Tuesday, January 19, 2016

He Introduced Me to the Girl With Sparkling Earrings

As I sit here, I find myself listening to Seven Bridges Road and feeling numb over the news of Glenn Frey's passing.  I have not felt this way since John Lennon was murdered or upon hearing of plane crash that took Jim Croce's life before that.  This is deeper and felt more in my soul and heart than either of those previous incidents. While both Lennon and Croce's music and words had a great impact on my life, neither were around long enough to have the lifelong impact that Frey did and does.  It is odd I chose this song but somehow logical.  Seven Bridges Road, although written by Steve Young and not Frey or one of the Eagles, captures me in a special way -- starting with the Eagles five-part harmony on the opening line, the bluegrass/gospel feel they gave the song and the lyrics that constantly remind me of love and willing separation. 

 Sometimes there's a part of me

Has to turn from here and go

To me, Glenn Frey is synonymous with the Eagles and most of my favorite Eagle songs were those he wrote or co-wrote with Don Henley.   I did like his solo music as well, but the way those songs relate is different.  I am no longer an adolescent who can bend a lyric to match my own life's circumstance and while Smuggler's Blues is a favorite of mine, I have no way to relate since I have never been a drug smuggler.   But at a time when my adolescent mind was learning to understand how much music could influence the raw emotions I was beginning to feel, I found myself bending those lyrics and music every way possible and never lacked for things in my own life that related to every single note and word.

Best of My Love was the first song that I can remember hearing on the radio that was by the Eagles. If the legend is to be believed, it is also the song that first started giving them some major airplay. A disc jockey in Wisconsin was convinced to play the song one evening and soon after was flooded by requests to hear the song again and again. Without the benefit of national music venues like MTV or Satellite radio, the song still managed to spread across the country by word of mouth.

To me, the song related to my first major breakup with a girlfriend. Keeping in mind, that in adolescence it was possible to meet someone on Friday night and even though the relationship does not even last until the next weekend the intensity of the emotions you felt because of it is both extremely real and deep. The song to me always felt like so much warmth and loneliness at the same time. It is hard for me to listen to the song now and not think back on that moment in my life. Music has that effect.

At the same time that Glenn Frey and the Eagles were exploring their folk-rock sound, I was learning how to play their music on my acoustic guitar. This just ingrained the music further, because not only could I listen to mournful lyrics and music when I felt sad or was exploring the depth of a new emotion, I could actually play the songs too. My high school guitar teacher, Ms. Waggoner, used a lot of modern music for lessons in class, providing us with mimeographed sheets of lyrics and chords that we learned how to play. A lot of that music was from the Eagles.

I like the way your sparkling earrings lay….

One thing that did happen when I learned how to play guitar was that I also learned how to sing or at least be willing to sing as I played. I was lucky that my voice, at least at that point, had about the same range as Glenn Frey’s. Therefore, I spent a lot of time working on the Eagle songs that he sang lead on. Peaceful Easy Feeling was and still is among my favorites. The opening line held so many possibilities for so many summer nights of my own. Just me and a girl down by the Chesapeake Bay at twilight -- the look in her eyes as she listened to me trying to be some sort of troubadour with cricket singing backup.   Looking back, there was so much innocence in those times, but yet such deep and heartfelt passion.  I can still smell the blend of salt sea air, wildflowers, her perfume, and strawberry lip-gloss.  This was also one of three Eagle songs that I used to love to slow dance to during that period of my life because it had such an easy beat to follow that my clumsy high school self could follow and not look too awkward.  One of the other great slow dance songs was Tequila Sunrise.

As I listen to the lyrics now, I have no idea how I possibly related the song to anything in my life at that point. Keep in mind; this was when I was still in high school and still a few years away from being able  to legally drink. It wasn’t until a few years later that I had and enjoyed an actual tequila sunrise.

Somehow I found a way to take a song about a guy who was a hired hand, this woman that he came onto, and a situation that led him to the conclusion he should move to Mexico.  Maybe it was in the chorus that I found commonality with the song.   Maybe it was just that I enjoyed the feel of dancing so close to someone during that confusing period of my life. Adolescence can be a very lonely time even if you have many friends and activities to keep you busy. The insecurity of not knowing who you think you are, who other people think you are, and who you actually are can be abated by holding someone close and feeling their body against yours as you stop the outside noise for a while and allow your heart to beat in time with another.

Side Note:  At one of my final guitar class concerts in my school, I partnered with a friend of mine who played some wicked rock ‘n roll freestyle on his electric guitar.  We merged that with some Spanish-style guitar riffs that I had been toying with and came up with a song that we performed together. Basically, one of us would play background while the other one showed off and we pass that back and forth until the last refrain were both of us were doing what we considered to be some rather awesome crossplay that ended to thunderous applause. Well, that is the way it seemed back then – – I actually have a copy of the song somewhere on a cassette tape. I keep using as an excuse that I don’t have a cassette player anymore for why I don’t to get out and listen to it – – although I think it is probably that I don’t want to destroy the dream of that performance. How does all this relate to Glenn Frey? We called the song Tequila Sunrise with a Twist. It was also the last time I ever performed on electric guitar in public.

Don Henley is the lead singer on Desperado, which is probably one of the reasons I never learned how to play this myself until many years later when I was able to sing it.   A song about someone who is desperately alone because he won’t open himself to those around him -- and a warning that he better let someone love him before it’s too late.   How relatable is that at almost any age let alone during the stormy period of trying to become someone.  I wrote about the way I related to the song when I made an entry about Linda Ronstadt.  I will say that I actually prefer her version of the song because Linda’s voice captures both the warmth of someone who cares and the pleading of someone begging to be considered.  I recently had a conversation with someone about slow dancing to this song in particular, and after much consideration and searching my memory I have come to the conclusion that yes, it was Desperado.

Another song with lead vocals by Glenn Frey, another song that related to every single long-distance drive I made during that period of my life. I wanted to run across that woman who was driving a flatbed Ford and slowing down to take a look at me.

On 24 July 2015, I was able to see Glenn Frey and the rest of the Eagles perform live at Joe Louis in Detroit. It was the most I’ve ever paid to see a single act and it was worth the price. Called the History of the Eagles tour, they performed is almost a discography from their very early tunes going all the way through the stuff off their last album.  Each of the group’s members who had worked as a solo artist also had a spotlight section where they play those songs as well. The most animated of all the performers was Joe Walsh -- no surprise there -- but the one who is solo section I enjoyed the most thoroughly was Glenn Frey. I had forgotten how many songs of his that he recorded as a solo performer that I was both familiar with and enjoyed. Smugglers Blues, You Belong to the City, Party Town, and more.  Maybe he knew that this would be the last time he would perform in his old hometown, or maybe the crowd just fired them up. Either way, it was an awesome performance.

I can relate almost every song that Glenn Frey or the Eagles ever released somehow back to my life. Even though I’ve been listening to some of the same music since 1974, every time I hear it -- it is fresh, new, and sometimes starts to relate to me in a whole new way.

I will end this missive with one final song of the Eagles that I will enjoy anytime and anywhere it is played. I have heard Hotel California compared to many others that have mystical lyrics that can be either written off as deeply veiled criticism or random drug induced hallucinations. I know the song outline was produced by Glenn Frey and then Don Henley wrote the lyrics with his assistance and input. I know the song is a ballad, and as with any ballad you can fill in whatever open spots you choose to with whatever story that you want it to relate to. Maybe that is why the song has always been my favorite. I can rewrite his meaning every time I hear it. Isn’t that the true definition of great music when it can inspire an emotion or a feeling in you that was never purposely intended by the person he created it. 

A final word…

Critics almost unanimously hate the Eagles.  I remember reading how horrible and simplistic their music was perceived to be by writers in the music industry.  That hatred continued on for the life of the band, even in the years when they were split up.  Every list of Greatest American Bands that included the Eagles would also include a disclaimer that they were only being included because of sales and not artistry.  I think the real issue was that the Eagles were found and made successful by people, versus some critic being able to claim credit for their notoriety.  I have never understood how a critic can expect to be able to claim fame for a creation they had no part of; which is why I don't read them.  By way of disclosure, I have only ever read one copy of Rolling Stone because of the elitist attitude that they knew more than you about what you should like.  They didn't and don't.

You may not be aware but Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was the best-selling album in the US for the entire 20th century and is only outdone by Thriller for highest in the world for the century (which by default makes the Eagle's album the best-seller for a group).   So, critics hate the group that the population of Earth liked enough to lift to those heights?  Good reason for everyone to ignore critics.


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