30 Years Ago: Van Halen Complete ‘Right Now’ Video Despite Sammy Hagar
Van Halen had trouble bringing the song “Right Now” to completion, but that was nothing compared to the struggles they had with Sammy Hagar while trying to complete its associated promo video.
Eddie Van Halen had been toying with the music since before groundbreaking track “Jump” was composed. At the same time, Hagar had an idea for some lyrics that he couldn’t fit into a structure.
After years of back and forth, they realized these ideas locked together beautifully – but it was another six months before they were satisfied that “Right Now” did what they felt it should do: “get serious and talk about world issues,” as Hagar reported later, adding that he was “tired of writing cheap sex songs.”
Van Halen had been cautious about making videos since adding Hagar following their split with David Lee Roth. “We were all saying, ‘Well, we don’t know what kind of video we wanna make,’” Hagar said in 2012. “We don’t really know what our image is yet, we haven’t worked it out – and Van Halen had been such a video-friendly band before that.”
So, needless to say, “Right Now” was highly anticipated.
Watch Van Halen's 'Right Now' Video
Inspired by success with a similar format in commercial videos, first-time music video director Mark Fenske came up with a format that explored the idea of what was happening in the world at the moment. He'd present ideas in text on screen that explored themes of race relations, astronomy, religion, politics, love, loneliness and more: “Right now, Ed is playing the piano. … Right now, people are having unprotected sex. … Right now, opportunity is passing you by. … Right now, justice is being perverted in a court of law.”
“We didn’t have much money or time,” Fenske recalled in the book I Want My MTV. “The record company was scrambling to get a video done. I doubt they’d have given me a shot except for that.”
Hagar was unimpressed, saying the “treatment for the video was bullshit. I told the director, ‘Fuck you, man. People ain’t even going to be listening to what I’m saying because they’re going to be reading these subtitles.’ I thought, ‘How dare they?’”
He began to back away. “I wrote the best lyrics I’ve ever written in Van Halen,” Hagar said in another 2012 interview. “I’m trying to upgrade this band’s image with lyrics that are not just [like] a party band that can play our instruments. And they wanna put words underneath? Why don’t they use the words I wrote? They’re great words! It’s a statement!’ And I said, ‘It’s gonna be confusing!’ And I actually took off and wouldn’t return people’s phone calls for about a week.”
Hagar only relented when Warner Bros. chief Mo Ostin stepped in. “[He] calls with my manager and the director, and they go, ‘What can we do to make this happen? We all really believe in this.’ And I thought, ‘Mo Ostin’s calling me and trying to get me to do this video. Wow!’”
Watch Sammy Hagar's ‘Cosmic Universal Fashion’ Video
He still wasn’t happy. Fenske said he’d met the band the night before the shoot and that “Sammy said, ‘I can’t argue with this guy. Look at him.’ I’m six-four and 250 pounds.” What he probably didn’t know was that, in a twist that the singer accepted as “karma,” Hagar had contracted pneumonia during his week of hiding.
“I had a 104 temperature. I was dying,” Hagar said. “We’re canceling shows, but [the video] was already set in stone. So I went and I shot it – and if you look at my attitude … I wouldn’t even cooperate! And I’m not like that either; everybody knows Sammy’s not like that, right?”
Elsewhere he noted: “When you see me in the video folding my arms, refusing to lip-sync, it’s because I was pissed off. The director’s going, ‘Oh, that’s great!’ When I slammed the door into the dressing room at the end of the video, that was for real.”
Fenske claimed he didn’t notice Hagar’s negative energy; but then he was focusing on trying to pull the promo together fast and cheap – so cheap, in fact, that the woman featured during the “right now your parents miss you” segment is Fenske’s own mother. “Except for Van Halen, every person you see in the video worked on the crew,” Fenske explained. “For the idea of a girl setting fire to a guy’s photo, I had a photo of me at 24 that I didn’t mind burning.”
Watch Chickenfoot's ‘My Kinda Girl’ Video
“Right Now” went on to win a series of awards after its release in 1992, including Video of the Year at the MTV Music Video Awards. Fenske always held it in high regard, as did others; but for years Hagar maintained it was “groundbreaking and interesting, but the look and feel didn’t do much for me. I don’t think it’s enough about the band.”
That was then. In 2009, Hagar referenced the “Right Now” experience in the title track from his solo album Cosmic Universal Fashion, aping the video style which opened with the caption: “In 1992, 4 minutes and 18 seconds caught the world’s attention in a universal fashion. 2 billion births, 8.8 billion Big Macs and a few Presidential scandals later, this is what’s happening now …”
His supergroup Chickenfoot also released a video for “My Kinda Girl” in 2010 with overlaid phrases that celebrated all the roles women play in life: angel, girlfriend, princess bride, lonely, troublemaker and more.
Looking back, Hagar now accepts that “Right Now” was “such a big video for us, [and] won all the awards and everything," before ruefully adding: "But we broke up after that!”
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