The Eagles, ‘The Long Run’ (12/79?)

Is Don Henley the white Jah? An odd question admit­tedly—but here is Henley, Eagles lead singer and co-writer, speaking with Charles M. Young of Rolling Stone for a recent cover story:

Young: “Because of all the money and power you’ve, accumulated you guys are looked on by some almost as gods.”
Henley: “I refuse to accept that responsibility.”
Young: “Well, you’ve got it, whether you want it or not.”
Henley: “If I do accept it, I wish people would get the songs right. If they don’t get it, I don’t want to be God. You remember the line, ‘Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends’ in ‘Hotel California’? I got a letter from a woman telling me I spelled the name of the car wrong. I can’t stand it that somebody out there thinks I can’t spell.”

The charitable may find this exchange tongue-in­-check—but not when it’s followed by an account of Henley trying to pick a fight with a member of Akron’s Rubber City Rebels because (it seemed to Young) “punks are less than masculine, can’t sing harmony, don’t care we’re all dying of radiation leakage, and their mothers do it with armadillos.” And it’s worth noting that it’s Henley, not Young, who slips into monotheistic usage. I mean, this guy takes himself seriously! He’s on the defensive! He’s got the only ulcer in the world that kicks up when it hears punk rock! More than 10 million copies of the first-class Hotel California and nearly a decade as leader of America’s top group under his belt and an ordinary New Wave band churning out a medley of “Sonic Reducer” and “God Save the Queen” has him rattled!

And not without reason. The record industry has waited all year for new releases by Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and the Eagles to save it from red ink—to bring customers into the stores and give the charts a little weight—but The Long Run is a satisfying number-one LP only by comparison to what it replaces: Get the Knack and In Through the Out Door. The Eagles’ sixth album isn’t dishonest, nor is the band just going through the motions, but The Long Run is such a tepid piece of work that it will probably have a longer run in the account books than in the hearts and minds of rock and roll fans anywhere. Hotel California was bursting with new ideas, new intelligence, new rocker’s muscle; I couldn’t wait to hear what the band would come up with next, but after almost three years my enthusiasm had gone the way of the Eagles momentum. Not only does the new record not claim a future, it hardly dents the present. Airplay stats are irrelevant; the new songs are on the radio, but they haven’t taken over the radio the way cuts from Hotel California (or “Lyin’ Eyes” or “Take it to the Limit”) did, because there are no take-over cuts on The Long Run. Deejay reaction to the disc seems pro forma, like book critics dutifully getting in line to take the new Vonnegut seriously, despite their, ah, reservations—after all, the guy has a loyal public, he gets people into the book shops, and he wears his ambitions on his sleeve, right along with his heart.

Well, so do the Eagles—display their ambitions, if not their heart—and thus at least two reviewers for major publications have compared The Long Run to Apocalypse Now. (Why? Don’t ask, they can’t tell you why), and Jay Cocks has expressed awe at the fact that only days after its release the new Eagles album could be heard in an English pub. What Cocks was really celebrating, whether he knew it or not, was less the magic of the Eagles than the marketing machinery of oligopoly capitalism; the steady sales of The Long Run are less a reflection on its content than on the near-hysterical conservatism of the American rock audience, which has, against all pop cult norms, now developed a long memory as its last line of defense against change.

The Eagles want respect with The Long Run; they want to be major. As Henley’s pronouncements and his nervousness suggest, they want to be brilliant and arrogant at the same time, but they can’t pull it off. Cast as a love song, the title tune is a metaphor about “who will go the distance” (the Eagles) and who won’t (punks, critics, amputees), “in the long run”; there’s nothing wrong with the idea, but the number is so dully sung and the key phrase so clumsily placed—you reel in the line and find a dead fish on the end—that the song becomes a joke on itself. “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks,” a noisy tale of frat-rat follies, is meant to sound as loose as “Double Shot or My Baby’s Love”; instead, you hear a lot of monied studio hi-tech, a helpless parody of the band’s intentions. “The King of Hollywood” is offered as a painfully, deliciously ironic study of a producer black­mailing a starlet into sexual slavery; we’re meant to be chilled by the ugliness of it all. Henley and Glenn Frey make the most of the vocals, but when they finally drop the producer’s voice and attack the creep directly, all they can think of to say is that “the man just isn’t big enough”—suggesting, it seems, that if he were big enough (as big as say, Irving Azoff), it wouldn’t really matter what the fucker did. That may not be the message Henley and Frey meant to leave us with, but it’s as far as their vision allows them to go.

All through The Long Run, you can hear the Eagles pressing. It’s as if, after the surprising wit and flair of Hotel California, they psyched themselves right out of the ballgame: every cut wants to be more than it is, or something other than what it turned out to be. Harried by the specter of a new kind of rock and roll, the Eagles sound complacent, which they surely aren’t; trying for a rave-up, they can’t even find a good beat. Having proved themselves a better band than their detractors ever dreamed they could be, the Eagles have turned around and lived up to every put-down. They sound merely arrogant—or tired by the pose, as if they exhausted it long ago, and just can’t remember what it was they used instead in those few but memorable moments when they made you know they didn’t need it.

Village Voice, December 1979 (date TBC)

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