A Not So Peaceful, Easy Feeling
January 19, 2016
Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey died unexpectedly on Monday (1/18), and among many other emotions that immediately hit me, there’s this: Thanks a lot, cruel world, cosmos, fate, or whoever and whatever higher being may be responsible. Thanks for callously snatching the last vestiges of youth right out of my body and soul. Thanks for the abrupt – and unwanted – official transition to adulthood. Sure, I’m past 50, married more than 30 years with three grown sons, a daughter nearing college, a mortgage, car payments, and a job I really need. I mean, you dinged me big time with David Bowie, but Glenn Frey? Man. Not to mention, ouch. This one stings – a deep, searing, sustained kind of hurt that, when still fresh, required hours of personal reflection – and lots of Eagles music.
Along with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and others, the Eagles created – and then personified – what’s known as the Southern California, or Los Angeles sound. As someone who grew up during their collective rise to fame and peak years – and who did so IN Southern California and specifically LA, where they lived and worked, believe me when I tell you the local, SoCal factor was not lost on me or my friends. We felt a genuine connection to these artists and believed they belonged to us; they WERE one of us. Though I never saw the Eagles live in that era (more on that in a moment), I did see Linda Ronstadt in concert at the Universal Amphitheater, before it even had a roof and long before its recent closing. The 18-year-old me watched her sing under the stars on a Summer night when she arrived onstage in shorts, wearing a Cub Scout uniform. The 18-year-old me that evening also fantasized about an even stronger connection with Ronstadt, but that’s another story.
As soon as the Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits” album was released in early 1976, it was pretty much standard issue for everyone I knew. I had the vinyl copy, of course, but my car ('67 Camaro, btw) had the most technically sophisticated music delivery system known at the time: something called an eight-track tape. Along with Boston’s debut album, this became my first-ever, heavy-rotation-in-the-car album experience. What I remember most about that version of “Their Greatest Hits” was a rather annoying, mid-song jump during “Already Gone” from track one to track two, which occurred right after Frey sang the lyric “Heaven knows it wasn’t you that set me free,” and just as that badass, screeching guitar lick which preceded “So often times it happens, that we live our lives in chains / And we never even know we have the key,” faded out.
Later in ’76, the iconic “Hotel California” was released, and that too became a necessary part of any red-blooded American male teen’s eight-track collection. I had a chance to see the Eagles during my senior year of High School – a Thursday night concert at the Forum in LA – but I declined. It was football season, and we had a game the next night. I had a self-imposed 10pm pre-game curfew during the season, plus I had to take the SAT exam on Saturday, the morning AFTER our game (Editor’s note: We got crushed by Loyola HS, 24-7, SAT results were equally disappointing).
Flash to 1994 and the Eagles “Hell Freezes Over” tour – Now in radio and shamelessly using my industry connections, I saw the opening night of that tour at another venue no longer with us, Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, eventually called Verizon Amphitheater. I attended two more shows that year: Blockbuster Pavilion in Devore, CA, and the Rose Bowl under a constant, light rain. I saw them again in 2005, ironically on the eve of our KZLA Country Bash, which took place at my first-ever live Eagles show venue, Verizon Amphitheater. At all four shows over that 11 year span, they were just fantastic. I found the Eagles to be an amazing, tight BAND, whose songs were absolutely timeless and fresh. And on that first night back after 14 years away – the drummer for the entire show was Don Henley. No need to be out front – except for an acoustic set – he was the band’s drummer. Period. I had backstage access and even heard their sound check. They opened with “Hotel California.” Totally worth the 19-year wait.
I enjoyed them as a fan, of course, but by that time I could also say – proudly – that as a radio guy, I had played their music on the air, too. See, the Eagles never really went away. Ever. Even when they disappeared for 14 years. Classic Rock was born in the early 80s, shortly after the band shut it down, and Eagles music was a mainstay. And there was a period in the mid-80s when many Country stations routinely played Eagles music as Gold titles, because songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Lyin' Eyes,” and “Tequila Sunrise” were – in reality – always Country songs, and now they were a perfect fit. I always loved “Lyin’ Eyes” the most, because at 7:21, it was a terrific bathroom song.
But the Eagles never went away from Country radio either, even when the class of ’89 burst on the scene, changed the musical landscape, and their gold titles were transitioned out. In 1993, “Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles” was released with Country artists covering the band’s signature songs. It won the CMA Album Of The Year Award with Travis Tritt’s version of “Take It Easy” sticking around for years after as a Gold title. Ditto Clint Black’s take on “Desperado.” During the video shoot for “Take It Easy,” Frey and fellow Eagles Don Henley, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit made a cameo appearance. According to Frey in the excellent 2012 “History of The Eagles” documentary, this planted the seed for their eventual “Hell Freezes Over” reunion album and tour, the latter of which kicked off in May of 1994.
So you can see how I – and many, many others in this business – were personally touched by the Eagles music and Glenn Frey’s passing on both a personal and professional level. I really did go home and spent most of Monday night surfing around for videos of live Eagles performances. Thankfully, there are thousands of them. And I pulled up the “History Of The Eagles” documentary I mentioned earlier, staying up way past what I refer to as “The Red Zone” to relive the band’s incredibly long history. Totally worth today’s early alarm, and great therapy while working through a profound loss and searching for any kind of “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Because closure is always good - now that I'm officially an adult, I understand that.