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SYFY WIRE Back to the Future

If not for Eddie Van Halen, Marty McFly wouldn't have existed at all

By Adam Pockross
Back to the Future Van Halen scene

Chances are, if you’re thinking of a guitar scene in Back to the Future, you’re recalling Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) getting a little carried away while inspiring Chuck Berry’s cousin, Marvin (Harry Waters Jr.). But Marty wasn’t the only one wailing away on the axe in BTTF. There’s another virtuoso performance featuring Eddie Van Halen: an instrumentalist who sadly died a couple of weeks ago, who not only made rock ‘n’ roll sound like the future, but also pretty much saved Marty and his siblings from being erased from it (and... existence!) altogether.

That’s because Van Halen, one of the all-time greats, left his own indelible mark on the fan-favorite film. So in honor of BTTF Day, Oct. 21, we decided it would also be a good time to honor EVH by recognizing his immense contribution to the futuristic franchise. For without Van Halen, how could George McFly (Crispin Glover) ever be spurred into Lorraine-winning action in the first place?

If you’ll recall around the halfway point of the first film, George is far from convinced that he should be courting Marty’s future mom (Lea Thompson). First off, he probably couldn’t take that kind of rejection. And not for nothing, she’s showing serious Florence Nightingale Effects for her dreamboat future son, Calvin. And Bully Biff thinks he’s in the running too (much to Lorraine’s dismay). So as far as George is concerned, he’d just as soon hang out solo watching his favorite show, Science Fiction Theatre.

But if Marty and his siblings are going to exist... or is it, cease to exist? Or never have existed at all? Anywho, if they’re going to survive, they need George to step up and win the love of his future wife, aka their future mom. But how do you motivate a man who so easily already talked himself out of the fight of his life? 

With rock ‘n’ effing aliens, man. 

Preying on his father’s geeky predilections, Marty takes advantage of the 1985 tools that made the DeLorean trip to the past with him. With a handy Edward Van Halen tape, a Walkman, and a radiation suit, Marty guitar solos his would-be pa into submission, and turns George from a boy seeking shelter in his own imagination to a man hoping to make his mark on the world. Or at least Lorraine’s world. 

At the witching hour of 1:22 a.m., space-suit clad Marty breaks into the McFly house and finds sleeping George dreaming peacefully next to his Fantastic Story Magazine. According to his nefarious plan, Marty deftly pops the tape into his trusty Sony device and proceeds to unleash sonic fury on his young pop. 

The young old-man wakes with a panicked jump, but in the face of his very survival, boldly inquires who this masked spaceman might be, only to be blasted yet again with another furious EVH pick slide.

That mixed with a splicing of text from our two favorite sci-fi galaxies, and you’ve got yourself a man of action: “Silence Earthling, my name is Darth Vader,” the spaceman warns. “I am an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan!” 

From then on, it’s not a matter of if George will save the day and make Marty stop disappearing, it’s a matter of when. And so we thank Van Halen for saving one of our favorite movie franchises, with the very real threat of a present-day, brain-melting experience.  

Back when BTTF came out, Eddie Van Halen was about as big a rock star as there was on this planet, thanks to his band Van Halen’s album 1984. So you’d think the film would have gotten it out there that, yeah, it’s really EVH warping a wormhole of a guitar solo into George McFly’s earholes. But it appears to be an uncredited bit, and TMZ did feel the need to have Van Halen himself confirm the news via an interview ambush back in 2012.

But honestly, who else in the world could have created such futuristic sounds but the guy who was making ‘em uber-popular at the time?  

Like the film itself, which is currently celebrating 35 years this BTTF Day, EVH’s sound remains timeless. And like George McFly himself, because of those sounds, we shall remain ever fearful of face-melting repercussions, but we shall not be afraid to follow our density, grab a milk, chocolate, and find a date to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.