Who knew a little ditty about standing on the corner in a small Arizona town would lead to this.
The Eagles are California's Beatles. And maybe the whole country's. They're not flashy like Michael Jackson or the Stones, they're not trying to impress you, rather they're PLAYING FOR YOU!
Going to the gig today is a chore. Oh, not for the millions of paying customers, but for you and me. The professionals. It's a hassle. The parking, the rough treatment by security guards and the music. That's what's worst about today's gigs, the music.
Oh, don't tell me about this band and that. Who's putting up good numbers. I ask you, when was the last time you had butterflies in your stomach, found that you couldn't speak because you were in such heavy anticipation? I didn't even feel this way for David Bowie, and I was inches away. But as I arrived at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, something inside me changed. I became the person I was in the seventies. Who still believed.
I don't know how the band decided to tour California only. This isn't how the superstars usually do it. Rather, Michael Cohl guarantees them a pile of money and they play every nook and cranny the world over for eighteen months straight, making his money back. Whereas the Eagles seem to tour with no rhyme or reason. Now and again. You never pass because they just hit your town the year before, it's been a while, you still want to go. Just check the grosses if you doubt me.
And they're working their way down the state. From Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles. And last night they were in the storied monied enclave of SB.
The Santa Barbara County Bowl isn't the kind of place superstar bands normally appear. It only holds 4,562 people. It's not a big payday. And, it's not prepared for gods. There's not enough infrastructure. Which is why you have to see gods if they deign to play there.
The evening has to start early. Before the sun goes down. At 7 p.m., anathema to rock and roll. There's no mystery. But when the band strode onto the stage and Glenn Frey strummed that acoustic guitar and went into their first hit…I'm tingling just thinking about it.
"Well I'm running down the road trying to loosen my load
I got seven women on my mind"
This is what Jimmy Buffett is selling but with better material. It's our best selves. It's our optimistic selves.
I'd like to tell you it was nostalgia. Connecting with the past. But that's not the way it was at all. Sure, it was a celebration, but it was the present. Maybe because it was a band. No dancers, no computers, just music. Like they were born to do this. And were on a great adventure. That we were privileged to be along for the ride with.
Now I've got to confess we were sitting in the fifth row.
This is the kind of shit you live for. So close you don't even bother to watch the video monitors. You can see it all up close and personal.
And what did we see?
From "Take It Easy" they went into "Witchy Woman".
The Eagles made records when albums still counted. The biggest new act plays an album track and people head for the bathrooms. But to hear that electric guitar flourish, the pounding beat, it took me right back. Listening to the band's debut day after day.
"Raven hair and ruby lips
Sparks fly from her fingertips"
This was no Don Henley extravaganza. This was no solo show. This was a BAND performance. Don played drums almost the whole night. He was pounding away singing into the mic. This was rock and roll.
And it wasn't only Don. Turns out Glenn can play the guitar. He whipped off some leads. Watching him up front and center one could understand his reputation as the coolest guy in the room, the one who got all the girls. He's not the best-looking, but somehow he was BORN WITH IT, CHARISMA! Standing there I was just mesmerized. This was more important than anything. This made you want to be a musician more than President.
And the material.
If only I could write one song as good. Just one "Take It Easy". You can live the rest of your life on one "Take It Easy". But that was just one of the Eagles' hits.
From "Witchy Woman" they went into "Peaceful Easy Feeling". Oh, Glenn acknowledged they were all from the first album. THE FIRST ALBUM! This was a show for fans. Then again, we're ALL fans of the Eagles.
The show had two halves. With a break for the aged band to pee, at least that's what Don said.
The second half started off with an acoustics on stools segment. And then they started to rock.
Stunningly, there were a ton of non-Eagles tunes in the second half. Joe Walsh did not only "Life's Been Good" but "Walk Away" and "Funk #49". Looking like a hired player in the first half, he was truly a member of the band as the show wore on. And Don sang "Sunset Grill" and "Dirty Laundry". Hell, Joe even sang ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY!
Oh, they didn't play everything you wanted to hear, but everything you NEEDED to hear. Don sang "Boys Of Summer". Timothy B. did his two slow songs.
But the unexpected highlight was "Take It To The Limit". Which Glenn dedicated to his wife, in reference to her use of her MasterCard. THAT'S why you go to the show. To become engaged with a track you never loved. Oh, they emphasized the groove. We were all standing there with them, punching our fists into the air, singing TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT ONE MORE TIME!
Oh, you could hear everybody singing on every song.
And when they came back out to do "Hotel California", a sea of cell phones appeared, playing the classic Golden State anthem for loved ones at home.
And then, the finale. "Desperado".
The Eagles were together less than a decade. About as long as the Beatles. And their music endures in the same way.
If you don't believe, if you're wearing black, if you think an acoustic guitar is the key to bland pap, if your music must be noisy and edgy, you'd STILL have been touched if you were there.
Because, the Eagles aren't about image, but music. And they wrote, and played, great music.
In this overwhelming media-centric world if it's not on every Webpage, if there's not news on Yahoo and gossip on eonline, it's like it never happened.
But it does.
Ultimately, life is not about what transpires on the screen, whether it be a computer monitor, television or theatre, it's what happens in real life. What's produced by real, living human beings. That's what touches us. The evanescent efforts of our fellow man. And you can be touched by the smile of a child, or a lick on an ice cream cone, but when you're confronted with genius you feel so great to be alive, that you can experience this, that you can feel like this.
My generation is over fifty. We've raped and pillaged, we've sold out. And deep inside we know it. We're ashamed of it. But, at the core, our sixties and seventies values remain. We know it's not about 4,000 square foot houses and giant SUVs. We know that that's all bullshit. Because when we grew up, what mattered most was music. And when we hear that music it reminds us of not only who we were, but who we are.
Just because a song is old that doesn't mean it's irrelevant. Rather, a great song is like a well-worn pair of slippers. Something that puts a smile on your face every time you encounter it, every time you try it on.
I know people followed the Dead all over the country. Phish too. But if you saw the Eagles last night you'd want to follow them. You'd want to be at every show. You'd want to be the person you were when you listened to them. Someone with hope.
The system won't allow the Eagles to have any more hits. The system probably won't allow a song like "Hotel California" to be ubiquitous once again. There will probably never ever be a track we all know.
But it used to be different. "Hotel California" was embedded in our DNA. When we hear that intro, we're reminded of not only one moment, but our whole lives.
"On a dark desert highway
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas
Rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance
I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy, and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night"
I grew up on the east coast.
But I never belonged there. I wasn't impressed with the change of seasons, I wasn't enamored of the lush greenery. From the moment I turned on the TV, I realized I belonged in California.
I don't know if you belong in California.
You belong in California if you're not married to the past, if you're willing to chuck everything you know, everything you invested in, for a world where experience is king.
If you're willing to throw off all your precepts, that education gives you a leg up, that institutions have value, then you belong in California.
You start over in California. You create a new you, the one you always wanted to be. And no one gives you shit for it. That's why they came too. To explore, to develop.
It's an outside culture. Even the schools aren't enclosed, you go from class to class exposed to the elements.
And, at some point, cruising PCH, or up in the Sierras, with the top back, or the window down, the breeze in your hair, you realize you're happy, that you're living a dream.
But no dream is complete without music.
The Eagles are the soundtrack of the California dream.
If you can't understand it, if you don't believe it, then that probably proves you're not a Californian.
But the Eagles are us. The lightness and the darkness. The focus on beauty. Life in the fast lane. Getting close to the flame and seeing if you can survive.
Last night I was close to the flame. I still can't completely talk about it. To talk about it would ruin the memory. It was like for two and a half hours, my life worked. Everything I dedicated myself to, that I believed in, had value.
They can sing. And they can play.
And they can write too.
This is a rare combination.
And that's why they and their music live on when most acts from their era have day jobs.
People are paying a hundred bucks not to worship, not to adore, not to tell their friends, but to bask. In their lives. The lives they've created here in the Hotel California.