Monday, April 29, 2013

Fly Like The Egos ("Fly Like The Eagles?" remastered)

A couple or three years ago, I paid a very brief blog tribute to The Eagles, a band I was never a gi-normous fan of, but who was/is still worthy of a tribute all-the-same, given their lofty stature as one of the most renowned and popular American bands of all-time. Having recently viewed the three-hour documentary "History Of The Eagles" on Showtime, I find myself much more educated about the band, and a couple years back I read ousted lead guitarist Don Felder’s tell-all book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) and thoroughly enjoyed it. At that time, I found myself siding with Felder more than I did with Eagles co-founders Glenn Frey and Don Henley (whom he referred to as "The Gods" in the book), but after viewing the documentary, I no longer have a "frail grasp" on the band’s history, yet I find myself a bit conflicted about certain issues regarding them, so I thought I’d take a page from VH-1 Classic and offer an expanded "Remastered" version of my original Eagles post.

I've always had a love/hate (more accurately "like/hate") relationship with the Eagles ever since the '70s.  I absolutely hated themhated them—at times. I perceived them to be rather snobbish and uppity, with a "we're better than everybody else" attitude, and I always thought they got played way too much on the radio, both on Top 40 and Album Rock stations. However, they did have a few songs I liked, especially "Witchy Woman", "Already Gone" and "One Of These Nights", so I tried to tolerate them best I could. As I got older I learned to appreciate the band a lot more, although there are still some Eagles songs that I never need to hear again as long as I live (namely "Hotel California", "New Kid In Town" and "Life In The Fast Lane") because they've been played to death so much on radio. In recent years, I managed to obtain all of their original albums on CD, and have been pleasantly surprised at how good some of their "B-stuff" is. Songs like "Outlaw Man", "Good Day In Hell", "My Man", "Journey Of The Sorcerer", "Out Of Control", "Chug All Night", etc., have all caught my ear—why can’t some of these tracks get a spin or two on the radio instead of "Seven Bridges Road", "The Long Run" and "Take It Easy" all the time?

Although I have often viewed Glenn Frey and especially Don Henley as real hard-asses over the years, Henley comes off way better in the documentary than Frey does. While Frey just seems like a pompous prick at times, Henley is a lot more laid-back and calculated in his demeanor, and actually appears to have a heart after all, plus his friendly Texan drawl is rather endearing to listen to. Henley’s a natural iconoclast, though—a lot like me in some ways—which is why I still like and respect him, in spite of his often prickly personality. He has a wry and often wicked sense of humor, and like one of his best songs goes, he can truly "get down to the heart of the matter" on most any subject like TV news ("Dirty Laundry"), TV talk shows ("Get Over It"), general phoniness ("Busy Being Fabulous"), the impermanence and fragility of life ("New York Minute") and blind faith ("Frail Grasp On The Big Picture").

As for Frey, I really want to like the guy, but his arrogance makes that very difficult. While he’s a fine singer/songwriter, always treats his concert audience with courtesy and certainly possesses a good Rock ‘N’ Roll attitude in general, he just appears so confrontational and is always spoiling for a fight with someone (particularly Felder), and his ego often seems to get the best of him. I thought he handled the departures of original bassist Randy Meisner and original guitarist Bernie Leadon rather poorly with his "my way or the highway" ultimatums and his relationship with Felder was/is especially messy. Things reached a boiling point in 1980 at a concert in Long Beach in which the band played to benefit Senator Alan Cranston. The apolitical Felder was none too crazy about this venture, while Frey stroked his own ego by hob-knobbing with the politicos, and when Cranston went down the line to shake hands with the band to thank them for their participation, Felder infamously responded, "You’re welcome…I guess," which totally incensed Frey. Instead of talking things out like gentlemen, Billy Bad-Ass was livid, and totally ready to punch Felder out right on stage that night, and Frey subsequently chased him down afterward before Felder escaped in a limo—pretty immature, Glenn. Dude, I woulda said the EXACT SAME THING Felder did because I’m very cynical about Rock bands schmoozing with politicians—you think just because you have a microphone and/or a guitar and some money, you can change the fucking world? Sorry, bud, you’re just a Rock band…

I also still can’t shake this image I have of Frey and Henley as greedy bastards who can only get motivated to make a new album or go on tour when there’s a super-sized paycheck involved. I still recall how dumbfounded I was when tickets for the Eagles’ "Hell Freezes Over" tour topped out at over a hundred bucks—quite commonplace now, but unheard-of in 1994. Then again, I’m still a fan of two of the champion Rock money-grubbers of all-time, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, so maybe I’m the idiot here, I dunno, but at least Kiss manages to keep their ticket prices fairly reasonable for working-class fans, and if the hoity-toity ones want to pay more for the deluxe package crap, that’s their problem. Anyway, even after watching "History…", it’s still hard to get a read on what these guys (Henley and Frey) are like personally, and it would certainly be interesting to sit down and have a few beers with them. A friend of mine on Facebook who has been in radio for over 30 years told a story recently that he heard from a friend who worked at Fox Theater in St. Louis where Don Henley was doing a solo performance in the early ‘90s, and they were told to not make eye contact with Henley or even acknowledge his presence in any way or he’d cancel the show. Okay, I’m finding it a bit difficult to believe that he would be that full of himself, but if he is, that’s disappointing—yer shit stinks too, Don.

I also learned quite a bit about Joe Walsh in this documentary that I was previously unaware of. I didn’t realize he had so many issues with drugs and alcohol—I just assumed he was naturally goofy and weird, but evidently he had a little help. Being a member of the Eagles has literally been a life-saver for Joe, because he might not have gotten sober had it not been for the urging of Frey, Felder and group manager Irving Azoff before the ’94 band reunion, and he seems like a much happier, more lucid and wiser individual today. Ironically, Walsh’s commentary in the documentary was the most poignant and compelling of all, and he was even able to cut through some of the Frey/Henley B.S. at times.

I also didn’t know a lot about bassist Timothy B. Schmit beforehand. He always came off as a bit of a lightweight to me, in part because of his soft-spoken demeanor and the rather wimpy songs he contributes to the band, but I have to admit he’s a pretty thumpin’ good bass player, and Frey and Henley obviously respect him a lot, letting him have a hit song right away with his "I Can’t Tell You Why" from The Long Run. Oddly enough, Schmit replaced Randy Meisner in the band Poco when Randy joined the Eagles and Schmit replaced him yet again when Meisner departed the Eagles. Meisner had a great voice, with 1975’s "Take It To The Limit" being his high-water mark with the band, but he had some other tracks I liked, including "Tryin’", "Certain Kind Of Fool" and "Try And Love Again". Frey and Henley tried to encourage him to sing more, but he seemed inhibited (especially on-stage), and didn’t handle all the fame and such very well, thus he left the group in 1977 after Hotel California. I realize these guys are all 40 years older now, but of all the members of the Eagles, Meisner appears to have aged the most rapidly, going from a youthful boyish-looking guy to an old man rather stunningly—I wouldn’t have even recognized him now. I wouldn’t have recognized original lead guitarist Bernie Leadon either, being’s how he gave up on his hair since the ‘70s and shaved it all off, along with his bushy Jim Croce-esque mustache. Bernie was more partial to the twangy Country-Rock style the band played, which clashed with Frey’s straight-ahead Rock leanings, so he left after One Of These Nights and was replaced by Walsh. Rumor has it Leadon may be rejoining the Eagles for portions of their upcoming tour.

As for Don Felder, I have mixed feelings about him now. When I read his book, he seemed very likeable (still does), and I could understand where he was coming from regarding his ouster from the Eagles. He’s a damn fine player too, but on the documentary, he comes across as a bit of a whiner. Felder was miffed that he didn’t get to sing lead on his song "Victim Of Love" (which Henley kinda stole from him), and when the band reunited in 1994, he was under the assumption that all five band members would be paid equally, but this wasn’t the case, as Frey insisted that he and Henley be compensated more, mostly because they were the co-founders and principal songwriters of the band. Valid points, I suppose, but this didn’t sit well with Felder, who tends to forget that he joined the band in mid-stream, thus he suffers a bit from Vinnie Vincent Syndrome, and wasn’t really in any position to be all that demanding. DF also feels that since he contributed one of the band’s biggest hits, "Hotel California", that he’s owed a bigger slice of the pie than he got, but as Peter Criss proved with "Beth" in Kiss, one home run doth not a Hall of Fame career make. Felder didn’t aid his cause with me with his final bit on the documentary, where he talks about how hurt he was and that he missed the camaraderie of the band, then abruptly gets up and says, "Okay…" and walks off, thus rendering everything he’d just said to be rather insincere.

Seems to me like Frey and Henley do more talking through lawyers now than anyone else, and I’m sure that’s what inspired them to put out their 2007 double CD The Long Road Out Of Eden exclusively via Walmart, so it seemed only fitting that one song on it was called "Business As Usual". A former co-worker of mine is a big Eagles fan, but being the hard-ass that he is, he valiantly refused to knuckle under to Frey/Henley Inc. by buying the CD so he took the circuitous route and borrowed it from his local library instead. He in turn loaned it to me and I pirated my own copy—sorry Don, Glenn and Wally-World! A better by-product of their various reunions is the double-DVD "Farewell Tour I" concert video they came out with a couple years prior to Long Road (which I actually DID purchase), that features phenomenal audio quality and a pretty good concert performance too. Frey even makes a humorous legal reference on that show, "This next song goes out to my first wife, Plaintiff". In the documentary, Henley himself noted that the band were often accused of "loitering on stage", but the "Farewell" video holds your attention throughout. While I tend to agree with many hardcore Eagles fans who would prefer to hear an all-Eagles set list instead of the inclusion of Henley, Frey and Walsh solo stuff, I have to say Henley’s "Dirty Laundry", "New York Minute" and "Sunset Grill", as well as Frey’s "You Belong To The City" do sound awfully tasty here, and Joe’s "Life's Been Good" was a high point of the show.

In lieu of my usual countdown, I’m just going to dole out a few random thoughts about my Eagles favorites (in no particular order):

"Lyin' Eyes" (1975)  I was 11 when this came out, and absolutely couldn't stand this song back then. It was too damn long for one thing, and too twangy for my liking at the time. But when I started hearing it with adult ears and could actually understand the juicy storyline in the song, I grew to love it.
"Witchy Woman" (1972)  Or as my older brother and I used to lampoon it when I was eight, "Itchy Woman"! For the longest time, I didn't even know this was The Eagles
—for some reason, I thought it was some Native American band when I was a kid.
"James Dean" (1974)
 "Too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye..."

"Heartache Tonight" (1979)  I imagine more than a few bar brawls have been set to (or set-off by) this song.
"Take It To The Limit" (1975)  Ever notice how this song's intro is eerily similar to that of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now"?  I use to lampoon Randy Meisner’s  falsetto "weeeeee"s at the end quite a bit, too. Randy went on to have a minor hit in 1981 with "Hearts On Fire", which wasn’t a bad song, and toured briefly with Rick Nelson, but thankfully was no longer in his band when Nelson’s plane crashed in 1985.

"One Of These Nights" (1975)  Every time I hear this song, I think back to the summer of '75 with this one playing on the jukebox at Fun House Pizza while I spent all those quarters on pinball and playing those prehistoric video games. This one comes off surprisingly well live in concert too, even with all its falsetto vocals.
"Those Shoes" (1979)  Don Henley gets down and dirty, and Joe Walsh gets to play with his squawk-box contraption.
"Take It Easy" (1972)  Another one that gets played to death on the radio, but I'm sure the good folks in Winslow, Arizona don't mind. If I'm ever down that way, I plan to go stand on one of their corners...
"Already Gone" (1974)  This was the second song I cranked up the day I accepted my current job back in 2001  (The Who's "I'm Free" was the first), thus freeing me from the miserable one I was stuck in. "I will sing this victory song..."
"Get Over It" (1994) My all-time favorite Eagles tune.  I love songs with rapid-fire lyrics, mostly because they're usually funny too, and this one's a killer. Full of attitude, Don Henley scores a direct hit on the daytime talk-show circuit, or "White Trash Theater", as I prefer to call it. Love the line, "You're makin' the most of your losing streak
—some call it sick, well, I call it weak..." 
"Frail Grasp Of The Big Picture" (2007) One of two Henley gems off Eden, I just love his little mid-song invocation: "And we pray to our Lord/Who we know is American/He reigns from on high/He speaks to us through middlemen/And He shepherds His flock/We sing out and we praise His name/He supports us in war/He presides over football games/And the right will prevail/All our troubles shall be resolved/We hold faith above all/Unless there's money or sex involved" Amen, brother, amen!
"Busy Being Fabulous" (2007) Henley’s other gem from that album, which I dedicate to Kardashian-types (and those who give a shit about them) everywhere…