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Steve Vai pays tribute to the innocent genius of Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images; Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The innocence of genius is fascinating. This idea was prominently on display through the entire career of Edward Van Halen.  

We have a tendency to believe that “genius” is restricted to intellectual giants, but perhaps another perspective of “genius” is the ability of an individual to seamlessly connect to their uniquely inspired creative intuitions. 

“Geniuses” are capable of manifesting these intuitions into the world effortlessly, elegantly and without any excuses or fear; this is their natural and organically creative state of being. The potential to realize this lies within all of us.  

Edward was not an intellectual (thank God), but he was a genius. He had the gift of focused intention, undaunted confidence and palpable passion, and he didn’t even know it; it was just natural to him. When it came to his musical vision, he was oblivious to obstacles. 

Any obstacles a person might encounter in expressing their creative inspirations are only ever the negative thoughts they have about reaching their goal. Those obstructions aren’t in the outside world, as commonly believed. It’s an inside job. They are the insecure and fearful thoughts that cut at the root of a person’s ability to discover and express their own simple, creative brilliance that’s already there.

Edward never fell prey to these kinds of thoughts. Instead, he followed his bliss. In doing so, he created a paradigm shift that evolved the entire guitar community. His goals were set minute by minute, so he was constantly challenging and satisfying himself.

The experience of having an inner pull to play something a certain way, and then hitting that goal and instantly creating another can become quite intoxicating and fiercely addictive. And when he put it all together, if either Sammy swooned or Dave swagged all over it, it didn’t matter; he was going to crush it regardless. No exceptions.

When a person is passionate about what they are doing, the sense of enthusiasm and joy are in the forefront and acts as their guidance. That gives them the powerful stamina needed to dig deeper and deeper into finding just the right expression without having to compromise, but practicing alone won’t do it.

The practice must be joined at the hip with the fearless exploration of one’s own uniquely creative ideas. This is when discipline is replaced by passion, which is a far superior tool for creating.

The result of this process is excellence and innovation, which was Edward’s calling card. When he was developing his tone and execution, he did not compromise until it sounded the way his intentions demanded.

Every groundbreaking technique he developed was masterfully executed because that’s the way he heard it in his mind, and he loved chasing it. The process of discovery and the accomplishment of the goal was his bliss. All the elements of his vision took shape majestically.

That tone, the choice and personality of every note, his chordal playing and groove lock, that vibrato and stunning intonation, the “baddassery” of his sonic attitude, the clarity and absurd execution of all the innovative ideas he discovered were all supreme and a product of the desire of his inner ear. They were whipped with a whammy bar and mightily served to us on an immaculate silver platter.

But perhaps the most engaging aspect of Edward was that smile. It was at the core of his musical DNA. On his face, it represented the joy he felt while playing. You can hear and feel that joyful inner light beaming in the harmonic structures of the songs he wrote, and man, do we love them. That’s because they come from a joyful heart.

It’s amazing how fortunate we were to have had him. 65 is not necessarily old, but in guitar years, it’s not necessarily young. In this life, Edward Van Halen emptied his golden goblet for us, and our cups runneth over. He truly delivered.

Even though you may not have known him personally, many feel as helplessly gutted over his departure as if he was a personal best friend. There’s that pull to want to thank him directly; to look him in the eyes with whole-hearted sincerity and attempt to express to him what he meant to us.

Though as you know, the words can never get that intimate feeling across, but the continuation of enjoying the myriad life-changing gifts he left us with can. King Edward, you were exceptional… and we are grateful.

Steve Vai 10.14.20 Los Angeles 5:07 p.m.