‘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.

‘You can see the stars and still not see the light’

Well that was interesting.

I was just dismissed.

Not as in ‘fired’.  But completely and utterly dismissed by my employer.

As in ‘to refuse to accept or recognize; reject.’

As in out of hand‘without thinking about or discussing it.’

Wow.

As I sat fuming stewing ruminating about the conversation that had just played out around me (since I didn’t seem to be actually involved in the discussion in any real way- I was very much being talked at rather than spoken to) my recent thoughts about atheism and secularism kept resurfacing.

Not because I feel as though I am in any way dismissive about the beliefs of others (I am more than happy to engage in dialogue about where our opinions may differ and/or correspond, provided my partner in discourse is also prepared to listen as well as speak) but because the assumption of rejection out of hand and dismissiveness about traditional beliefs is one that often drives critics in their, well, criticism of those who decide not to believe in the existence of supernatural actors in the world.

Way back in the day, Xenophanes rejected the Greek gods as human projections and recorded his musings explicitly for the posterity of future generations.  All this in the 6th century BCE.

He was a satirist (think Stephen Colbert 2500+ years ago) who took aim at the anthropomorphized pantheon of gods, the veneration of athleticism, and ‘popular’ writers like Homer and Hesiod.  He was a social and religious critic way before such became the norm at media outlets like the Huffington Post.

His skepticism was ahead of its time and based on five key points about a singular god who is NOTHING AT ALL like humanity.  Instead, Xenophanes believed in a god that:

  • is beyond human morality
  • does not resemble humanity- in physical form- in ANY way
  • cannot die or be born
  • is not part of any divine hierarchy
  • does not intervene in any way in human affairs.

Interestingly, some early Christian apologists (Clement of Alexandria for one) actually appreciated a lot of what Xenophanes had to say.  His theology went against the traditional polytheism of the Greeks (and the Romans and the Egyptians) and seemed to jibe with at least some of what the early Christians were saying about their god.

Except for the parts about not looking like people, not being able to die or be born, and the whole thing about total lack of intervention in human affairs.

(Clement was pretty good at picking and choosing among the syncretic beliefs that surrounded him in the shaping of his own theology- and, since he was a little tiny bit gnostic at times, it’s not hard to see why Xenophanes’ concept of the supreme, unknown and unknowable god was appealing to his Alexandrian sensibilities.)

Anyhoo.

Xenophanes lived a long, well-travelled life, spreading his ideas and engaging in dialectics, and influencing later philosophers and theologians.  He is generally viewed, in the Western philosophy of religion, as one of the first monotheists, although his writings speak of his concept of god as being ‘supreme among gods and men’, suggesting that he hadn’t given up on the idea of multiple deities all that completely.

My thoughts, since the end of my afternoon meeting have been circling back to this idea of dismissal vs. discourse and are reinforcing- if any more such reinforcement was the least bit required- that I am not, currently, where I should be.

I am doing all that I can to remedy this state, and while the going has been slow (to massively understate the reality) I have to hold on to the fact that I am moving in the right direction.

This song has been running loops in my brain for the last few hours.

(I realize that I keep coming back to the Eagles lately.  What can I say?  They are songwriters for all seasons/situations)

‘So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key,’

My encounter today has reinforced the necessity of finding my particular key, and continuing to surround myself- where- and whenever possible- with those who are looking to engage in dialogue and dialectic without resorting to dismissiveness and out of hand rejection.

There remain those, like Xenophanes, who demonstrate the ability to ‘look up in the sky’ and manage to ‘see the light’ as well.

That’s a ‘victory song’ worth remembering and holding onto.

Songs that can change a life #3

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).

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 story songs, two in particular, that figure near the Top of my personal Pops as incredible story songs.

The title tune 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 37 (!) years.

The album’s final track has an even bleaker message.  The Last Resort is an epic composition, covering 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 progression West of the principle of manifest destiny, Henley saw history repeating itself as development destroyed more and more of the natural environment and served to pollute the atmosphere as 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.

Despite the fact that it’s a long weekend, and that the summer is winding down, I’m not at a cottage this Sunday night, 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 the rapidly cooling 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.