Sept. 1, 2021
Here’s how the night began ….
I’m sitting in Boston’s TD Garden, wearing a mask and gazing up at the rafters and the Celtics championship banners while I wait for The Eagles concert to begin. Lydia is also masked. My hand rests on her legs – long, smooth and brown. Her short white denim skirt sets off her late August tan. There is something irresistibly sexy about a woman in her early fifties. Especially at a summer rock concert. Twenty-five years ago on a 95-degree day she was eight months pregnant with our first child when she walked across a stage in a cap and gown in this same basketball arena to pick up her college diploma. Tonight we’ve come to remember.
Suddenly the house lights darken and the sounds of a locomotive fill the building. A train whistle. A smokebox. Brakes screeching on steel rails. A spotlight shines through the mist, illuminating a man walking across the stage in a conductor uniform – black boots, black cape, black cap. He’s carrying an album. As a bell clock tower rings, he removes the record from the sleeve and holds it up for inspection. It’s “Hotel California.”
Amidst cheers the conductor places the album on an old record player and drops the needle. Dust particles crackle and pop as the needle moves across the grooves before giving way to Joe Walsh’s crisp, slow guitar chords, two thumps of the bass drum and Don Henley singing: “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair. Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.”
That’s all it took. We were transported. So was everyone else in the building.
“Relax,” said the nightman
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave.”
I was introduced to The Eagles by my grandfather. He served in WWII, did twenty years in the Navy, and spent another twenty building submarines. He had a basement full of tools, fishing poles, decoys, guns, coiled ropes and pocketknives. When I was being raised by a single mother, my grandfather taught me how to bait a hook, shoot a gun, throw a baseball and kick a football. He’d take me out in his rowboat and cast lines. In the silence we’d eat a cold sandwich and then he’d light a cigarette. He smoked two packs a day. When he stared silently into the distance with a cigarette between his lips, he looked like John Wayne. My grandfather was my hero.
I was ten years old when The Eagles released “Their Greatest Hits.” My grandfather loved that album. For a long time he kept it in the original plastic cellophane. I can see him listening to “Take It To The Limit.”
You know I’ve always been a dreamer
(Spent my life running ‘round)
And it’s so hard to change
(Can’t seem to settle down)
But the dreams I’ve seen lately
Keep on turnin’ out and burnin’ out and turnin’ out the same
I was thirteen when “The Long Run” was released in September 1979. It was the #1 record in America when I took a trip to New Hampshire with my grandparents that fall. We went up to see the leaves. On the drive home we were passing through Worcester when the title track came on the radio. My grandfather turned up the volume and reached into his shirt pocket for his pack of Salems. With his window cracked, he took a drag while I sat in the backseat listening to the words:
We were scared, but we ain’t shakin’
Kinda bent, but we ain’t breakin’
In the long run
Ooh I want to tell you
It’s a long run
Back then I didn’t know what any of that meant. I just liked the music and the way they said, “Ooh-ooh.” And I liked that my grandfather liked it too. Then The Eagles broke up. It was the end of my innocence.
I was a freshman in college when Don Henley released “The Boys of Summer.” I remember flying down Gardiners Wood Road with the windows down and the wind whipping through my hair and my stereo speakers blaring.
nobody on the road
nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer’s out of reach
Empty lake, empty streets
The sun goes down alone
I’m driving by your house
Though I know you’re not home
There was something provocative and propulsive about this song. The cadence of the drums and cymbals, and especially those synthesizers, unleashed all the adolescent thoughts and aspirations and fantasies that are right beneath the surface. Made you think something forbidden might happen.
I can see you
Your brown skin shining in the sun
You got the top pulled down and the radio on, baby
Five years after we were married, we went to see Don Henley at Foxboro Stadium during Labor Day weekend in 1993. Elton John and Sting and Aerosmith also performed. But Henley stole the show. It rained that night. She looked so beautiful all wet and dancing to “Boys of Summer.” We had so much in front of us.
Recently, Henley said that song was about looking back. At 55, I’m so into that. When that song started pulsing through TD Garden the other night, the hair stood up on my arms. I reached for her hand as she put her head into my shoulder. There’s no denying that summer’s almost out of reach now. The boy she was carrying when she graduated from college just graduated from law school. Two of our other children are leaving in a week for Boston. One’s heading to business school and one’s off to college. So much is changing.
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
Many of my best Eagles memories involve cars and highways. Speeding south through the Idaho panhandle on a summer day, “Life in the Fast Lane” blasting, Lydia singing in the passenger seat. Hauling past 18-wheelers in the Midwest on a summer night while singing: “One of these nights we’re gonna find out pretty mama what turns on your lights …You got your demons. You got desires. But I got a few of my own.” Made me feel like I could drive all night.
The genius of The Eagles is in the writing. I mean, Glenn Frey’s lyrics in “Take It Easy” are like American scripture.
Well, I'm standing on a corner
In Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me
Come on, baby, don't say maybe
Everyone cheered when Joe Walsh told the audience, “I never expected to live this long.” Then the 74-year-old guitarist led the band into “Life’s Been Good To Me So Far.” Immediately, a guy two rows in front of us staggered to his feet and started swaying. This guy had no business dancing. He had no rhythm whatsoever and he was beefy and wearing jeans that rode a little too low on his waist. He moved like a drunk sailor. But this was his anthem. Soon a few pretty women started dancing with him. The guy probably hadn’t been that happy in years.
A woman to my left leaned in. “These songs make me feel like I’m twenty again.”
I introduced myself. So did Lydia. The woman said her name was Lisa. “Where you from?” I said.
“Summa-Vill,” she said.
Lisa from Summa-Vill looked like she was in her late fifties. But she sang along like a teenager when The Eagles performed “Lyin’ Eyes.”
City girls just seem to find out early
How to open doors with just a smile
A rich old man and she won't have to worry
She'll dress up all in lace go in style
At one point, the band paused and Henley took the mic. “Everyone on this stage has been tested today,” he said. “I’m not talkin’ about the quickie test. I’m talkin’ about up your nose with a rubber hose. That test! Q-tip to the brain.”
The place got quiet. All of us had to show proof of vaccination to attend the show. Most of the audience wore masks. These are precarious times.
“We all have to look out for each other,” Henley continued. “This is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It’s related to the common good and common sense – things that have been in very short supply for the past year and a half. It’s good to see you all here. Thank you for cooperating with all the protocols. We appreciate it.”
It was 11:35 p.m. when The Eagles finished their encore with “Rocky Mountain Way,” “Desperado,” “The Long Run,” and “Best of My Love.”
I'm goin' back in time and it's a sweet dream
It was a quiet night and I would be all right
If I could go on sleeping
But every mornin' I wake up and worry
What's gonna happen today?
You see it your way I see it mine
But we both see it slippin' away
The show lasted three and a half hours. But when we left The Garden, we roamed the streets of Boston, determined to extend the night. Sometime around one we ducked under a canopy when it started raining. Two guys walked past us. One said to the other, “Don Henley’s voice is still amazing.” Lydia and I looked at each other and smiled. Then we stepped into the rain. I felt so young.