Noel E. Monk- Runnin’ With The Devil Review

Sex, drugs and rock and roll. From The Dirt to Slash to Hammer Of The Gods and Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?, You’ve heard it all before- or have you? One of the more remarkable rock stories that was never adequately covered in full was that of the mighty Van Halen, something that changed three years ago when former tour-manager-turned-manager Noel E. Monk finally got the chance to dish out his experiences running the show for one of rock’s most influential acts during their golden age with David Lee Roth at the helm (Check out Sammy’s book Red for the Van Hagar years). It’s a hearty read; equal parts entertaining and cautionary of the perks, highs, pitfalls and lows of life at the top of the music industry, a comprehensive look behind the scenes if there ever was one.

To start off, you know a writer’s done their job when you can imagine yourself directly in the scenarios described, witnessing them firsthand as they happened. Monk does that out the gate, opening the book with a vivid pre-concert scenario in 1982 loaded with indiscriminate excess and bountiful energy. From there, he briefly recounts the band’s beginnings leading up to their signing with Warner Bros. Records in 1977, a pivotal event to which Van Halen show up late, sweaty and exhausted from running to the meeting after their car breaks down. This turns out to be a fitting precedent for what’s to come: While on tour in support of their famed eponymous debut, typical or perhaps not-so-typical road antics begin in due time, ranging from obliteration of hotel rooms via condiment-fuelled escapades and endless, all-night cocaine benders to the claiming of innocent victims such as Journey’s Steve Perry in raucous food fights backstage.

A unique feature that distinguishes Runnin’ From The Devil from other rock memoirs is indeed the fact that it’s written by the band’s manager instead of any of the band members themselves, giving far more of an insight into the machinery behind the madness than would otherwise be mentioned. There’s the things you would expect: the menacing of bootleggers, the bribing of cops to keep the band out of jail, and Monk’s strategic rescuing of the band from a massive fuckover of a record deal. Then there’s the things you wouldn’t expect, and for an aspiring artist can be a bit demoralizing to know about: The rigging of Billboard chart slots in exchange for advertising, for instance, in the case of Van Halen II’s release in 1979, or the costly payola job undertaken to get the comparatively abstract Fair Warning to platinum status. One cannot be sure to what extent these shady practices still continue, though when recalling industry-related shenanigans such as original manager Marshall Berle’s filming of the band’s sexual exploits and screening them to a room full of female Warner secretaries, there is evidence to suggest WMG brass has been involved in some pretty depraved stuff in recent years- albeit not too funny in comparison to Berle’s amusing perversions.

The fun, or in Monk’s case the hell and grey hairs continues well into the early 1980s, revealing an astounding, though hilarious personal naivety on the part of the band even as their industry street-smarts grew with Monk’s direction. Eddie, in one instance unironically asks Monk whether a woman filing a paternity suit against him could’ve got pregnant by fellating him in his car, leading to the infamous wives’ tale of Diamond Dave getting his penis insured for legal protection. Dave later leaves Monk utterly dumbfounded by asking who, if not dear manager Mr. Monk was going to inform a recent lover that he might have given them the clap. After a while though, like so many rock-and-roll sagas before and after, life as a band of Van Halen’s scale sadly loses its fun as the drugs, drinking and occasional destruction of luxury limos creep up and take their toll.

In a tragic and somewhat ironic twist of events, the one time that Monk is able to secure the band enough time between records and touring to really make a masterpiece (1984 of course being the record in question here) is when all the simmering tensions, problems and outright resentments finally come to the surface. In unquestionably the most reprehensible episode alleged in the book, Michael Anthony is financially raped by his bandmates through a contract they drum up to nix his royalty stake after 1984 comes out. Astoundingly as anyone knows he agreed to it and stuck around, though that decision allowed him to forge a closer and more genuine friendship with Sammy Hagar in the years that followed. Monk however comes to see the writing on the wall for himself and is eventually proven correct; the band audits him for financial mishandling as a pretext to fire him, eventually doing so right around the same time Dave heads out the door on his own (See more about that here).

To this day, Noel E. Monk hasn’t spoken to anyone from Van Halen. Despite all the documented stresses, grudges, betrayals and other general shit that comes with both being in a massive band and managing one, he still looks back on the days managing the most influential act of the 1980s with a sense of fondness- realistically, how could you not? Not many people, whether it be artists or industry people get to have opportunities like this, but at least a good chunk of the world can now read this and get a sense of what it’s like. For artists, it’s also a manual of all the things to do and not to do if you want to ensure success and longevity- and more importantly, to maintain a cohesive, tight-knit band of brothers that’ll stick it out together from beginning to end.