Reverb Titles

Zen Rock’n’roll

‘I hate the word maturing’, singer David Lee Roth once said. ‘I don’t like the word evolving – or any of that bullshit. The point is to keep it as simplistic, as unassuming, and as stupid as possible.’ This book follows Van Halen’s pursuit of the art of artlessness, and describes how they characterize ‘Zen California’ – a state of mind and way of being that above all celebrates ‘the now’. In rock’n’roll terms it stands for the unregulated expenditure of energy; for a youthful exuberance that seems destined to extinguish itself.

While many have attempted to discover the secrets of Van Halen’s appeal through more conventional biographical approaches to their career and music, John Scanlan looks instead at the deeper and unexamined aesthetic and philosophical influences of a band that were always an island unto themselves.

Through a series of illuminating moments and impressions – from origins in the decaying Sunset Strip of the early 1970s to eventual retreat into the Hollywood Hills a decade later – he shows how Southern California in the wake of 1960s was the only time and place that Van Halen could have emerged. Along the way, the book explores the brittle relationship between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen; the unique climate of Southern California, and what it lends to a sense of cultural exuberance; the echoes of Zen and Beat aesthetics in David Lee Roth’s appreciation of spontaneity and transience; and the real roots of Eddie Van Halen’s so-called ‘Brown’ sound.

Van Halen is a groundbreaking account of an extraordinary band, caught in the events of a revolutionary time. The book will appeal to all fans of the group, as well as readers with an interest in the history and aesthetics of rock’n’roll, and the culture of California.

Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock’n’roll by John Scanlan
April 2012 (UK) / May 2012 (North America)



210 × 148 mm
216 pages
29 illustrations
15 Apr 2012


John Scanlan writes on cultural history and aesthetics. He is the author of On Garbage (Reaktion, 2004) and Memory: Encounters with the Strange and the Familiar (Reaktion, 2013). He is Series Editor of Reverb.



A Los Angeles Times Recommended Read, 2012

‘Scanlan takes you through the journey of Van Halen, via various in-depth musings of a social and historical persuasion that, the author suggests, uncover more potent truths than their regularly touted musical inspirations . . .  – Classic Rock

‘Making unlikely connections between Van Halen and movements as seemingly remote as the Beats and Bebop, Scanlan convincingly makes the case that the relationship between Roth and Eddie Van Halen reveals something of the essence of California . . . it is a tale concerned with the “art of artlessness”, and the importance that living in the now had always assumed in the culture of California.’ – Dagens Næringsliv’s D2 Magazine

‘excellent . . . an enlightening read that significantly adds to the scholarship on Sunset Strip musical history’ – LA Letters, KCET (Southern California Public TV)

“Diamond Dave as a Zen master? Eddie Van Halen as musical monk? That’s the case John Scanlan makes – tongue only partly in cheek – in this learned but lively take on Van Halen’s rise to the pinnacle of rockstardom, improvising all the way. Philosophy you can dance to.” – Barnes and Noble Review

⇒ Read an interview with John Scanlan in The Boston Globe