Over the holidays this year I watched a documentary on The Eagles. I have a particular fondness for documentaries on musicians and professional wrestlers of the 1970’s and 1980’s. I’m fascinated by their perspective on cultural phenomena that I was witness to as a child but had little insight into.
There is something quintessentially American about The Eagles and in particular the boilerplate of Southern California creativity at that time. Don Henley and Glenn Frey were far more interesting than I thought they’d be.
Glenn Frey talked about not knowing how to write a song when they first started the band. But as luck would have it, Jackson Browne lived in the apartment just below Frey and Henley. Frey said he’d listen to Browne tinker on the piano writing a chorus and a verse. He’d play it twenty times or so, then the kettle would whistle and Browne would have some tea, then he’d go back to the piano and work on the verse or chorus twenty or so more times, until he had exactly what he wanted. Eventually a song would be born. This was an AHA! moment for Frey. He said that he was relieved to find out that there was no real secret to writing a song, just good old-fashioned elbow grease.
The other side of the creative coin was Joe Walsh. To hear him talk, he’s not nearly as articulate as Frey or Henley, and he freely admits he could never write at the level of his two bandmates. But when Walsh plays that guitar, he is cloaked in a specific kind of creative intelligence that transcends intellect. He becomes an extension of the music he is playing and it is hypnotic to watch. Even his physical appearance seems to change.
On the one hand I’m humbled by Walsh’s pure inspirational talent and realize that I will likely never be that connected to any kind of art. On the other hand I’m heartened to learn that a significant chunk of the creative process is simply hard work. Hammering at something until you bend it to be what you want–and that’s something I can do.