The members of the Eagles can feel secure about their legacy.
Not only do they have the best-selling album of all time to their credit, but they continue to sell out stadiums long after the much-interpreted Hotel California rose to the top of the charts in the 1970s.
Now comes their latest project — a DVD biopic titled History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band — that goes on sale Tuesday.
It’s a surprisingly honest look at the creative friction that continues to define the quintessential American rock outfit.
No punches were pulled in its making; former bandmates were given a platform to air their dirty laundry and Glenn Frey, Don Henley and the others are shown partying with groupies back in the day — images they might have a hard time explaining to their kids today.
The Eagles will be touring this summer to promote the documentary, which premiered at the Sundance film fest.
In a Canadian exclusive, Dan Brown of The London Free Press spoke by e-mail with drummer/co-lead singer Henley about looking back, as well as the next step for him: A solo disc due out in the fall.
Q: How does it feel to look back, to see yourself on film as a younger man?
I’m relatively dispassionate about it. I’ve seen most of the photos and the film footage numerous times over the years, so seeing these images again didn’t come as a shock. They just reflect the passage of time. Time is the great equalizer. Nobody’s immune.
The baby face and the callow idealism served their purposes, back then, but I am perfectly content with the face and the perspective I’ve got now. Perspective is often hard-won, but it’s a beautiful, empowering thing.
Q: The last time we spoke, you said you might one day like to write an autobiography. How far does this film go toward being that autobiography?
This documentary is basically an overview of the Eagles’ past four decades. Lots of things were necessarily left out because it’s impossible to cram every last detail of a 41-year career into a three-hour film. So, there is plenty of information left if I choose to divulge it.
But, as I’ve said before, I’m not interested in penning a slimy tell-all. That’s already been done. I had 24 interesting years of life before the Eagles and I want to include those years in any memoir I might write.
I think that background is an important element in any success story and the Eagles documentary barely touched on the early parts of our lives.
Q: What does the older Don Henley think of the younger Don Henley?
As a rule, I’m pretty hard on him but, at the same time, I recognize and appreciate some of his more practical qualities.
Although it’s occasionally uncomfortable for me to watch, I understand the pretext for the puerile bluster and the self-destructive behaviour that’s so typical of younger men. That stuff is there to mask the insecurities and doubts that are common among males in his age group.
He’s not a fully realized, self-assured man, yet. He’s a long way from home and it’s a little scary.
It was no small thing for a kid from a town of 2,500 to pick up stakes and move to a metropolitan area of about 10 million people where he knew only one resident. But he’s on a mission, he’s found his fellow travellers and his intentions are good.
I see him wrestling with the big questions that plagued him for much of the first half of the Eagles’ career: “Is this worth the all the risk and the stress? Are we really any good? What if things don’t work out?” I had three and a half years of college under my belt, but I didn’t really have a Plan B.
Q: By virtue of being in a band that’s been popular for decades, I’m sure you’ve gained a lot of insight into group dynamics. If you could teach a class in human behaviour, what would you tell your students about what motivates people?
People are motivated, first and foremost, by the survival instinct, by self-interest. But the ones who survive and thrive are the ones who can moderate that “me” in favour of “us.”
The groups — and the civilizations — that last are the ones who realize that the survival of the individual depends on the survival of the collective. They figure out that they must subjugate their individual egos and work co-operatively in order to preserve the common good.
It’s a delicate, ever-fluctuating balance and if it skews too far in either direction, then the whole thing can fall apart.
Q: You’ve spoken of the documentary being about a business, as well as a popular band. At what moment did you realize you were part of a business, not just a band?
I think I was always aware, to some degree, that it was a business, an uneasy pairing of art and commerce. But I don’t think I realized just what a ruthless business it was until I came to understand the particulars of our deal with David Geffen. We were incredibly naive about business, in the early days, and we had very poor legal representation — people who weren’t really looking out for our best interests at all.
But, we learned pretty quickly, especially after we began working closely with Irving Azoff.
Q: Once they see the film, how are you going to deal with uncomfortable questions from your kids about your days in the Eagles when you were younger and (less) wise?
All things considered, including the tenor of the times, I think the film is pretty tame.
My kids are smart enough to know that the ’60s and ’70s were no game of shuffleboard, no knitting circle. We’ve already begun talking about these issues.
Like any parent, I want them to learn from my mistakes, but at the same time, I don’t want them to be afraid to take risks.
Every successful venture in life requires some degree of risk, but there are blind risks and informed risks. I want my kids to know the difference; I want them to learn from the foolish risks I took as well as the ones that paid off.
That being said, I tend to favour the school of parenting that holds the belief that some things are none of my kids’ business.
Q: What was more fun — the first act of the Eagles, or the second act you are currently enjoying? And could there possibly be a third act?
It’s all been fun, but there are different kinds of fun. In the first act, the highs were higher and the lows lower. Since we resumed working together in 1994, things have proceeded on a much more even keel.
There’s less drama and virtually no partying of any kind. It’s a very professionally run operation. It has to be.
This is not to say that everybody’s always on the same page, but the primary focus, these days, is to deliver consistent, high-quality performances, night after night.
So, “fun” cannot necessarily be our first concern. We have a job to do, an obligation to our fans that we take very seriously. When we deliver the goods and make our fans happy, then that provides all the pleasure we need. No extracurricular activity is required anymore.
Q: There was a noticeable change in moods between End of the Innocence and Inside Job. You went from a bleak view of America to “I hate to tell you this, but I’m very, very happy.” Will listeners notice as dramatic a change in your outlook between Inside Job and the upcoming solo album?
The new solo album, which will be released in September, is called Cass County. That’s the name of the rural county I come from in northeast Texas. The album was recorded mostly in Nashville, with some additional recording done in Texas and California.
The material on it is a reflection of a part of my musical foundation — songs I heard on the radio and on my parents’ record player in the ’50s and ’60s. It’s not exactly a “retro” album, but neither does it reflect much of what’s going on in “modern” music.
It’s primarily a record for grown-ups — people who’ve done some living. It explores the landscape of memory and experience. There are a few cover songs on the album, but most of the content is new, original material.
Q: How much more “room” is there to address political concerns in a solo project versus an Eagles song or album?
At this stage in my career, there’s as much room as I want, but that’s another question of balance. That kind of thing has to be approached with caution.
The mood of the country has changed since the ’60s. I think there’s always a place for a little social commentary — after all, that is one of the basic principles of rock, folk, blues and country music — but you can’t hit people over the head with it; you can comment, but you can’t preach.
The new album is very candid, very honest, and covers a wide range of moods and topics, but above all, it’s musical.
All the guest singers and players did an amazing job. It’s a stellar ensemble of artists and I’m proud and grateful to have all that talent on my record. Everyone was very generous.
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HISTORY OF THE EAGLES LIVE IN CONCERT
Air Canada Centre, July 11
Grand Falls, NL:
Salmon Festival, July 13
Scotia Bank Place, July 15
Rogers Arena, Sept. 6
Rexall Place, Sept. 9
Scotiabank Saddledome, Sept. 11
Credit Union Centre, Sept. 14
MTS Centre, Sept. 16
ABOUT THE EAGLES
Current Eagles: Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit
Former Eagles: Don Felder, Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon (rumoured to be re-joining the band for this summer’s tour)
Career highlight: The Eagles have the best-selling album of all time — Their Greatest Hits: 1971-1975 (which, ironically, doesn’t include their best-known single, Hotel California)
FOCUS ON DON HENLEY
New solo album: Cass County (due out this fall)
Last solo album: Inside Job (2000)
Biggest solo project: The End of the Innocence (1989)
Solo hits include: The Heart of the Matter, The Last Worthless Evening, The Boys of Summer, Dirty Laundry
Personal: Henley married model Sharon Summerall in 1995; they have two girls and a boy together