I blew ninety minutes on this last night and my only regret is it ended.
I famously say I live in California because of the Beach Boys. And if you don’t believe me, you’ve never heard “California Girls”.
But by time I’d graduated from college and was footloose and fancy free, the music had changed. Instead of Brian Wilson, it was the Eagles. Who dropped “Hotel California” the year I entered law school. Can you imagine hearing that for the very first time? I went up to Music Odyssey on the day it was released, came home and broke the shrinkwrap and was absolutely stunned when the sound emanated from the mega-stereo I got as a reward for giving up the itinerant life of a ski bum. It’d been eighteen months since “One Of These Nights”. The “Greatest Hits” album had only increased the legend. We knew Joe Walsh had joined the band, but who expected this turn into rock? Suddenly, the Eagles were the biggest band in the land.
And it was all because of that song.
Today music is mindless. Something that bounces off your ass as you’re boogieing in the club. But no one could listen to “Hotel California” and smile beatifically. It was dark, it was introspective, it made you question, and it was the biggest song in the land.
But that’s not where this 2007 documentary from the BBC starts.
Really, it begins with the Byrds. With David Crosby. Pontificating.
But he’s not the only one.
You get Graham Nash. Hell, you even get Ned Doheny!
But first and foremost, you get David Geffen. Looking younger than everybody else in the show. Telling the truth.
You see he was a motherfucker. That’s why Crosby, Stills & Nash hired him. Only Geffen could extract the members from their former deals and put them together in this new band. “The man” can kill your music, via contracts.
And when Geffen sells Asylum to Warner and the Eagles hire Irving Azoff as their manager, what’s the first thing he does? Sue Geffen’s ass, for the publishing. Which Geffen never returned. Even though he gave Jackson Browne his publishing back.
And you’ve got to know something. It’s just business.
Then again, you play at this level and you’ve got no friends. You sleep with one eye open. Geffen says he had no paper with his acts, they could leave whenever they wanted to, but no one never did. You may tire of screwing the most beautiful person on earth, but you never tire of having a cunning Rottweiler in your corner.
And the arc of the show is a bit too simplistic. Kind of like Jonah Lehrer, making the facts, in his case the facts he made up, fit the story. You see life is messy. California is messy. For every surfer there’s a drug addict. For every sophisticate there’s an Okie. But in the late sixties that’s where you went, to feel free, to realize your dreams.
What I love about it is most people don’t get it. They see the smog and the traffic and the lack of a downtown and mutter that New York is the greatest city in the land. That’s right. But if you’re not about the hustle and bustle, if you’re about feeling more than thinking, if you want to actually live your life while it’s going by, L.A.’s the place.
L.A. is where it doesn’t matter where you went to school, if you even did at all, who your parents are is irrelevant. You make it up in L.A. as you go. Your wits are your greatest asset. Your CV is almost meaningless. Can you hang, can you inspire, can you deliver?
A whole host of musicians did.
Sure, a lot of them lived in Laurel Canyon. But not all. Because the specific location was irrelevant, Los Angeles, California was a state of mind. It’s where it all began. It drove the culture. And as you watch these images go by, you’ll get that.
Oh, you can beat up the Eagles for being mercenary. Then again, he who succeeds is always subject to naysayers and abuse.
But this is how it worked back then. We followed the music. Business was one step behind. Listen to Geffen go on about it. And you can tell, he’s not lying.
Music just does not have that power today. The California sound put so much money in the system, everybody wanted in. Hell, that company known as Time Warner? Its main asset is its cable system. You know what paid for that? The profits from the record companies!
Hell, in the seventies there was more money in music than movies.
Because of the honesty.
See Carole King at the piano and you’ll marvel that she was ever that age, with so many hits under her belt already, starting over.
James Taylor… The junkie poet. Waddy Wachtel says if he was in a rock band, he’d be dead, he couldn’t get away with that lifestyle.
And be sure to stay in to hear the story of “Tonight’s The Night”, told so eloquently by Ron Stone. People forget that at the peak of his career, Neil Young intentionally destroyed it. No one else has done that since. They don’t have the balls.
If you lived through the era, your eyes will mist over and your heart will break at the same time you self-satisfiedly pat yourself on the back for being there.
If you weren’t alive back then, even if you favor hip-hop, country or electronic music, watch the entire thing. You’ll learn a few lessons. How a bunch of people who didn’t come from rich families, who in most cases had never graduated from college, invented an art form so powerful that it truly moved people. Yes, there was no more powerful person in the late sixties and early seventies than a musician.
From The Byrds To The Eagles Part 1 of 7
And at the end of the clip, click on the right to see the ensuing segment, there are seven in all.
This will make your day.