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For those of you who don’t know, the Eagles were one of the defining bands of the seventies. Love them or hate them, their songs are rock-solid, irresistible, hook-laden tributes to surviving the coming-of-age process. I watched The History of the Eagles last week and it reinforced several things about creativity in my mind that I want to share with you.
One: There is no straight road to success. Don Henley, drummer for the Eagles, probably thought he was on his way when, as a teenager, he convinced Kenny Rogers to listen to his band play at a club in a small Texas town. That band wasn’t the Eagles, nor was it the band before the Eagles.
Each member trod a complicated path towards, in, and out (and back in (and back out)) of the Eagles. There were bands before, bands after, solo careers, no career, many things that occurred to make what Joe Walsh described as the inevitable novel you see in hindsight. No one going through it could have much sense of what was coming, or whether any particular event was important.
Two: The best work comes in collaboration. No matter who the lineup, the Eagles were always four or five guys whose individual talents were strong enough to make them headliners alone. When they found a way to work together, they created something none of them could have done by themselves, no matter how good they were, as you can see even in the Eagles’ performances of the solo songs by Henley on the Hell Freezes Over video.
And that collaboration doesn’t have to be neat or pleasant. Add to the mix god-awful fights and petty disagreements, plus the assistance of a wheeler-dealer manager and the friend/foe role of record companies, and you can see how powerful the winds were blowing that moved them across the water. Like it or not, heat creates wonderfully cooked results.
Three: The way you tell your story will determine how you think about yourself. Henley and Frey saw the creation of a hierarchy, like a football team, with them deciding who played what part, as being the best way for the band to succeed. It may be that without their commitment to this story, they might not have been able to do what they did.
The story may have kept the insecurities and self-doubt at bay so they could get the work done. This strategy also took its toll on the relationships in the band, particularly with Don Felder, who may have felt himself a victim of this story as he tried to fit inside of it. In the end, the band members were more attached to their stories than each other, and that’s a very sad thing to watch.
I may never have a chance to do anything remotely as influential as the Eagles. Even so, I have as much to gain from the lessons as they did. The dangers and rewards, on a smaller scale, remain for anyone with the courage to follow.