From time to time I talk tunes here on the blog. I’ve never been any sort of musician, never played an instrument (except for the piano, badly), can’t sing on key if my life depended on it. But music looms largely in my life. My tastes are eclectic: rock, rap, classical, bagpipes, reggae, folk, swing, country, and much more. Waltzing down memory lane, now there’s an image, has caused the tunes of my teens to play through my head. There’s “Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers, memorable to me because of a date night to the movies with my first steady beau. Can’t forget the favorites of the high school dances: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “China Grove,” “Color My World,” “California Girls,” and the basement party classic “Suffragette City.”
As I’ve grown older and more in love with language, the lyrics carry me as much as the rhythm. And if I had to choose one band from my youth that I most favor it would have to be the Eagles. I appreciate the layers of their songs much more as my life experience and understanding progresses. Which Eagle is my favorite? It’s Don Henley, mostly because of his Walden Pond initiative. My English degree featured a concentration to early American Literature so I appreciate his recognition of Henry David Thoreau.
My favorite track? Hands down it’s “The Last Resort.” When my mood craves a ballad, this one often fits the bill. In true ballad form, it spans several minutes and several verses. The song references so many of our integral American themes: 1. Immigration – “She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee/Just as her father came from across the sea.” 2. Native Americans – “They spoke about the red man’s way, how they loved the land.” 3. The American West – “And they came from everywhere to the Great Divide/Seeking a place to stand or a place to hide.” And there are many others.
What is it really about? Kinda harkens back to Thoreau. We have a habit of wrecking things with our Westward expansion and the way we gobble land and resources. Thoreau urged us to live simply. He observed trains in the 1840’s and was concerned about what the smoke belching from the stacks would do to the air.
But Manifest Destiny is finite. “‘Cause there is no more new frontier/We have got to make it here”. What we’ve done is consume resources at an alarming rate. “Some rich men came and raped the land/Nobody caught ’em.” To paraphrase “Big Yellow Taxi,” we’ve “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Don Henley and Glenn Frey close their song simply, but powerfully: “You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.” Think about it.
Hey, when this was a B side single I liked the melody. Now that I actually understand it, I appreciate it all the more for its powerful messages.
***homage to Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joni Mitchell