Cocaine and Colitas: Hotel California Reconsidered

Hotel California poster insert: Walsh, Felder, Frey, Meisner, Henley. Photograph by Norman Seef.

Hotel California, by the Eagles. 1976

The Eagles’ classic is ubiquitous, but it is it essential?

The Eagles (or, more specifically, Don Henley and Glenn Frey) were often viewed as cocaine-fueled El Lay misogynists. I think the cocaine-fueled and El Lay are indisputable, but is the misogynist tag a little unfair? Could be.

I’ve always been fascinated by Hotel California, the Eagles’ bazillion selling magnum opus, and how it plays with that perception in mind.

Hotel California is the Eagles stretching their powers as far as the rubber band will allow before it snaps or loses its shape forever, leaving them nowhere else to head but down. No surprise that their only subsequent release as an active band was the lackluster The Long Run, a collection of half-assed disco shuffles and by-the-numbers rockers. (Aside from barely an Eagle Timothy B. Schmidt’s heartfelt soft rock gem “I Can’t Tell You Why,” and barely upright Eagle Joe Walsh’s catchy as hell guitar rocker “In the City,” which also closed Walter Hill’s late 70s schlock classic The Warriors.)

For what it’s worth, the stretched rubber band theory is one I apply to most great rock acts who spend any time working under the Album as Art theory of record making (acknowledging that there have been many, many Not Great bands operating under this theory). The Beatles wisely realized they’d reached that point with Abbey Road, and packed it in before the slope slipped. The Stones began that climb with Beggar’s Banquet, and went from strength to strength until they reached their apex by plunging back down through the depths with Exile on Main St. The Kinks bucked the trend to some degree by releasing one pretty brilliant and one almost pretty brilliant album after their ultimate statement of intent, The Village Green Preservation Society. The Who … well, the Who never really got there. They fooled the world into believing Tommy was their Everest flag-planting, but the truth is Quadrophenia was a better album. All of which obscures the fact that the Who’s greatest album is Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, a perfect collection of classic singles, few of which managed to tickle the U.S. charts.

And then there are the Loves (Forever Changes) and Zombies (Odessey & Oracle), who strayed outside their comfort zones long enough to produce single discs that stand up to the greatest of the Greatest, despite neither band ever really being truly among the Greatest. (And, yes, both bands were otherwise very, very good at times.)

Whew. I digress.

Let’s start with this: Is Hotel California a great album?

I’d like to say it is, but it might not even be the Eagles’ best album. I think, assuming assessing a “best” of anything Eagles-related doesn’t make your stomach clench, an argument could be made for One of These Nights (the album that immediately preceded this one — which easily wins the battle of cover art, anyway). But Hotel California is the most Eagles of Eagles albums, and stands as the best summation of their moment in the sun. And, it marks that moment when tuneful music produced by strong personalities could dominate the American pop culture landscape like no other medium.

In hindsight, Hotel California, riding shotgun with Fleetwood Mac’s equally mammoth Rumours, stands as a signpost in a pivotal moment in pop culture’s de-evolution from artist-controlled playground to complete corporate takeover. The suits always knew there was money in the music, but, holy shit, this much money?

Hotel California is an arrogant, confident, pretentious, calculated work of fiction, and you can hum along to it. It’s dominated by Don Henley, but it’s the input of the other band members that prevents it from completely collapsing under its own weight.

So, in review, let’s start with the title track, which can almost definitely be tuned in somewhere on your terrestrial radio dial at this very moment.

“Hotel California” started as a killer guitar riff by lead guitarist Don Felder. (Fittingly, Felder, who primarily kept his head down and played the shit out of his guitar throughout the Eagles’ history, eventually became estranged from the band.) Once Don Henley grafted his lyrics to the music, the song became the ultimate distillation of the Eagles’ Desert Cocaine Tableau. Most of the group’s biggest hits were pretty direct, lyrically. A woman either pissed them off, or a woman was invited to lay down in the desert with them. Or sometimes the women were left behind while the band wrote their own desperado inspired mythology. But the fragmented imagery in “Hotel California” could only really make sense if the listener has a straw permanently lodged up his nose. The Witchy Woman of the past becomes the hostess of a demonic hostel where pink champagne replaces wine and pretty boys dance endlessly in sweat drenched courtyards. It seems as if the Hotel California is a place to run to and to run from, and we’re pretty sure Henley is only lamenting the “mirrors on ceiling” because all of his coke is now going to wind up on the floor.

With all of that said, the interplay between the guitars is deathless, and even vague descriptions of driving through the desert at night are enough to conjure up personal imagery for anyone confused as to what “colitas” is (are?). (The fact that the Eagles played an acoustic version of this live is either proof that they’re assholes, or that, like Eric Clapton’s tedious acoustic return to “Layla,” they just don’t quite understand the reasons for their own success — Felder trumps Henley here, and that’s that.)

With that out of the way, we catch our breath and listen to the gang take it down a notch (with the help of JD Souther — the Eagles were never lacking for talented SoCal co-conspirators, starting at the beginning with Jackson Browne) with “New Kid in Town,” which, damn it, is pretty unassailable, musically. It’s got hooks for days, lush production that never swamps the tune, and a sincere, understated vocal performance from Glenn Frey, backed by great group harmonies. What? The lyrics? Well, okay. The woman is doing him wrong (in the third person, for some reason — maybe it’s not manly to admit you’re the one being cuckolded?), and she’s not living up to her end of the bargain, and…

Okay, you get the point. It’s a Henley/Frey lyric.

“Life in the Fast Lane” (it’s interesting to note the band led the album off with Hotel California’s only three single releases — all smash hits, of course) kicks in next, and we’re reminded overtly of the cocaine. It’s a great radio rocker — guitar licks weaving in and out, featuring maybe the slickest production on the album, and Henley doesn’t spare the dude in the equation this time, letting us know that both parties are feeding each other’s sinful excesses (sex and drugs). It’s a tale as old as Los Angeles, and the spoken “are you with me so far” dropped in by Henley manages to insult the listener almost by accident. (Yeah, we’re with you, Don! Sex and drugs go hand-in-hand with rock and roll, brother! Revelation!)

And then we roll into “Wasted Time,” in which Henley (boy, so far, this is really a Don disc more than a Glenn disc) strains to let the poor dumb broad who left him know that she’s done nothing but fuck up her love life by fucking the wrong dudes, and, most importantly, by leaving Henley. It’s definitely this type of sentiment that allows critics to glue the MYSOGYNY label on our heroes. It never occurs to Don that this girl might have made the right choice in leaving a dude who not only plods through an orchestrated piano ballad about the terrible decisions she’s made, but backs it up with an orchestral reprise to hammer the point home. (The reprise actually originally opened side two, just to make sure you couldn’t escape the sentiment by flipping over the album — the fucking Eagles led off side two of their biggest album with an orchestral reprise. Admire their balls.)

The sequencing of Hotel California comes across as pretty messy in the era of the compact disc/digital album, with the “Wasted Time(s)” dropped right smack into the middle of things, and “Life in the Fast Lane” book-ending the song(s) with the next track up …

And it’s another Henley rocker (what demons was Frey battling in 1976 that allowed him to take such a backseat to his his white ‘fro-sporting partner?), “Victim of Love.” It’s a catchy kicker about … some poor dumb broad. I hate to harp on the cocaine (obviously not true), but how much of it was Stevie Nicks doing to think Henley was a fun dude to party with? Anyway, this one is another radio staple, despite never being released as a single. Truthfully, all the album really needed was “Life in the Fast Lane” to remind us the boys could rock a little. But here they slowed it down a notch in case you had trouble keeping up with them the first time.

And then, out of nowhere, we’re dropped into Joe Walsh’s melancholy reflection on life, “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” I can’t say exactly what the Eagles were thinking when they pulled Walsh into the band (”Hey — this dude makes us look sober!”), but I’d be hard-pressed to believe they anticipated his first recorded contribution would be such a beautiful, naked sentiment, punctuated not with his trademark guitar rips, but by piano and synthesizer. It’s a jarring shift in tone, helping the album achieve an eclectic vibe it was struggling to achieve with Henley dominating the proceedings, and all the more powerful for it.

Anyway, great track. And it’s followed by another great track.

Backing up “Pretty Maids” is, for my money, the best track on the album, and one of the most overlooked songs in the band’s catalog. No coincidence it’s a Randy Meisner song. “Try and Love Again” is a soaring, hopeful rocker, punctuated by Meisner’s upper register, and some truly uplifting guitar soloing. It’s a mystery why this track wasn’t released as a single, unless Henley and Frey were still annoyed that Meisner’s “Take It to the Limit” was the band’s first number one single. But it’s the one track from the album I find myself revisiting most often, without apology. It’s also worth noting that while Meisner’s lyric is treading on self-pity, he’s not blaming a chick for his problems.

At this point we’ve wound our way through a collection of hit singles, timeless riffs, and a couple of contributions from lesser used band members that stand up to the hits. It’s hard to say there’s a definite theme at play here, although California and Los Angeles are definite players on the scene. So it’s up to Henley, again, to hammer things home with the most pretentious track in the Eagles’ entire catalog.

“The Last Resort” answers the question, “What if Randy Newman didn’t have a sense of humor?” A confused history of California (and over seven minutes long, to punctuate its importance as a statement), complete with references to the “Red Man” and Malibu and all of those bright lights that sullied the landscape, presented by a group that pretty actively moved closer and closer to the neon the further their hitmaking prowess ascended. The song starts as a literal travelogue about a girl from Providence (“The one in Rhode Island”), and then slips into a reminder that California has really succeeded at excess, which is evidently a bad thing.

In the end, it’s all the preacher’s fault, anyway. One suspects that Henley (and Frey?) realized he wasn’t really headed toward any logical conclusions with this one, and the lesson we’re left with is that the missionaries traded the Red Man’s peace of mind and started us on the path toward…well…all of that cocaine and colitas, I guess. (It is a pretty tune, though.)

And that’s it. Nine songs (split into ten tracks), three hit singles, and 38 million copies sold.

Is Hotel California essential? In terms of understanding the “evolution” of pop culture, it’s an essential landing point for those curious how Los Angeles went from acoustic canyon-dwelling hippie haven to the paranoid personal driveway for limos filled with coke-addled celebrities wearing sunglasses at midnight because the lights fuck with what’s left of their peripheral vision.

But in the battle of juggernaut Los Angeles pop albums, Rumours creams Hotel California because Fleetwood Mac can be heard shutting out the world and wrestling with their relationships while coincidentally at the peak of their songwriting and performing abilities, whereas the Eagles were trying to make statements without much to state. Rumours is essential. Hotel California sounds good when you’re not paying attention too closely.

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Summer Soundtrack

Sharing my soundtrack as spring slid into what looks to be a long summer. Vintage soul, African grooves, a slash of disco and a drop of reggae:

This playlist:

  1. If You Want Me to Stay by Sly & The Family Stone
  2. Tired of Being Alone by Al Green
  3. When You Were Mine by Prince
  4. Strawberry Letter 23 by Shuggie Otis
  5. Can You Get to This by Funkadelic
  6. Didn’t I by Darando
  7. Come On Home by Lijadu SIsters
  8. Les Fleurs by Minnie Ripperton
  9. It’s Not Easy by Ofege
  10. You’ve Got a Woman by Lion
  11. You Can Have It All by George McCrae
  12. Jezahel by Shirley Bassey
  13. The Time for Peace is Now by Fantastic Shadows
  14. Like a Ship by Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir
  15. Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield
  16. House of the Rising Sun by Idris Muhammad
  17. Take Yo’ Praise by Camille Yarbrough
  18. Gentle Persuasion by Doug Hream Blunt
  19. Aretha, Sing One for Me by George Jackson
  20. Where Did We Go Wrong by The O’Jays
  21. She’s Gone by Bob Marley & The Wailers
  22. Never Can Say Goodbye by Isaac Hayes
  23. Lay Lady Lay by The Isley Brothers
  24. Everybody Was Rockin’ by Betty Wright
  25. I Like What You Give by Nolan Porter
  26. Nantucket Island by Willie Wright
  27. Keep It Comin’ Love KC & The Sunshine Band
  28. What Is Hip? by Tower of Power
  29. I Dig You by Demis Roussos
  30. There’s One Thing That Beats Falling by Bobby Womack
  31. Trouble, Heartaches and Sadness by Ann Peebles
  32. Summer Breeze by The Main Ingredient
  33. Here Today and Gone Tomorrow by Ohio Players

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ENDLESS SUMMER, BOOK ONE: DEAD MAN’S CURVE solicited for June…

After years of working to get it out the door, the graphic novel ENDLESS SUMMER: DEAD MAN’S CURVE has been solicited to appear in shops in June. It’s actually available for preorder just about anywhere you can order books. So have at it!

Written by me, all art, color and letters by Shane White:

On the 1960’s California coast, rogue FBI agent Scott Ivory is determined to root out any threats of potential espionage and recruits a group of young misfits to further his covert government agenda.

Former FBI agent Scott Ivory gathers a group of young kids to counter communist and criminal activities on the streets of the California coast. With a modest budget and a loose agenda, his simple counterintelligence program quickly becomes an outlet for Ivory to use for his own designs, and the kids become pawns in a game of tug-of-war between government agents.

A dark spin on early sixties pop culture, Endless Summer, Vol. 1: Dead Man’s Curve is based on 1960’s Huntington Beach, California–a thrilling sunshine-noir graphic novel rampant with drugs, murder, and government espionage.

On the 1960’s California coast, rogue FBI agent Scott Ivory is determined to root out any threats of potential espionage and recruits a group of young misfits to further his covert government agenda.

Former FBI agent Scott Ivory gathers a group of young kids to counter communist and criminal activities on the streets of the California coast. With a modest budget and a loose agenda, his simple counterintelligence program quickly becomes an outlet for Ivory to use for his own designs, and the kids become pawns in a game of tug-of-war between government agents.

A dark spin on early sixties pop culture, Endless Summer, Vol. 1: Dead Man’s Curve is based on 1960’s Huntington Beach, California—a thrilling sunshine-noir graphic novel rampant with drugs, murder, and government espionage.

Publisher

Insight Comics

Page from ES:DMC.

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MILES TO GO #4 – April 7th

Due to an unexpected death in the family, MILES TO GO #4 was delayed a bit, but will be on stands April 7th.

These things are hard to avoid, as the physical work that goes into creating the book is handled by a small number of people. I write the book, Stephen Molnar does the very heavy lifting and pencils, inks, and, with assistance from Nova Lee-Fortier, colors the book. Following the departure of Thomas Mauer, the book is lettered by Dave Sharpe. Gracious editorial support is provided by Mike Marts, along with Christina Harrington.

Here are the cover and a few preview pages from the issue:

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MILES TO GO #1 is out…

…and receiving fantastic reviews! Very gratifying to see so much positive response. Issue one dropped on 9/24. Issue two out in late October.

“This is one of those books where you get to the end of it and realize what a great read it was, that you want more, and that a re-read is necessary right now. ” – The Fandom Post

“‘Miles to Go’ rises above the usual tropes and delivers a suspenseful, smart, and sincere crime story full of pitch perfect characters.” – Multiversity

“Masterful, clean, and attention grabbing. Miles To Go #1 seems like the perfect thriller to usher in the Fall, and I encourage any fan of Crime (with that big ol C) stories to pick this series up before it takes off.” – Comics Bookcase

“Where it all goes after this debut, I seriously have no idea. But, it has me excited and intrigued to find out. That’s the measure of a successful comic, do I want to come back for more? Miles to Go #1 nails that down and then some.” – Graphic Policy

“Once again we see why Aftershock is a go-to publishing house. The writing here is spectacular and the interiors are gorgeous. Did you get yours?” – Reading with a Flight Ring

“Based on just this one issue, it seems like it’s going to be an incredible ride. It did what great comics are supposed to do; it left me wanting more.” – Scoop at Previewsworld.com

“A synopsis of Miles to Go may make someone mistake it for a more generic story of sordid pasts and redemption, but the characters we’ve met so far do wonders to break the series apart from others.” – Comicbook.com8

Here’s a look at the covers for MILES TO GO #2 (out at the end of October!). Standard cover by co-creator Stephen Molnar, and a variant by Jeremy Haun:

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OUR FIGHTING FORCES GIANT #1

It’s been two years since I posted anything new here, but I’d like to keep it better updated for anyone who drops by.

Last month saw the release of OUR FIGHTING FORCES GIANT #1, in both a comic shop and a mass market (Walmart) edition. The book features a reprint of a story I wrote, drawn by Paul McCaffrey, for MEN OF WAR #4 several years ago.

I had no idea this was happening, but it was nice to see. The story is a small personal favorite of mine. (although I made the mistake of reading a new review, which wasn’t exactly positive. It was well-reviewed at the time, and I like it, anyway) Paul’s style isn’t exactly typical of DC, especially for a war book, but that’s fine with me.

The story features the debut (and only appearance, I think) of “Skull & ‘Bots,” which we’d originally intended to call “Skunkworks” before DC legal said no-no. I still quite like the concept. Some geek types designing special military hardware for the armed forces, under the watchful eye of their handler, who also procures their budgets…

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It’s one of two war stories I did for DC. The other being an earlier stand-alone issue of OUR FIGHTING FORCES, featuring the Losers. Art by Chad Hardin and Wayne Faucher. I haven’t looked back at that one in a while. (Nifty Mark Schultz cover below)

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Anyway, if you’re near a Walmart, look for it! It’s one of the better 100-page Walmart books I’ve seen, beyond our story.

 

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The Comic Writer YouTube Channel…

….has launched:

 

Take a gander. Subscribe. Comment!

 

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’76? Jackie Karma!

Hey, visitors. Have a link to a scan of the fourth JACKIE KARMA story, from ’76 #4 (the cover is from ’76 #5, just because I love it do much).

Jackie remains unfinished, but Ed Tadem and I still have plans to finish it, in a nicer looking format.

Anyway…one of my favorites:

JACKIE KARMA!

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Okay, then. Wichita in November

Well, Wizard has postponed Wizard World Springfield until late 2018, so I’ve decided to attend Air Capital Comiccon in Wichita, Kansas the weekend of November 11-12.

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Wichita is the closest thing to a hometown I suppose I have, and I don’t spend enough time there these days, so it’ll be nice to get back. Here’s hoping the weather is friendly:

AIR CAPITAL!

 

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WIZARD WORLD SPRINGFIELD (November)

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I haven’t been to a Wizard show in quite a while, but will be in Springfield, Missouri in November (10-12). Drop by if you’re close.

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