The Eagles, past and presentBy Pocholo Concepcion
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Eagles, a prototype of the 1970s American band whose music endures in the classic rock genre, is in the news again after the release of its new double-DVD documentary, “History of the Eagles,” which the group is promoting with a world tour that kicked off July 19 in Massachusetts.
Part 1 of “History”—screened recently at SM Megamall courtesy of MCA Music, the local subsidiary of Universal Music Group which has distribution rights to the docu—opens with archival concert footage and interviews at the height of the Eagles’ popularity in 1977. The band members’ candor and humor are captured on film, with insightful moments that reveal their thoughts on fame, fortune, and what the future holds for a bunch of wild and carefree musicians.
The docu—directed by Alison Ellwood, a film editor and documentarist whose other works include “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter Thompson,” and “Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place”—proceeds with new interviews with all the band’s past and present members as they recall the Eagles’ roots and how fatigue, creative conflict, and money issues led to the exit of guitarist Bernie Leadon, bassist Randy Meisner and, later, guitarist Don Felder.
The band’s Filipino fans would be fascinated at how founding members Glenn Frey and Don Henley recount their beginnings as fledgling musicians in Detroit and Linden, Texas, respectively. Frey looks up to Bob Seger as an early mentor, while Henley credits Kenny Rogers for producing his first band’s album.
Frey and Henley would meet in Los Angeles, where they eventually formed the Eagles after playing as session musicians for Linda Ronstadt. One of the more interesting scenes show Frey recalling how he learned to write songs by hearing his friend and housemate Jackson Browne play parts of a song-in-progress over and over on the piano upon waking up till Browne got everything right.
Another point of interest: renowned British record producer Glyn Johns (Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, etc.) initially passing an offer to be at the helm of the Eagles’ debut album because he didn’t think the band had an identity—although he eventually accepted the job after hearing its vocal harmony, its trademark sound.
Much of the docu revolves around the band’s creative process—how songs like “Taking It Easy,” “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Hotel California” were written. Notable is how “Hotel California” started as an instrumental demo with “reggae-Spanish music” by Felder, which would become one of the band’s biggest hits.
Part 2 traces the Eagles’ 1994 comeback after breaking up in 1980, with revelations by guitarist Joe Walsh on how he had to kick his alcohol and drug dependence to be able to rejoin the band.
Frey and Henley, the band’s key members and main songwriting partners, give their own takes on why the Eagles decided to regroup—consequently writing new songs together as they did in the old days, and finding happiness and inspiration to keep playing as a group.
As senior citizens in their mid-60s, the band members have learned to appreciate life’s simple pleasures such as family; but Frey and Henley point out that, in the end, their existence and relevance are still all about the music. Henley, in particular, says that rock ‘n’ roll saved his life and gave it direction.
Pinoy musicians could learn a thing or two from this docu, especially on how to deal with the business side of their careers. In the case of the Eagles, it took manager Irving Azoff’s astute negotiating skills that gave the band the confidence to control its own destiny as composers and performers. As Henley quipped during the Eagles’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Irving “may be Satan, but at least he’s our Satan.”
There are loads of other amusing quotes in the docu that runs for over three hours. Watching it alone or with your buddies, one is bound to realize that, for a band to be successful, its songs have to last a lifetime.
The Eagles did it, and went on to become one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time.
“History of the Eagles” is available on standard DVD, Blu-Ray, and De Luxe editions in Astroplus/Astrovision, Odyssey Music and Video, and Fully Booked.