‘Just find a place to make your stand’

It’s a side-effect of getting older, I suppose- watching those we grew up honouring and loving for the contributions that they made to our lives pass away. The fact that we never knew them personally doesn’t lessen the loss at all.

Still weeping for David, I’m reeling with yesterday’s news about Glenn Frey. I’ve written about the Eagles many times – they are, by a considerable margin – my favourite US band. Feeling a little exhausted (it’s been one of those weeks in my ‘real world’ as well), I was going to just reblog one of those old posts with a new intro and call it a night. WordPress didn’t feel like cooperating. Try as I might, I could not get the thing to re-post. So, instead, I’ve modified and cut-and-pasted this oldie-but-goodie – with a new title, although the substance of the original post remains the same. It’s part of a series I started ages ago about ‘songs that can change a life’. The Eagles had a whole passel of those.

Glenn Frey and Don Henley were one of the greatest songwriting teams of the 70s. Although I’ve always loved Don best (I have a thing for drummers), as he noted in his touching tribute yesterday, ‘Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.’

The line up there ^^^ that I’ve used as the ‘new’ post title came from a tune he wrote with Jackson Browne (another wonderful singer-songwriter), and exemplifies so much of the fun and spark that Don was talking about. Certain songs just stick with you. Glenn Frey (co)wrote more than a few of the best of them.

I love the Eagles.  Not a fan of Country as a genre, but there’s something about that Country/Rock cross-over (California Rock?) that reminds me of summertime and lakes and cottages and bonfires on beaches.

I have Hotel California (1976) on vinyl, kept in storage with the rest of my favourite records and waiting for the day that I purchase something on which to play them- with all the atmospheric pops and skips intact – although I have always taken meticulous care of my vinyl, so the latter are few and far between (Little side note- Hotel California and all its friends will soon be released from storage, since, in the midst of all the impossible losses of the week, we somehow managed to buy a house yesterday…).

The entirety of the album is thematic- it’s a ‘concept album’ that the Eagles have said was meant to represent the decline of the US as it slipped into materialism and superficiality.  In hindsight, the record was distressingly prophetic.

Both the title song and the album as a whole generally rank pretty high when ‘greatest songs/albums’ are tallied- if you put any stock in such things.  I don’t, really, but I DO have to agree that it contains some great songs, two in particular, that figure near the Top of my personal Pops as incredible story songs.

The title tune, with lyrics by Glenn Frey, recounts the saga of someone trying to live the high life associated with California in the 1970s.  It’s an allegorical trip through the desert to the fancy hotel that appears like an oasis out of the darkness.

On the surface, the hotel seems to offer all the trappings of fame and fortune that California seemed to promise those who arrive, with stars in their eyes, seeking such things.  But the ‘spirit‘ of the peace and love movement of the previous decade hasn’t been around the Hotel California ‘since 1969‘, while the excesses and wealth of the 70s have imprisoned all those who reached for the heights and found nothing but materialism and superficiality.

The opening guitar riff takes me to that highway – and to the sense of uncertainty and entrapment that the song suggests is the direction that society has chosen.  It is a harbinger- and one that has been realized as we look back from a distance of almost 40 (!) years.

The album’s final track has an even bleaker message.  The Last Resort is an epic composition, referencing environmental degradation, institutionalized racism and the myth of manifest destiny.

While Hotel California is all about evoking lonely and deserted highways, The Last Resort takes me to a beach, on a lake, as the sun is setting and the stars and Northern Lights are beginning to brighten the darkness.  It never fails to transport me to my personal paradise.

Don Henley’s lyric traces America’s history – and its tendency to destroy as it attempts to create.  It is about the evils of colonialism and the guiding principle of manifest destiny as it became enshrined to further the development (or, more accurately, rape) of the land and its indigenous peoples.

The New World was seen as a place of redemption – a Paradise – for those descended from the Puritan settlers after they fled religious persecution in Europe.  Manifest destiny was the rhetorical mantra behind the push west – spreading American virtues and institutions as decreed by the destiny ‘established by god’.

Territorial expansion was seen as the providence, right, and responsibility of the United States – the self-perceived and – appointed model for the rest of the world.  By expanding and spreading its values – whether those values were wanted and appreciated or not – they were fulfilling the will of god and doing his work.

Although the song presents the historical western progression of the principle of manifest destiny, Henley saw history repeating itself – in the 1970s – as development destroyed more and more of the natural environment and served to pollute the atmosphere in the same way that forced conversions polluted relations with the First Nations peoples whose lands and ways of life were taken and changed irrevocably.

Myths are not always positive.  Manifest destiny was a narrative script that attempted to justify the destruction of those who stood in the way of the spread of American ideals, beliefs and practices.  The repercussions are still being felt.

Whether or not we use the term these days, the actions of the US government in condemning the elected governments of foreign nations and the invasions of other countries, all hearken back to some degree to the concept.

‘Our way’ is the only way.  And that ‘way’ will be shared regardless of the opinions of the recipients of the ‘wisdom’.

We destroy that which we can’t understand or that which is simply beautiful – in the name of god, destiny, progress, sustainability, the economy, greed, the American Dream… These are the lies we tell.

The Eagles witnessed this in 1976 – and foresaw its furtherance in the future.  That future is our present – and we are faced with the same concerns and considerations to the nth degree.  The song is a beautiful and insightful presentation of the need to use our myths, and the cultural scripts that stem from the narratives, with care and engaged and critical examination.

The prophetic voices of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner and Don Felder weren’t heeded almost 40 years ago.

Since it’s January, I’m not at a cottage tonight, so I’m missing the physical atmosphere that these songs conjure from my memory.  The sense of loss and futility come through regardless of location, but, as I sit and enjoy a quiet evening, the beauty of the thread of optimism that is woven into them rings out as well, like a Mission Bell in the desert.

Time to pay attention and let these stories drown out the wrongs done in the name of the myths of past eras and stop kissing our paradises – individual and communal – goodbye.

I seem to be saying this too much lately. Travel safely Mr. Frey. Thank you for your music – and the sense of fun and lessons, both – that it contained.

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14 comments on “‘Just find a place to make your stand’

  1. A truly talented individual surrounded by other truly talented individuals. A few folks can sing well, a few can write meaningful songs well; very few can do both well. Glenn Frey was among those few. Thank you for an insightful tribute about what he and The Eagles brought to music and society.

    • colemining says:

      That’s it exactly, CBC. Meaning AND talent- quite lacking in music these days (IMHO). I appreciate your thanks- and thank you right back. I’d really like to not have to write any more tributes for a while, though.

  2. Another example of that birth separation, Cole. This was the first album I ever owned. I loved it then and never stopped. The Last Resort became the one the needle returned to again and again and I can still listen to it on repeat. The message, the voice, the melody.
    It’s too early in the year to be kissing so many goodbye. x

  3. Shameems says:

    Love, Love, Love Hotel California…makes me sad and happy at the same time.

    • colemining says:

      Hi Shameems! I know – it’s one of the best songs ever- so atmospheric and evocative of time and place and interesting spaces. It’s truly a haunting song with lyrics that highlight the superficiality of so much popular culture.

      Thanks for the visit! See you soon! xo

  4. bethbyrnes says:

    Well, Anne-Marie, you and I must be triplets, Cole. I didn’t get to WP all week but hoped you would write this and now I see you did. You hit many of the points that were in my heart and fleshed them out so much more than I did. I am so disheartened by this loss. I have every Eagles song memorized. I cannot imagine a world in which they can no longer perform live as a group. I am literally heart broken. Too much, too close together, too soon. These guys should have lived on. Don’s voice is my favorite and who doesn’t love Jackson Brown (the honorary Eagle) but without Frey, there would be no band. A devastating, painful, enduring loss.

    • colemining says:

      We do seem to share a brain, don’t we? 🙂

      I remember being so sad when they first broke up- thinking I’d never get to see them in concert. And then they reunited for ‘Hell Freezes Over’… yet I still never managed to get to see them. Now I won’t have the chance.

      I’ve been working hard this year at making sure that I get out to see as many bands/artists as I can. The knowledge that the opportunity mightn’t come around again is a good incentive.

      Been alternating listening to them and Bowie for the past couple of weeks. Can’t wait to get at the albums and have a real listen to all kinds of stuff I haven’t heard in too many years. Small comfort, perhaps, but the music they left with us will last as long as we let it. Thank goodness.

      Have a great weekend! xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        Cole, I re-read this, this morning as yesterday I had too many things to do and was more hurried and harried.

        So many things struck me as remarkable. Once again, that your take and mine on what the Eagles were saying in Hotel California was so similar and is really writ large throughout the takeover of these continents by the Europeans and “Americans”. I have never gotten over the tragedy of our Native peoples and what we have done to them.

        Your passage: “We destroy that which we can’t understand or that which is simply beautiful – in the name of god, destiny, progress, sustainability, the economy, greed, the American Dream… These are the lies we tell.” expresses how I feel these days about so many people in this country and our delicate, precious environment. We have brutes trampling paradise here all the time and it is literally rending hearts among those of us who have to stand by and feel helpless to stop it.

        I had quite forgotten that when I got married, we drove across the US and came into Los Angeles through Barstow, a god-forsaken town in the desert. I had exactly the same reaction to arriving at the in-laws house on the beach after crossing the mountains from Barstow, seeing the half-naked partiers parading before me (a NY intellectual, or so I fancied myself in those days) on the Strand there: depravity, superficiality, excess, vacuousness, and decline. Frey and Henley saw it. So did Crosby, Stills and Nash. They warned us. But what could we do.

        Now I am moored here and I feel it.

        Congratulations on your new home, Cole. You are very fortunate to be in Toronto.

      • colemining says:

        Beth- I was listening to ‘The Sad Cafe’ last night- and there’s a line (more than one, but one in particular) that kept hitting me in the heart: We thought we could change this world with words like ‘love’ and ‘freedom’. There was an honest innocence to so much of their work- something I think is all-but-absent from mainstream music today.

        They- and other, similar voices (like CSNY- you know I love those guys too)- were calling out in the wilderness of excess and superficiality, but instead of listening to them, we opted to run headlong in the direction they were decrying.

        I hope that there is still room for recovery. Our new PM said an interesting thing this week. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of his predecessor (and you know i LOATHED that guy) presenting Canada a place filled with resources, while he’d like us to emphasize that we are, actually, a country of resourcefulness. It’s a clever bit of speech-making, to be sure, but I like the sentiment behind it- that it is our people, not our oil/water/wood (all of which involve messing with the environment to get at) that make us, as a country, a force with which to reckon.

        I can’t even imagine what you must be feeling- with the ever-increasing idiocy that’s going on down there (how is that Palin-creature back in the news? HOW?!?!), but I’m feeling at least a little bit of hope that things are moving in a better (though not perfect- the dollar is tanking- definite signs that there are issues with our economy. I’m no economist, but I have to think that part of it is caused by the drive to be a one-trick pony economy-wise) direction up here.

        I feel fortunate- and not just because we are in a place (financially and geographically) where we can afford a home (although that is certainly uppermost in my mind this week). I truly believe that there is a desire for change- as seen in our Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the way it has been received by this government. We are finally acknowledging the wrongs that our First Nations peoples endured for generations, and talking about ways to ensure that we stand as one nation- supporting and appreciating each other.

        Perhaps that belief makes me naive. If so, it’s a naivety that is as sincerely felt as was Don and Glenn’s, and, as such, it’s something I can live with.

        Thank you, as always, for your insights and perspectives. Your voice has a way of clarifying my own. Another example of how we, as humans, are better when working together. xo

  5. bethbyrnes says:

    OMG, Cole the very mention of that creature’s name makes me bristle in horror. I listened to that insane word-salad rant she gave in her high-pitched shrill voice and thought, I cannot believe Trump is this stupid and reckless. I really believe she sought to shake him down because she has financial problems and wondered how he could fall for it. I have revised my thinking on him. There is no low he won’t stoop to. He must be a narcissist.

    Bernie Sanders is appealing to those 1960s sentiments. As lofty as they are, they cannot come back in our current political climate. He is holding out false promise. This return to normalcy and sanity has to be done skillfully and quickly and then, and only then, can radical change be initiated.

    What worries me now is the entry of Bloomberg into the mix. He will definitely draw votes away from Clinton.

    Sigh! I look to Scandinavia, Canada and to some extent the UK for hope. But, as long as people here cling to the false notions of libertarianism and theocracy, we have a difficult uphill battle ahead.

    Yes, we can all do better united rather than divided. I hope this dawns on Americans soon.

  6. reocochran says:

    Definitely a sad time all around. I liked many David Bowie songs. I have a blue Jean shirt my brother painted an Eagles record cover on it. I should post this someday soon. I loved Glenn Frey, his family and philosophy were close and tight. I will miss hearing the Eagles “after Hell freezes over” performance. Never again live.
    I actually couldn’t believe the musicians who left us. One friend listed 6 another 8. Natalie Cole and a member of original Jefferson Airplane died, too. Keep your chin up! 🙂

    • colemining says:

      Doing my best- but it is hard to experience all these wonderful musicians passing away. We must stay thankful for all that they gave us while we had them, but it’s hard to believe that we don’t have them with us any longer. Thanks for the visit- and the comment.

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