Albatross: The Eagles and the Power of Success

Take it to the limit one more timeChoreographer Twyla Tharp recommends in her book The Creative Habit that when reading an author who has more than one book, starting with the most recent one and then working backwards is the most effective as regards understanding just how that author’s thinking developed. That idea came to mind when reading the postscript to the recently published Da Capo Press edition of To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles by Marc Eliot. The book originally appeared in 1998. This paperback edition includes some further observations from Eliot about, primarily, Don Henley. No, I didn’t start contemplating reading Eliot’s earlier works on Walt Disney, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Ochs, and Cary Grant. While a reasonably good writer, Eliot is prone to flights of metaphoric excess, with the excess loading the thing down such that the flight is bathetic. To wit: “For what had first made them so great was also what had always driven them so crazy, from their first downshift in the speed zone to the final gassy rev down memory lane. Inevitably, it seemed, no matter how fast they drove, they could never quite lose the reflection that tailed them in the rearview: the image of their own heated youth, already exhausted by their high-speed, chrome-dipped, supercharged, and eternally conflicted souls.” Sounds like Dante morphed by the writers of a Mazda commercial. Zoom-zoom.

No, what occurred to me is that the postscript sheds light on all that was foregoing in the book. While the preceding pages have a whiff of hagiography about them, especially as regards Henley, when Eliot pounds out the postscript he reveals that the book as it first appeared was one that was, in effect, compromised. Briefly, the original publisher of the book, Little, Brown, had been purchased by Time-Warner before the book was printed. Don Henley’s lawyer let the publisher of Warner Books know that Henley was unhappy with what he knew about the forthcoming “unauthorized” rendition of the band’s story. It just so happened that in 1997 Henley was, in Eliot’s words, Warner’s “most commercially successful client.”

Henley had apparently claimed that there were numerous mistakes in the manuscript that he’d read. And he wasn’t happy. A meeting was set up. Henley, Eliot relates, said that he’d provide Eliot with a tape of a meeting he’d had enumerating all of the errors “if I [Eliot] were willing to remove the one brief passage from the book he most objected to (not on the grounds that it was wrong, he admitted, but because his eighty-two-year-old mother was still alive and he didn’t want to upset her).” Later in the postscript, Eliot describes the substance of what was in the deleted passage: “arrested in 1980 for being caught with an under-age girl who had overdosed on cocaine and Quaaludes, brought before a judge, and offered probation.” That event is not contained within the main body of the book.

What occurred after that original phone meeting between Eliot and Henley was that the two met: “I wouldn’t say Henley and I became friends, but we did go out for an occasional drink at night after a session [with the sessions including “going over every page of the manuscript”] and talk about everything that wasn’t on the record: women, cars, booze, drugs, and Los Angeles in the seventies.” There was the author, hanging out with an Eagle. No, they probably didn’t become friends. But imagine how Eliot must have felt, having his words assessed by his subject. “I eventually finished the rewrite,” Eliot relates.

Think on that for a moment.

The man had written a book about a subject. The subject finds out that there are some unflattering and erroneous things said. The book had been written without the cooperation of the subject. So the opportunity for error most certainly exists, especially as some of the people who were sources undoubtedly had memories that were potentially affected by frequent recreational drug use. So page by page, author and subject go over the manuscript, then retire to bars where there are, for example, “a young, buxom blond bartender in tight, short cut-offs.” Eliot became smitten. And not necessarily with the bartender.

What transpired, however, is that after the adjusted book was published, Henley was still unhappy, and so he went out trying to convince bookstores and record stores that they really didn’t want to be aggressively shilling To the Limit. As Eliot describes this campaign, it does sound a bit like using a weapon of mass destruction to crush an invertebrate. Imagine: a bona fide rock star of a huge magnitude telephoning the manager of a bookstore asking him to cancel a scheduled book signing. Eliot, as one can well imagine, undoubtedly felt betrayed by his almost-buddy. To say nothing of the fact that his income, predicated in part by the number of books being sold, was undoubtedly negatively affected by Henley’s actions.

But if it wasn’t for the additional pages added by Eliot in this new version of the book, there would be no way of knowing of Henley’s ostensible influence on the book as originally published.

Which in some ways is in keeping with a motive ascribed to the band that sold record number of discs. Describing the genesis of the band, Eliot writes:

It was naturally assumed by everyone that Frey was the new group’s leader. After all, he’d been the one who’d approached Henley about forming their own band, and the one who had convinced the others. The most important thing, he kept insisting, was not to make the same mistakes as groups like Poco—letting individual egos get in the way of the groups primary goal. The idea was for them to make great music together, as a unit, and lots of money doing it.

Henley agreed. ‘Money,’ he said, ‘was a much saner goal than adoration. They’ll both drive you crazy, but if I’m gonna blow my brains out for five years, I want something to show for it.’

And near the conclusion of the book, he writes:

The band offered no apologies for the money it made. ‘If you’re going to be in the business,’ according to one Eagle, ‘if you’re going to play with the big boys, then you have to learn the game. If we were money conscious, we still made a hell of a lot more money for the record company than for ourselves.’

The money consciousness is pervasive on all sides.


A few years ago, there was a print ad for a furrier. Blackgama. The campaign had the headline: “What becomes a legend most?” And then there would be a picture of a famous actress wearing a Blackgama mink. A variant of the ad as applied to the Eagles would answer “What becomes a legend most?”—for certainly the band did achieve that sort of stature—with a single word: “Absence.” The band’s returns and repackagings boosted their bottom lines but probably had a deleterious effect on the way that they will ultimately be perceived. The stuff of enduring legends isn’t made of imitations of things past.

9 thoughts on “Albatross: The Eagles and the Power of Success”

  1. DJ Murph: “So Mojo Nixon was right after all… Don Henley must die!!”

    I’m not sure whether or not Hen;ey’s death was contingent upon him getting back together with Glenn Frey. How’s Glenn looking these days? Still with the muscles?

  2. hard rock to rock hard. that bally’s ad always through me off. i gues we should forgive him his errors. afterall, what’s a guy to do when he’s got the smuggler’s blues?

  3. From what I recall, Frey had a bout with cancer which turned him into just another overpaid skinny dude. Fortunately, he survived the cancer, but (at least for a time, haven’t seen him lately) lost the buffed physique. Ah, cry me a river, Glenn; when you’re as rich as you are, you can stand to be a weakling like so many of us.

    Thank God they have Joe Walsh; without them, they’d be a valueless bunch of schmucks on the moldy-oldie circuit with Survivor and Bachman Turner Overdose.

  4. Thank God they have Joe Walsh; without them, they’d be a valueless bunch of schmucks on the moldy-oldie circuit with Survivor and Bachman Turner Overdose.


  5. While I appreciate Mr. Macaulay’s comments, it would have been more accurate for him to have told the entire story, and suspend much of his romantic speculation (and perhaps projection). This was not the first time I had had a run-in with a subject. Let him take a look at the history of the Disney book (another subject, I’m sorry to disappoint Mr. Macauley’s rather febrile imagination, I was not and never became enamored with), “The Whole Truth,” and even “Death of a Rebel.” In fact, I had tried to contact Henley right from the beginning, who is, as is the band, notoriously anti-press, and nearly impossible to write about. Because of the amount of research I had, he agreed to meet with me. Not only was that not a violation of any biographical ethics, it was a privilege. I took out the offending passage but left enough in so that anyone who wanted to know what had happened could find out. What I got in return was so much better and more important it came down to a decision I made, and made public (much to the disappointment of Macauley, I’m sure, who thinks he’s uncovered some great conspiracy here). And finally, if anyone was enamored of anyone, it was, for a while, Henley, who, after our off-the-record drinks (there’s a controversy) invited me to come and here him and his friends playing in some local clubs, unannounced, and to,in effect, join his L.A. crowd, which I didn’t do. I wrote the final chapter to expand on what had gone down in the writing of the original book, and to show Henley’s true character by what he did after I agreed to work with him. As for my metaphors, hey, that’s Macauley’s right not to like them (I’d like to read some of his but unfortunately none seem to have made it to print — including that final bit of self-congratulatory nonsense about Blackgama. This and the Twyla Tharp stuff are exactly what kills amateurish criticism, too much of the critic, not enough of the book, and all these “look how smart I am” references. Anyway, thanks for the review. I stand by this book and all my others, and welcome any and all reviews, even worthless ones like this.

    Marc Eliot

  6. Talk about “projection” and “ferbile imagination.”

    Let’s begin at the end, as I did with Mr. Eliot’s book. Somehow knowing about an advertising campaign and having read a book written by a woman who is one of the leading choreographers of our time (to say nothing of being the woman behind the exceedingly popular “Movin’ Out”) hardly strikes me as pretending to have some “look-how-smart-I-am” knowledge.

    If I am “disappointed” in anything, it’s that the end of Mr. Eliot’s current book belies what came before. No, I don’t think that there is any “conspiracy”; to his credit, Mr. Eliot points out what he says had happened. But what about the people who didn’t buy the DaCapo edition, who bought the book without the postscript that lays out what occurred during the writing of the book and the events that occurred after publication(e.g., Mr. Eliot being blackballed at book signings)? Assuming that the readers didn’t follow up on the clues that Mr. Eliot maintains he left in the original, what would they make of the situation, and would they have the same conclusion based on a reading of the updated edition? (I’d suggest that this seems to be a postmodernist approach to truth, but then I’d get critcized for reading books. Wait a minute: I read To The Limit. And look where that got me.) The last 23 pages of the book are worth the cover price for those who are interested in learning about the apparent ins-and-outs of the music and publishing industries. But given the content of those pages, one could be dubious about the other 260. There is no doubt that Mr. Eliot did a tremendous amount of research. But he casts a shadow over his own work.

    As for being an “amateur”: In this context, I’d say there’s something to not being concerned with renumeration.

  7. Mr. Eliot:

    Assuming that you are gonna come back and look at this page again (hell, *I* would if I were a writer), those court cases regarding Henley and his trysts with an underage woman are a matter of public record, right? What you were attempting to publish before the corporate thugs strong-armed their way upon your work is TRUTH, and both you and I know the best defense against slander and libel concerns is, you guessed it, truth. While this is ultimately neither here nor there to the ruthless treatment your manuscript endured, it shows the unfortunate spineless state of affairs with your publisher, who buckled under pressure to sanitize an admittedly unauthorized account of the Eagles. I don’t fully know (or even pretend to know) all of the political machinations that went down with your book, but if Mr. Henley is going to pore over every page of your book, you could have hardballed right back and said, “OK, you can have your ‘corrections’ as long as the subtitle of my book will say ‘The Authorized Bio of the Eagles’ and not ‘Unauthorized’.”

    Besides, with a situation this contorted, I would have considered collecting the publisher’s money, but asking that the final product be published under a pseudonym.


    Jack Murphy

  8. EDIT: I just noticed the title is “Untold Story”, not “Unauthorized”. Clever, sorry about the rant towards that aspect.

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