“Rolling Stone” Flies With The Eagles

anono | May 21, 2008 1:00 am

Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Rolling Stone:

This week, Keyboard Krybaby comes not to bury the May 29 Rolling Stone, but to praise it. The issue features a cover story on the Eagles–a story that may seem a bit late, as their first album in 30 years was released five months ago. But based on the comment traffic to last week’s post regarding this cover image, y’all seem to be interested in this most smug of rock bands.

He’ll waste no time and say that his praise is tinged with bias. The writer of this issue’s cover story is a guy who KK has had dinner with a number of times and has otherwise been friendly with since the early ’90s, when said writer was an editor and KK was an intern at Musician. He’s also pretty much KK’s favorite writer to have ever practiced music journalism, one who deserves as much recognition as Lester Bangs.

Now some backstory: when Charles M. Young came to work at Rolling Stone in the mid-’70s, the Nixon/Hunter S. Thompson era that most consider its apex was coming to a close. The mag’s music coverage had long been in the doldrums; even then, it seems the the staff were dismissive of disco, Kiss, and all manner of musical developments past James Taylor. Young came along, was noticeably unafflicted by baby boomer exceptionalism, and proceeded to have an open mind towards artists that RS kept at arm’s length.

Young covered the CBGB diaspora, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Ted Nugent, and Parliament/Funkadelic with gusto, trenchant wit, and, above all, curiosity. He didn’t have to like the artist’s music in order for him to recognize a good quote, observe funny shit, or explore what made one human or another tick, and he was Rolling Stone‘s first music beat writer in a long time to offer anything in the way of penetrating insight (Cameron Crowe, an RS music writer a good five years younger than Young, was regarded as a bit too fannish, which should be clear to anyone who’s seen the remarkably shitty Almost Famous).

Young was also apparently the only RS staffer who understood punk rock in 1977: he insisted that he go over to London to profile the Sex Pistols that year when everyone else he worked with probably wondered why he wasn’t more interested in an audience with, say, Linda Ronstadt. But he got his story, “Rock is Alive and Sick in London”: while the issue took a notorious dive on the newsstand, it’s looked at as a highwater mark in RS‘ history. He got it right, and for a few years afterwards, he was the mag’s star music scribe, often referred to therein as the Reverend Charles M. Young.

At the same time, the magazine and the Eagles sustained a mutually antagonistic relationship. Henley and Co. represented a nakedly careerist, hedonistic, and misogynistic version of RS‘s beloved Jackson Browne. KK wouldn’t be surprised if the persistent rivalry between Los Angelenos and San Franciscans comes into play, as Rolling Stone was based in SF until 1977; the disaffection continued when RS moved to New York City, which the Eagles also did not like. These days, the Eagles are simply an enormous, totemic rock band that represents the way shit used to be, and so naturally Rolling Stone comes calling, two weeks after running with a cover story on the chicks from The Hills, a more recent exponent of Hollywood decadence. But 30 years ago, Rolling Stone and the Eagles no likey.

Roundabout 1978, the Eagles were the biggest band in America, but Rolling Stone was constantly dismissive of the band and its manager, Irving Azoff. After a charity softball game in which the Eagles’ team beat RS‘s team 15-8, Don Henley befriended Young, who followed the band around for a year during the recording of The Long Run, argued with them over the merits of punk rock, and did a shitload of drugs with them. Young fell afoul of Henley, who was not pleased about reportage of his “stress related indigestion”: it was but one of many instances of Henley complaining about about being profiled in a frank manner. (Many in the biz have apparently received long, invective-ridden missives from Henley regarding this slight or that.)

That cover story was also Young’s swan song with RS: he left the magazine’s employ the next year and has penned pieces for it regarding Beavis and Butt-Head, Noam Chomsky, and (most recently) Ray Davies since.

And so, 29 years later, he has reconvened with the Eagles again. According to the “editors’ notes,” Young ran into Henley at a Jerry Lee Lewis concert last year, which apparently paved the way for this piece. Under normal circumstances, a Rolling Stone article that proceeds with Don Henley’s cooperation would bear the byline of Anthony DeCurtis, a Baby Boomer Boswell who can be counted on for grade-A genuflection.

That’s not the kind of piece Young has written. He may not be able to go deep with these men the way he did 30 years ago, but his story, “Peaceful Uneasy Feeling,” is nonetheless a rare piece in Rolling Stone for its candid insight. Essentially it regards how everyone in the Eagles organization has to negotiate the vicissitudes of Henley’s ego. Glenn Frey, who’s never seemed like an unpleasant person to KK, emerges here as a guy who surrendered the band he started and fronted to his drummer, and who now defers to Henley. “Without Don,” he says, “…we’d be Air Supply.”

As for the remaining current Eagles: Timothy B. Schmidt continues his policy of not “creat(-ing) waves” in interviews, while Joe Walsh posits that the advent of ProTools gave Henley new methods with which to be obsessive in making a record. Young also contacts Don Felder, the guitarist who left the band and then immediately sued Henley and Frey: Felder was said in the ’70s to be Henley’s dude, while Frey favored Walsh. (A screaming match between Frey and Felder after a 1980 benefit show for Alan Cranston directly preceded the initial break-up of the band.) He tells Young, “I admire a band like U2 who share a brotherhood and, despite the money, still care about the music. That was never the case and never will be with the Eagles.”

Felder describes Henley and Frey therein as “the Gods,” and Walsh describes the band as “a democracy with two dictators,” but it feels like both (and possibly Young) are trying to obscure the fact that it is Henley alone who is the micromanaging asshole. “No one can suck the fun out of a room faster than Don Henley,” Young quotes Frey remarking to someone other than he many years ago.

KK, who is fascinated by the Eagles and loves a lot of their music, but thinks that most of their “rock” tunes are lousy due to Henley’s weak-ass beatsmanship, now offers a few stray comments on Young’s story.

a.) He says that The Long Run is “the least of their six original albums.” KK thinks that it’s their best: a curdled, often nasty piece of work containing “King of Hollywood,” a song where Henley points his finger at film dudes who were probably just as predatory towards young women as the Eagles themselves, the equally creepy “Those Shoes,” two really fucking weird tunes (“Teenage Jail,” “Disco Strangler”), and four awesome AOR hits.

b.) The finished article does not mention an event in Henley’s past that forever precludes him from running for higher office and is echoed by the alleged deeds of another famous entertainer whose trial began this week.

c.) The finished article also does not explore the deal the Eagles struck with Wal-Mart to sell their new album exclusively, despite Wal-Mart being a massive corporation whose business practices are in direct opposition to Henley’s often laudable but nonetheless limousine liberal principles.

d.) Young states that the Eagles are selling “$175 tickets to hordes of or Middle Americans who would never pay that kind of moola in the age of foreclosure to hear rhythmic declamation over a drum machine, orgasmic melisma, morbid snarling or other forms of contemporary vocalization.” Notwithstanding the creeping hostility of Young’s descriptors, many of those same Middle Americans pay more than the amount he cites so that their children may thrill to the concerts of Miley Cyrus, whose music is a close cousin to his second example.

None of which obscures the fact that this article is a significant achievement. Don Henley doesn’t seem to trust anybody, but it seems like age has mellowed him to the point that he can vaguely let go of at least one ancient grudge. And so, Rolling Stone can publish a story that touches on the rivalry between two warring pop culture institutions in the 1970s by one of its all-time great stylists. It may be clichéd to suggest that they don’t make ’em like Young no more, but sometimes cliches are true. Notwithstanding a considerable conflict of interest, KK urges you to read this story.