Goodbye, Glenn Frey: a Fallen Eagle
I had just gotten off work. I fished my phone out from the bottom of my bag and checked messages as I walked to the car, and there it was. Word from my cousin in Tampa: Glenn Frey RIP. Three stark words that stopped me dead in my tracks. What? For a moment I wasn't sure I had read right. The words weren't making sense. Was this my cousin's peculiar way of commenting on the recent rash of musician deaths? He and I were both longtime fans of the Eagles. Maybe what he meant was, "Who's next, for Pete's sake? Glenn Frey?" Yeah, that had to be it.
Sadly, it wasn't.
As we all know by now, Glenn Frey died in New York of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia. He had been battling intestinal issues so severe as of late that the Eagles had to put a recent Kennedy Center ceremony in their honor on hold.
I've been thinking a lot of Glenn Frey this week. I dug out my copy of The Very Best of the Eagles and have played it start to finish more than once over the past days. Their music takes me back to carefree days spent cruising around my hometown in my girlfriend's parents' car, windows open wide and music blasting, the two of us unabashedly singing along. Well I'm a runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen my load, got a world of trouble on my mind. Boy trouble, in our case. We were oblivious to any real trouble lurking down the road, a couple decades off still. I am reminded of swaying awkwardly to and fro with my date to "Best of My Love" at the senior prom, and of partying well into the wee hours to "Hotel California," debating the meaning of the lines, And in the master's chambers, they gathered for the feast. They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast. The news of Glenn Frey's passing—and so fresh on the heels of the recent passings of Scott Weiland, Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, and Mott the Hoople founding member and drummer Dale "Buffin" Griffin—was jarring. His death, like those of our other heroes, resonates as deeply as they do because artists like Glenn Frey are woven into the very fabric that makes up our lives. Their music stitches together swatches of our time here. They are part of who we were and who we've become. When they are snatched from this earth, we're stunned. Their sudden absence leaves a palpable void and reminds us of our own transience.
Glenn Lewis Frey was born on Nov. 6, 1948, in Detroit and grew up in nearby Royal Oak, Michigan. Influenced by the sounds of Motown and the harder rock coming out of his hometown, he played in a succession of local bands and connected with fellow Detroit native, Bob Seger, who wrote a song for Frey's band, the Mushrooms. Seger tapped Glenn to play acoustic guitar and sing back-up vocals on his 1968 hit "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." He encouraged and influenced Frey, and the two remained friends and occasional collaborators throughout the years.
When warmer climes beckoned, Glenn made his way to Los Angeles, where he was introduced to and took up residence with John David Souther and Jackson Browne. The trio became deeply involved in the burgeoning L.A. country-rock scene that would dominate American airwaves for the bulk of the 1970s.
Frey first met up with Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon when they were all hired as Linda Ronstadt's backing band for her 1971 tour. The four men gelled so well that they left Linda at the end of the tour to form the Eagles. The group was an instant success with a long string of hits like "Take it Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Desperado," "Tequila Sunrise," "Best of My Love," "Witchy Woman," "One of These Nights," and "Already Gone," among many, many others.
Despite the band's ups and downs, which saw the departures of Leadon, Meisner, and Felder, not to mention a 14-year hiatus when tensions between the impulsive Frey and the more cerebral Henley boiled over, the Eagles' records remained consistent sellers. Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 album regularly swapped places with Michael Jackson's Thriller as the top-selling album of all time and has been certified a whopping 29 times platinum by the RIAA. They've also been a top-touring act over the last 20 years, even though Frey and Henley were the only remaining original members of the band. (Guitarist Joe Walsh replaced Leadon in the mid-1970s, and bassist Timothy B. Schmit stepped in after Meisner quit in 1977.)
The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and were to have been honored at the Kennedy Center in December to recognize their work in the arts. But instead of being feted at the 2015 ceremony, their appearance was postponed, put off until the 2016 Honors ceremony so that all four Eagles—Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmidt—could attend.
It's hard to think that there'll be no more music from Glenn Frey, and that should the Eagles come together again without him, his absence will be too much for the band to overcome. Like his friend and sometimes nemesis Don Henley said, "Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. Crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet. It will be very strange going forward in a world without him in it."
Music has a funny way of finding you. We like to think that we discover music, but it may be the other way around. With Glenn Frey's music, it was as if his songs were waiting for our ears to cross their path at just the right moment so that they could rush in and take up permanent residence in us. This doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's an almost magical experience.
Thanks for the music and the magic, Glenn. You are missed. See you on the other side.
Kathy Dickson picked up her first guitar at age 8. Her passions are music, concert photography, and the mosh pit. In addition to her writing for Guitar Tricks, she has contributed work to Guitar World. Her writing and photography have also been featured in Innocent Words Magazine.