Thursday, August 8, 2013

Let's chat about the Eagles, shall we?

It has always been en vogue to dis the Eagles, the American rock band that has sold more records than any other.

Sadly, the complaints from most critics focus on an understandable loathing for Don Henley and Glenn Frey, the only original members to survive the band's epic personal and musical wanderings since 1971. Salon contributor Stephen Deusner, is the latest to tackle this easy target. My response, as posted on the Salon website (note: Deusner used several moments in the movie, The Big Lewbowski, to make his point):

For the record, The Big Lebowski is the third finest movie ever made. If you want to know the top two, call me.

Sadly, Deusner's critique falls back to familiar and easy issues: The band's two principals -- Don Henley and Glenn Frey -- are pricks. This is undeniable truth. But, what about the music?

Henley's music is often unintentionally ironic. When he bitches about corporate America or our country's narcissistic tendencies, he is describing himself. He's a jerk and, worse, he's clearly not self-aware. Glenn Frey is only less so. Joe Walsh remains cool despite his joining of the Eagles conspiracy, but his sellout remains regrettable. Timothy B. Schmitt married up, but what man doesn't?

Not to draw precise comparisons, but Mozart was an unpleasant man. Beethoven was worse. Wagner was a miserable human being. If we were to base our musical tastes on how agreeable its creators were, our listening would be severely and sadly restricted. They entertain. They rehearse to get the show just right. They don't miss a note.

They produced two seminal records -- Hotel California and The Long Run. They respond to Frey's direction, though that must be a struggle for at least two of them -- Henley and Walsh. Henley, clearly not a great humanitarian (giving money to a couple of conservation groups and Democrats doesn't qualify), created some pretty terrific records on his own. Frey made some interesting solo music, too. Walsh put out "The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get," so he gets a lifetime pass.

The Eagles produced brilliant, listenable music of precise harmonies and moderately entertaining lyrics. They did it over and over. This should be the only basis of our musical criticism.

Not so long ago my wife and I went to an over-priced Eagles concert in Las Vegas that began with a pitch-perfect acapella rendition of Seven Bridges Road. Joe Walsh is a pretty meager singer, but even his contribution was without flaw.

The Eagles are not a jam band; they aren't musical impresarios. They do pop music, and on that level they are geniuses. I wouldn't want to go drinking with Henley or Frey, and Walsh is on the wagon. Schmitt doesn't seem interesting in the least. But together they have created some of our greatest pop music. That's all. That's enough.

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