... And the cradle will rock

Jeff Otte is at peace with his obsession. In more ways than one, it has served as a bridge, a causeway providing that necessary link between the exuberance of youth and the restraint of maturity.

"Someone once said to me, 'So, you're basically stuck in the '80s,' but that's not really the case," he tells me in the music room of his Magnolia home.

"I'm right in the mid-range of Nirvana coming out, Pearl Jam and Mother Love Bone and all of that," Jeff says, placing himself in historical context. "I enjoyed every minute of it, went to every Lollapalooza I could get to. I'll listen to classical on my way home from work. I try to keep my musical experience broad.

"But Van Halen always just stuck with me," he adds.

And Jeff, 36, has stuck with the rock band.

He's been a Van Halen fan for 25 years, finding elements of genius in even the lowest points of the band's career. His infatuation harkens back to earlier times, yet it has matured over the years into something deeper, the kind of nuanced appreciation of musical style that's usually reserved for jazz heads and opera buffs.

Jeff is frank about the lack of re-spect paid to his heroes by his friends, who are fans of more current popular music.

"If you're into Dave Matthews, that's cool," he says. "Van Halen? You're an idiot."

Jeff's love for the band's music - particularly the work of lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen - inspired him to take up the guitar himself in the 1980s. Although dreams of rock stardom have taken a backseat to his job in sales for Tribune, the parent company of Q13 and the WB network, he still plays whenever he can. He says he cherishes his moments alone with his guitar and memorabilia in the music room, and occasionally jams with some buddies on his back deck.

When Jeff and his wife, Kym Nyyssela Otte, remodeled their house and added the music room, the space became a testament to Jeff's inspiration. It's a shrine of sorts, a hidden retreat contrasting to the rest of the house, which remains relatively free of Van Halen paraphernalia.

The walls are lined with the entire Van Halen record catalog (mounted in chronological order), and a signed, framed poster of Eddie Van Halen hangs in a place of honor above the amplifier.

The image is of Eddie, mid-guitar riff, in shirtless, rock-god ecstasy. Jeff, standing next to it, bears little resemblance to his idol. Clean cut, friendly and responsible, his love for rock simmering beneath the surface, he does not give the impression that he's one to rip off his shirt when he shreds his guitar strings.

"I was the one who had it framed," Kym says. "Whenever he plays, he always starts staring at Eddie."

Her husband shrugs and nods to the poster. "Only 'cause he sits right there," he says apologetically.

"You know you play to him. It's really funny," Kim says, smiling.

He grins back at her, sheepishly. "Now that's a little over the top."

"Maybe," she says, laughing. "But it's true."

Although she doesn't necessarily share her husband's passion for the band, Kym appreciates and understands it. The most profound expression of her tolerance is written large on their son's birth certificate.

Their baby boy, named Halen, is now a year old.

"He's totally into music," she says, putting a reassuring hand on her son's head. "It must be in his blood."

Halen has overcome the shyness brought on by my presence in the music room. He picks up a tambourine, shakes it heartily and laughs.

"You know, wishful parents," Jeff says. Halen puts down the tambourine and moves on to fiddle with the new digital-delay pedal that Jeff received for Christmas.

"We want him to do everything," Jeff says. "We say he's going to be in sports, to take piano lessons. He'll play the guitar if he wants to."

Whether he ever decides to pick up his dubiously predestined instrument, Halen can always claim at least one tie to his namesake.

In late October this year, Jeff and Kym went to see Van Halen in concert when they came through Seattle on their most recent tour. Jeff, ├╝ber-fan that he is, purchased an all-access pass for $400 that included not only a front-row seat but dinner backstage as well as a preshow backstage tour and the privilege of watching the band warm up during their sound check.

According to Kym, Jeff "didn't exactly get to meet the band, but got to see them and high-five them" as they took the stage.

And he brought his son's birth certificate to the show.

In a moment of rock 'n' roll fervor, Jeff, sitting in his front-row seat, took out the birth certificate, circled Halen's name, scribbled the family's address in the lefthand margin and tossed it up onstage.

Moments later, Eddie Van Halen stepped on it.

"Jeff thought that was sort of cool," says Kym, "[but he expected] that to be the end of it."

"It just landed right there perfectly," Jeff recalls. "I don't think Eddie picked it up; someone else must have. I lost track of it. I thought it went down between the grates or something."

The couple didn't have time to succumb to the anxiety of losing the record of their son's birth.

The next morning, Jeff saw an unfamiliar car come to a stop in front of their house. He watched as a gigantic bald man got out, lumbered up to their front door and promptly turned and left without knocking. Perplexed, Jeff opened the door to find Halen's birth certificate on the stoop, undamaged and signed by Eddie Van Halen.

In the kitchen, Kym points to a photocopy of the signed birth certificate that hangs on the refrigerator.

"You can totally tell it's his autograph," she exclaims proudly. She says that we can verify the signature online, but there's no need. There's an all-but-exact copy of the scrawl on Jeff's poster.

"Once we get it framed," she says, "it's going to hang where it belongs, in the music room."

Halen, rummaging through a toy chest, has found a toy chicken that sings and dances when you press a button on its wing. It wobbles slowly across the kitchen floor, and Halen dances along with it.

Jeff smiles at his son.

"Eventually," he says, "I'll be giving that room up to him. Then I'll be relegated to the garage again."



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