History of the Eagles Jan 28, 2018 11:46:09 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jan 28, 2018 11:46:09 GMT -5
History of the Eagles (2013)
Directed by: Alison Ellwood
Directed by: Alison Ellwood
Such a lovely place.
It started as a gamble. Everyone else was in a band and finding tangible success, why couldn't they? Working as a backup guitarist proved to be a fruitful gig for dozens of shows, but the temptation grew. A dynamic clicked with a fellow guitar-player that eventually served as the foundational partnership for a much larger venture. Throw in good songwriting skills between both men, their ability to recruit those who could great talent, and a collective harmony that, when perfectly executed, could please even the most discriminating set of ears, and you had something undeniably special - The Four Seasons of 1970s rock and roll. That something, like most somethings, became complicated. Fights broke out, fractions formed, drug-use and recklessness took over, and everything seemed to dissipate as a result of flaring tensions. But the world was still listening. And with that listening came wondering.
Speak of the monstrously successful rock-band, the Eagles, in abstract-terms and generalities, and you begin to realize that their story could serve as even the most idealistic description of a band rising to international fame. At the same time, you couldn't write the story of rock and roll without devoting at least a chapter to the Eagles and their pioneering LA sound, which was more-so a melting pot of regional musical tropes. It was also a sound that coincided with the success of Bob Seger and yacht rock artists like Jackson Browne, although it wasn't their greatest hits albums that served as the best selling album of the 20th century.
While most bands could make great use of a three-plus hour documentary, one of the bands that truly deserves that kind of extensive profile is the Eagles, and Alison Ellwood's two-part History of the Eagles is a masterclass of the tricky but rewarding genre of music documentaries. It achieves a rare but eminently compelling balance of interviews, archival footage, concert footage, behind the scenes extras, musical montage, and structure. It should, in some ways, come as no surprise: Ellwood has worked alongside documentarian Alex Gibney (who serves as the documentary's producer) for years and demonstrates both what she's learned and perhaps what she's taught him throughout his long career.
"Part One" tells us the origin stories of some of our favorite songs. Co-founders of the band, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, make up most of the beginning portion, as they detail their humble, musically involved beginnings in Linden, Texas and Detroit, respectively. Henley went to North Texas State University, successfully paying a good portion of the tuition with money he made with his band touring while Frey started earlier, playing with J. D. Souther in the late 1960s. Frey also became close with Jackson Browne — who sang one of my all-time favorite rock songs "Running on Empty" — and the two shared an apartment together in a secluded neighborhood in California. Frey doesn't leave a detail out. He talks about Browne's meticulous songwriting style and how each morning would beginwith the basement (Frey lived on the first floor, Browne beneath him) filling with the noises of Browne's teapot as well as painstakingly rehearsed melodies and lyrics in order to get the details of a song right. The one song he couldn't finish? "Take it Easy," which he gave to Frey to complete. He was hung up on what should follow the lyric, "I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona." Sing it if you know it.
Ellwood's documentary is filled with these fascinating details. Eventually, Henley and Frey met as backup guitar players for the great Linda Ronstadt. When they decided they'd want to form a band together, they recruited the talents of Bernie Leadon of The Flying Burrito Brothers and Randy Meisner, a high-voiced bass singer. The Eagles sound formed quickly upon signing to Asylum Records, an artist-oriented label, as singles like "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Take it Easy" showed the incredible potential of these unique men coming into their own sound by way of building off of the melodies of their fellow band-members. When their eponymous debut album succeeded, Henley recalls seeing success, in that moment, as something just as scary as failure, especially when you yourself question your worthiness. Henley clearly saw himself as a regular person at the time: a music lover first and a singer-songwriter second. He didn't see himself as worthy of more recognition than the next starving artist, but at that point, like Frey and the rest of the band, they couldn't stop there.
Then came their sophomore release Desperado, a western-themed concept album that bombed hard and created friction with their producer and mixer Glyn Johns, the man responsible for producing many Led Zeppelin and Beatles tracks. The group ousted Johns as their producer for failing to adequately mix their album and tailor it to the LA sound, which was always seeking new influences. James Gang great Joe Walsh was soon brought in to give the band added attitude and dimension, who soon became as irreplaceable as his famous Stratocaster. Also brought in to complete the band dynamic was Don Felder, who conceived many melodies, including the inimitable "Hotel California" — which the band has fun laughing at in regards to its notoriety and all the backlash the song inspired — and "Victim of Love." The latter track was the ember that ignited the fire of tensions between Felder and Frey when it was insisted that Henley would be the one who would sing the lyrics of the song.
"Part One" does a great job at showing that a leaderless band simultaneously becomes led by personal self-interest and downright narcissism. The band's backbone was always Henley and Frey, but that doesn't mean that relationship was always conveyed to be the most powerful one that also benefited the most. While Walsh and Meisner's eventual replacement Timothy B. Schmit understood business and exposure favored the co-founders, Felder found it to be an unfair arrangement. He, like Schmit, harbored romantic ideas of what the band should be: equal exposure and opportunity for all involved, even though that concept is little else besides romantic idealism of what a band could be if it never experienced any kind of problem. "Part One" winds up concluding after the band's long-in-production album The Long Run is released, and an unsubtle remark by one of the bandmembers during a political concert results in one of America's greatest bands disbanding right at the dawn of the 1980s.
The significantly shorter "Part Two" begins with perhaps the most uncontroversial statement made by Glenn Frey of all people, and that is him vocalizing the opinions of fans who not only listened to Eagles songs but "did things" to them. They took road-trips, they broke-up with lovers, they partied, and they went on adventures all with songs like "Take it to the Limit" and "Already Gone" serving as their soundtracks. Ellwood's followup installment chronicles the solo careers of Henley and Frey, which both saw some form of success. Henley became an MTV staple and his songs like "Dirty Laundry" and "The Boys of Summer" still remaining firmly etched into the playlists of rock and roll stations to this day, while Frey's success, despite being significantly more modest, culminated with a rock-solid debut in the form of No Fun Aloud, his first album.
Furthermore, Ellwood explores the Eagles' 1994 reunion, which culminated in an explosively popular international tour, with sold-out shows happening in Europe, Dublin, and China. Over the course of two years and nine months, Frey states, the Eagles had traveled the world, and in the process, the group jammed with Travis Tritt in his music video for "Take it Easy," they remained close with their respective families, and Henley started his "Walden Woods Project" in efforts to preserve the rich wildlife in Massachusetts. Henley grew to love Walden Woods after reading a great deal of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson in college, which might tell you a thing or two about the rich symbolism in many of Henley's music.
This period didn't omit its own level of turmoil, however, once again being marked by friction between Felder and Frey, which partly led to the band's imposed method of "independent isolation" when traveling between shows. Where Frey found that one way to assure he'd minimize what could be viewed as his domineering presence would be for the band to take separate transportation to their concerts, Felder found this lacked the great dynamic a band was supposed to be. By then, the Eagles were functional because of what they lacked, which was intimacy and friendship, and those attributes replaced what was once a healthy relationship between the men. However, what they also lacked was the burden of excessive drug and alcohol use which nearly killed Walsh and greatly hindered recording sessions. Exclusive footage of the band contently rehearsing together in the 1990s looks like they are all mentally clear and excited to be in the presence of each other creating energy and memories for their fans.
But the newly implemented rules of their reunion did amount to some success and a new album in the form of Long Road Out of Eden, a Wal-Mart/Sam's Club exclusive double-disc release that bypassed the compromising language of label contracts that got the band into trouble in the past. After the release of the documentary, the band continued to tour. I managed to see them when they stopped in Illinois during the fall of 2013 in what was an incredible live performance, marked by a homey, campfire-theme the four men created and effortlessly maintained for over three hours. They would continue touring until the death of Frey in 2016, only to resume once again the following year with his son intermittently filling the void of his father.
Viewing their oeuvre with the rose-colored glasses of the past and in the context of the present, the Eagles represented everything that was real and imagined about the 1970s as a decade, especially the west coast lifestyle. Souther pithily states that the Eagles' music allows you to remember the 70s and also felt like you experienced it even if you didn't. Walsh remains confident that the period they so expertly captured will go on to be viewed as a definitive focal point in American history similar to the way the Roaring Twenties earns its name and nostalgia. I think we're at the point where we can say that has been the case.
As for Alison Ellwood, she has made an exceptional documentary as well as a beautifully comprehensive look at one of the most checkered bands of any era. Striking an equitable arrangement between what many fans know and what they might be surprised to find out, while having no fear of placing verses, choruses, and famous melodies into the foreground for viewers to enjoy, History of the Eagles winds up being a masterpiece of informational cinema. It gleams as brightly as a tequila sunrise while leaving none of its hangover.
Directed by: Alison Ellwood.