Eagles will not fly again, Henley says
THE Eagles are finished.
Don Henley is direct. The way he describes it, the group he helped lead since 1971 died with his longtime musical partner Glenn Frey.
“I don’t see how we could go out and play without the guy who started the band,” says Henley.
He sits inside the Tudor mansion in Lincoln, Massachusetts, that serves as the headquarters for the Walden Woods Project. Henley founded the nonprofit organisation in 1990 to protect the land that inspired 19th-century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. He flew here for this interview, a reminder of how he has always separated what is public, being in one of America’s most popular bands, from the private, his life as a husband and father in Texas.
This should have been a time to celebrate. On December 4, the three surviving members of the final edition of the Eagles – Henley, guitarist Joe Walsh, bassist Timothy B. Schmit, all of them 69 – will receive Kennedy Center Honors. But Frey’s death in January, from complications brought on by years of battling rheumatoid arthritis and colitis, has cast a bittersweet cloud over the proceedings. Cindy Frey will be given her late husband’s medallion.
The Kennedy Center actually awarded the Eagles last year, but the band deferred in hopes that Frey would get better.
They had no reason to expect otherwise. Frey had stoically managed his health for decades and, in the summer of 2015, the Eagles wrapped up a massive tour. Frey headed to Hawaii with his family. He got sick and flew home for treatment. The drugs that helped him manage the pain compromised his immune system, causing Frey to get pneumonia. Doctors induced a coma from which he would never recover. Frey died January 18 at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York. He was 67.
A month later, the Eagles gathered on stage to perform a tribute at the Grammy Awards. Jackson Browne stood in for Frey on “Take It Easy”, a song he co-wrote. That week, Henley, Walsh and Schmit also performed at a private memorial with several guest singers, including Glenn’s son, Deacon. That may be the last time they play together.
“It would just seem like greed or something,” says Henley. “It would seem like a desperate thing.”
The Eagles have battled critics, conventions and each other, but they’ve never seemed desperate. Over time, the band sold more than 150 million albums and filled arenas from Cleveland to China. They also reinvented themselves, more than once. During their 1970s run, the Eagles became famous for not only the music – Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is the best-selling album of the 20th century in the United States – but also their notorious backstage parties, the self-described “third encore”. Fewer people saw the less glamorous side, the process that led to all those hits, peaking with 1976’s masterpiece, Hotel California. The title track achieved worldwide fame, and even today, most taxi drivers in Yangon can sing the chorus.
The Eagles did it through hard work, a stable of writers competing for limited space and by being unwilling to settle for a sloppy take when another run-through might bring perfection.
“When this band started,” says Bernie Leadon, the group’s first guitarist, “we said, ‘We want it all. Critical acclaim, artistic success and financial success.’ It wasn’t like we want to make a pretty good album so our girlfriends like us. No, it was ‘we want to be the best f---ing band there is”.
The intensity of that quest took its toll.
In 1975, worn out from the road, Leadon dumped a beer over Frey’s head and quit. He later apologised and, nearly 40 years later, the band hired him to take part in the group’s “History of the Eagles” tour.
On the night of July 29, 2015, Leadon and Frey huddled together offstage in Bossier City, Louisiana, as the crowd cheered. They were waiting to return for a final encore. This would be the group’s last real gig. You wouldn’t know it from what Frey said next.
“He gave me a big, huge thanks for participating,” remembers Leadon. “Then he said, ‘It’s been really awesome to have you back out there. This is not the end.’”
– The Washington Post