don’t get me going!
If they were downloading something from your brain, I guess the joke’s on them. Unless they were hoping for the lyrics to “Rock Candy.”
Oh yeah, I’m sure they were. [Laughs.] Montrose was a very special band.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in MTVHive.com.)