What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation


Rock Icon Eddie Van Halen

If You Want to Know What He Was Like as a Kid, Call the Pasadena Police Department

July 24, 2015

Eddie van Halen is a Dutch-born musician, songwriter, and producer who is best known as the lead guitarist and co-founder of Van Halen. Before talking about rock ’n’ roll and reinvention, he talked about getting in trouble while growing up in Pasadena, his hidden talent for the cello, and why Ringo is his favorite Beatle in the What It Means to Be American green room.

Q. What’s the last thing that inspired you?
Racing around Willow Springs Raceway with my brother at 160 miles per hour.

Q. What superpower would you most like to have?
If I had a superpower, I would use it to create world peace, end poverty, and stop racism and inequality. And from the time kids are born, they should be subjected to music, and by the time they’re 7 or 8, they should have a choice of instrument to play.

Q. What is the best gift you ever received?
The gift of music.

Q. How did you get into trouble as a kid?
How or how many times? If you check with the Pasadena Police Department, they would be able to tell you. We did many things. And then some.

Q. What’s your worst habit?
Actually, I don’t have any anymore.

Q. What’s your hidden talent?
Oh man, if I had a talent that I had to hide! I have no hidden talents, outside of maybe playing a little bit of cello. If I had a talent, I certainly wouldn’t hide it.

Q. Who is your favorite Beatle?
Ringo—because he got all the girls.

Q. What do you do to decompress?
Sit in bed and watch reruns of Law & Order.

Q. What’s your favorite Dutch food?
Kroketten. And like how they have hot dog carts in New York, in Amsterdam they have herring carts, with salty herring and onions. Oh, it’s so good.

Q. What does it mean to be American?
I’m very proud to be an American, for one. It’s freedom. And a country of opportunity where if you have a dream, a gift, a talent, and a passion—if you work your tail off, you still have the opportunity to achieve anything you want to achieve.

*Photo by Abram Eric Landes.