Army SSGT performs the ultimate Van Halen tribute and it goes viral
On October 6, legendary rocker Eddie Van Halen lost his battle with cancer. The death of the rocker shocked not just his legions of fans but people around the globe. As a tribute to the late great, Army Staff Sgt. Austin West took to the internet to play through his grief and offer one of the most fitting tributes to the musician.
West knew what many of us inherently understand – music unites us, both in times of hope and in times of grief. Of course, West wasn't the only person who took to the internet to offer their tributes, but his was definitely the best.
The three-minute video of West has been viewed more than a million times. West, who is a recruiter based in Watertown, New York, instantly became a viral sensation, not just because of West's stellar guitar skills but also because it's so very clear that his tribute to the late rocker is so heartfelt.
West successfully manages to play half a dozen of Van Halen's best-known guitar riffs, including "You Really Got Me," "Panama" and "Eruption." The Army musician reportedly told Stars and Stripes that he feels connected to both his guitar and the late musical legend.
The 26-guitar player first picked up an ax after listening to an AC/DC cassette. He was hooked and immediately wanted to learn how to play. Then, he saw Van Halen live in 2008, and that sealed the deal. He's been playing for 13 years now, and he once played a single song for an AC/DC tribute band.
That tribute was never rehearsed and played flawlessly, West said, so it's no surprise that his Van Halen tribute has had so many views and rings so true.
In an interview with the Watertown CBS affiliate WWNY, West said that even his earliest attempts at learning Van Halen's music made him feel like a "rock god," and that's one of the many reasons he kept practicing.
During his Army career, West has worked as both a signal soldier and then held a post as a guitarist for the US Army Bank.
A soldier spotlight video for the US Army Recruiting Command, released in February, features West. In the video, he says that getting out of bed every morning is easier knowing he's going to help someone, "whether it be in recruiting and helping change someone's life and hearing their success stories or going out and playing in front of all these beautiful people."
The Van Halen tribute video isn't the first time that West's guitar playing has reached countless fans. Back in 2015, he performed in a tour with the US Army Soldier Show. The Soldier Show is an annual production that visits installations around the country to feature the musical and theater talents of service members and to help raise awareness that creative positions in the Army exist. During West's participation in 2015, the Soldier Show stopped at 74 installations.
In a time of increasing social isolation, music is one of the few shared creative outlets that can exist across all communities. Uniting through music, no matter if it's Van Halen or Mozart, can help bring people together in a way that other media can't. West's touching tribute proves that viral videos don't need to be over the top or extreme to be shared, liked, and appreciated by people all around the country. Music is all around us and helps provide us the foundation to share our stories, which is exactly what West has been able to do with his tribute to Eddie Van Halen. As a universal language, it helps unit us across cultures and can comfort people in times of need, grief, or sadness – emotions all felt when the world learned of Van Halen's untimely death.
Once his recruiting billet is complete, West will be joining the Army pop-rock group, As You Were, for a three-year assignment.