The Van Halen song written in response to Kurt Cobain’s death

Van Halen

There always appears to be a clear divide between the pre-Nirvana and post-Nirvana sides of rock music. Although many artists got their start before the grunge explosion, even non-hair metal types struggled to fit into the world Kurt Cobain created once the 1990s began. While Van Halen was one of the few industry titans right before the Seattle scene exploded, Sammy Hagar recalls being completely shaken when he learned of Cobain’s suicide.

Coming out of 1993, the Nirvana frontman had already dealt with a number of issues. After releasing In Utero, the more artistic counterpart to Nevermind, Cobain continued to feel the immense pressure of being in a massive pop band. Eventually, he withdrew inward into himself while touring the stadium-rock circuit.

By the time the group discovered Cobain had overdosed in Paris, they had taken a break between two legs of the tour and returned home. While the plan was to get Cobain into a rehab facility, he ended up jumping the building’s wall. He then returned home, adding another layer of complexity to his struggles with addiction. There he was discovered dead from a self-inflicted shotgun wound.

This was the equivalent of ‘The Day the Music Died’ for all grunge acolytes who were making music. After dedicating so much of himself to the scene, Cobain vanished in an instant. He effectively turned his back on fame and leaving a massive void in the community that would never truly heal.

Van Halen had just completed the massive For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour when grunge began to take over the world. Despite this shift in the musical landscape, Hagar still maintained a deep respect for the new style of music. Eventually, he booked Alice in Chains as one of the opening acts on the accompanying tour.

Cobain’s death coincided with Hagar’s final album production with Van Halen on “Balance”. Instead of writing a traditional love song, Hagar used the single ‘Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do’ to express his grief over Cobain’s death.

Hagar, on his YouTube channel, expressed a hope for the song to inspire the world. He said, “When I heard Kurt Cobain had committed suicide, the first thing I thought of was how I wish I had been there to try to save him. The original title for these lyrics was ‘I want to show you what love can do’. But because it was such a dark, horrible thing, I couldn’t bring it to light. So I changed the ending to ‘Don’t tell me what love can do.'”

The track would become one of the band’s standouts from this era. However, it marked the end of Hagar and Eddie Van Halen’s creative collaboration. As they disagreed on other tracks on the album, such as ‘Amsterdam’. While the band’s camaraderie couldn’t last much longer, ‘Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do’ offers an intriguing glimpse. It reveals the sensitive side of the hard rockers.

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