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The Eagles still get the best of our love


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American Airlines Center, Dallas

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Posted 5:03pm on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016

UPDATE: This Eagles appreciation was published in October 2013, when the band's tour came to DFW. We share it today, in honor of Glenn Fry, who died Jan. 18 at age 67.

It was one of those “weird news” headlines that you just can’t resist joking about:

Woman stabs roommate for playing nonstop Eagles songs.”

I guess she lost that peaceful, easy feeling!

She decided to take him to the limit, one last time!!

C’mon, lady. What are you, some kind of desperado? Take it easy!!!

The possibilities and punchlines are endless.

But while friends and I laughed at the sheer lunacy involved in that September incident in North Charleston, S.C. (the victim escaped with just cuts on his arm and hands), I began to get a restless, queasy feeling myself.

Had I been pushing my wife to her breaking point, too?

Ever since I saw History of the Eagles, the fascinating three-hour documentary on Showtime in February, I’ve had Eagles on the brain. I bought The Very Best of the Eagles and have been playing it on a loop in my car. I’ve watched the documentary two or 12 times — she’s erased it from the DVR twice, but I keep recording it again.

I’ve also been singing Eagles songs constantly. ( Desperado sounds particularly poignant in the shower, I think.) And I haven’t necessarily hidden my excitement about seeing them live Friday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The more I think about it, I’d hardly blame her if she was at home right now sharpening the kitchen cutlery.

But that’s the thing about the Eagles: Passions run high on both sides of the band’s 40-year legacy.

For a group of guys who made their mark in the ’70s with soaring harmonies, they sure do inspire a lot of discord.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find as many “I Hate the Eagles” links as you will odes to the band. And an entire generation of music critics seems to have sworn an oath to calling the Eagles “soulless” and “vanilla” — the kind of strained adjectives writers use to make empty arguments seem more substantive.

But the truth is, there are no legitimate reasons to hate the Eagles. At least not their music. (The authorized documentary gives you some ammunition, but that’s what makes it so hard to turn off.)

Songs like Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling and Take It to the Limit are filled with sweet sounds and heartfelt, intelligent lyrics. Already Gone, Life in the Fast Lane and Heartache Tonight are rock classics that hold up just as well today as they did when they were released decades ago.

I suppose if popularity breeds contempt, then you can rationalize hating the Eagles. But that means you also have to hate the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Elvis or any other iconic musician whose songs are still in heavy rotation on radio and TV, in supermarkets, and on the soundtracks of our lives.

Life in the fast lane

History of the Eagles has only added to the ongoing debate and referendum on America’s most enduring rock band. In the documentary, directed by Alison Ellwood, Glenn Frey and Don Henley acknowledge all the internal strife that accompanied the band’s rise to fame. And they lay bare the ego tripping that caused the band to break up in 1980 at the height of its popularity.

Neither of them comes off as particularly likeable, which may be why I like them even more now. They’re in their 60s, and don’t seem to give a flip if you adore them or not. The Eagles will just keep selling out arenas and singing their hits; the cheers will drown out any and all detractors.

In fact, the documentary is most intriguing because of what the Eagles choose not to conceal. Enemies and allies alike get their say:

David Geffen, the record company executive who was famously sued by the Eagles and later sued Henley when he was a solo artist, actually praises Henley’s voice — “I used to call him golden throat” — but later adds that the singer is a “malcontent, he’s always been a malcontent.” You get the sense he might be right. But does that make him any less of a talented musician?

Glyn Johns, who produced albums for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who, confesses that he didn’t like the Eagles when he first heard them. But eventually he warmed to their “amazing blend of voices” and decided to produce their first two albums. Still, he and Frey were like “oil and water,” and he says his relationship with the band came “to a fairly unpleasant end.” His wasn’t the only one.

Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, original members of the Eagles, both left after tiring of the ongoing tensions in the band. Leadon, almost unrecognizable now without his ’70s afro, recounts pouring a beer over Frey’s head after an exchange at the Orange Bowl in Miami. “That was a very disrespectful thing to do, something I’m really not proud of,” he says on the doc. “It did illustrate a breaking point.” (Interestingly, Leadon has been performing some songs with the band on the current tour. No word on whether he’ll be on stage in Dallas.)

Meisner’s story is nearly as uncomfortable — he had trouble hitting the stratospherically high notes on Take It to the Limit, and wanted to opt out of the song at several shows. But Frey said no way, and they eventually came to blows backstage. He’d leave the band and be replaced by Timothy B. Schmit.

The biggest rift we learn about is with gifted guitarist Don Felder, who famously wrote the music for the haunting title track to Hotel California and was in the band for two stints in the ’70s and during the reunion in the ’90s . Frey paints him as an ingrate who was never satisfied with his role or his salary in the band. But Felder has fired his own shots across the bow, with lawsuits and, in 2008, a book called Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles, in which he paints Frey and Henley as dictators and insufferable egomaniacs .

His is the most heartbreaking moment in the documentary, when he is asked about being kicked out of the group. “It just broke my heart, and it’s not just playin’ with Joe [Walsh]. I miss these guys and the friendship and the music. … OK,” Felder says, voice cracking.

So, as you see, there is plenty of acrimony and drama going on within the Eagles’ inner circle.

But none of that changes the pure joy of hearing the opening strum of Take It Easy, or the distinctive drumbeats on Hotel California, or Henley’s plaintive vocals on After the Thrill Is Gone. And if reviews of the current tour are any indication, the Eagles are aging gracefully. In the twilight of their careers, their harmonies are as crystal-clear as ever.

And thanks to History of the Eagles, they seem as human and fallible as the rest of us.

Time to put the knives back in the drawer and rock on.

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