The Eagles: Artistry endures long after the lifestyle fades

At the end of a three-hour documentary about one of America’s most enduring rock bands, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, who knows a thing or two about enduring by the way, says the Eagles don’t care about legacy. They remain in the moment, still creating the best art they can.

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It’s a well-crafted moment,  a book end to the legacy of the Eagles. The song “Take it to the Limit” plays, a song they wrote to say they had an artistic obligation to keep stretching, to never arrive, but to find a new limit, over and over.

No wonder they are still so EFFin good.

The documentary enraptured me with equal parts fascination with greatness, a touch of voyeurism to see the gossip behind the greatness, and the perspective gained through hindsight.

The first part of the documentary is the runaway train. As they reach the heights of greatness and all that comes with it, you know the inevitable destruction that led to their split is coming. It taints everything, like a sepia tone on a color photo. Still you laugh at quotes like these:

“There were always girls,” — Glenn Frey

“Sex and drugs. I am not at a loss for words on either subject,” Frey said in the mid 1970s.

Henley, looking back from a perch of thirty years of hindsight says,

” The creative impulse comes from the dark side of the personality. So we worked it hard.”

The dark creativity reached its peak with Hotel California, a truly inspired work of artistic greatness. That song more than any other of its era will transcend time. The hype turned it into a “Paul is Dead” conspiracy. Overwrought Evangelicals said the band was satanic — you remember that? When every good band worshipped Satan… geez oh please — and folks dug and dug for hidden meaning. But the lyrics and the dueling guitar tracks rose above the din to musical greatness, capturing the southern California of my youth.

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“It’s a song about a journey from innocence to experience. That’s it.” — Don Henley on Hotel California.

The insanity followed, including the album “The Long Run,” which took years to make and splintered the band. Joe Walsh’s antics and addictions couldn’t lighten the mood, but they made for good press. One particular night Walsh and John Belushi took over Chicago.  The final tally: ruined seat cushions in the most elegant restaurant in town, a whole lot coke and $28,000 in damages to a hotel room.

The split came in one moment after a decade of music. They just left a concert and went away.

The final hour was “part two,” chronicling the reunion of the band in 1994. Both Frey and Henley proved their chops with plenty of solo success. The band members married, had kids, dried out — except Walsh. He kept partying. Of booze and cocaine and the high-life, Walsh said,

“In the early years it worked. Then you chase it. I ended up in bad shape. I had hit bottom.”

Only Frey ordering Walsh to get clean prior to the band’s reunion gave him the inner drive to get into rehab and see it through. He got out of rehab, and the Eagles were back.

What was amazing is Walsh had to go back out on stage, this time, for the first time, sober. The Eagles, the band itself, was enough to keep Walsh clean.

“Joe was pretty dark that first year,” Frey said. “But then he came out of it. He played better than he ever had before.”

The band had families. They had perspective. It all came back together and worked. It still works today. Some of these new songs are just as good. The lyrics are poetic commentary. Walsh’s song about getting clean is elegant truth telling, “to my best friend Vodka…”

So forty years later, the Eagles are still going. Still living the dream.

Henley said, “It’s a fine line between the American Dream and the American nightmare.”

In some ways the Eagles lived both. But their artistry endures.

Who rivals the Eagles as the best American rock band? Reply below.

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3 thoughts on “The Eagles: Artistry endures long after the lifestyle fades”

  1. I can’t argue that The Eagles are ONE of the best American rock bands, but I would also like to add Fleetwood Mac to the list. Memories endured with songs from both of these bands for me.

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