Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Eagles & Glenn Frey: Beyond Cool, A Band for All Time

Looks so innocent but is probably about to say something totally incendiary

First of all, I have to say it’s simply crass to use a band member’s untimely demise as a platform to attack a band as Gersh Kuntzman does in this vitriolic diatribe for the New York Daily News, in which he calls the Eagles a horrific band. Why he is then astonished by the strong reactions of already grieving fans amazes me. It seems that the New York Times agrees, recently publishing an article on how to speak of the dead, partly as a reaction to these anti-Eagles tirades, the gist of which is summed up by this comment: 'Hey, it’s ok to not like the Eagles. It’s also ok to shut up about it for a few days when one of them dies.' Try to remember some of us are heart-broken.

Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey – Eagles
I’ve already written a blog riposte (‘Kick ’em When They’re Up'), to a similar wave of ‘cooler-than-thou’ journalism, which extended across most of the British broadsheets,and in this, there’s a link to the idiotic article that inspired it (trashing Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and any band who dared to have longevity as if their still being around was an affront to the world).

They invariably act like these bands were always dinosaurs and should be extinct by now. But to longtime fans, part of the appeal is their endurance and the fact that the songs, which were fresh and exciting when you first heard them and immediately memorable are now like old friends who you don't see that often but always get on well with when you do. They're as familiar and comfortable as the flannel shirts Don and Glenn wear onstage.

Heartfelt thanks to those, like Bob Lefsetz, who wrote moving tributes to Glenn. It's a shame that for every positive, there's a negative, like the aforementioned Kuntzman and a venomous piece for the Houston Chronicle that I can no longer access.

Jeff Bridges, The Dude in The Big Lebowski
Kuntzman's is the typical hipster's response; it runs along these lines: ‘The Coen brothers are cool, therefore their films are cool, their characters are cool, therefore the Dude must be cool (and Jeff Bridges of course), and the Dude doesn’t like the Eagles therefore the Eagles can't be cool, therefore, in order to be cool, I have to dislike the Eagles’. Do we care what these people think? Probably not as it’s their loss but it’s still incredibly aggravating when someone is ignorant enough to dismiss a band’s entire oeuvre.

With Don Felder
The Eagles don't need to be rehabilitated for the modern age or regarded from an ironic distance like people have a tendency to do with Abba (which is always so condescending). This sometimes happens when bands are inordinately successful. They exclude themselves from the cult of cool. Or cool of cult. There's always more cultural cachet to be had from supporting a little-known or even vaguely obscure artist and believe me, I'm crazy about a number of artists who fit the latter category, from Benedict Benjamin to XC-NN. I can see the cult in cultural. There aren't many people who want to believe that their taste is run of the mill and mainstream and there's an understanding that once you attain this universal popularity, you are somehow no longer worthy of it. You know the build 'em up to knock 'em down approach.

So, to rebut some of his assertions. Don't get me wrong, I know he has a right to his point of view, as much as I have a right to disagree. 

1 The Eagles were a lousy band (or 'horrific' as he puts in the title)
This is a statement designed purely to provoke attention and response. Surely no one who's heard Hotel California can really think this? Even if you think you don't know it, you know it.

2 The Eagles produced 'pop pap'.
To label One of These Nights, a song that could set my heart racing, it was so exciting, so atmospheric, 'pop pap' just beggars belief. It's possible that GK's childhood was a lot less mundane than mine. Either that or he has no imagination. Has he ever heard Outlaw Man (listen to that banjo), No More Walks in the Wood, Waiting in the Weeds, Doolin' Dalton? Pop pap would be Calvin Harris and his ilk.

3 The Eagles have too many songs with 'easy' in the titles.
Well, this does seem to be his point. Delve a bit deeper. There are plenty that don't.

Jackson Browne
4 Jackson Browne’s version of Take It Easy is sexier than the Eagles' one.
This is plain crazy. Only a man could have written this. Ok, I know that JB was a ladies man in his day but sexier than Glenn, who simply oozed pheromones? I don't think so. I always thought of Jackson Browne as sensitive and thoughtful while Glenn was master of the snap retort, every hair toss replete with unabashed sex appeal. More on this in Glenn Frey, Cowboy Casanova and in this appreciation of Timothy B. Schmit. Plus only Glenn could have written these immortal lines: 'It's a girl, my Lord/In a flatbed Ford/Slowing down to take a look at me'. Or have the humour and self-awareness to sing in Already Gone:* 'Well, I heard some people talkin' just the other day/And they said you were gonna put me on a shelf/But let me tell ya/I got some news for you/And you'll soon find out it's true/And then you'll have to eat your lunch all by yourself'. 
* Already Gone was written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund but the lyrics seem to be quintessentially Glenn.

5 You can't like the Clash if you appreciate the Eagles.
Hmm, I'm pretty sure that I bought a Clash album and an Eagles album on the same day. They're not mutually exclusive. Although the Adverts are my favourite band from the punk era. Yes, and that was a totally gratuitous nod to the One Chord Wonders, simply because I could and more people should.

Bernie Leadon
6 There's an implicit assumption that, if it weren't for the Eagles, people who the author deems more deserving (because they  have a smaller following or because they're less marketable) like Gram Parsons and Gene Clark would have been more successful. This is a fallacious argument. I would propose the opposite. For many, the Eagles were a ‘gateway’ band into obscurer terrain. Bernie Leadon’s My Man was in fact a tribute to Gram Parsons. If it hadn't been for the Eagles, I might never have listened to Poco or Gene Clark. It doesn't really matter who came first or who was more successful. And I expect there are those who believe that with the Eagles, it's all about the money. I appreciate their honesty - even when they were young, they admitted they wanted to make a lot of money. Because of this and because of funny items like this spoof of band members talking: 'Henley: Uh, I think what Glenn was trying to say was that sure, the album came out just fine, but do you not remember the torture it took us to make it? How Azoff had to ply us with $100 bills in a trail from our houses to the studio?', people have assumed that the music is secondary. They don't seem to realise that these are jokes but even so, doesn't it somehow make them cooler? For instance, this from the same cruel but funny article: 'Schmit: I can’t afford Eagles concert tickets. Henley: Well, I can. And trust me. You’d stay in your seat the whole time. Every time you turn your head away from the stage, you’ve wasted approximately 27 dollars.'

Joe Walsh
7 'This diatribe has one caveat: Joe Walsh. The greatest of all Eagles always kept his soft-rock comrades at arm’s length'.
Another thing you’ll notice about these carping critics. They always make an exception for Joe Walsh because they think he’s a card-carrying rockstar (complete with drugged-up past) with street cred because of his previous cool (read 'bad') behaviour, and his skill on the guitar. All the hipsters think Joe is cool – partly because he used to smash things up. Sure, he adds something but he’s not the Eagles (no offence to Joe fans, who are legend and legion), neither is Timothy B. Schmit (much as I like him now). They’re the Johnny-Come-Latelys, the New Kids in Town. Although I do make an exception for Don Felder. Whatever people say now, he'll always be an Eagle to me.

There were some straightforward but perfectly crafted country rock songs, but country rock itself wasn't even a proper genre then and what there was had little purchase on the music scene until the Eagles arrived. There was (the) Buffalo Springfield then Poco, but their reach was limited. And that's not to mention the influence the Eagles have had: Fleet Foxes, Jayhawks, Golden Smog and so on, all building careers on the template of exquisite harmonies, contagious melodies and something to say. Protest songs are now sadly a thing of the past but I love it when a writer cares about a cause or a situation. although I focus on some of my favourites here, in a list that includes Jackson Browne's tour de force, For America.

And there's so much wit and so much self-awareness in the title of their comeback tour: Hell Freezes Over. They simultaneously don't take themselves seriously while being deadly serious and cashing in on their previous pledge.

The trouble is that the Eagles are too successful and this kind of unprecedented achievement leads people to carp and moan. Once, when I was younger and more arrogant, I used to like to say that I thought the Beatles were overrated, in order to provoke a reaction. Now I think it's sort of great that I like some of the same music as my Dad and can take him to see the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac.

Glenn Frey, RIP Outlaw Man
Yes, as Bob Lefsetz mentions, they lived the American Dream, but they also analysed, deconstructed and dismantled it in songs like Hotel California and The Last Resort, showing how quickly it could turn into a nightmare. Henley’s lyrics roll off the tongue because they sound so natural but they’re still clever, polemical, insightful (surely there isn’t anyone too soulless or too secure to identify with the sentiment in Wasted Time?), or incisive, dismissive, satirical (Get over It: 'Victim of this/Victim of that/Your Momma's too thin/And your Daddy's too fat'). They’re not glib. But compare them with the subject matter of chart songs today – see my blog on ‘Modern Music’ – they raise issues, are often poetic and thought-provoking. They’re not about having a party or waving your hands in the air or being sexy in the club. So, you might say music is changing but subject matter, melody, scope are all decreasing. No longer do we have pop songs about boys being molested on school trips. Name that tune.

I’m not saying that I love every Eagles song – there are some on each album that I consider Eagles by numbers but these very tracks are other fans’ favourites: Busy Being Fabulous, Chug All Night (well maybe not Chug All Night) and so on.

And I'd like to ask: When does the Dude lose his 'coolness'? And surely, if everybody thinks he's cool, he's now too mainstream to actually be so. But what I meant to say was that Eagles music is timeless and will hopefully move and entertain future generations. They're not this week's fancy or last year's trend. They are much more than this, they are beyond cool and, as Glenn said, 'a band for all time'.

Every time I start to listen to an Eagles song now, I get all choked up and I know I'll feel this way for some time. I really wish I didn't have to write this but

RIP Glenn Frey.

The thrill has gone.