Life in the car pool lane
In the Coen brothers' cult classic film The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges, as uber hippie 'The Dude' Lebowski, is riding in a taxi just as The Eagles' Peaceful Easy Feeling plays on the radio. 'Jesus man, could you change the channel? Man, I've had a rough night and I hate the f***ing Eagles,' says The Dude.
He's swiftly ejected by The Eagles-loving taxi driver who just happens to be African American, and as unlikely an Eagles fan as you can imagine. Nothing sums up people's reaction to The Eagles better than this: they are one of the few bands who can generate this kind of extreme response from music lovers.
'I haven't seen the film, but I know about the scene. It's like you love us or you hate us, there's no middle ground,' The Eagles' Don Henley says after a concert in Melbourne last month. 'What makes it more ironic is that Jeff Bridges is a friend of mine. He's a great guy. That we're thought important enough to be used in this way is fine with me.'
Henley admits though that there was a time when the band first started out that some criticism stung badly. 'We got it particularly rough. Then after 35 years or so of packed houses I realised it didn't affect anything,' he says. 'I've stopped worrying about it as it doesn't matter to our fans. If it did, we'd have gone belly up a long time ago.'
As part of their Long Road out of Eden world tour, the band will pass through Hong Kong on March 18 and, going by the concert they played in Melbourne when they finished the 2010 section of their tour, Eagles fans here are in for a treat. It's not often you get to see a band that have four lead singers - and that's exactly what Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit are.
When one is singing the others are harmonising: vocally and musically, they never put a foot wrong all night in the Melbourne gig, and for more than three hours the full house at the Rod Laver Arena sang along to old favourites such as Take It Easy, Life in the Fast Lane and Desperado, plus some of Henley's and Walsh's solo releases such as The Boys of Summer and In the City.
The next day, Henley is sitting in his hotel room. He looks in good shape for a 63-year-old but he has more important things on his mind than an interview. He explains: 'It's my daughter's birthday today. She's 15. I have four children and they mean everything to me. They are the light of my life and I don't like being away from them and missing birthdays.'
Right on cue his mobile phone goes off. It's his daughter calling to say the family had been to a restaurant to celebrate her big day. It soon becomes obvious that no matter how much Henley enjoys playing with The Eagles in front of a live audience, this is one day he'd have preferred to have spent at home in Texas. It's also one of life's little ironies. In the past Henley had a reputation as a ladies' man, and the boot is now securely on the other foot. In the 1970s the band allegedly coined the phrase, 'Love 'em and Lear 'em', where every so often they'd send a Lear jet for one of their many girlfriends.
'We're all getting our comeuppance, especially as we all have daughters,' Henley says. 'I have three beautiful daughters and my friends tell me that's exactly what I deserve. I'm going to be a terrible guy when it comes to the dating thing. I'll just happen to be cleaning my guns whenever a boyfriend comes over.'
When the band first started out it could not have been more different. They were renowned for their wild partying and excesses. Family life and the passing of time have changed all that. No one identifies with this more than Walsh. Since the 1970s the guitarist had taken enough cocaine to kill a small horse - a feat only matched by the amount of alcohol he also consumed during that time. In 1994 he got clean so he could go back on the road for The Eagles' reunion tour, Hell Freezes Over, and he has stayed that way.
'I never even planned on being 63 years old,' Walsh says now. 'And suddenly here I am this kid in this body that's starting to slow down. I thought when you hit 60 you'd know how to be 60, but that didn't happen. What it does give you is a better grasp on the bigger picture. What really matters is your family and friends. Our kids are what we most have in common these days, and we're there for each other if something goes wrong.'
Walsh looks back on the making of their classic Hotel California as his personal highlight, but admits that with the amount of booze and other substances flying around at the time, he's just grateful that 'somebody remembered to press 'record''.
'We knew how to party back then, but we don't anymore. We have discovered sleep,' he says. 'Sleep was unknown to us in the 1970s. We'd just stay up all night and go from the party to the next show.'
Walsh says he feels sorry for today's rock stars: back in his day there were no paparazzi and the worry of appearing in the next day's papers did not exist. 'People can't openly get crazy like we used to.'
Similarly, Henley has few qualms about what went on in the past. 'We were young men back in the early days and we did what young men do. Yeah, we had a good time. But if I had it to do all over again I think there are some things I would skip though,' he says.
'We wasted a lot of valuable time, I suppose. But we managed to be productive ... Somehow, through the fog, we managed to crank out songs and albums that have stood the test of time. I have been asked do I have any regrets and I always use the words from Frank Sinatra's My Way: 'I've had a few, but too few to mention'.'
Henley also admits that since then some incidents have been exaggerated, particularly now in the internet age. 'I hate the f***ing internet,' he says. 'It perpetuates lies and the lies never go away. If an untruth gets printed it is there forever.'
They're all getting on a bit these days - like Henley and Walsh, Schmit is 63, while Frey is 62. When a band last this long there's always a fair share of falling outs and arguments over the years, and The Eagles were no different.
They initially broke up in 1980, but reformed in 1994 for the Hell Freezes Over tour and live album. It was given this title after Henley famously said that the band would only play together again 'when hell freezes over'.
Later Don Felder, who joined The Eagles in 1974, left amid acrimonious circumstances in 2001 and lawsuits between the two sides soon followed. Eventually it was settled out of court. They are now a band of ageing family men, but this is the glue that keeps them together.
'Having kids has brought us all closer and given us perspective that we didn't have before,' Henley says. 'A lot of conversations are about our children and the challenges of parenting teenagers. We laugh at how much we see ourselves in our children. They're like a big mirror showing us the same rebellious streaks, stubbornness and hard-headedness that we had.'
Next year The Eagles will have been together for 40 years. Their music spans generations and no matter how unpalatable it may be for their critics to admit, it's not just the older brigade that appreciates them today. 'Young people come to our concerts and say: 'My grandparents love you'. That's how they got into our music and it's perfect,' Henley says. 'What I appreciate most is that we've created a body of work that still means a great deal to people all over the world. It's amazing we can still play to packed audiences at this stage. We'd never have imagined this in our wildest dreams when we first started out.'
The Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden tour, Mar 18, 8pm, Convention and Exhibition Centre, Wan Chai, HK$588-HK$2,088, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 2629 6240