‘I started trying to live like that’: Sammy Hagar on the Van Halen-era song that changed everything

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Sammy “I Can’t Drive 55” Hagar, before issuing a paean to charity called “Give to Live,” wasn’t exactly associated with such high-minded songs. The accompanying video even cops to it, with a disgruntled girlfriend’s reference to “the old Sammy Hagar car scene.”

Of course, the former Van Halen frontman — who was raised dirt poor by a single mother — has since become well known for giving back. And this 1987 solo song, which Hagar says came to him in a kind of vision, has become something of a theme song for those community efforts.

“That was a vision,” Hagar says in this newly posted talk with Frank Jenks. “When that vision came in, I wrote the song immediately. And from that point on, I started thinking and trying harder to live like that. What happens is, usually when a song comes to an artist, the song is a vision that’s given to you from somewhere. That light comes on, and that’s the enlightenment. You seen the vision, you see it clear, and you write the song about it.”

Among Hagar’s notable charity efforts are Blessings in a Backpack, aimed at helping feed poor school kids on the weekends; and the Salvation Army, among others. His on-going Four Decades of Rock concert dates have included sizeable donations to local food banks.

“Give to Live” topped Billboard’s charts for mainstream rock in 1987, and — as part of the only Hagar solo album released during his tenure with Van Halen — was memorably included in some concert setlists with Eddie Van Halen and Co.

“Those are the favorite kind of songs to sing,” Hagar adds. “Those are the songs you keep in the set for years. Those are the songs that aren’t just pop hits. They really become staples in your career.”

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