The Van Halen singer on squeezing into spandex for the 1980 Pinkpop festival in Holland – and his unfortunate run-in with a disco mirrorball
I wore this outfit on stage at the Pinkpop festival in Holland in 1980. On the way there, I broke my nose on a disco mirrorball. I had it stabilised in a surgical unit in California, then flew back to Holland. Everybody thought I was making an Adam Ant-style fashion statement with the plaster.
This look is that of a carefully constructed action figure. In terms of music, it’s all Brit. It’s Freddie, Bowie and the guy in Zeppelin. Theatrically, you’re looking at Spider-Man, with a little Groucho thrown in. Anybody can go to the vintage store and collect boots from the cowboy section, and mix it with motorcycle jackets and so forth, [but] this launched a generational prison break.
The outfit is a collection of 70s [clothes]. Van Halen were a 70s band – we may have enjoyed our success in the 80s, but virtually all of our club years and influences, musical and otherwise, are closer to a British music-hall background. The songwriting is closer to Broadway and film musicals, such as West Side Story or any of the Bob Fosse material.
I’ve never had a stylist, for better or worse. In the beginning, it was a budgetary constraint. As you can see, I’m wearing tactical spandex in this picture; by law, in the US, being a classic rocker I have to wear my costume underneath my street clothes at all times. I fool everybody by wearing reading glasses.
Aside from the pom-pom [shoes], the rest of this outfit fitted into a gum-wrapper. It took three roadies, four hours and some moral support from a groupie to get that suit on. It was like a wetsuit.
After the festival, I sat through Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior twice in a row at the United Artists theatre on a rainy Monday night in Pasadena. I walked out and I had an epiphany: bottomless chaps! Don’t laugh, because those chaps sold millions of dollars worth of tickets for the subsequent tour.
My advice for aspiring young artists is just two words: breathable fabrics. Pushing boundaries in terms of what [Van Halen] wore was never an ambition of ours, but it always seemed to be where we would end up.
David Lee Roth is the host of The Roth Show podcast
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