One of these nights, book yourself a room at the Hotel California, order up a few Tequila Sunrises, push play on the first of three discs of this belated Eagles documentary and settle in for a long run watching the history of a band that took it to the limit, and often beyond, in a 40 year and still going strong career.
Since this is authorized by the group, it’s no surprise the bulk of the backstory centers on Don Henley (from Texas) and Glenn Frey (from Detroit) and how they came to epitomize the freewheeling California ethos of the 70s. Other original members, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon seem to be little more than hired hands, even though the latter, with his tenure in the Flying Burrito Brothers, was initially the most experienced professional in the outfit. Later Eagles Don Felder and Joe Walsh fill some spaces but still remain on the periphery. The Eagles’ ups and downs are presented in chorological order and feature insightful recent interviews with all the principle players. That includes some decidedly negative mojo from the always controversial David Geffen and others that didn’t always agree with the group’s determined work ethic and/or legendary manager Irving Azoff (“he may be Satan, but he’s our Satan,” Henley famously quipped), as the tale unwinds for three fascinating hours over the span of two DVDs.
But more than just the factual recounting of the most commercially successful band of its time, this is the saga of an enthralling period in American music. It’s filled with all the excesses, triumphs, internal struggles and ultimately enduring music that can fit into one relatively compact span from 1972-1980. The revival years starting in 1990 are covered on the second, much shorter and less interesting DVD. While some of the band’s interpersonal struggles are presented, many are not, including what initially formed a wedge through the Henley/Frey relationship where they reportedly wouldn’t be in the same room together. Such low water points as the Eagles Live release, at one time reported to be the most overdubbed concert album ever, aren’t even alluded to. Other comments just don’t ring true, as when Frey says they wondered if anyone would show up for their reunion tour then tacked exorbitant prices on tickets.
Regardless, with rare studio footage, informative, often revealing talking head footage from all the members—Joe Walsh is particularly loquacious- and little known facts behind some major songs, this is the fastest three hours any fan of American music will spend. Sure, it’s skewed to gloss over some of the act’s more awkward moments, but it’s a riveting account of living the American dream and how that can turn into a nightmare, as Henley so accurately observes. The guys shift from sharing peaceful easy feelings to enough contentious lawsuits and bitter backstabbing to fill a few reality shows. As such, the Eagles’ story is a microcosm of a much larger truth/ugliness.
The first two discs were recently shown on Showtime, but not disc three which is a heavily edited, 45 minute performance from the Washington, DC stop of 1977’s Hotel California tour. It’s a good show with adequate for the time production and remixed surround sound, but somewhat of a missed opportunity because so much of the gig is MIA. Also, realizing the Eagles’ predilection for audio doctoring, it’s hard to know how much tweaking went into what remains.