Book Review: “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock: Sammy Hagar” with Joel Selvin [2011]

From solo artist to fronting established monster headliners, back to solo artist into Chickenfoot; from mountain bike manufacturer to restauranteur to tequila mogul; Sammy Hagar is arguably the most successful rock star of all time. He is a more palatable or noble version of Gene Simmons. In Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock, Sammy Hagar tells his incredible rags to riches story.  He does not brag of his achievements, he does not present himself as high and mighty.  Instead the Red Rocker chronicles his life story in an inspiring manner.  Red is a feel-good read.  It is quick, light, and the perfect pool-side companion for the summer.

In his autobiography, Hagar recounts his poor upbringing in Fontana, California with an abusive father as well as his fascination with numerology, UFOs, and the color red.  He discusses getting that first guitar, joining his first bands, early touring, and getting married at 21 prior to any success (He spent 26 years with his first wife Betsy).  The relationship with the often struggling Betsy is tough to get through at points.  It was one of the rare instances in the book where Sammy seems to give up.  On the other hand, he is a rock star; 26 years of marriage for a rock star is equivalent to about 150 years for a normal couple.

The Van Halen chapters (one for the good years, one for the bad years) are the most interesting, making the book very difficult to put down.  I never knew that Sammy Hagar actually took a pay cut to join the group.  Hagar saved that band from oblivion and helped them sell more records than they ever had before, and gets zero thanks from the brothers (Ed and Al).

The brother’s struggles with alcoholism are documented well in both chapters.  In the beginning it was Al, in the end it was Ed.  I always knew the Van Halen brothers were messes, in more ways than one (remember Ed’s “samurai hair”), from interviews and years of being a fan, but Sammy’s accounts bring it all to life.  As bassist Mike Anthony states on the book’s jacket: “If Sammy says it happened, it did.”

In the end Sammy won, but that is not the overall message of the book.  The message is that everybody is born with the same skills, tools, or arsenal.  Whether coming into this world rich or poor, it is up to us to leave our mark, to make something of ourselves, to pursue our dreams, to be powerful, to be successful, and most of all to be happy.

 

 

 

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