He was a hard-headed man
He was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty
He had a nasty reputation as a cruel dude
They said he was ruthless, they said he was crude (Life In The Fast Lane)
That’s me he’s singing about there. Well me back in 1976, when I spent all my time swaggering shirtless around various parties in LA, my thousand yard stare hidden behind my mirror shades, suffering from a bad case of frozen face and chronic moral turpitude, my mouth drawn-back into a grim cocaine rictus. Like my man Charlie said, ‘It was the best of times …’
I picked up Eagles Hotel California in September 2010 when a friend gave me a load of LPs he didn’t want*, but I’ve known the music for ever. My parents weren’t huge, huge fans but liked all the early Eagles albums and ‘Hotel California’ always thrilled me when it came on the radio, even at the age of about 7 I knew there was something special and different about that song, and there is. I’m also really rather partial to that whole LA mythology, when the 60’s changed gear into the 70’s, the eyes turned blank and everything got sun-bleached, cynical and morally leached. When bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac made so much money, for themselves and their record companies, that they had to spend 2 full months out of every 6 living on gold soup and diamond fritters for tax reasons. True story.
How can you even begin to write about the title track of Hotel California? it’s just too big, too pervasive. I have always loved the lyrics more than the music, it was always so creepy and oblique to me. I know you’ve all heard it so many times they barely register now, but have a read:
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “
Because it’s hidden behind that upbeat, umm, beat and some seriously wonderful harmonics it doesn’t shock. Clever stuff indeed. Welcome to LA, don’t worry about the corpse bobbing around in the infinity pool, just enjoy the sunset. Personally I have a new theory that will totally blow everyone’s minds and put paid to that silly thesis that the song is about cocaine addiction and the generally vampiric qualities of fame and the music industry of the time, I think it’s meant to be taken entirely literally – there is a master, a beast and some knives and stuff hidden in the back of a hotel with a bit of a strange departure and drinks policy. Try it, it works for me. Trust me, it’s a dynamite theory – be all over the internet tomorrow.
But there’s other songs on Hotel California of course. Mrs 1537’s favourite ‘New Kid In Town’ has never and still doesn’t really do it for me I’m afraid and while I’m being negative I’d also like to put the boot in on ‘Try and Love Again’, ‘Pretty Maids All In a Row’ and ‘Wasted Time’. Sorry but the Eagles of ’76 straddled that ridge between blandness, country and brilliance for me and these tracks rolled off into the guttering of vapidity as far as I’m concerned.
Having trashed over half the album, just put the needle on the record at the beginning of ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ and let Joe Walsh** blow any qualms you have away with that opening. What a brilliant track too, a fabulous tale of the young and beautiful crashing badly after an enjoyable ride; speaking as a representative of the middle-aged and gnarly I can’t get enough of those stories! It has such a great funky backbone too, kinda ZZ Top-lite, those Eagle boys really could play, you know. You know there’s a gruesome car wreck at the end of that highway, but when the journey is as big a blast as this … Ditto, ‘Victim Of Love’ the other real rocker here featuring some great slide from Mr Walsh.
I’m also a bit of a sucker for the grandiose LP closer ‘The Last Resort’, with its sweeping views on religion and building-a-paradise-right-here Californianisms. I know I’m being shamelessly manipulated by Don Henley’s plaintive vocals and those precise piano chords but I am just powerless to resist, I guess I am only human after all. I think interestingly it contains a fairly naked exposition of Frey and Henley’s worldview at the time,
We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name of God.
I love the sheer unironic self-obsession of the Californian bands of this time, they just seemed to get so isolated from anything resembling real life that we could all relate to that they just wrote song after song about their own melodramas and numbness. If they weren’t so damn good at their craft then it would all be unbearable, but the Eagles, like the reconstituted Fleetwood Mac, were incredibly good at what they did and I defy anyone but the most curmudgeonly ogre not to have a few favourite radio songs written by them. The fact that the lead players in the Eagles seem to have been such cynical, unpleasant dudes adds even more frisson to it all – Poco veteran Randy Meisner didn’t last much longer after Hotel California. The party in the hotel lobby looks more and more like the last gathering at Gatsby’s mansion the harder you look at it. Christ, look into those guy’s eyes in the poster that came with the LP!
Meanwhile a bunch of scabby peasants watched the distant occupants of the palace partying their days away in ever more futile attempts to feel something through their snowstorm, pleasure, pain whatever … they clutched their cheap guitars and began to erect their guillotine … it was high time for something raw in the world.
PS – I unreservedly recommend Barney Hoskyns’ book Hotel California about the LA scene in the 70’s – one of the best music books I ever read. True dat.
*he was getting rid of all his vinyl. (sombre pause)
**one of my favourite players period.