Friday, June 7, 2013


So what did I learn from watching this four-hour Eagles biography?  Plenty.  Hardly anything about their music, but a ton of facts I didn't know, and a whole lot more about what kind of people they were.  And believe me, not very much is pretty.  It's hard to come away with much sympathy for any of them, especially Glenn Frey, who comes off as an aggressive, domineering, egomaniac.  He hides behind each hurtful decision with the excuse that what he's doing is best for The Eagles.  But when he says The Eagles, what he means is Glenn Frey.

Every full participant in the band story is here, including past members and producers, all willing to tell their side, but just like in life, Frey's word in the film is final too.  Bernie Leadon wanted to stick with country when the band was moving towards pop-rock?  He's gone.  Original producer Glyn Johns, who crafted those early country-harmony records?  Zip, he's out.  Founding bassist and singer Randy Meisner, when he didn't want to sing the incredible high line on his hit, Take It To The Limit?  See ya.  Then there's the strange case of Don Felder, out not once but twice.  For the crime of not being 100 per cent behind a political benefit show for Senator Alan Cranston, he incurred the wrath of Frey in 1980.  Amazing audio tape from the show reveals them threatening each other on stage, vowing to fight once the show is over.  Frey can't contain his disgust at him all these decades later.  Somehow though, Felder did get re-hired when the band reformed in 1994.  Re-hired is the optimal word though; Frey boldly admits he insisted that he and Henley get a bigger share of the dough than the others, a sore point for Felder that eventually festered again, leading to his dismissal once more.  His choking up when explaining that he misses his friends and the music is one of the few human moments in the film.

Don Henley seems to have let Frey be the more vocal partner in everything, including the documentary.  He takes the role of philosopher, but certainly must shoulder some of the blame, too.  He speaks with pride about his Walden Woods charity, yet at the same time brags about the group's exclusive deal with Wal-Mart to sell their Long Road Out Of Eden album in 2006, which was a business decision that made them millions, yet put them in bed with a company that does much more to harm the U.S. than the developers who wanted to harm Walden.

Paradoxically, as all this unfolds, the excellent music plays behind, almost as a back-story to the soap opera and exploits.  We hear about lawsuits with David Geffen (who also appears), wild and constant parties, the business reasons behind it all, and not once but twice does manager Irving Azoff remind us that the Eagles Greatest Hits was the biggest selling album in the 20th century.  Meanwhile, songs seemed to drop into their laps with the slightest bit of inspiration.  Maybe this speaks about the music, that perhaps it was all form and little substance.  Whatever, they wrote a heck of a lot of great radio tunes.

Disc one gives the history up to the break-up in 1980, and is the most interesting part of the film.  Disc two is the reformation, the continuing "farewell" tours, and a huge amount of time is spent on the making of the Long Road Out Of Eden disc, probably because they shot loads of documentary footage then.  It pales compared to the first half.  A third disc features a live concert, and the good news here is that it's from 1977, the band in their heyday, not one of the sterile reunion shows, with extra musicians.  Without question, this is one of the best warts-and-all music docs ever made, hardly any stone unturned.  Sadly though, I came out thinking less of the participants, and worrying this will ruin their music for me in the future.

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