The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

UNC students and alumni reflect on how Eddie Van Halen changed music

DTH Photo Illustration. A stack of Van Halen records sits on top of a mixing board.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. A stack of Van Halen records sits on top of a mixing board.

Eddie Van Halen, who died at 65 due to cancer on Tuesday, had a unique guitar playing style that left a mark on the music world and influenced UNC community members of all ages. 

First-year Payton Walker started listening to Van Halen when her dad played their music in his 1975 Cadillac Eldorado. 

“We would always listen to Van Halen in the Cadillac,” Walker said. “Whenever my brother had baseball games, he would always play 'Mean Street' and 'Hot for Teacher,' trying to get ready for my brother’s game day.” 

Walker said some of her favorite Van Halen songs are "Mean Street" and "5150."   

“Eddie Van Halen is one of my favorite guitarists of all time,” Walker said. “I think he changed music.”

Walker said Van Halen’s iconic playing style is what inspired her to pick up the guitar. 

“I’m not really different to say that he’s the reason I picked up guitar,” Walker said. “It’s not rare to find someone else that will say the same thing.” 

Like Walker, junior Corbin Holder also started listening to Van Halen’s music because of his dad. 

“Probably when I was at least 8 or 9 years old, my dad, he uploaded my iPod with a ton of classic rock music,” Holder said. 

Holder has been listening to Van Halen’s music on and off since then. One of his favorite songs is "Poundcake," because of Van Halen’s creative use of an electric drill before the song begins. 

“Eddie Van Halen was a very iconic guitarist,” Holder said. “The thing he did best was he had this type of touching style where he would just tap on the guitar strings, instead of actively playing them, and that is completely unique from anyone else.” 

Holder said he thinks that Van Halen’s playing style elevated the guitar scene. 

He saw the band perform live at Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh in 2015. 

“Eddie was just as good as he’s probably ever been,” Holder said. “They played 'Eruption' which everyone, of course, loves, but the one that I really got into there is called 'Ice Cream Man.'”

Seeing the live performance of the song inspired Holder to go home and learn how to play "Ice Cream Man" on guitar. 

Van Halen’s death impacted not only UNC students, but alumni as well. Martin Godwin, who graduated from UNC in 1992, started playing guitar at age 13 and has been in a band consistently since then.

In Chapel Hill, Godwin was part of a band called "Knocked Down Smilin’" that played local venues like fraternities and Cat’s Cradle. 

“Chapel Hill was such an important point in my life for music,” Godwin said. “Our band did a lot of really different types of things, and Van Halen was an influence throughout it all.”  

Like Walker and Holder, Godwin emphasized the significance of Van Halen’s skillful playing style. 

Godwin said he saw Van Halen live in concert four times, twice in the '80s and then twice on reunion tours in the 2000s. 

“It confirmed everything that I already knew about his playing from the records,” Godwin said. “He was just better than anybody.”

Godwin described Van Halen’s playing style as effortless and said that he was a great showman who always had a big smile on his face and loved what he did. 

“It made you want to go home and play guitar,” Godwin said. “And then you realized once you started playing that, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ll never be able to be anything like that guy,’ but it inspired so many people to try.”

Godwin said Van Halen’s death this week was impactful for the music community as a whole. 

“It’s tough to experience that kind of loss, especially someone I didn’t know, but could have that kind of an impact,” Godwin said. “That’s the power of what music is all about.”

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