In Defense of the Eagles, and Not Being a Jerk About Recently Deceased Musicians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even as 99% of my Facebook friends were eulogizing the late David Bowie in reverential terms, there were a few dissenters. Aside from a non-musical issue*, the most negative thing I saw about Bowie was along the lines of "I never cared/listened/understood the attraction." It's kind of passive-aggressive, since there's not much point to alerting us all to the fact that you are apparently apathetic yet somehow still feel we all need to hear from you on this trending topic, but it's pretty low-key, so whatever.

Then Glenn Frey died, and a much larger portion of the internet decided that this was the perfect time to remind us how much they hate the Eagles, how bad the Eagles' music is, and how clueless the rest of us are for apparently being deluded into liking them.

Hey, it's okay to not like the Eagles. It's also okay to shut up about it for a few days when one of them dies. You're not going to lose your "cred."

I am not faultless in this regard. Right after Pierre Boulez died two weeks ago, I wrote something snarky about his Mahler conducting on somebody else's Facebook thread. But then I saw one of my acquaintances thanking Boulez for giving him a big break early in his career, so I stopped being snarky about Boulez. It reminded me that the whole six-degrees-of-separation thing is real (and in the music biz, it's usually fewer degrees than that). And then, seeing the intense outpouring of feeling about Bowie, I was reminded of how strong the bonds can be between an admirer and the object of admiration even if they have never met, even if they're not in the biz and the degrees of separation don't come into it. So there's definitely the it's-too-soon aspect.

But more than that, people are over-reacting. Somebody I know just got 'unfriended' for liking "Hotel California." Think about that. If your reaction, when you find out that somebody you know likes a song you don't like, is a disgust so strong that you don't want to interact with that person anymore, you've got a very warped perspective.

Look, I'm full of opinions, especially when it comes to music, and certainly I have occasionally used strong terms in expressing some of my negative opinions. But they're just words, they're just opinions. People who act as if taste is a moral issue are either really horribly misguided or full of themselves. Make no mistake, that is what they are doing. These are people who really need to ponder the wisdom of de gustibus non est disputandum ("there's no disputing taste").

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether or not people's feelings are hurt, the real problem with this rampant hatred of the Eagles is that it's all couched in absolute terms, as if it's objective fact. Sorry, it's not. It's subjective. And when you try to make it objective, you run up against the problem that the Eagles were, for a period of at least five years (1972-76, from their eponymous debut album through Hotel California), extremely good at what they were doing, when measured as objectively as it is possible to measure such things. You may not like what they were doing, but the skill and success with which they did it is undeniable by any reasonable person. If you prefer to instead trumpet the virtues of the Sex Pistols, that's fine, but blaming the Eagles for not being the Sex Pistols is like criticizing a pork sandwich for not being a chicken sandwich.

Some people get this. Robert Christgau clearly despised them, but he was upfront about their skills. That's good criticism. But some people don't, such as the New York Daily News' Gersh Kuntzman, who wrote today on their website that the Eagles were "the worst rock and roll band" and then went on to further overplay his hand by proclaiming that "hating the Eagles defines whether a music fan is a fan of music or just a bandwagon-jumper."

The problem with this article is not that it's too soon (though obviously it is; just as obviously, posting it today is shamelessly cheap click-bait), it's that he tries to play the music-snob card without realizing how many musicians even outside of the Eagles' genre admire their work: their skillfully precise vocal harmonies, the catchiness of their tunes and hooks, the adeptness with which their lyrics skewered fame games and the California Dream.

But Kuntzman doesn't really dispute the Eagles' prowess on musical grounds, as the lameness of his attacks shows.

His first objection is, "Through the early 1970s, the Eagles defined the 'easy listening' genre, as if rock and roll is supposed to be a warm glass of milk to get you to bed."

First, his chronology is off by a few years. Second, the Eagles didn't define "easy listening" because they were never considered as such; first they were country rock, later arena rock. They had a few soft-rock ballads, sure, but that genre is distinct from easy listening. Try falling asleep while this classic from Desperado is playing:

Lesson: don't judge an album band by the singles radio chooses to play. Or, more likely, don't judge a band without actually listening to its albums.

Later he writes, "How generic were the Eagles? When the much edgier and much more musically inventive Steely Dan needed a band to mock, it chose the Eagles." The reference is to a line in the Dan song "Everything You Did": "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening." Guess what?: Dan co-leader Walter Becker's girlfriend played the Eagles a lot; he was drawing on real life.

Eventually Kuntzman gets around to what he seems to consider the coup de grace: quoting The Big Lebowski re: The Dude's hatred of The Eagles. Because fictional characters are always solid testimony. Hey, I look like The Dude (as strangers inform me on the subway every week or so), and I like the Eagles. Fictional testimony balanced?

I also like the Sex Pistols, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Albert Ayler. These things are not mutually exclusive. Nor do I feel obliged to file the Eagles under "guilty pleasure." I don't think music automatically becomes uncool because lots of people like it, either.

I have a good friend, very knowledgeable about the '70s L.A. scene, who seriously dislikes the Eagles. She hasn't been dissing them on Facebook today. She is civilized and has manners. Here's hoping some other people learn some manners before the next pop star dies.

Steve Holtje

*A few feminist friends attacked him for once having had consensual sex with a 15-year-old groupie; I also saw pushback from other feminists who didn't like the groupie being denied agency -- it was actually a pretty interesting debate.

Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor. Last year, his soundtrack for director Enrico Cullen's film A Man Full of Days was heard at the film's debut screening at Anthology Film Archives, and more recently at the Lausanne Underground Film & Music FestivalThe CD of the soundtrack  was released in August by MechaBenzaiten Records (distributed by Forced Exposure).

Yep, yep, yep. The pity is

Yep, yep, yep. The pity is that a good critic - especially one circulated widely - can explain the success of a band or genre, whatever their opinion. In this case, there's also a great music culture angle: how the Eagles fit into an amazing, cross-pollinating collection of artists on the Elektra/Asylum/Nonsuch/Reprise labels. And then there's this: Frey and Henley guided the band to four consecutive number-one albums. Consecutive. Like the Eagles or not, but allow that the success of just one of those albums would have crushed most bands. Oh, and easy listening? "James Dean" would suggest otherwise. :)

Why people have the need to be jerks?

Amen to this.

I must say this

The Eagles created some of the most boring fluff ever. Then we were subjected to listening to all of the "hits" on the radio for the last 35 years or so. Not a fan. Never was a fan. I like challenging inventive music and The Eagles are simply Dullsville, USA. R.I.P. Glenn Frey.

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