B&B 01/19/16

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RIP Glenn Frey: Requiem for a Tough Guy

Imagine that in 1971 you’re at Disneyland watching the incomparable Linda Ronstadt. As she belted out one great song after another, you notice that the boys backing her are pretty darn good. Especially their harmonies, which are tighter than a pair of hot pants. A few years later, you discover that Linda’s backing band has gone on to become the biggest band in the world: The Eagles

Alex Gibney’s astounding 2013 documentary History of the Eagles  (streaming right now on Netflixis much more than an extended episode of Behind the Music. Sure, drug-filled good times turn into animosity which leads us to reconciliation, but, here’s where the doc acts less like entertainment and more like real life. I feel strongly that people buy tickets to movies and watch TV shows because those things provide closure. No loose ends (unless the studio is looking for a sequel). In real life, it’s rare that you come up with the right quip at the right time. It’s also unlikely that you repair past relationships until it’s too late. But, in the movies, right at the death bed, you get peace and reconciliation

Fade to black

The first part of the documentary is the stronger one, as we find out about the individual personalities that made up The Eagles. Glenn Frey is the streetwise Detroit tough guy. The enforcer. Early on, we find out that his mother kept him from certain corruption by one Bob Seger (that’s Glenn singing backup on the studio version of Ramblin’ Gamblin’ ManSeger tells us in the doc that Frey was just the funniest kid ever and he always made everybody laugh

As fame and fortune knocks at the door, Bernie Leadon tires of Glenn’s plans for world domination and, one night at Miami’s Orange Bowl, he pours a beer on Frey’s head and tells him to chill out

Just a taste of inter-Eagles animosity to come

Glenn helps push an already unhappy Leadon out of the band and, when Randy Meisner won’t do what the band wants, he helps toss him out, as well. Glenn gets tough with David Geffen over business dealings. And Don Felder chafed under Frey’s two-fisted leadership. That leads to one of the most famous onstage breakups in rock and roll history

July 31st, 1980. Long Beach, CA: The Long Run was a huge hit despite the acidic bad blood between band membersCocaine had helped fray everyone’s nerves and tensions were high. Frey and Henley committed the boys to play a benefit show for Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA). Frey and Henley dug his message and his (liberal) politics. Felder was about as political as a bowl of corn flakes. He wondered why they were doing this instead of a paying gig

Before the concert, Cranston’s wife (doc says it was the Senator, himself) approached Felder and thanked him for playing the show, leading Felder to utter the four words that broke up The Eagles

You’re welcome…I guess

Glenn Frey was beyond incensed. He went into the tuning room and smashed a beer bottle against the wall. Felder’s insolence had set him off and Felder was ready to answer his anger. As the band played the event, in between songs, the two could be heard jawing at each other with Frey taking particular delight in kicking Felder’s butt after the set. Producer/engineer Bill Szymczyk captured the audio, which couldn’t be heard clearly by the audience, due to cheering and ambient noise. It was ugly

Following the show, Felder took off ahead of Frey, smashed his “cheapest guitar” and drove off before Frey could administer his punishment

The next day Timothy B. Schmit called Glenn Frey and he confirmed that The Eagles were done

Part two of the documentary is pretty unkind to Frey. When The Eagles are being re-formed in the early 90s, Frey declares he and Henley will get most of the money from the upcoming Hell Freezes Over tour. Frey told manager Irving Azoff 

Irving, I’m not going to do it unless Don and I make more money than the other guys. We’re the only guys who have done anything career-wise in the last 14 years

I found this to be an almost unforgivable act of hubris. First, let’s get past the fact that you just referred to your brothers as “the other guys”. Second, yes, Glenn, you had a successful solo career, but hitching your wagon to Henley’s solo career is like me saying that Wilt Chamberlain and I once scored 100 points in a game.

Felder wasn’t happy. Glenn didn’t care

I called Felder’s representative. I said, “Hello, Barry. This is Glenn Frey. I’m sorry you happen to represent the only asshole in the band. But let me tell you something: You either sign this agreement as it is before the sun goes down today or we’re replacing Don Felder. That’s the final deal. He signs by sunset or he’s out of the f—-g band”

Felder signs, but his resentment builds to the point where Frey dumps him in 2001. In one of the more touching scenes in the documentary, Felder chokes up when he talks about how much he misses playing music with his friends

It’s not just playing with Joe (Walsh). I miss these guys, but I really miss the friendship and the music

History will remember Don Felder as a very good guitar player. But, history will remember Glenn Frey as one of the architects of maybe the best American rock and roll band of all-time. I think every band needs an enforcer, a Glenn Frey to get things done and keep things in line. There is no question that The Eagles wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what they did without his leadership. Glenn was never worried about whether he’d be remembered as a nice guy. Consequently, he will be remembered by some as not a nice guy. But, you can’t question his accomplishments or his place in history

I just wish he’d made up with Felder. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a movie ticket to buy