Not as weird as you might think. Right now I am doing a lot of listening, but there have been extended periods in my career when I did very little listening. For many years nearly all my listening was restricted to listening to my students, listening to my own practicing and recordings (for editing purposes) and, very occasionally, listening to concerts and recordings of rival musicians.Eddie Van Halen doesn't listen to music.This is not a fake-out or a misdirection, nor is it a seemingly straightforward statement that actually means its opposite. Eddie Van Halen does not listen to music. “I don’t listen to anything,” he tells me from a greenish couch inside 5150, the expansive home recording studio built on his seven-acre residence in Studio City, Calif. I’d just asked if he ever revisits old Van Halen albums, but his disinterest in those records is merely the tip of a very weird iceberg: Unlike every other musician I’ve ever met, he does not listen to any music he isn’t actively making. The guitarist maintains that the last album he purchased was Peter Gabriel’s So, when it came out in 1986. He’s not familiar with the work of Radiohead, Metallica or Guns N’ Roses. He appears to know only one Ozzy Osbourne song Randy Rhoads played on, and it’s “Crazy Train.” He scarcely listened to Pantera, even though he spoke at the funeral of the group’s guitarist and placed the axe from Van Halen II inside the man’s casket. He doesn’t listen to the radio in his car, much to the annoyance of his wife (“I prefer the sound of the motor,” he says). He sheepishly admits he never even listened to most of the bands that opened for Van Halen and worries, “Does that make me an asshole?” Sometimes he listens to Yo-Yo Ma, because he loves the sound of the cello. But even that is rare.
There is this kind of myth in the air these days that, à la DJs, what musicians do is spend a lot of time listening to a very diverse heap of recordings, and then create their own Very Special Blend. But a lot of musicians, and usually the better ones, don't work like this. They actively try to avoid listening to most music. If you are pursuing your own vision, the last thing on earth you want to encounter is someone else's vision. It would just interfere. Most musicians are producers of music, not consumers of it.
I don't listen to the radio in the car either. Well, actually, I haven't listened to the radio at all for, oh, twenty years or so. Oddly enough, I recall driving to play a recital once a long time ago, and putting on a cassette of Michael Jackson's Thriller, specifically the song Beat It which has a great guitar solo, by, yep, you guessed it, Eddie Van Halen (though he was never credited). The guitar solo, which begins by sounding a bit like a Tyrannosaurus Rex emerging from a Jurassic jungle and ends with a quote from Jimi Hendrix' solo in All Along the Watchtower, begins at the 3:10 mark: