“Hotel California” always makes me want to drink. I think it’s something about the way the song sprawls languidly for more than six minutes with very little textural change, save the chorus. Even the bridge simply puts a guitar solo on top of the song's winding brook. The lyrics are sometimes excellent, sometimes impenetrable — what does “Tiffany-twisted” mean? Honestly, I don’t care for the song. And yet, this is one of the all-time great rock ’n’ roll songs. To not admit that would be disingenuous.
No, I’m not an Eagles fan, but the news of guitarist-songwriter Glenn Frey’s death Monday is still jarring. Maybe it’s because it comes so close to the death of music icon David Bowie, a very different musician, even though they inhabited the same era. I’m reminded of a friend’s joke: “Punk rock at the time was defined by anything that wasn’t the Eagles.”Still, my distaste aside, I found the headline on a New York Daily News’ article even more unpalatable: “Glenn Frey’s death is sad, but the Eagles were a horrific band.” Worse was the tacky, disingenuous lead: “No disrespect to Glenn Frey — whose death this week is a cause for genuine mourning — but the Eagles were, quite simply, the worst rock and roll band.”The author, Gersh Kintzman, then launches into a tirade of hipster disdain, the sort where the writer puffs his chest up and declares his individuality by hating the bands he’s supposed to hate. It’s almost like reading a parody of the “hate-everything” brand of music journalism so prevalent online, usually written by insecure twentysomethings with chips on their shoulders, except that Kintzman is 50 years old — old enough to be able to write about a band he hates with at least a modicum of respect for the dead.
Because here’s the truth: Whether I or Kintzman dislike them, there’s no denying that the Eagles is one of the most popular bands of all time, one that millions of people have a deep connection to, and to dismiss that out of hand is simply lazy, and mocking people for their musical taste while they’re mourning is the height of insensitivity.
There are many perfectly valid reasons to dislike the Eagles, or David Bowie, Motörhead (fronted by the recently deceased Lemmy Kilmister), Stone Temple Pilots (fronted by the also recently deceased Scott Weiland) or any number of musical acts. But the thing is, when there’s a cultural predisposition to hate an artist — “Real music fans hate the Eagles” — then it’s incumbent on critics to challenge that, or to at least explore the reasons for the disdain, not simply re-enforce conventional wisdom.If the Eagles are one of the most beloved and influential musical acts all time, then the question of why is far more interesting than the blanket assertion that everyone else has bad taste. Taking the question to the Internet, I was shocked to discover how many people on my friends list had an unironic love for the band. The simple question “Why do you love the Eagles?” brought more than 50 responses, often from people who surprised me: Serious musicians and people to whom I would have ascribed excellent taste. (Admittedly, a few responded about the Philadelphia-based football team.)
"One thing I like about the Eagles is that their greatest hits album was often part of the soundtrack on long drives with my family when we'd go camping in the summer," says Worcester musician Matthew "The Mad Cowboy" Hopewell. "My dad was a fan, and that tape was always in the rotation when we'd go on a trip. Aside from that, some of the guitar work and songwriting is pretty solid, I think ... it's hard to be objective, for me, because all of their popular tunes have played out for me over time so much that I'm just sick of them. If I had never heard 'Hotel California' before, my first impression of it now would likely be favorable. But I've heard it too damned many times in my life."Nostalgia had a great deal of appeal for a lot of people, but others talked about the beautiful harmonies, the twang in their songs which contrasted well against the slickness of a lot of ‘70s classic rock. A lot of people liked their lyrics and sense of storytelling.
“I can't say I love The Eagles,” said musician David Niles, of the Hip Swayers, “but I've played some of their tunes in various bands and enjoyed them. They really know how to write memorable songs, never mind sing them. Saw them in Worcester a few years ago — flawless performance and truly remarkable.”Personally, I can see the appeal in a lot of their quieter songs, even the wildly overplayed “Desperado.” When the band breaks down to a spare, country sound, there’s actually a lot of emotional content there. “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” and “Tequila Sunrise” have a certain wistful beauty about them that makes them approachable. Admittedly, the recurring female-infidelity themes that run throughout the songs, most prominently “Lying Eyes,” can irk a contemporary ear, but there’s still some honest feeling there, and the guitarwork throughout is bracing, particularly on songs such as the cocaine-fueled saga “Life in the Fast Lane.”
"I'm somewhat indifferent but kind of like them," said local musician Rainy Maple Logan of the bands Eye Witness and Viva Gina, "and I think it's because I wasn't alive in the '70s. I have no idea why they seem to be 'that band' that people just love to hate. I had a copy of 'Hell Freezes Over' on cassette when I was younger that I had acquired somehow from my dad. Other than that, everyone seems to hate 'Hotel California' but I have no problem with it, though I do prefer the Gypsy Kings' cover … As for why I think the Eagles are okay, I don't know, they sing well? Just another '70s band to me."
I don’t think I’m ever going to love the Eagles, but I’ve found over the years that if any artist is that popular — from Barry Manilow to Kanye West — then there are legitimate reasons for that popularity. There is something about that music that connects, and that connection is vivid. To casually dismiss it is to casually dismiss that music’s fans, and both they and the artists themselves deserve better. Email Victor D. Infante at Victor.Infante@Telegram.com and follow him on Twitter @ocvictor.