May 2, 2015, 15:23

As a kid, watching those murders take place as Michael Corleone calmly baptized his nephew in church was horrific. But years later, after I was promoted to corporate manager, it seemed obvious to me that Michael was just doing what he needed to do. Classic media such as The Godfather or The Holy Bible bring up different reactions in me as I get older. Although that media hasn’t changed over the years, I certainly have.

So in this blog I’ll share an aspect of the band Van Halen that looks far different to me in my 40’s than it did when I was in high school. Not only because I have changed, but because some juicy facts have recently come out about the band. 

I still remember the exact spot where I stood as Van Halen’s “Eruption” blared out my buddy’s cheap monophonic cassette player – forever changing what I believed was possible in music. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s groundbreaking technique made such an impact on musicians that every profile article in Guitar Player Magazine in the following years had to begin with a disclaimer classifying the subject as either “Pre-Eddie” or “Post-Eddie”.

And on top of virtuosity, Van Halen had a sensational side too.  According to rumor, whenever the members would arrive at a new tour stop they would immediately inspect the candy bowl for brown MnM’s. If any were present, they would fly into a decadent rage and trash the dressing room. You see, Eddie’s guitar sound – for reasons that didn’t concern my teenager ADD at the time- was known as the “brown sound”. As lead singer David Lee Roth explained in an interview, “Brown is a sound. It doesn’t belong in a candy bowl.”  That explanation made complete sense to my pimply-faced self. My beloved band was so passionate about their music and its place in the world they would accept no compromise. 

20 years later, it turns out the band’s reasons for destroying those dressing rooms wasn’t just to feed a PR machine, but also a brutally efficient quality control measure. Watch as David Lee Roth explains:

The fogged-out teenager I used to be wouldn’t have understood what the heck quality control even was. But the 40-year-old me who’s been screwed by my share of legal contracts now has a whole new reason to love and respect Van Halen.

The other aspect of the band that looks far different to me – after years of troubleshooting technical stuff on the internet – is Eddie Van Halen’s legendary “brown sound.” No matter how loud he turned up his amp or how distorted he played a power chord, there was never any harshness to his sound. There was a certain softness to his tone even as the decibal levels were loud enough to break glass. It was a massive part of Edward’s mystique. 

As it turns out, this all happened by accident….and by necessity. Eddie’s first amplifier was ordered from an overseas catalog and therefore didn’t use standard US voltage levels. As a workaround, Van Halen employed the use of a variable transformer that could lower or raise the voltage going into his amplifier. The current level that sounded most pleasing to his ear was approximately 90 volts, lower than the usual 110 volts routed to Marshall stacks. Eddie Van Halen essentially created a “brownout” – the kind you hear about in big cities – within his guitar rig. His power chords wet still powerful; just more..well…brown.

So just like me, stadium PA systems across the US took a small amount of energy current from Edward Van Halen and amplified it into something bigger. Something that served us. Something that met a need at that time.
Here’s to looking back in history at whatever turned you on back then. Not so you can turn back time. But so you can see how you’ve changed.


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of, a production music marketplace with over 35,000 tracks online where media producers, video producers, filmmakers, game developers, businesses  and other music buyers can license high-quality, affordable royalty-free music from an online community of musicians.

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