The Eagles: An American Band
Hardcover; 288 pages
With its metallic foil-decorated dustcover, The Eagles: An American Band is the definition of a coffee-table book. The density of its content matches its size and physical weight. It might well have been subtitled "An Illustrated History," as it overflows with striking images of its subject matter as well as photos of other musicians of the time, not to mention cover graphics of albums plus all manner of related documents such as souvenir tour programs.
The design of the book delivers an almost visceral impact through many full-page splashes, like the Eagles/Jimmy Buffett concert poster, as well as web-savvy formatting to allow the eye-catching placement of ticket reproductions and thumbnail photographs. It is not as superficial as it at first seems, despite the text that follows the tone of Andrew Vaughan's introduction. Rife with overstatements and generalities, the author's writing throughout mirrors the work of its subject and begs the question: does examination of a superficial topic inevitably become superficial itself?
Nevertheless, it's admirable how Vaughan resists a prurient take on the increasingly decadent whirlwind of drugs and sex that became de rigueur within the Eagles camp. His rationalizations for their indulgences sound more than a little disingenuous: "There was nothing unusual about the Eagles' drug use in the early 1970s. It was considered recreational and normal practice in California if not across America."
It's impossible not to wonder why he doesn't take equal note of the self- renewing dynamic of The Eagles that allowed them to be so resilient over the course of four decades, when predecessors and peers such as Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and Crosby Stills Nash and Young could not manage a similar feat. And surprisingly, given his past work within the genre of contemporary country, Vaughan either misses or ignores the irony of how that audience welcomed the Eagles (and vice-versa) after a 14-year hiatus. The group was all too anxious not to be pegged as a country-rock band as early as their second album Desperado (Asylum, 1973).
Vaughan should receive kudos, however, for the way his storyline does justice to the burgeoning West Coast music scene from which emerged the four original Eagles, natives of different locales of the country. In detailing the seemingly fated union of drummer Don Henley, guitarist Glenn Frey (also the main songwriters), bassist Randy Meisner and guitarist Bernie Leadon, the author may not offer tremendous insight missing the obvious point that Laurel Canyon functioned like something of a West Coast Woodstock NY but then that's not what even the most rabid music-loving reader or Eagles fan looks for in a book like this.
Accordingly, Vaughan would have done better to let his subjects' eventual success speak for itself. The absence of in-depth album-by-album analysis, however, is wise, as it would only seem redundant to both long-time fans who know the tunes by heart or late- comers attracted by the group's influence on contemporary country, the evolution of which Vaughan skims in the latter portions of the book (and in which he is well-versed). Still, some arbitrary selectivity creeps in here, not to mention some unwieldy grammatical stretches: for instance, is Jackson Browne, a lynchpin in the Eagles' story and a vital artist in his own right, "prodigious" or "prolific"?
Glenn Frey's comments on the songwriting work ethic he observed in Browne, when he and J.D. Souther lived above the quintessential songwriter in LA's Echo Park neighborhood, are among the few choice pieces of telling fact pertinent to the growth of the Eagles. And the photos of a young Jackson posit him as a natural symbol of the times in which he and the nascent group lived, in contrast to the rather studied poses the Eagles they adopted and maintained throughout their career. Jackson Browne, as well as Linda Ronstadt, deserves more detailed attention than he receives in this book, but that might be contrary to its overall conception and execution.
More suited to browsing than reading page by page, The Eagles: An American Band is not the definitive history of the group but, to be fair, it doesn't pretend to be. Much like Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History (Voyageur Press, 2010), the most valuable content here, besides the artwork, is contained in the sideboards adjacent to the main narrative. Vaughan's forte as a writer may, in fact, be focused pieces like the ones that explore musician/arranger Jim Ed Norman's ongoing role within the Eagles.