David Lee Roth's brush with art

David Lee Roth's brush with art
David Lee Roth's brush with art 05:30

In the quiet of a late summer night, the artist is at work. Sumi-e, the art of Japanese ink painting, is equal parts beauty and discipline.

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David Lee Roth, artist. CBS News

"You're a night owl – you usually paint and draw at night?" asked correspondent Tracy Smith.

"Yes, nighttime," replied the artist. "There's no magic to that. It's simple lack of visual stimulation."

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"Sagaru," an example of Japanese sumi-e painting by David Lee Roth.  David Lee Roth

He makes intricate pen-and-brush images, all of them done freehand in ink, based on a centuries-old formula. 

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"Outta Space" by David Lee Roth.  David Lee Roth

And while you may not be familiar with the sumi-e technique, there's a good chance you've already met the artist in another life.

For rock music fans, David Lee Roth needs no introduction. As the original lead singer of the Hall of Fame supergroup Van Halen, he was "Diamond Dave" on stage – a human cyclone of crazy energy.  

But the heart of the band was co-founder Eddie Van Halen, who died of cancer earlier this month at age 65, and who was arguably one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived.

David Lee Roth performed with Van Halen for the last time in 2015, and shortly after Eddie's death posted this tweet: "What a long great trip it's been."

These days, at home in California during the pandemic, Roth's artistry is a bit more nuanced. But it didn't come easy; in fact, he spent two years in Tokyo trying to master this technique.  

Roth said, "I spent the first six months painting bamboo because it was in spring/summer. And I said, 'When are we gonna paint something else?' And he looked out the window and said, 'When the weather changes.' And he wasn't kidding. So, for about four months we painted a little house with snow on top."

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"Brutal City." David Lee Roth

Smith said, "This is fascinating – you took two years of your life and went to Tokyo to study Japanese painting and drawing?"

"You have a look that is a bit, 'That's unusual'? 'Unexpected'?"

"Both?"

"Is it unexpected good, or unexpected eccentric to you? I'm curious."

"I think a little bit of both," Smith said. "I think it takes remarkable patience and discipline that most people, let alone a rock star who could be doing a lot of other things, would take the time to do."

Roth said, "If you were a rock star and you had the money to do – let's just add that – to do whatever it is, and I beyond all, I've always wanted a giant boat. If you can get past that, what would you use your rock stardom for?"

"I don't know."

"I've always used my celebrity as a passport for travel, and let's go get into it."

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"Art and Struggle." David Lee Roth

And here's something else he got into: In 2004, Roth became a certified emergency medical technician in New York City. He was 48 years old, but he said answering life-and-death emergency calls in the Bronx was the thing in life that made him feel, well, like a rock star.

"I wasn't someone until I put on that 511 uniform and went on my first calls," Roth said. "I'm not gonna kid ya'. I knew I was in for the humbling experience: 'Oh, White boy rock star thinks what, this is an easy gig?'"

"But you wanted to do it anyway?"

"Oh, that's extra. You bet."

He also learned that in a crisis it helps to have a little sense of humor. "That is your only weapon; that is your only life preserver that you can give somebody who thinks they're gonna die," Roth said. "Nobody calls 911 just to wish you Happy Hanukah."

These days, it seems his time as a paramedic is behind him. But Roth is still very much a performer. Before COVID he'd been touring as a successful solo act. 

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David Lee Roth performs on stage.  CBS News

But now, he said, he's going to take it a little slower.

"So, you're gonna space it out a little bit," asked Smith.

"I'm on my, what, 45th year, something like that?" Roth said. "It's great to see me, but not every year. Like family!"

And for now, there's only his solitary art. But just because his medium of the moment is pen and ink, it doesn't mean David Lee Roth will ever lose his voice.

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"The Forge." David Lee Roth

He asked, "Who has the most impact on history? Government? Or the historian?"

"He who tells the story, right?" said Smith.

"Hello! That's Yiddish for 'Yo!'"

"So, is your visual art, storytelling?"

"My visual art is complaining," he said. "It's graphic therapy. I say through my graphic art everything that a lotta folks say to the TV set when you don't think anybody's actually listening."

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"Social Distance." David Lee Roth

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Story produced by John D'Amelio. Editor: Ed Givnish.