DON HENLEY AND Glenn Frey, who would later form the artistic backbone of the Eagles, were among the millions of teenagers who, in the '60s, heard songs like the Beach Boys' "California Girls" and the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin' " and dreamed about coming to the promised land.
"We all watched the sun set in the West every night of adolescence and thought someday of coming out here," Frey once said. "It all seemed so romantic--the Life magazine articles about Golden Gate Park and the Sunset Strip, and the music: the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield. It was definitely the archetype of the most beautiful place in the world."
Guitars in hand, they moved to Los Angeles, Frey from Detroit and Henley from Texas. After brief stints in unsuccessful bands, they met one night at the Troubadour bar--and began putting their own dream together. The Eagles were signed by David Geffen's Asylum Records and had a hit right away with a smooth, disarming record called, "Take It Easy" in 1972.
Though the Eagles became the biggest-selling group in America for a while in the late '70s, life was far from easy. Using California as a metaphor for the nation, Henley and Frey wrote about the pursuit of their own dreams, drawing upon their experiences in rock to reflect the innocence ("New Kid in Town"), seduction ("One of These Nights") and disillusionment ("The Sad Cafe") of that search.
Nothing, however, defined the group's love / hate relationship with Los Angeles and the rock kingdom better than "Hotel California," the nightmarish song that won a Grammy as the best record of 1977:
Last thing I remember
I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before.
"Relax," said the night man.
"We are programmed to receive.
"You can check out any time you like
"But you can never leave."
Eventually, tensions in the group were too much and the Eagles disbanded. But a decade later, other young songwriters continue to deal with many of the same ambitions and frustrations. In "Welcome to the Boomtown," one of the most commanding singles of 1986, David + David sound like they could have been describing a scene at the Hotel California:
Cristina drives a .944
Satisfaction oozes from her pores
She keeps rings on her fingers
Marble on her floor
Cocaine in her dresser
Bars on her doors . . . .
So I say . . . pick a habit
We got plenty to go around.
The most recent Eagles-influenced commentary is Richard Marx's recent Top 5 hit, "Don't Mean Nothing." One reason that the record--an angry description of the struggle experienced by so many aspiring musicians--sounds so much like an Eagles number is that ex-Eagles Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmidt sang background vocals.
Marx, however, is one of the hopefuls who succeeded, moving here from Chicago and quickly finding work as a songwriter and background singer. Still, Marx, 24, knows about the heartaches behind the California Dream:
This race is for rats
It can turn you upside down
Ain't no one you can count on
In this sleazy little town.
Enough songs like that and you'd think the migration here would slow, but the kingdom is still programmed to receive. The dream is more powerful than any warning of a nightmare.