Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images The sad news came across late Wednesday afternoon…
- Posted on Jun 20th 2008 6:00PM by Steve Baltin
You've toured consistently in the past 14 years, but it's been a long time since you've been able to perform new music.
That's the reason we're going. We made a pact with one and other that we wouldn't tour anymore unless we had some new music to play. We could've probably toured for another 10 or 15 years playing the old stuff and people would've been perfectly happy, but we never wanted to be known as a nostalgia act. We want to be current and productive, and it's worked out very nicely. I don't know of any other band that's taken a 28-year hiatus from putting out a new CD and had this kind of reaction.
In an L.A. Times interview you said, "The '70s got passed off as the decade that wasn't very important in music. Someday I think people may look back and say, 'Some of that stuff was pretty good after all.'" That absolutely proved true for the Eagles. Why do you think the band has continued to generate that response and survived the '70s?
There are a number of reasons: One reason is that we always concentrated on the craft of songwriting and we worked very hard at making each successive album better than the one before it. And at the same time we have always put a lot of emphasis on live performing and performing the tunes as much like the recording as possible, as if that were easy to do [laughs]. And, of course, we've gotten a lot of flak from that from the school of criticism that thinks everything should be spontaneous and rough around the edges, and people should do long and boring guitar solos.
The new album seems to be informed quite a bit by current events.
We're students of American culture; we watch the news, read a lot of periodicals, and we absorb all this information. We're noted for writing love songs and songs about boys and girls, but there's a lot of other stuff going on out there we like to write about in the bigger spectrum of things.
I don't know if I would quantify the Eagles as writing love songs. They're more like songs as social commentaries through personal nature.
Well, if you go back to '73 and '74, to 'On the Border,' which was really a song about the demise of the Nixon administration, we've been doing this practically since the beginning. Social commentary is certainly not something that's new for us and we mix it in with love songs. Life is a rich tapestry of things, and there's the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we've always tried to write about all of it, sometimes with more success than others [laughs]. Social commentary and political songs are hard to write; John Lennon was great at it because he put it on such a human level and he's certainly been one of our role models, as has Neil Young and Jackson Browne, of course. And so this new album is really just an extension of what we've always done. But I think the songs on this album are perhaps more fully realized than some of our previous work and they're a little more frank because we're not nearly as concerned about what people might think at this stage in the game. We're not concerned about alienating people, offending people or losing customers.
What were the first few records that made an impact on you?
Going back to my childhood, my father was a World War II veteran, and they had a lot of big-band albums in the house. We listened to the Glenn Miller Band and Guy Lombardo and people like that. And then my father also listened to country music. I used to listen to a show called 'The Louisiana Hayride' that was sort of the rebel version of the 'Grand Ole Opry.' I remember listening to Elvis on that program and Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash and some of the early country stars. I didn't really start buying albums until the '60s and I remember buying all the Beatles albums, especially the 'Sgt. Peppers' album. I looked at that cover for hours. I remember buying the first Jimi Hendrix album and looking at the cover and reading everything that was written on it; all the Byrds albums, the Buffalo Springfield, the Beach Boys, and I was just fascinated with the life, the people, and what they represented. It was a whole new world opening up, especially after the British Invasion. And for a kid in a small town in East Texas, it gave me something to dream about, about other places in the world and how people lived and how very different it was from my little world in rural East Texas. But rock 'n' roll changed my life; it saved my life, really.
Well, this may be impossible, but imagine as that kid the idea of you being involved with one of the biggest-selling records in American history.
I don't dwell on that kind of stuff too much. That's a difficult subject because that's where pride and humility sort of butt up against each other, and I can't go there too much. I do encourage young bands when I go see a band and I think they're really good. But at the same time when I'm approaching them I go, "They probably think I'm just an old fart who's a complete dork and they probably don't want to know what I think." I'm often surprised, but I just generally take the attitude that younger bands don't like what we do. I guess it's a scar that I've gotten from all the criticism that we've gotten in the past. But I'm often surprised. Even hip-hop and R&B bands have given me props. And I'm always pleasantly surprised.
Has there been anybody specifically that gave you props that surprised you?
One of the earliest examples I can remember occurred in Dallas around 1968. My little band, Shiloh, was the opening act for Ike and Tina Turner and Spirit. Unbeknownst to me, Ike had been watching from the wings and, after we finished our performance, he walked up to our bass player, who is still my best friend, and said, "Don't let that little drummer get away. That boy can sing."
Another similar incident occurred in 1972 or maybe '73 at one of the Eagles' earliest performances. I believe we were in New York City and were on a bill that included the Stones. I was a nervous wreck, but we finished our set and the audience gave us a warm round of applause. As I stood in the wings, trying to decide whether we should go back out and do an encore, Mick Jagger suddenly appeared beside me, smiled, leaned over and said, "They like you." Both of those incidents disappeared from my memory for several years but, in thinking about them now, I realize the generosity of spirit inherent in them and how much they meant to me,
This all comes back to writing. Are there any songs that you look back upon and say, "Wow, where did that come from?"
Yeah, the most recent example is a song called 'Waiting in the Weeds.' You get to be my age and we're supposed to be on the decline now, and so many of our peers have not produced anything at this age. And I was really grateful when that one came out of me and I don't really know where it came from, maybe the world's only horticultural love song. I sat down with a guitar in my living room in Texas and it pretty much got the whole thing. And I was just thrilled and flabbergasted at the same time because I think it stands up to pretty much anything we've done. And it's a good feeling. I don't want to rust.
I think the idea of a creative zenith is a myth. There are so many musicians proving otherwise. Do you feel that is the case for you guys and maybe you're getting stronger as you go on?
I do. I think it's different for different people. Some of us get old faster than others, and some of us are simply young at heart and more interested and engaged in life than other people. I know people my age who are just old now. I went to my high school reunion a couple of years ago and I was shocked. Some people are still youthful and full of life, and others just let themselves get old. But we all feel lucky in this band to have come through that period of success, fame, wealth and drugs and to have emerged relatively intact on the other side of it. And I think we're all tempered by having lived in the fire and that gives us more perspective, resilience and gratitude. I think gratitude is a really important component.
What's one song you wish you had written?
That's a tough one. I can tell you a couple. I wish I'd written 'The Boxer,' Paul Simon; 'Guilty,' by Randy Newman. Those are a couple that come to mind. 'Yesterday,' I think we all wish we'd written 'Yesterday,' don't we? That's three.
In asking that question to other artists over the years, not only has 'Desperado' come up but so has 'Heart of the Matter.'
Well, I got a lot of nice mail about 'Heart of the Matter' and I saved most of it, some really wonderful, heartfelt, thoughtful letters from people about that song. And of course I have to give Mike Campbell [of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers] part of the credit for that. It was his musical track and I really enjoyed working with Mike. The only thing that disappoints me about 'Desperado' is the performance of it on the record. Our producer at that time didn't give me very many chances to get it right, and I was scared half to death because the London Symphony was sitting behind me in the studio and I was just a kid, 24, or 25. I just don't like my performance on the original recording. And I probably shouldn't say that and f--- with people's [memories] [laughs].