Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)
By Don Felder
Published by Wiley (2008)
I don’t know if the Eagles are any good. I don’t even know if I actually like the Eagles. I say this despite the fact that I own almost all of their albums. At first I was going to say that I’m indifferent to the Eagles but that would be incorrect too – I have a connection to them that’s very strong, it’s just that that connection may or may not be musically related. Okay, it has to be musically related because I don’t personally know any current or former Eagles but it’s a different musical connection than any other artist I like or dislike. Different because the Eagles were basically the soundtrack to my childhood. From the time I was four to when I turned twelve it seems like the Eagles were either on the radio, spinning on a turntable or playing on 8-track in Mom’s awesome Lincoln Mark IV. In short, the Eagles ruled the airwaves (probably one of the main reasons the Ramones wanted the airwaves so badly). Whether I was getting ready for a little league game, walking to the arcade with five dollars worth of quarters pulling my pants down, getting dropped off at the swimming pool or torturing my little sister in some new way the Eagles were seemingly always on. To me the Eagles are shag carpet, a microwave the size of a refrigerator, Gremlins and Pacers and Capris – but most of all they’re my mom and dad. So, to this day, any time an Eagles song plays I get a feeling of, well, comfort.
Apparently making the music as an Eagle was decidedly not comfortable. At least according to Heaven and Hell author Don Felder. Which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider Glenn Frey’s famous quote about Don Henley: “No one can suck the fun out of a room faster than Don Henley.” And upon joining the band Felder himself said that he felt like he was joining a band that was breaking up. As you’ve no doubt gathered from the sub-heading of Heaven and Hell this is Don Felder’s story of his time in the Eagles. Sure, it starts with the obligatory Felder family history followed by Felder’s introduction to music and his subsequent path crossing with the likes of Tom Petty, Gregg and Duane Allman, Stephen Stills, etc. but the obvious main thrust of the book is Felder’s drug and fight fueled time with the Eagles. During this time we learn that Frey and Henley could be complete jerks (they didn’t want founding members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner to be part of their induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame), Joe Walsh always sounded high, drunk or both because he was actually high, drunk or both and if you wanted to play bass and sing in the Eagles it helped if you had previously played bass and sang for Poco. We also learn that Felder got fired from the Eagles by Henley and Frey in 2001. So your first thought may be something along the lines of, “Hey, that guy’s got an axe to grind and this is only his side of the story.” And, yeah, I can see that. It is only one side of the story and Felder can’t help but engage in a bit of self-preservation but I didn’t find it to be all that, uh, axe-grindy. For all of the negatives that are described you can still see that Felder has a firm admiration and respect for his former band mates and that basically he’s just bummed that he’s lost that musical forum and those friendships due to greed (that’s what Felder blames anyway).
Heaven and Hell is written in a laid back manner not unlike a lot of Eagles music. Nothing fancy, just straight story telling with an easy conversational tone. Felder details the complicated behind-the-scenes dysfunction of the band and also provides the usual rock and roll excess stories of sex and drugs. The only problem I found with this was that Felder tells the “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” stories as if they’re revelatory in some way – it’s almost like his cable package didn’t include VH1 in the late 90’s so he didn’t realize we already know all that stuff. I’m not saying that’s what he really thinks but that’s how it comes off. The only other problem was the handling of the curious issue of greed. Felder states many times that his time with the band made him fabulously wealthy (and continues to) and the reason for his firing was because he had the nerve to fight Henley and Frey and the new deal that was put together after their reunion in 1994. He calls them greedy while simultaneously wanting a bigger piece of the pie for himself (or the same piece of the pie he had before). Sure, it’s the principle of the thing (and in his defense he didn’t lie down and take it like Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt) and I get that but when the pie is as big as the Eagles’ pie…
Overall, Heaven and Hell is a good look inside one of the biggest bands in rock history. For some, like my mom, it may be too good a look inside. I don’t think it would comfort Mom to know that there were no peaceful, easy feelings while the Eagles recorded “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”