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 Tuesday, July 08, 2014

California, the Beta Test State, Part Three: Pasadena Dreamin' (Show Me the Money)

Where Eddie Van Halen grew up. He hasn't been home since 1981.

The mental image of California many of my generation hold was planted there by the state's unofficial ambassadors, Van Halen.

The address of the Pasadena house where Eddie and Alex Van Halen grew up, and where Eddie built his iconic striped guitars, and lived until after the band's fourth platinum album, had been posted on Van Halen forums a few times. I wanted to go there and hear the birds in the trees and feel the breezes myself, soaking up the atmosphere where the guitar stylings my peers and I had struggled to emulate in our teens were born. (Finger tapping? California.)

The house, as seen above, fits the cliche, "It's so small, you'd have to go outside to change your mind!" However, according to the real estate site Zillow, the house is valued at over $500,000! And not because the Van Halens grew up there; there are no historic markers, it's just over $500,000! (Don't mention the Van Halen thing if you're negotiating to buy it.) I drove a few of the surrounding streets, as well, and some of the houses are much larger and more ornate. If the former Van Halen shoebox is $500,000, what do these other houses cost? I'd heard Eddie Van Halen describe his family as "poor," but I started thinking maybe they were poor relative to their neighbors, who were in the 1%*! These people would make anyone feel poor!

All of Pasadena looked as though it was pressure washed and painted on a daily basis. I couldn't help noticing every lawn had the same kind of grass, the same emerald shade of green, and cut to the same height. It was as if one landscaping crew was in charge of the entire city.

City college where Van Halen formed.

Pasadena City College was the site where the Van Halens joined forces with fellow music students Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth to form the band. I had always read they met at "community college," and I pictured a few concrete bunkers like my Atlanta community college. Not so! The building would fit in on the mall in Washington, D.C. (it looks kind of like the Treasury), and even the parking garage was clean as a whistle. If Pasadena City College were in Georgia, I think it would be prestigious and people would be clamoring to get in.

Pasadena Civic Center, where the band performed one of their last pre-fame shows (captured on Pasadena Civic `77, one of their most prevalent bootlegs), is much more fit for Architectural Digest than the concrete box civic center I grew up near that I imagined it to look like.

Such fine public buildings and institutions require a robust tax base to exist.

After the Van Halen tour it was over to the Ice House comedy club to see Adam Carolla do his podcast live. Inside the Ice House, the flamboyant red shirt I had thought looked cool in Atlanta suddenly seemed a bit much for the upscale, Dave Matthews-ish vibe at the Ice House. (But in hindsight -- I looked awesome!)

Paul Rodriguez was Carolla's guest, and he talked about Mexico and Mexico City. He also mentioned that it was the anniversary of D-Day, and that he was a veteran himself. He said, "Let's give it up for our soldiers!" I couldn't help noticing the applause for the troops seemed more hesitant from the Ice House crowd than I think it would be in Atlanta. My reasoning: If you're a Pasadenan that can afford a million-dollar house, military service is an abstract concept to you. Saying "give it up for the troops" is like saying, "Give it up for the people who sweep your driveway and make your bed!" I started feeling like I had more in common with a Mexican guy like Paul Rodriguez than the wealthy white people I was surrounded by. (I'm sure Rodriguez is a zillionaire, too, but I think his roots are in "my world.")

Pasadena Civic Center

A couple of nights before this Pasadena adventure, I had gone to open mic at a comedy club in Burbank. The girl on stage had said, "When I was in school, our field trip went to Dachau. Did anybody else go there?" A guy at the bar said, "Bergen Belsen." Umm...those are in Germany. Your school field trips went to Germany? Mine went to Rock Eagle. It's a pile of rocks Native Americans made that's supposed to look like an eagle, but looks more like a penguin. (The Indians didn't have the benefit of an aerial view, so...nice job, Indians.) No passport or expensive plane ticket is needed to get to Georgia's Stonehenge.

Now I understood what people in Georgia meant when they would say, "There's a lot of money out there." They meant there's a lot of money out there. If someone in California achieves their dreams and the money rolls in, not only can they afford $2 million for what might be a moderately-sized house in St. Louis or Atlanta, but they've got money left over to travel internationally, or the leisure time to do a lot of reading. This is how a trend in Europe migrates to America, or an old idea like the Hula hoop or Kaballah gets reinvented for a mass market. Conversely, if the breadth of your cultural exposure is between your job and the mall, there's nothing to surprise America with. So this answers, in part, our original question, "Why does every fad and trend seem to start in California?"

More on this later, but let's go to the Whisky A-Go-Go on Sunset and have a beer with...

* Sure, the home prices in Pasadena were no doubt lower in the `60's when the Van Halens moved there, but I bet they were still pricier than rest of the country.

Posted by Art | 5:30 PM EST | 4 comments |


Blogger Kim said...

As a Californian myself (Stevenson Ranch, home to the pie house Chet Wild has worked before), rest assured that although many Californians may live in expensive houses and drive nice cars, they own nothing. They have huge payments on everything they own.

Status is everything here right down to the phone they have permanently affixed to their mugs.

BTW, lose the shirt. Red is not worthy of America's favorite talk show host. Kimba

7:15 PM, July 08, 2014  

Blogger Art said...

When I stepped into the Ice House, it definitely seemed to be an earth tone crowd, and that red shirt felt a bit loud and tacky for the room. But when I look at the photo with Carolla, the way the color and pattern jump out almost make it look like he's getting his picture with me, rather than vice versa.

I realize I'm making some broad, and perhaps potentially offensive, generalizations based on one hurried week of tourism. But when I read the estimate on the Van Halen house is $530,000, which would get you mini manor around here, I can only imagine what some of the surrounding houses, some of which were quite stunning, must go for. If they can make those payments, hats off!

Although I did see one house that still had Christmas lights, and the Van Halen house has a lawn windmill!

I read the Van Halens didn't know any English when they arrived here from Holland, and their dad worked two jobs, washing dishes at a hospital and as a janitor at a synagogue. That doesn't even sound like enough to support one person. How did he support a family of four and put them in that neighborhood, and even enrolled his sons in a conservatory? I would almost rather ask them about that than their music.

Pasadena trivia: Did you know David Lee Roths' dad owned the Raymond Theatre in the `70's? I only just found that out. Wish I'd known, I would've gotten some pics of the Raymond.

11:13 PM, July 08, 2014  

Blogger Kim said...

If I remember correctly, Roth's dad was a doctor.
I grew up in La Crescenta in the 70's and 80's (next door to Pasadena basically) and the Van Halens played around town constantly, even at backyard parties. I remember thinking they kind of sucked (we were into much harder rock at the time). I don't think they were going by the name of Mammoth at the time, but if you weren't playing AC DC or Sabbath you weren't on my radar screen. I think it was when they started getting gigs at the Troubador or the Whiskey when they started becoming known.

6:09 PM, July 10, 2014  

Blogger Art said...

Yes, his dad was an optical surgeon (the founder of the Roth Cancer Center in Houston is his uncle). The Raymond Theatre was a mere pet project, I guess. I think Roth lives in the house he grew up in, because when I see shots of him there today it looks like the same house of his dad's where they took some publicity shots in 1977. His sister lives there, also. It's a real fortress, with three football fields of landscaping around it, Roth says. The band would rehearse in the basement.

There's also a famous bootleg of them playing the Pasadena Hilton. If I'd had time I wanted to find that, too.

Van Halen was just huge during my high school years. They were like The Beatles. I only got to see the Van Hagar era in concert, but the cheerleaders, the jocks, the rednecks, the speed metal guys, everyone was at the Van Halen show.

10:34 PM, July 10, 2014  

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