Eddie Van Halen (January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020) – Another Immigrant who lived the American Dream!
For as long as I can remember, I have always been passionate about music. When I was 12 years old, I started playing the guitar, with dreams of becoming a rock and roll star when I grew up (LOL!). One of my idols at that time was Eddie Van Halen, from the band Van Halen, which was just starting to get a lot of airplay on the radio. While many people know that “van Halen” was Eddie’s real last name, what many people don’t know is that he was an immigrant from the Netherlands who came to America when he was a child and could not even speak English.
He was born “Edward Lodewijk van Halen” in Mijmegen, Netherlands on January 26, 1955. According to his own biographical account, Eddie moved to America when he was only 6 years old, having immigrated with his parents and his brother Alex who would later become the drummer of Van Halen. Eddie’s father, Jan van Halen was a jazz pianist whose talents brought the family to America aboard a cruise ship on which Jan was performing.
By his own account, Eddie could not speak any English when he first arrived in America; and neither could his brother or his parents. Together, the family shared a rented room in the house of another family and they started their quest for the American Dream. To make matters even more challenging, Eddie’s mother, Eugenia was originally from Indonesia, so the van Halen’s were a true bi-racial family. According to certain accounts, the bi-racial nature of their family was one of the reasons that they left the Netherlands to come to America in the first place, as Eddie’s parents were forced to endure racial discrimination and bias. Eddie and his brother Alex were even referred to as “half-breeds” because their mother was Indonesian. Needless to say, while the situation apparently changed for the better once they moved to America, they still encountered difficult circumstances as bi-racial family living in pre-Civil Rights era America.
What was so great about Eddie Van Halen? Eddie Van Halen is widely credited as the rock and roll guitar player that single-handedly changed the direction and sound of rock guitar in the 1970’s (and beyond). In addition to writing some of the most memorable rock and metal guitar lines ever written (including “Eruption,” “Unchained,” and the guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s #1 hit “Beat It”), he popularized the “tapping” guitar solo technique which, five decades later, is still being studied and built upon by young and experienced players alike. His effortless control over the guitar at an extraordinarily high volume created literally millions of guitar playing disciples who wanted to emulate his sound and style, and who were able to forge new paths of their own in the music world and build upon his techniques. And in an environment full of artists with big egos that were completely full of themselves, Eddie was, for the most part, widely loved and respected as an easy-going emissary of the guitar, who became famous for his photogenic perma-smile and outwardly happy disposition.
What does Eddie Van Halen’s immigration story have to do with his music? First of all, I am quite convinced that the world would have never even heard Eddie’s music and America would not have had the opportunity to crown him as one of the greatest players of all time if he did not immigrate to the U.S. and explode on to the music scene when he did. Unlike now, U.S. immigration policy in the early 1960’s was a lot more, shall we say “open”, and it was much easier for families, such as the van Halen’s to pursue the American Dream. In my view, the band Van Halen happened to the world because they were rising stars in the highly competitive early-mid 1970’s Los Angeles music scene where rock and metal music was fusing together, and that brought out the genius in Eddie, as well as in his brother Alex who is also an incredibly talented musician in his own right. It’s also a fact that Eddie’s signature sound was the result of his endless hours of experimentation and tinkering with his guitars and electronics to customize the sound that, by his own account, his family simply could not afford to purchase for him when he was getting started. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Like countless immigrants who came to America before him, Eddie brought his talent, ingenuity, and resourcefulness with him, and in the process of overcoming what might have appeared to be insurmountable obstacles to many others, created and gave the world the gift of his sound, new guitar and amp configurations, and brilliant musicianship. For me, it’s very difficult, if not impossible to separate Eddie’s music and his spirit from his immigrant roots.
What can you learn from Eddie Van Halen? Completely aside from enjoying the music that he created and learning some tricks from the way he played, I think that Eddie Van Halen is just one more example of how a welcoming and permissive Immigration policy benefits America and Americans. Many people don’t even know that Eddie was an immigrant who, at one point in his life, did not even speak English. His name, the sound of his guitar, and his band seem to have been completely absorbed by American pop-culture so that it feels natural to simply assume that Eddie Van Halen was a home-grown American boy who hit the big time. In reality, his story is one of overcoming bi-racial discrimination, assimilating into a foreign country, and leaving an oversized and eternal footprint on American music history and pop-culture. And so with these ideas in mind, I think it’s important, every so often, to stop and take a close look at what America is really all about, and who it’s all about. In a day and age when politicians are urging us to proudly fly the American flag, keep America great, and to fight for “the soul” of the country, American’s should always remember that America is a country of Immigrants and that it’s because of Immigrants that America is great in the first place.
If you have any questions about U.S. immigration, or you would like to discuss this blog post, please Immigration Lawyer Sean D. Hummel to schedule a consultation (954) 385-3111.