It should be mentioned from the outset that I have known the person responsible for taking these photos for somewhere around 30 years. As a music journalist, I've worked with Neil for many years. I've watched him shoot hundreds of photos, and I was there as a peripheral participant when he began his historic relationship with Van Halen.
There was probably no more perfectly-suited individual than "Zloz" to have been involved in the Van Halen juggernaut that began in 1978 with the release of their first album. Neil is not exactly your shy, retiring, artist type; rather, he is as loud, if not louder, and more bombastic than the musicians he captures on film. He's a participant - though never visible on film, of course - in every shot he takes.
When you gaze upon the hundreds of posed shots here - backstage, in the studio, in rehearsal rooms - you know that Zloz is cajoling and pushing the band to new extremes.
"C'mon, you're a rock star, show it." That type of thing, those types of comments. And when you look at the shots, you can see how that type of approach works. At least for Zloz.
His sense of composition, and the way in which he utilizes the component parts of a particular shoot, is uniquely his own. Look at the shot of Roth that opens the 1983 chapter. The singer is almost an incidental element here. What really sets the mood is the rock and roll detritus surrounding him - the unmade bed, bottles of booze, magazines scattered about, the clothes hanging behind him, and, of course, the vixen kitten maid providing an ashtray for Dave's cigarette ash.
The earlier series of shots from 1978 - pages 30-32, to be precise - are historic moments captured in all their unadulterated yet classic perfection. The two-page spread covering pages 30 and 31 is a true wonder. This shot has been seen before (in various major music publications and in press kits), but it never fails to chill you to the bone. This was the band's rehearsal space in the basement of Roth's home, and you just know who this band is and how they function after studying the shot. Edward is surrounded by his guitars and his effects, empty cigarette packs and beer cans littering the floor as testimony to the dietary needs of a rock hero. Alex occupies the space next to his brother, the connection between these siblings that exists to this day. And there is Dave with his broken foot (toe?) on the microphone and bassist Michael Anthony pumping away on his 4-string and air-singing vocal harmonies.
There are hundreds of truly special pictures here. The live photos are transcendent and have influenced a generation of rock photographers that followed.
Neil Zlozower, a follower of the works of legendary shooter Jim Marshall, has taken Marshall's style and made it his own. Marshall captured intimate moments and made them universal; Zlozower took huge moments and turned them into one-on-one events. You look at one of Neil's photos - the double-spread on pages 94/95 where the quartet is caught leaping into the air in front of tens of thousands of fans
- and you feel like you're the only person there. As if you were the only person to watch this athletic leap and this, this photo, is your private memory of that.
That is a rare gift, and Zloz possesses it. He is a strange and funny guy. He loves cars and excellent food, and he'll conduct court all day on the merits of Porsches and the best pizza. He is the first and final word on those subjects. But when you tell him that his pictures are splendid or that some shot of Edward with his guitar is really beautiful, he hems and haws in a manner that suggest that maybe he doesn't deserve the accolades.
So, that's my review/overview of Neil Zlozower and his magic book of photos. Hundreds of other photographers have shot Van Halen, and there are some terrific images out there. But Neil has taken the defining shots of the band, and they are all here between two covers. Look and gawk and be amazed. I've known this guy for over three decades, and each and every time I look at these shots, I'm still astounded.