Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In Defense of the Eagles

 Just barely over a week after the death of David Bowie, we lost another rock god of the ’70s, Glenn Frey of the Eagles.
Last night I re-watched the excellent documentary, History of the Eagles, and was struck by a number of things: that geography is destiny, that the ’70s music scene in southern California was a unique convergence of people that will probably never be duplicated, and that the Eagles were fucking talented.
I don’t care about fame. I don’t care about money. I don’t care about physical beauty. But I worship talent. I bow at the feet of musicianship. And that’s something the Eagles had in spades and something that’s sorely missing from today’s studio-created pop princesses and knob-twiddling producers.
Just watch the first few seconds of History, where the five original members of the band engage a capella in five-part harmony. That’s the same sound that blew away British producer Glyn Johns, who produced their first two albums and had already worked with The Who, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Try asking one of today’s auto-tuned divas (or divos) to do that.
While it may not seem necessary to defend a band that has the best-selling album of the 20th century (Their Greatest Hits, 1971-1975), there’s a comment by music critic Robert Christgau that I read on CNN’s website that sticks in my craw: “Another thing that interests me about the Eagles is that I hate them.”1
There’s also the good-natured ribbing of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, where Jeff Bridges’s character, The Dude, asks his cabdriver not to play the Eagles on his car radio. (The cab driver then asks him to get out of the cab.)
But that’s the thing about popular bands (or anything that’s popular). At some point they become a cliché. At some point there’s a backlash and, suddenly, they’re not “cool” anymore.
The thing about the Eagles is that they were so popular, you just took it for granted that they would always be around. And, now that they’re not, I’m kicking myself that I never saw them live.
Granted, the Eagles were not known for the highly choreographed, special effects-laden spectacles that are demanded of today’s touring bands. (In History, one critic accuses them of “loitering onstage.”) Eagles concerts were all about the music.
And that’s the thing.
The Eagles came out of the southern California music scene of the ’70s and combined the influences of rock and country into something that hadn’t been heard before. No matter where you were, when you were heard one of their songs, you were magically transported to that southern California paradise of palm trees, cars, and sunshine (and, by the time of Hotel California, its hedonistic underbelly of sex and drugs).
You can imagine how this would appeal to someone living in the cold suburban hell of Long Island.
The band split in 1980 and reunited for a tour and album in 1994 (Hell Freezes Over) and later released another album, Long Road Out of Eden. While these last two albums may not dig as deep as a Hotel California, their pre-breakup output alone (to say nothing of the solo careers of Don Henley and Glenn Frey) would make them untouchable.
And that reminds me.
There’s one thing I’ve been waiting over 30 years to say.
Fuck you, Robert Christgau.


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