During a devastatingly elongated “In Memoriam” segment of the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, the Recording Academy reduced Eddie Van Halen’s nearly 50-year career to a mere “15-second” tribute. The rock n’ roll pioneer and lead guitarist of his band, Van Halen, passed away in October 2020 at the age of 65 after a long-fought battle with cancer.
Videos by American Songwriter
Following Sunday’s delayed event, his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, took to social media to air his grievances about The Academy’s approach to honoring his father, the late legend. He revealed the Grammys requested Wolfgang perform “Eruption,” a classic rock fixture that his father unleashed in 1978. He declined the invitation, citing, “I don’t think anyone could have lived up to what my father did for music but himself.”
However, the initial request seemed to have lacked the necessary context. Not understanding the full-breadth and intention of this tribute performance left Wolfgang distraught. Archival audio footage of the guitarist playing behind dimmed light and his lone guitar on a stand. Considering the defining legacy Eddie Van Halen left behind, his son was one of many viewers who criticized the Academy for not coming up with something more substantial.
“It was my understanding that there would be an ‘In Memoriam’ section where bits of songs were performed for legendary artists that had passed,” he posted. “I didn’t realize that they would only show Pop for 15 seconds in the middle of 4 full performances for others we had lost.”
Honoring countless lost souls of the music industry this year, the “In Memoriam” segment stopped over particularly famed names to pay homage. A-list contemporary purveyors of respective genre traditions covered classic songs in remembrance of the lost legends to celebrate their lasting influence.
Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, after making their debut as Silk Sonic, honored Little Richard as an R&B pioneer with an electric medley of his songs like “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” Lionel Richie, replete with emotion, delivered a soulful rendition of “Lady”—a song he wrote for Kenny Rogers that sparked a long friendship between the two.
Brandi Carlile, a member of The Highwomen whose song “Crowded Table” won Best Country Song, honored her mentor and collaborator, John Prine, covering “I Remember Everything.” The song, released shortly after he passed from COVID-19 complications in April 2020, won a pair of Grammy Awards for Best American Roots Performance and Song. Brittany Howard—whose “Stay High” won Best Rock Song—and Coldplay’s Chris Martin remembered Gerry Marsden with a soulful performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which Marsden popularized with his band, the Pacemakers.
Given the brutality of 2020, much of this year’s Grammys reflected loss and hardship on the industry and the world. A segment of the show was hosted by iconic venue owners and operators, shedding light on the financial hardship the pandemic brought to their business. The Song of the Year Award went to emerging talent and generational voice, H.E.R, for “I Can’t Breathe.” The protest tune, co-penned with Dernst Emile and Tiara Thomas, addresses the police brutality that sparked widespread protests of injustice across the country last year. The care taken with these subjects are an appropriate reflection of the troubling times endured since the last Grammy Awards show. All that the Grammys got right this year further frustrated Wolfgang about what he believes was an oversight that underserved the classic rock legend’s remarkable life and career.
“What hurt the most was that he wasn’t even mentioned when they talked about artists we lost in the beginning of the show,” Wolf continued in his post. “I know rock isn’t the most popular genre right now, (and the academy does seem a bit out of touch) but I think it’s impossible to ignore the legacy my father left on the instrument, the world of rock, and music in general. There will never be another innovator like him.”
Wolfgang is not looking to spread outrage. He acknowledged that his “Pop would probably just laugh it off and say “Ehh who gives a shit?” But, as his son, Wolfgang asked to speak with the Recording Academy not just about his father’s tribute, but “the legacy of the Rock genre moving forward.”