Our ‘Lost’ Weekend With Van Halen
A couple college dudes won an MTV contest to tour with Van Halen. Then all hell broke loose.
By Chris Lee
On an overcast morning in the spring of 1984, Kurt Jefferis and Tom Winnick, a couple of college-age bros of no particular renown, departed the world of normalcy in a stretch limousine to embark on a rock-and-roll fantasy. Their destination: Detroit. More accurately: oblivion. Jefferis, a 20-year-old department-store stock clerk, had bested more than a million other competitors to win the MTV contest “Lost Weekend With Van Halen.” He and his plus-one, Winnick, a childhood buddy, would in a matter of hours find themselves backstage with the legendarily hard-partying Atomic Punks on a two-day bender that ticked every box of rock debauchery synonymous with the Big Hair era. “You’ll have no idea where you are,” Van Halen’s vainglorious front man, David Lee Roth, said in a promo for the contest. “You’ll have no idea where you’re going and probably no memory of it after you go.”
That turned out to be partially true. As Jefferis and Winnick tell it now, nearly 40 years later, in the weeks following Hall of Fame guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen’s death, certain elements from the Weekend remain fixed points in their lives — the private jets, the Champagne and lobster, the cocaine, the onstage chugs of Jack Daniel’s, a woman named Tammy — while other details have been lost to the fog of time. The contest becamesomething of Van Halen folklore in the intervening years; it was the subject of a short film, Lost Weekend, which screened in competition at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, as well as a dedicated chapter (subtitled “MTV and Van Halen Team Up to Nearly Kill a Super-Fan”) in the 2011 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. The events surrounding the contest unfolded just as Van Halen was first ascending the heights of multiplatinum superstardom but only months before Roth would quit the quartet for a solo career. What took place in front of MTV’s cameras served as a primitive precursor to reality television: loosely scripted situational intrigue that wound up far beyond anyone’s control.