Gillette News Record
GILLETTE — Author Mary Shelley and guitarist Eddie Van Halen had at least one thing in common: They both created a Frankenstein.
In the 1970s, Van Halen cobbled together the best parts of a Gibson guitar and a Fender Stratocaster, a modern mad scientist searching for the perfect guitar tone. He called it “Frankenstein.”
In his final steps of creation, he painted the guitar black, then taped off lines on the body and spray-painted it white. Finally, he taped another set of lines, criss-crossing the others at random points, and spray-painted it red.
The famous red-and-white abstract visual is copyrighted under the name “Frankenstein.”
On Oct. 6, the 1980s hair rock superstar died at age 65.
Four Campbell County High School students couldn’t let the moment pass without paying their respects, and like Van Halen himself, they turned to cans of black, white and red spray paint.
It took Zakk Ross, Braden Hoeffner, Adrian Macias and Kendall McKee almost six hours to paint the camel sculpture at CCHS in the Van Halen Frankenstein design. It was freezing cold by the time they were done, they said.
The idea originated with Ross, a 17-year-old senior, a budding guitarist with a profound love for Van Halen’s music. He knew about the 1980s rock megagroup Van Halen from his father, but he really studied it during freshman year when his music teacher, Mr. Strauch, asked the class to analyze a live solo of Van Halen’s.
Hoeffner, an 18-year-old senior and saxophone player in the band, knew of Van Halen’s music because his grandfather introduced him to it. He’d given a senior speech on how the rock star had changed the way guitar was played. It inspired him as a musician.
“Honestly, it makes me want to experiment more,” Hoeffner said. “That’s what Eddie did on guitar.”
Macias, an 18-year-old senior and saxophone player in the band, didn’t know about Van Halen until his friendship with Ross and Hoeffner.
“That definitely appealed to me, listening to those people that like to take solos for hours is really cool to see someone take their ideas from their mind into their guitar and let their guitar speak for them,” Macias said. “I want to be able to shred like him, just on a different instrument.”
The news of the guitar legend’s death hit Ross hard.
“I know that first day it was just me crying every now and then because I was just sitting there listening to his music and I was thinking about all the times that maybe life was dragging me down and he gave me an outlet to not have to think about how cruel life can be sometimes,” Ross said.
“Just knowing that he died and I never got to meet him and thank him for that really upset me, even though I’m sure he hears that from everyone,” he added.
The songs that can be heard these days booming through the rolled-down windows in the parking lot of CCHS aren’t likely to be the hits of Van Halen. The boys realize they’re paying homage to a bygone era of rock and roll music.
“I was reading some of the replies on the Facebook page and I remember seeing people saying, ‘Oh, this is awesome because I remember listening to Van Halen in in that parking lot,’” Ross said. “And I said, ‘Jeez, these people are old.’”
But music is transportive; it stays with people long after they hear it, and it imprints itself on a time, place, person, smell, feeling. It makes music timeless.
Kendall McKee, 16 years old and a junior, said he felt a sense of obligation to help Ross because of how much Van Halen meant to him.
But he recognized the timelessness of music when he heard Ross’s idea to paint the camel, because he was still dealing with a loss of his own. McKee’s father, Marty, died in April, and he was a fan of rock music.
“He was very, very in touch with rock,” McKee said. “He loved listening to Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard. He knew every song, every band member and every single line. To do something I think he would really enjoy was a main part of it as well.”
Music is one of the most important things he’s got, McKee said.
“Via my dad is how I heard all these songs,” he said. “Just to sit down and listen to them in his pickup driving down the highway, going to Douglas or something, that long two-hour stretch. It’s something to do and when you’ve been listening to it for as long as you can remember it becomes a part of you.
“To see something like Eddie Van Halen passing away leaves a little bit of a sour taste because it means there’s a little part of you leaving, too. Which is the good part about music because it still brings back the memories of when times were a little bit better.”