Rock critics sometimes provide a necessary service to their country. In this week’s Wasted Life, we honour John Soeder, a writer from the Cleveland Plain Dealer who pointed out a glaring error to Don Henley and was repaid with the Eagles drummer’s scorn.
The next time you have to suffer through the Eagles’ “Hotel California” – it can’t be far off – listen for these lines: “So I called up the captain, ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.’” I can think of at least five things that are wrong with these two lines, but let’s focus on one: wine is not a spirit. The captain’s reply doesn’t make any sense. But where is the man or woman brave enough to call the Eagles’ bluff?
Eagles “Hotel California”:
Soeder answered the call in March 2009, when he put the question directly to Henley in an e-mail interview. Wine, Soeder wrote, “isn’t a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Wine also has a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage than spirits. Do you regret that lyric?”
Check and mate. You or I, shown evidence of our shoddy work, might at least pretend to be gracious about it, especially if that tossed-off work had made us wealthier than one hundred sultans. “Shucks,” you or I might say, “you got me!” But unlike us, Don Henley is a real asshole. You can hear his teeth grinding as he types his reply, telling Soeder that he’s “not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor,” as if the careless misuse of words were the same thing as metaphor.
“But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages,” Henley continued. “It's a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”
Get it? It’s a literary device. So, like, the “captain” is Henley’s prostate gland, and the “wine” is the prostate fluid he hasn’t secreted since that grisly accident at Woodstock. Except it’s not just about his prostate – it’s a coded statement about social and political issues, a statement so profound that it can only be expressed in metaphor. It’s a poetic truth, so even answering the question would take the discussion to a “lower” level. Though he pisses ink like a squid in this exchange, Henley fails to obscure Soeder’s point: that it is a terrible, lazy metaphor. At best, the captain’s response is a non sequitur; at worst, it is a truly pretentious clod of purple bullshit.
Let’s take Henley at his word, and assume that, rather than just writing down whatever came into his fat, drink-sodden head, he was using a literary device to make a “sociopolitical statement”. What then was he stating? Apparently, they still had that wine in the spirit cellar in 1968, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. You could still get it after the election of Richard M. Nixon. But the civil rights, feminist and gay rights movements all continued after 1969, as did the space programme and the Vietnam War, so none of those were “his” wine.
So what’s the fuckin’ big sociopolitical statement? Altamont was a real bummer? Sucks that the Beatles broke up? Shit was never the same after January 1970, when the chicks stopped putting out and you couldn’t get a pure dose of STP? Henley couldn’t possibly be mourning the egalitarian dreams of the 1960s, which the Eagles honored by gouging their fans with unprecedented ticket prices when they reunited in the 1990s. So what the fuck is he talking about?
Don Henley’s reggae arrangement of “Hotel California”:
Actually, the sociopolitical statement of “Hotel California” is, Me Don Henley of world famous Eagles. Me shit on sofa, me fuck you wife!!! Me pork women in 1960s L.A. for free, now me suck big dick for dollars. Malibu not same. Life sad. Thanks to John Soeder’s work, now the whole story can be told.
Previously: Wasted Life - Moe's Mailbag