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An Eagle Is Earthbound, and There's No Tranquility Here

Larry Wines: Precious few performing songwriters have reached such a broadly disparate spectrum of the planet's population as Glenn Frey. Even prolific Bob Dylan hasn't written as many songs that ordinary people are able to sing from memory.

Glenn Frey is gone at the age of 67. Today the arts are diminished. If you don't know his name, that's because his central role in a superb musical collaborative took primacy over a need to have his own name in lights. To different degrees, that has been true for each of the group's members. Together they were, and forever will be, the Eagles. Or, as comedian and banjo virtuoso Steve Martin tells us, "It's just 'Eagles.' There is no 'the,' and they don't need one."

glenn frey

Perhaps. Grammatically, it's awkward to simply say Eagles in every circumstance. Besides, if anyone ever rated the distinct singularity of "the" anything, it is the Eagles.

They have long been an iconic band of important creative forces whose total always, in fulfillment of the cliche, has been more than the sum of its individual parts. Glenn Frey was a central armature for those parts.

Precious few performing songwriters have reached such a broadly disparate spectrum of the planet's population as Glenn Frey. Even prolific Bob Dylan hasn't written as many songs that ordinary people are able to sing from memory.

Precious few performing songwriters have reached such a broadly disparate spectrum of the planet's population as Glenn Frey. Even prolific Bob Dylan hasn't written as many songs that ordinary people are able to sing from memory.

The Eagles, collectively, are in that pantheon of Folk-Americana artists — in their case, having arrived on the road from far-flung rockville.

With lyrics like, "So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key," their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was assured long before their induction.

In their long run in music, the Eagles' initial time together yielded six studio albums from 1972-1979, filled with diversity, and never tempting anyone to accuse them of purveying more that sounded like what they'd already done. The Eagles sold more records during the decade of the '70s than any other American band.

Few bands but the Beatles have enjoyed unabated popularity years after they last performed or recorded together. The Eagles records still sold. Demands for radio airplay were continuous. In 1993, a plethora of music stars recorded a tribute album of Eagles hits.

In 1994, there came a joyous explosion of news that the band was back together and that two shows in L.A. would bring a fresh album. Comprised of both live and studio tracks, it was "Hell Freezes Over," named in reference to the oft-given dismissive answer about when they were getting back together. That album includes the quip, "For the record we never broke up. We just took a fourteen year vacation."

They were back. They've remained a top touring act, playing stadiums and arenas. Awards, accolades, and more records have followed, from the band and its individual members — often supported by fellow Eagles. And as it always does, that comfortably lured us into believing things would always be fine. But human beings have limits to durability, whether or not we want the warranty to expire.

Let's face it: 2016 just isn't off to a good start. Stock markets are collapsing — which actually gives us perverse joy, since the rich may finally get a dose of what they've given everyone else. But when creative souls leave us against a backdrop of decline, things in general do seem rather terrible.

In this still-young year, we've lost David Bowie, whose influential avant-garde originality as a multifaceted artist was inestimable.

Granted, when we wrote about Bowie's loss last week, it required interpreting creative genius that often felt inscrutable and aloof. Glenn Frey's departure feels very personal. Perhaps it's harder to take because of this 2016 trend.

We've lost actor Dan Haggerty, whose tv role as "Grizzly Adams" supported a growing popular awareness of wildlife, the need to stop the rapid loss of habitat, and to protect public lands. That's an appropriate place to note that the same theme is realized in the Eagles' powerful song, "The Last Resort," a Don Henley / Glenn Frey co-write.

At least we have the music and its transformative influence. Otherwise, 2016 is a real downer. We've seen one of our two major political parties trade-in its clown car for a clown bus, and emulate the pedal-to-the-metal sequence from "Thelma and Louise," climate-change-denying itself into oblivion, all the way over the edge.

Disasters in the arts are enough on their own. We got the Oscar nominations — ironically just before the holiday dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — wherein, for the second year in a row, no persons of color are to be considered for awards. That, in spite of 2015 being a year of exceptionally strong theatrically-released films, spanning an amazing variety of subjects, topics, themes, creative endeavor, and diversity. A year of films filled with stellar performances, compelling stories, and great screenplays. Now it's 2016, reason has been trumped, ignorance is on cruz control, and the universe is out of whack. Or perhaps the gurus who pretend to run the arts need to consult their Shakespeare, where he wrote, "The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Then, without the time to consider the outrage of loss by snub and slight and unfairness and insensitivity, we're reminded of the importance of remaining engaged in this, the too brief time each of us can share. Because now we've been handed yet another of those losses where reconsideration, reconcilliation, a phone call not made, an email not sent, is irrevocably too late, forever undeliverable.

We've lost Glenn Frey, essential Eagles partner, a true icon of the rock era, moreover, of a select catalog of American music that defines our image and culture around the globe. When you apply it to Glenn Frey, the overused moniker of "singer-songwriter-guitarist" actually means something — in current parlance, something truly 'uge. Consider this: everyone who knows music knows that, and no one needs to explain why. And if you ever need a way to assess someone's impact, that speaks volumes.

The Eagles — every bit as much as James Taylor or Neil Young or Carole King, John Denver or Joni Mitchell, and far more enduringly than Nanci Griffith, Dan Fogelberg, the Grass Roots, the band America, Kansas, and any others you care to name — seized music back, in the '70s, from the British Invasion of the 1960s.

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As an Eagles architect, Glenn Frey is prominent among the select harvest of early '70s musicians who re-Americanized the sensibilities of music, musicians, anyone listening to the radio, and everyone buying vinyl discs and tape cassettes. Frey ranks among the post tie-dyed blue-jean elite whose lyric-driven rock gave the boot to a Nixon-fatigued trend of "Up with People" rah-rah and of dress-alike, dance-moves-in-unison silly pop pablum. Eagles songs had words you wanted to learn, and you still sing them now when you hear them, in celebration of the opportunity.

Before anyone began using the term "Americana" as a music genre, the Eagles were atop one pillar of the tripod that would comprise it. Before Nashville hijacked Country, divorced it from Western, and imposed its fahke-tee-wang, peekup-truk, hawn-dawg tyranny of insult-to-the-cowboy / feathered taco-hat fakery? The Eagles were telling country ballad tales that reached deep within you and sent your spirit on a journey, out onto the open road, giddy to see what was beyond the horizon.

The Eagles had music's best all-male four-part harmonies, more upbeat than CSN even when they were CSN&Y. And they had signature guitar licks and riffs crafted, in large measure, by Glen Frey. If you doubt that, consider that Vince Gill, himself an ace guitarist, cites Frey's playing as "without peer," despite the fact that Joe Walsh and Don Felder may have had the lion's share of leads in the group's most iconic recordings. As Gill observed, Glenn Frey brought the instrumental soul.

Together, the Eagles sound was often defined as "laid-back California rock." But that's far too simplistic and exclusionary.

As a native Californian, I wish that all of us in the Golden State could lay claim to the scope and span and reach of the hefty Eagles catalog. Many reviews — and no doubt now, tributes — cite the Eagles' left-coast influence, present long before Frey co-wrote "Hotel California." But the sensibilities of the group's music, in its recordings and live performances alike, is as diverse as the members' geographic origins and straight from the heartland.

That's the storied and mythical heartland, the way everyone imagines, indeed expects, things to be where you drive past the grain elevator, wave at the guy aboard the big green John Deere waiting for the freight train at the wood crossbucks (the same tracks where the "Midnight Flyer" raced past), and where you take the last left before the river bridge — the first of seven bridges on that narrow, winding country road.

The imagery transcends even the formidability of Eagles' lyrical memories. The music enables it, and fuels road-ready creations that never needed a push start. It endures as American myth. Across generations of Eagles fans, whether the song was written by Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, Timothy B. Schmit, Jack Tempchin, or in one notable case, as a Jackson Browne co-write with Frey ("Take it Easy") — or in some interaction with their cadre of collaborators — or most often, as the creative outcomes of two or three Eagles composing and wordsmithing and being essential poets and picking strings together, all of it endures.

It's never fair to cite one individual as indispensable in a collaborative coalition where all the pieces combine in a mosaic of seamless sound. But many will plead the case that Glenn Frey and Don Henley, even with one now gone, are the soundtrack of the idealized America, quite often the America we wish we were.

We'll add that the two, Frey and Henley, are — as much as any of us can be in an age that glorifies the disposable — the heart and soul of the most lyrically influential musical collaborative in America since the Beatles left, and quite possibly the most poetic artists this side of Bob Dylan.

The Eagles collectively reach into our culture, revealing our strengths and foibles, our complexities of exploitation, the simplicities we honestly desire, and the distillation of all of it onto the face of a mirror of music that presents those reflected visions, has been a phenomenal fulfillment. It's Horatio Alger meets Frank Capra, with exposés of malevolent purveyors of bullshit we should know better than to accept, weak people who exploit our sympathies, and a cameo by the streamlined steam-powered passenger train you never got to ride.

Who else took-on the obsession with modern media-driven culture, and did it with such focused insight that "Life in the Fast Lane," their 1976 anthem, is still as relevant today? And what about their scathing indictment of justifying irresponsibility as society's default mechanism — including the still-present trend of everyone going to court to make their shortcomings someone else's fault? It's all there in 1994's grow-up-and-stop-whining classic, "Get Over It."

Both those songs are Glenn Frey co-writes, and he is largely to thank that the Eagles always had plenty to say. From the perspective of social historian and musicologist alike, the Eagles are, have long been, and always will be the best kind of poets, important voices who confront and make us examine, but do it with superb melody lines and killer harmonies.

Will the rest of the band — I suppose they'll now be called "the surviving members" — ever perform again? Certainly they'll reconvene in Washington, D.C., to receive the honor they had to postpone in 2015 due to Frey's declining health. But performing together without Frey? Time will tell.

'Til then, in a medley of song titles in which Glenn Frey shares writing credits, we offer a narrative: Mr. Frey, from the time you arrived from Detroit as the "New Kid in Town," "I Can't Tell You Why" our L.A. music scene's "Life in the Fast Lane" and our "Wasted Time" still left time to ponder "The Girl from Yesterday" who we met in the bar at the "Hotel California" and who left us feeling like a "Desperado" after another "Tequila Sunrise." It'll take us a long time to "Get Over It" and "Take it Easy." Meanwhile, you kept us attuned to the inescapably serious, upon sensing the "Lyin' Eyes" of those who wanted us to celebrate the rich men who came to rape the land, developing "The Last Resort," because if you call some place paradise, you kiss it goodbye.

All those, and other Eagles and Glenn Frey songs, were essentially inaccessible Tuesday morning on YouTube, where demand exceeded the site's ability to deliver the tracks.

People magazine wasted no time listing 20 essential Glenn Frey songs and links to hear some of them. Many fans compiled and posted recordings from their collections. CNN has five Frey songs on its high-capacity site.

Precious few songwriters forever alter our perspectives and perceptions. Their songs change our frame of reference. Without that, could we be ready to go runnin' down the road to loosen our load of mundane burdens, whether or not the agenda includes lookin' for a lover who won't blow our cover?

And there's the very name of the band who sang that bunch of songs, all with words that have nothing whatever to do with feathered raptors. But because they did, we will crane our necks skyward whenever we take to that open road, always in hopes of spying a lofty eagle adjusting his wingtip feathers, just hanging out up there to take it all in. And perhaps to reinterpret for us a bit of what it all means.

After all, we're always just a few blocks away from standing on a corner in some kind of Winslow, Arizona, waiting for that smiling girl in a flatbed Ford to pull up to the curb. There's a new Glenn Frey tune coming out of heat-cracked, sun-dried speakers on her radio. We hear the music even as the truck rolls to a stop, red and turquoise tinged sands swirling in its wake, completing the vision of the Painted Desert. Where tonight there are a million stars all around, sparkling like the earrings against her skin so brown.

Palpable images tied to memories and possibilities, thanks to the music. If you pause and just listen, the wind itself plays a faint beckoning tune. A tune we might never have heard without the magic of songwriters who told us it was there, and a band that transported us where we could hear it.


Thanks, Glenn. Even as you struggled with your own health and well-being, we hope you didn't "let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy." Because we sure did enjoy the ride.

Larry Wines