Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Written By Steve Holtje, Found On CultureCatch.Com

I noticed that even as 99% of my Facebook friends were eulogizing the late David Bowie in reverential terms, there were a few dissenters. Aside from a non-musical issue*, the most negative thing I saw about Bowie was along the lines of "I never cared/listened/ understood the attraction." It's kind of passive-aggressive, since there's not much point to alerting us all to the fact that you are apparently apathetic yet somehow still feel we all need to hear from you on this trending topic, but it's pretty low-key, so whatever.

Then Glenn Frey died, and a much larger portion of the internet decided that this was the perfect time to remind us how much they hate the Eagles, how bad the Eagles' music is, and how clueless the rest of us are for apparently being deluded into liking them.
Hey, it's okay to not like the Eagles. It's also okay to shut up about it for a few days when one of them dies. You're not going to lose your "cred."

I am not faultless in this regard. Right after Pierre Boulez died two weeks ago, I wrote something snarky about his Mahler conducting on somebody else's Facebook thread. But then I saw one of my acquaintances thanking Boulez for giving him a big break early in his career, so I stopped being snarky about Boulez. It reminded me that the whole six-degrees-of-separation thing is real (and in the music biz, it's usually fewer degrees than that). And then, seeing the intense outpouring of feeling about Bowie, I was reminded of how strong the bonds can be between an admirer and the object of admiration even if they have never met, even if they're not in the biz and the degrees of separation don't come into it. So there's definitely the it's-too-soon aspect.

But more than that, people are over-reacting. Somebody I know just got 'unfriended' for liking "Hotel California." Think about that. If your reaction when you find out that somebody you know likes a song you don't like is a disgust so strong that you don't want to interact with that person anymore, you've got a very warped perspective.

Look, I'm full of opinions, especially when it comes to music, and certainly I have occasionally used strong terms in expressing some of my negative opinions. But they're just words, they're just opinions. People who act as if taste is a moral issue are either really horribly misguided or full of themselves. Make no mistake, that is what they are doing. These are people who really need to ponder the wisdom of de gustibus non est disputandum ("there's no disputing taste").

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether or not people's feelings are hurt, the real problem with this rampant hatred of the Eagles is that it's all couched in absolute terms, as if it's objective fact. Sorry, it's not. It's subjective. And when you try to make it objective, you run up against the problem that the Eagles were, for a period of at least five years (1972-76, from their eponymous debut album through Hotel California), extremely good at what they were doing, when measured as objectively as it is possible to measure such things. You may not like what they were doing, but the skill and success with which they did it is undeniable by any reasonable person. If you prefer to instead trumpet the virtues of the Sex Pistols, that's fine, but blaming the Eagles for not being the Sex Pistols is like criticizing a pork sandwich for not being a chicken sandwich.

Some people get this. Robert Christgau clearly despised them, but he was upfront about their skills. That's good criticism. But some people don't, such the New York Daily News' Gersh Kuntzman, who wrote today on their website that the Eagles were "the worst rock and roll band" and then went on to further overplay his hand by proclaiming that "hating the Eagles defines whether a music fan is a fan of music or just a bandwagon-jumper."

The problem with this article is not that it's too soon (though obviously it is; just as obviously, posting it today is shamelessly cheap click-bait), it's that he tries to play the music-snob card without realizing how many musicians even outside of the Eagles' genre admire their work: their skillfully precise vocal harmonies, the catchiness of their tunes and hooks, the adeptness with which their lyrics skewered fame games and the California Dream.

But Kuntzman doesn't really dispute the Eagles' prowess on musical grounds, as the lameness of his attacks shows.  His first objection is, "Through the early 1970s, the Eagles defined the 'easy listening' genre, as if rock and roll is supposed to be a warm glass of milk to get you to bed." First, his chronology is off by a few years. Second, the Eagles didn't define "easy listening" because they were never considered as such; first they were country rock, later arena rock. They had a few soft-rock ballads, sure, but that genre is distinct from easy listening.

Lesson: don't judge an album band by the singles radio chooses to play. Or, more likely, don't judge a band without actually listening to its albums.

Later he writes, "How generic were the Eagles? When the much edgier and much more musically inventive Steely Dan needed a band to mock, it chose the Eagles." The reference is to a line in the Dan song "Everything You Did": "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening." Guess what?: Dan co-leader Walter Becker's girlfriend played the Eagles a lot; he was drawing on real life.

Eventually Kuntzman gets around to what he seems to consider the coup de grace: quoting The Big Lebowski re: The Dude's hatred of The Eagles. Because fictional characters are always solid testimony. Hey, I look like The Dude (as strangers inform me on the subway every week or so), and I like the Eagles. Fictional testimony balanced?

I also like the Sex Pistols, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Albert Ayler. These things are not mutually exclusive. Nor do I feel obliged to file the Eagles under "guilty pleasure." I don't think music automatically becomes uncool because lots of people like it, either.

I have a good friend, very knowledgeable about the '70s L.A. scene, who seriously dislikes the Eagles. She hasn't been dissing them on Facebook today. She is civilized and has manners. Here's hoping some other people learn some manners before the next pop star dies.

*A few feminist friends attacked him for once having had consensual sex with a 15-year-old groupie; I also saw pushback from other feminists who didn't like the groupie being denied agency -- it was actually a pretty interesting debate.


Bombshelter Slim said...

Ah, a music lover! Mind you, I do get tired of all the posting going on... when Jimi Hendrix died I was devastated, until a friend said "if he was such a genius how come he's dead?"

William Repsher said...

That piece in the Daily News is just a hatchet job, pure tripe, meant to arouse anger. Which is fine by me -- what I don't like is the bad writing.

It's interesting how everyone is willing to dissect the Eagles critically, but suddenly everyone loves everything Bowie ever did! I know I sure didn't. Chances are you didn't, too. But who cares whether or not X number of Bowie albums didn't do it for me? The simple fact that he had broad enough of a career that there was a 3-4 album patch that didn't appeal to me, while the rest did, is testament enough to his longevity. Anyone who hangs around that long goes through fallow periods.

Funerals are for the living, the dead don't care what gets said about them. And the internet is for assholes. Here we are!

Anonymous said...

Music is emotion if a song doesn't touch you heart or soul a guitar lick make the hair on you stand on end add that with a fear of death and the unknown a recipe for people to act out and if you need a lesson on how wacky the general public is work retail for a bit.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Like them or not, The Eagles are legit.

Anonymous said...

Buzz said it.

The Eagles' albums up to and including Hotel California are embedded in my teenage brain (like a lot of other music fans). After that, there's a huge fall-off in quality but those first 5-6 albums are keepers. (For the record, I'm on team Meisner/Walsh as favorite Eagles.)

Frey wrote really well with others which is not that easy. His lead vocals were kind of sparse considering Henley's output but I can't complain about "New Kid in Town," "Lyin' Eyes," etc.

Bruce covered "Take It Easy" the other night, which I think counts a lot more than this Gersh guy's opinion. To think the Daily News laid off Jim Farber and hired that guy. There's a reason that paper's in the dumper.

Michael D.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for finding and sharing this. Someone I know had posted that NY Daily News article; glad to have this one to gently point him toward.

William Repsher said...

The Long Run is a keeper album, too, if you ask me. About the only tracks I don't like on it are Teenage Jail and The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks (cough, sorry Glenn, cough). I've come to enjoy the Felder riffs on Those Shoes and Disco Strangler. Schmitt gets his due with I Can't Tell You Why, which does exactly what it's supposed to do, and Walsh throws in a very good track from The Warriors soundtrack. Long Run is a good mid-tempo track, and Henley's lyrics really shine on The Sad Café, one of those forgotten Eagles tracks that's one of their best. Ruminating on how the 60's are long since over, the real theme of the album, and the real emptiness Henley senses within himself, the decade, California.

Hotel California and The Long Run were about emptiness, personal, romantic, physical, that concept put forth so well in The Last Resort that everyone ran to California, there was nowhere left to run, and in the end, there was nothing better than whatever you had left behind. This shit is obvious to me, was the first time I heard those albums, still is even more so today, and both albums represent a real place in time captured brilliantly by guys who were living the dream and spending way too much time on mountains of blow and teenage hookers. This was great stuff.

If all you got from The Eagles was peaceful easy feelings and taking it easy, either you weren't smart enough to assimilate this information or you really weren't trying. If those guys were assholes, they're my kind of assholes.

peabody nobis said...

That piece is all about clickbait, Sal. It's what our "journalism" has become, but you probably know this. I suppose not enough people click on favorable, or even generic pieces.
And I just knew someone, somewhere, was gonna rely on "The Dude" for an opinion. Hell, we don't even know what music "The Dude" likes, so why should we care about what music he hates? And I never understood that POV anyway; what's to "hate"? There is some music that I just don't care for, but it takes a lot to make me hate something. A lot of Eagles music is simple and practically made for Muzak, but it is always well-written, and well-performed. You may not like it, but you can't hate it.
But it's the Internet...
And can I say that I absolutely LOVE Bowie's "whoops" at the end of "Tis A Pity She Was A Whore". The old man still had some life in him there.

Anonymous said...

Sal, that was very well said. I've never liked the Eagles myself, but couldn't imagine using Frey's death as an excuse to trumpet my opinions. As if that would change any Eagles fan's mind anyway! And unfriending someone because they like a song? That's the kind of thing you're supposed to outgrow by your mid-teens.


steves said...

Nailed it!

Jobe said...

My problem with bands like The Eagles stem's from at the time they were at their apex was right around the time I could afford to buy my first used car. Of course there was no internet, youtube,etc. So just having a car with an FM radio was a luxury for me. Imagine my frustration with having to hear Witchy Woman, Already Gone, Desperado, Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling, it goes on and on when there was so much better music (or at least shit I wanted to hear) not even having the seal to the album opened by FM radio. So I grew to despising all things Eagles and Eagles related. I can stand to listen to them now, but their not gonna be my first choice when I want to hear something. So I guess I can't blame The Eagles as much as I can blame CORPORATE RADIO before there was such a thing.