From hamburger stands and Midwestern stables to the world’s biggest stages and most remote jungles, David Lee Roth riffs on his journey in the incredible way that only he can.

Wheat Field

David Lee Roth

MUSICIAN / ARTIST / STORYTELLER

2019

MUSIC / SINGING / VAN HALEN / INK THE ORIGINAL / TATTOOS / EDDIE VAN HALEN / ALEX VAN HALEN / MUSIC / PAULA SCHER / CLIMBING / CAFE WHA? / MANNY ROTH / ANTHONY BOURDAIN / DIANE ARBUS / MARK TWAIN / MILES DAVIS / MARTIAL ARTS / HÔTEL DE CRILLON

Don’t care about Van Halen? You’re in luck.

Don’t even know who David Lee Roth is? That might be for the best.

Because in this episode of Design Matters, you meet someone famous for his vocals in one of the biggest 1980s bands—but who has always been more than a caricature of rock star excess (if not the original schematic for it).

Roth grew up not in the Hollywood Hills, but in Bloomington, IN, where he went about “chasing muskrats” and shoveling horse manure for a buck. Rather than idolizing rock stars, he loved Miles Davis. Jack London. Mark Twain.

He could sing across five-and-a-half octaves—not exactly the easiest thing to do. And after his family moved to Pasadena, CA, he met Eddia Van Halen. Their first record went gold in 1978. Dave Bhang’s Van Halen logo became an icon of its era. Van Halen II followed. Women and Children First. Fair Warning. Diver Down. 1984. Roth left the band in 1985 and launched a solo career. All told, the antics were legendary, and legendarily reported, from the M&M tour riders to the annihilated hotel rooms. The line between fact and fiction, the line between character and character study a seemingly amorphous thing.

Roth rejoined Van Halen in 2007. The rest is … not exactly history, but perhaps a crime of omission. To focus on Roth through the lens of Van Halen alone belies the intense, oft-bizarre, kaleidoscopic truth of his person.

He’s a martial artist who has been practicing since the age of 12.

An obsessive traveler and adventurer who has traversed jungles and mountains.

An accomplished climber in said mountains.

A skilled artist who studied sumi-e painting in Japan.

An EMT in New York City, badge no. 327466.

The author of a bestselling autobiography.

An actor who banked roles on shows like “The Sopranos.”

An entrepreneur deeply involved with his company, Ink the Original (which protects his own Japanese body suit tattoo).

Though wildly disparate pursuits, one gets the sense that to Roth, it’s all variations on a theme.

“What is art?” he has asked. “Simple, I think: something that forces and compels you to think.”

In this episode of Design Matters, we learn more about the glue that holds Roth’s unique brand of creative insanity together—no Van Halen cover charge required.

Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief
 

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman