Book Review: Eagles – Dark Desert Highway by Mick Wall

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews Eagles - Dark Desert Highway: How America's Dream Band Turned into a Nightmare from UK's best-known rock writer Mick Wall.

Mick Wall is a one-man rock-bio-writing machine, and yet he approaches this, his latest tome, almost begrudgingly, and keeps returning to the same fairly inescapable truth: despite their astronomical success, the Eagles were never, ever cool. And founding members Don Henley and the late Glenn Frey were always, uh, kind of… not nice people.

They were certainly never as cool as the many legendary bands and performers about whom Wall has penned books previously, particularly Jimi Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses, Prince, Foo Fighters, Lou Reed, The Doors, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Meat Loaf (no, really!), and so on, and so on.

Perhaps this is the reason why Mick opens this with a preface titled ‘Don Henley Does Not Like Books About The Eagles’, which details how singer/songwriter/drummer/solo artist Henley has angrily shut down other attempts by prominent authors to put together warts-and-all Eagles studies. But you do have to feel for Henley, if only a bit, because it must be pretty damn annoying to have been so famously uncool for 50ish years.

After a scathing-sounding short first chapter (‘Nobody’s Favorite Band’), Wall then talks about the crowd at LA’s Troubadour Club in the early ‘70s, and although he should be mentioning Don and Glenn, he keeps on going off on tangents, and instead discusses Linda Ronstadt, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and even the young Steve Martin.

However, the two guys do eventually meet, and there are the usual fledgling shots at stardom before it comes hard and fast, with songs composed by the guys over the next few years that will live on classic radio stations until the end of damn time. Early on, there was Taking It Easy, Desperado (infamously mocked in an episode of Seinfeld), Take It To The Limit and the like, with later tracks such as Hotel California (from which the book’s title is taken, of course), Life In The Fast Lane and, finally, Heartache Tonight churned out as Henley and Frey indulged in the maelstrom of ‘70s rock excess, with gallons of booze, endless broken relationships, massive egos, appalling infighting, and veritable mountains (and mountains) of cocaine.

Written with Wall’s trademark, slightly trippy, sometimes-foul-mouthed flair, this is quite a tale, no matter how snarky the author tends to sound. And yes, maybe we are all being a bit unfair: Hotel California IS, it must be said, a cool song, and the Eagles did put out one of the very best-selling records of all time.

True, it was a cynical Greatest Hits collection (and therefore not an actual album like Sgt. Pepper’s, or Thriller, or Nevermind), so come on, Don. Take it easy!

Hachette Australia: Trapeze, RRP $34.99

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