Glenn Frey, the Ultimate Gentleman of Songwriting

You never thought you’d be alone, this far down the line.

Victim of love, it’s such an easy part, and you know how to play it so well.

She’s so far gone, she feels just like a fool.

You just want someone to talk to, they just want to get their hands on you.

All the broken dreams, all the disappointments…

In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis defends a local “Baseball Annie” named Millie who had history with more than a few ball players. Her character was a girl who some men would call four letter words, or worse, but Crash threatened anyone who “said anything bad about Millie” to the man she was about to marry.

Even though, based on his infamous speech earlier in the movie, I had decided I would marry a man like Crash Davis, and though I was around thirteen years old, I spotted a difference between self-assured gentlemen like Crash Davis and a classless, compassion-lacking, ignorant, machismo type of guy.

About this time — early 80s —  I’m thirteen and I have HBO and a walkman so life was good, and Glenn Frey begins getting lots of airplay. He wrote a brilliant song for Miami Vice, You Belong to the City, which beat had such a pull that I recorded it from a radio station onto a high-bias tape. He wrote a catchy tune for Beverly Hills Cop. And the lyrics of Smuggler’s Blues, popular on MTV, put the “war on drugs” in great perspective for a kid not particularly well-versed in international affairs, as well as a sexy spin into the minds of common criminals. (I don’t think the pretty blonde in the Smuggler’s Blues video hurt the song’s popularity, either).

I grew up with The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. But for now, we’re discussing The Eagles. Pre-high school I would catch Eagles lyrics here and there “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a billion stars all around…“, and Desperado was turned up max volume on the living room speakers or my mom’s cheap car stereo whenever it came on.  I didn’t really understand Desperado then, but it was melodic, and I liked it.

Fast forward a few years to when I’ve become that city girl, and I had indeed figured out to to open doors with just a smile. And maybe I’d suffered a broken heart. Or two. And unfortunately, by that time, the singles bar references in Eagles songs made perfect sense to me.

Through the new wave, romantic, ska, hair metal, grunge eras, although I enjoyed music from all of these genres, I stuck to The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac to make sense out of everything I saw, experienced, felt, and wished for.

And I don’t like to think of my youth without Glenn Frey and Don Henley’s contribution to the way I saw myself.

That’s right. Out of all the self-help books of the 80s and friends I had come and go, The Eagles gave me the mirror with the best reflection (Stevie too, but that’s another post).

Because there are men who will sniff out regret or insecurity, sharpen it like a spear, take aim and use it against the girl who is in a transitional phase. It’s predatory, sometimes misogynistic, and always wrong.

There are men who look at certain women (the interesting kind that The Eagles wrote about, yeah, “interesting” is a good word to use here) and see sadness instead of desperation, heartbreak instead of easy prey, hope instead of a lost cause.

The Crash Davis’ of songwriting. The way a man thinks about women and girls — good girls, bad girls, young ones, old ones — will reflect in just about everything that man says and does.

So thank the Music Gods for songwriters like Glenn Frey (plus Don Henley, together, such a team). The ultimate gentlemen of songwriting.

The Music Gods gave Glenn Frey the gift of observation and instilled in him the kind of reverence that translated into an insightful blend of empathy and enticement in some of the best songs ever written. Frey wrote songs that made women who were listening feel alright about the oftentimes seedy, confusing landscape of love, loss, and regret, but still feel optimism and yes, even lend to a healthy self-assessment. If that sounds like a stretch, stop for a second and listen to Victim of Love or Lyin’ Eyes.

I see a broken heart, you’ve got your stories to tell.

She drives on through the night, anticipating, ’cause he makes her feel the way she used to feel.

Infidelity, drugs, bad decision making at the club, or up and down the highway, whatever…okay, you can invoke a righteous position about these behaviors all you want, but they are still things people do. Always will do. For whatever reasons. And it’s all compelling material for songwriters, artists who see what other people don’t and have to express it through their medium. The music of The Eagles has teeth and heart. Frey was cerebral and pointed, but forgiving. Maybe you know exactly what he, and The Eagles, were talking about. Maybe their music was sweet relief and not bitter condemnation. Who the hell turns on the radio to hear that.

Not me. But that’s just me.

And it may be a generalization, it’s my personal opinion, that if you’re a woman who listened to The Eagles, Glenn Frey’s lyrics reached inside your head, identified with this thing or that time, and let you off the hook from any rotten self-judgement. Play a love-centric Eagles song with a female subject. Never did the idea of self-destruction seem so ludicrous as coming of age felt natural and free. As a similar female to the one written about, you knew that you weren’t the only one who felt that way, and maybe things didn’t go exactly as you’d planned, but Glenn Frey told you (actually, Don Henley sang to you) that you could get on with your search and contrary to your worst fears, it wasn’t Wasted Time. Not at all.

In The One You Love, with that hypnotic saxophone, Glenn Frey offered surrender, someone you can talk to, instead of judgement, in a love triangle. Lesser men or writers take shots at the person doing the hurting. I’ve listened to that song thirty times this weekend (I had just added that song to my 80s Spotify playlist last week) and I hear someone ready to reluctantly walk away rather than stick around to throw stones. It’s almost like a beautiful prequel to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

And the common denominator of all those lyrics at the top of this post and throughout, is the man who, just by the way he wrote, nudged some (I’m guessing, but me, for sure) women towards better men. No need to inflict more punishment on yourself by choosing a bad seed, the 70s and 80s were punishment enough.

To me, Glenn Frey was the guy who watched the girl through some craziness, saw beyond Those Shoes, and waited until the time was right for them both, but no rush. He knew all along. And nothing she ever did is something he can’t get over.

You’re still the same old girl you used to be.

And I will miss his contributions, but we get to keep so many, and whatever they mean to us.

Going to get up and pour myself a strong one in honor of the founding member of The Eagles.

Maybe I’m that girl, and if I were, from the bottom of my heart with the shiny little chains around it…

Dear Glenn Frey,

You wrote me through.

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