Sure, “Heaven and Hell” came out in 2008, but as a guy who wouldn’t run out and grab a new Eagles album the day of release, I’m not jumping to read the stories behind the band, either. But I will admit that there is a damaged chromosome in my DNA that does surface on occasion; it causes me to scan the Enquirer cover in the check out line or occasionally tune in to an episode of Behind The Music. On this day when the fever peaked, I wanted to see if Don Felder thought Glenn Frey and Don Henley were the dicks that everyone else seems to think they are.
Felder’s tenure in the band spanned the magical embryonic years with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner and the arena rock days with Joe Walsh and Timmy Schmitt, so he was there when it all went down as well as when it all fell apart. It’s a pretty unflinching look at how money changes everything, and for all the indignities he suffered at the hands of “The Gods” (his nickname for Frey and Henley), he’s honest about the times he let himself be swayed into participating in the madness. Like most bands of the time, drugs and women flowed with wild abandon, and like many rockers, that cost him his family and (for a while) his sanity.
Felder seems like a decent man despite the madness, and his affection and respect for Leadon and Meisner is almost apologetic. Then again, watching your friends be excised in power struggles without taking a stand is not behavior to be proud of. Oddly enough, when Walsh and Schmitt basically do the same thing years later, Felder seems stunned that they wouldn’t stand up with him against the tyrants. Felder basically bailed on principle when his one-fifth share was reduced to one-seventh; manager Irving Azoff backed the power play of Frey and Henley doubling their take. Of course, having the same guy that represents you also represent the band is a big mistake, but no one ever accused 70s rockers of smarts. Azoff comes off like a weasel, but in fact he’s just another person who knows how to make money from other people’s labors; he’s not alone as a practitioner of the black arts.
As much as I enjoyed the tale, I didn’t feel like I got the insider’s view that I was expecting. Walsh and Schmitt don’t get much play, and even famous people whose paths he crossed (from Duane Allman to Tom Petty) seem to be underdeveloped relationships. Sometimes he namedrops someone who later became famous (i.e. Season Hubley) for almost no reason. Even Henley seems like an enigma; a man whose work Felder respects but who almost seems observed through an opaque screen. Felder saves most of his venom for Frey, who comes off classless, vapid and egomaniacal.
The Eagles went to great pains to protect their brand from tarnish by controlling every aspect of their career like micromanagers. Many feel the same way about their later albums; soulless slabs of precision recordings with all of the blemishes excised. I’m certain that any stain this book cast upon the band’s legacy was rinsed from their hard shell coating without a second thought…or at least comment.
Perhaps the title of the book should have been “I Wish I Took That One-Seventh Eagle Money Deal“, because despite regrets for infidelity and lost friendships, it’s being an Eagle that Felder seems to miss the most. I suppose those “Hotel California” royalty checks ease the pain, though.