Monday, April 21, 2014

In Defense Of: "Hotel California" by The Eagles

This In Defense Of was contributed by Brian Bender, an Brooklyn-based (coming soon to Los Angeles!) musician, music engineer, and producer who hates haters and loves the warm smells of colitas.

Oh, The Eagles.

There may be no lower hanging fruit for self-styled Cusack-ian haters and laypeople, both. It’s such a cliché to loathe The Eagles that there’s even that bit in The Big Lebowski about how The Dude “really fucking hate[s] the Eagles, man." (He'd had a rough night.)

So how did I find myself in the unenviable position of defending this band?

I’m a record maker by trade and, as such, the playlist here in the studio is usually a well-curated one of the inspirations and influences pertinent to the project at hand. For pleasure listening, it’s a combination of shit that I just plain love, new and old, and sharing deep T.V. versions of those favorites on YouTube. Every muso knows this hole: never trust a producer who has lost their ability to be a fan.

However, a few years back, I was driving back to my hometown in Indiana from Brooklyn and decided to not bring any music of my own. Instead, I wanted to see how the radio along the way could do. I ended up revisiting a whole bunch of music that I had completely forgotten about, got hip to some bands I’d been sleeping on (notably, Spoon), and got in more than my fair share of talk radio.

In the years that followed, I’ve just kinda continued this tradition in the car. It has been really helpful for me to inject some entropy into my ears with music that I would normally be far too cool to enjoy sincerely. This simple act has broadened my horizons considerably and also led to a few shocking conclusions, one of which has brought us together today.

Hotel California” is a fucking awesome song.

After playing the radio game a while, I’ve pretty much settled on the classic rock station and, as such, have to suffer “Hotel California” once per car trip on average. Usually, the song would be well underway and exactly .3 seconds of the smirking, leathery croon of Don Henley or the epicly buttrock doubled/harmonized guitar outro would be enough for me to tune it out immediately. “CORNY DADROCK BULLSHIT,” my inner muso would cry, and I’d check and see if WFUV was playing Prince Rama, or Pere Ubu, or some other shit that I could use to convince myself I really knew what time it was. “Abba Zaba,” oh good. I love Safe as Milk.

One day, however, as whatever Billy Joel tune faded out, that characteristic chime started in. For half a bar, I thought I’d happened upon the radio score of the century in the form of Shuggie Otis's version of “Strawberry Letter 23.” I cracked a knowing smile for the forthcoming endorphins to come from that dulcet serenade. But by beat 3, I realized I had actually been listening to — and enjoying — the motherfucking Eagles. Hotel Goddamn California.

Color me mortified. I actually looked around for a second to see if anyone caught me in that moment of shame. (I had the windows down.) I was so thoroughly disarmed by my genuine enjoyment of this object of ridicule — even for two measly quarter notes — that I decided to go with it. I tried to suspend my preconceptions of all the tailgate parties, all the aging NASCAR brides losing their panties, all the trips to Home Depot that this was the soundtrack for. I figured if anything could be confused with “Strawberry Letter 23”, it behooved me to give it a proper chance.

As I started to listen with open ears, I also started to finally get it. The allegory is thoughtful and engaging, and those motherfuckers can all play their asses off. Shit, they used to be Linda Ronstadt’s band. The fucking drum sound is the platonic ideal of super tight '70s drums. The whole sonic landscape is that perfect height of analog '70s vibe. Damn, cat has ridiculous pocket on the acoustic guitar...fuck, the arrangement is smart…this is good.

What does it say about our generation that I have been tasked with defending The Eagles? These motherfuckers have the second-highest selling record in the U.S. — third in the world — and I’m supposed to convince you they have merit? Why “Hotel California” is fucking awesome? It endlessly cracks me up how divisive this opinion is. You either get knowing winks from other secret fans or deep-seated vitriol but never, ever apathy.

Why do we feel the need to make apologies for music we love but the zeitgeist tells us we should be ashamed of? Do I need to obliquely name-check Beefheart again just so you guys will think I actually have taste? Shit, the waterproofing of the device you are reading this on was probably tested in the factory by the tears of the asian orphan-slave that made it, but people need to get up my ass because I like “Hotel California.”

There are so many tired arguments against "Hotel California" that it would be a fools errand to endeavor to address them all. Too popular? Too obvious? Too slick? Too much the soundtrack to your parent’s consummation?

I just spent this whole rant being an apologist for my own taste and that sucks terribly. We’re responsible for that cultural climate. Well, I for one am not going to accept the shade any more. Shit like this that is uncool but great is so often relegated to guilty pleasure status. I don’t buy it. I’m not shooting heroin into my cock. I’m not training dachshunds to kill. It’s fucking “Hotel California.”

Eat a dick, cool kid. Disassociate your hatred of the fans and the overhyped ubiquity of this song, listen with even a modicum of objectivity and you may be as shocked as I was to find that “Hotel California” is actually pretty fucking good.

—  Brian Bender

Previous Entries of "In Defense Of":
Brian LaRue, In Defense Of: ELO 

Jon Mann, In Defense Of: Hair Metal 

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