"Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a helicopter, and you can land next to some": The wit and wisdom of David Lee Roth

David Lee Roth close-up
(Image credit: Images Press)

I recently ran into one of my 70-year-old mother’s best friends. When asked how she’s kept in such good shape over the years, she quickly denied ever having gone to the gym and then, to my disbelief, offered up a zinger from... Van Halen's Mr Entertainment himself, David Lee Roth

“I used to jog,” she said, “but the ice cubes kept falling out of my glass.” 

It was at that moment that I realised that the Ice Cream Man was, in fact, a genius. I know what you’re thinking: the guy who wrote Hot For Teacher a genius? A guy who dresses like P.T. Barnum and whose personality is part Errol Flynn, part Bugs Bunny? Yup, that guy.

So here, then, is the very best of Van Halen's Diamond Dave. 

On growing up

“When I was maybe eight years old, the doctor said I was hyperactive. And they told my parents: ‘Oh, we have to put Dave on Ritalin therapy.’ Every night at dinner when I get the blood sugars up, I’d start ticky-tacking with the knives and forks on the table, and I’d start telling jokes and singing commercials from television and everything. And the folks would say to the company: ‘Now don’t worry about David, he’s just doing what we call Monkey Hour.’ I have successfully turned Monkey Hour into a career.” (Entertainment Tonight, 1981)

“I remember the first movie I saw, really watched from beginning to end. I was seven. I left home with my dad, and I remember my mom saying: ‘Okay, you’re going to see Robin Hood, right? Make sure you go and see Robin Hood.’ I sensed tension in her voice. So my dad and I got in the car, took off and drove right past the theatre where Robin Hood was playing. I said: ‘Dad, there’s Robin Hood.’ He said: ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to another movie.’ I said: ‘Which one?’ And he said: ‘Have you ever heard of Marilyn Monroe?’ I said: ‘No.’ He said: “Well, the movie we’re going to see is called Some Like It Hot.’ I said: ‘Wow, this is going to be something special. What’s it about?’ He said: ‘Never mind. But before we get there, let me tell you what Robin Hood is about…” (Rolling Stone, 1985)

On inspiration

“I said to somebody over at the gym the other day: ‘Behold the power and forge your body in the fire of your will!’ And he said: ‘Is that the Bible?’ And I said: ‘No, it’s Spiderman, asshole. Now get out of my way!’” (Launch.com, 1997)

“I had no musical influences to speak of. My idols were always Genghis Khan, or Muhammad Ali, or Alexander the Great, or the guy who invented McDonald’s hamburgers.” (MTV’s Everybody Wants Some, 2008)

“I keep boxer’s hours. Although I am not a boxer, I have seen a lot of boxing movies. I wake up at five, go until about noon, take a siesta for a couple of hours, and then I’m up until midnight. Frequently, I say I haven’t been to sleep since the late 80s.” (Spin magazine, 2003)

On music

“Rock music is no longer like the word pizza. If you say ‘pizza’ in 28 countries, they know what you mean. If you say ‘rock’, well that’s everybody from Tom Petty to Metallica. That’s everything from the Black Crowes to the Chili Peppers. I like it all.” (Your Filthy Little Mouth Tour Book, 1994)

“Somebody asked me the question not too long ago: ‘Dave, do you think the music business has turned corrupt?’ I said: ‘Absolutely not – it has always been corrupt.’” (The Sun-Herald, 1988)

“My music, personally, is best understood not by animals and small children, but by small animals and big children.” (Crazy From The Heat, 1997)

“It’s only deja vu if you’re doing the same show and the same routine over and over again. There are some bands that are extraordinary at that. The Rolling Stones have been playing the same song over and over and over again for, what do you think, 25, 30 years? I like the song though! AC/DC has been playing the same song, album by album, for 30 years but we dig the song. I do believe, however, that mankind was destined for change. There are only two things that really look exactly the same from the moment you first see them to the moment they are dead. And they are a sea anemone and Neil Young [laughs].” (Nuce As The News, 2003)

On style

On “Style is not to be confused with class. A Mercedes-Benz is class because it represents money. However, chilli dogs have absolutely no class but a great deal of style. Punk rock, new wave and reggae are all different kinds of styles. None of them, however, have any class… I got class!” (Entertainment Tonight, 1981)

“This is what I call my ‘Jesus’ ensemble. I put it on and everybody goes: ‘Oh, Jesus!’” (Joan Rivers Show, 1986)

“Rock’n’roll is nothing but shoes and haircuts.” (Joan Rivers Show, 1985)

“Yes, I do have my own tailor. Jack The Ripper.” (US Festival, 1983)

“It takes an extremely masculine man to look sexy in a pair of pink bicycle shorts.” (Las Vegas Mercury, 1991)

“An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance.” (Nightwatch With Charlie Rose, 1984)

On Van Halen

“I look at heavy metal music – Van Halen’s brand of heavy metal music – as a combination of religion and hockey.” (Entertainment Tonight, 1981)

“We make all the guys feel young and invincible, and all the girls feel young and desirable.” (Los Angeles Times, 2006)

On performing and fame

“I’m the cheerleader. I’m the toastmaster general for the immoral majority. Our motto is: ‘Ahhhhh shutup!’” (Nightwatch With Charlie Rose, 1986)

“You may never have bought one of my records, but you heard my voice coming out the stereo at the local drive-in, or the beach, coming from the stereo at the lifeguard station. You heard it in the club. You heard it when you went to jail – I got you through jail. I got you through war. I’ve got letters from people who conceived children to my songs.” (Everybody Wants Some, 2008)

“When you look out of your bedroom door and a midget goes by in a bath towel, you know you’re not in life insurance.” (The Times, 1982)

On money

“The guy who said ‘money doesn’t buy you happiness’ didn’t know where to go shopping.” (Trick Or Treat, 1991)

“Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a helicopter, and you can land next to some perhaps.” (Trick Or Treat, 1991)

“I used to have a drug problem, but now I make enough money.” (Nightwatch With Charlie Rose, 1986)

On exploration and travel

“Why do I love to go into the jungle? Because it’s easy for me. I work in the music business – I’m totally used to animals and insect-like creatures. I have more in common with the mountain men in New Guinea than I do with music people.” (Rolling Stone, 1985)

On relationships

“Somebody asked me: ‘Dave, are you getting married very soon?’ I told them: ‘Well, there’s three rings involved in marriage: you have the engagement ring, you have the wedding ring and you have the suffer-ring.’” (Guitar Wars show, 1983)

“I’m a very family-oriented kind of guy. I personally started three or four in 1983.” (MTV, 1984)

“When you’re on the road for nine months a year and you always have all these cute little chiquitas running around in their halter-tops, it’s kind of hard to worry about things like nuclear proliferation.” (Everybody Wants Some, 2008)

“I used to be able to write off condoms.” (The Sopranos, 2008)

“Van Halen is definitely a ladies’ band – and we’ve got the Polaroids to prove it.” (Everybody Wants Some, 2008)

On the future

“I think people want the balance more than ever. You know, plant an Ethiopian, feed the rain forest, save the ozone layer – you gotta have that! ‘Oh, woe is me,’ as a form of self-dramatisation, is always fun. It shouldn’t be replaced, but there should be a balance. Sooner or later it’s Miller time! Sooner or later there is some hallelujah, watusi-tailgate, light-up-the-goddamn-sky-it’s-finally-the- weekend, okay? And I don’t care whether you wear a cowboy hat or your hair is purple, I don’t care if you have a wedding ring or a clit ring, sooner or later there’s Miller time! That doesn’t mean simple belly laughs, and it doesn’t mean high-brow, it just means: ‘Wanna go have a drink?’” (Launch.com, 1997)

“To this day, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at seven in the morning, I train in Brazilian jujitsu, and then at 8.15 my Portuguese teacher comes over. She just left, and it’s my last lesson before we go out on the tour. Two nights a week I have a kendo instructor come here, who’s in his 60s, and I have a kendo hall that I built in my house here. I take Spanish lessons twice a week, I read a book a week, I subscribe to 40 or 50 magazines a month, and there’s never a lack of… ‘Okay, what community are we interested in this week? What are we gonna have for dinner? Let me count the ways.’ And on and on. I think, very frequently, musicians become a victim of the very song they sing. I like all kinds of recreation. It’s aggressive. I want to be part of everything. I’m not Scarface, but I’ll just narrow it down. I want everything in New York and LA.” (The Onion, 1992)

“Somebody asked me a question the other day. He said: ‘David, so would you like to be remembered in the future as the guy with a couple of encyclopaedias in his pants and up on a mountain somewhere?’ And I said: ‘No, I’d like to be remembered as a guy with a couple of encyclopaedias in his brain and a mountain in his pants.’” (French TV, 1988)

On life

“If you’re busy looking in the rear-view mirror and thinking about it as it goes by, you’re not following the hood ornament. I figure the rear-view mirror is just so you can see how good you look while you’re getting somewhere."

“I’ve always maintained, why do you have to read one book at a time? What is this, grade school? I read like I watch television.” (The Onion, 1992)

“[As an Emergency Medical Technician] I was working in neighbourhoods that were almost exclusively black and Spanish-speaking. Only twice out of 200 clients was I recognised. I was working in Brooklyn, down in Coney Island… I’ve been in more project apartments than Jay-Z and Diddy combined.” (Los Angeles Times, 2004)

“The greatest strength is a quiet defiance. I’m motivated by the exact same thing that all of you reading this are: greed, lust, revenge.” (POPsmear, 1998)