New Eagles Doc Shows Feathered Friends Didn't Always Have Peaceful Easy Feelings
Who looks happy here? The Eagles near their breakup: Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit.
History of the Eagles Jigsaw Productions, 3-DVD, $34.99
Originally shown as a two-part special on Showtime earlier this year, History of the Eagles arrives for home consumption in a variety of formats. The most user (and wallet)-friendly is this 3-DVD version that also includes a bonus disc of highlights from a 1977 concert on the Hotel California tour.
Disc 1 chronicles the story of the band from the members' early groups to their stint backing Linda Ronstadt to their instant and massive success until an acrimonious 1980 breakup due to a deadly mixture of cocaine (which Glenn Frey notes "brought out the worst in everybody"), egos and fatigue.
And while it's admirable that screen time is also given to former band members Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, and Don Felder -- none of whom left under good circumstances -- this nest has clearly always been run by Don Henley and Glenn Frey in a not-always-benevolent dictatorship.
One can certainly make the case that, as the group's main singers and songwriters (as well as co-founders), that's to be expected. But it's clear that the pair still can hold a grudge decades later -- with Leadon and Felder getting the most fire.
Joe Walsh provides the everyman, detached comic relief and wild-man hotel-wrecking stories, and Timothy B. Schmit is simply happy to have been invited to the party, albeit one that was winding down.
The amount of rare footage -- much if of the band backstage, in hotels, and just clowning around -- is great to watch. And additional new interviews with other musicians (Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Kenny Rogers, J.D. Souther), execs (David Geffen, Irving Azoff), and studio guys (Glyn Johns, Bill Szymczyk), offer other perspectives on the band and their music.
It's also interesting to note that, while country-rock and Eagles music is ubiquitous and overly familiar in 2013 -- their compilation Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 was the biggest-selling record of the 20th century -- in the early '70s is was a fresh, new sound, a laid-back groove who's mantras were "Take it Easy" with a "Peaceful Easy Feeling" after the turbulent '60s.
And while other rock acts had gone country before (Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco) it was the Eagles who took that sound to mass popularity and in turn paved the way for scores of other groups in rock and country alike.
As for the song "Hotel California" -- whose lyrics have been discussed, debated, and analyzed to death and said to mean everything from a Satanic visit to the end of the '60s -- co-writer Henley offers only this: "It's the story of a journey from innocence to experience. That's it." He prefers that the song hold some mystery and have multiple meanings for its listeners.
Disc 2 picks up the band's story from its 1994 Hell Freezes Over reunion on record and stage up to today. "People don't just listen to the Eagles... they do things to the Eagles," Frey recalls being told. And indeed, the band comes to grips with its legacy as the invention of the classic-rock radio format in the '80s made sure that their music never left the airwaves.
Another thing of interest here is how the reunion almost got derailed -- earlier by Frey's reluctance and then by Walsh's substance abuse. He eventually got clean and sober with the band's help. Not so lucky was Felder, who was ousted from the group in 2001 due to business and financial disagreements.
Tellingly, we get Henley and Frey's version of the split, but not Felder's, who is last seen tearfully getting out of his interview chair while recounting his firing. Of course, nothing is said about Felder's tell-all book, Heaven and Hell.
The DVD ends with the Eagles (or is it just "Eagles," without the modifier? Even the official history can't decide) still playing to sell-out crowds around the world, and basking in the No. 1 success of their 2007 double CD release Long Road Out of Eden.
In the end, it's Henley who -- despite his humorless interview segments -- who has the best analogy about the Eagles, likening it 40 years into their career like his old John Deere tractor. It may have a lot of rust on the outside, but it works just fine on the inside. And the rust shows character and experience and long roads traveled.