My interest in Glenn Frey began when I read about his death at 67 in early 2016. It was a shock because he was only two years older than me, because he was the lead singer and front man for The Eagles, for God’s sake, because, well, Why? Why would he go and do that? But my generation has been losing its stars like a comet shower for a while now. In any case, it was The Eagles, not Frey, that I knew anything about. I discovered The Eagles when my then heart throb was listening to “Take It Easy,” and I came to know Frey, who sang it, as a voice in the band. It was the two images of him juxtaposed on the net – Frey then and Frey of late, the trajectory of a life in two photos – that struck something in me I’ve since been trying to understand.
I’ve gradually become not only interested in but obsessed with Glenn Frey. I listen to the Eagles’ best songs over and over, mostly on YouTube, where I can also watch him – that slow strut to the mic, the slight lift of the chin as he sings, the way his mouth and whole jaw move together in sibilance. (I can hear “Tequila Sunrise” playing softly over the radio in the café by the Mediterranean, where I’m writing this. I now notice just how very often The Eagles are played anywhere and everywhere.)
When the Eagles reached their peak in the mid-70s, Frey was in his 20s. At about 5”9, he was shorter than all the other band members, but he looked taller on stage. As he sang, head back a bit, neck extended and vulnerably exposed in transport, his lanky body, standing still and cool, exuded heat. His wavy brown hair fell past his shoulders, sometimes framing his long face, sometimes drawn loosely back by the sunglasses he carelessly swung onto the top of his head. When he combed his hair back with his fingers, with that slight tilt of the head, it was devastating. He didn’t seem to be much of a preener, though, and his apparent insouciance only added to his appeal. The boyish smile he’d suddenly flash at the audience revealed teeth all of a size with a gap in the front. It was an imperfect face that was only enhanced by his languid walk and the low sling of his belted hips. He was deliriously desirable.
Frey the Younger is totally familiar to me. I didn’t know Glenn Frey, but I knew several people like him. He would have been “my type” when I was in my early-to-late twenties. He reminds me of what drew me to the boys and young men I was with, or wanted to be with. The fragile skin dipping from eye to a nose not sharply defined, but lending strength to the face. The planes of that face as if chiseled down the cheeks to the jawbone. The strong chin anchoring him like a force in the world. The deep set dark eyes, mostly closed as he leaned into a song, and the high forehead, presented a contrast of inner fineness and outer boldness. I have kissed, licked and nuzzled all those parts of similar faces. I’ve breathed into ears exposed when the long hair was swept off them. I’ve drawn my fingers through hair as soft and flowing, felt the warm scalp underneath. I’ve brushed my lips against lips as sensuous and necks as long and strong yet soft under the ears, at the nape, by the hollow of the throat. I’ve run my hands along backs as long and broad at the shoulders, and embraced waist and hips as narrow. I’ve slipped my hand into pockets resting on small, tight behinds, and on the pumping thigh muscles as we walked side by side. And I’ve been graced by smiles as delightful, lifting it all just a little bit off the ground.
Glenn Frey was my contemporary, the epitome of my generation’s youth. But he’s not my idol, despite my succumbing to his physicality. His feet, for me, are very much made of clay. He was one of the bad boys girls too often too quickly were enchanted by. Often insensitive, unable to contain another person in real intimacy, these guys were more intent on their own allure than on accepting or giving love. Mostly, bad boys basked in the company of gorgeous girls. Rock stars gathered their groupies, who adored them. If these girls were lucky, they were in it for the conquest along with their stars, for the ego boost, the fame and sense of accomplishment that went with the notches on the belt. I was not a gorgeous girl – not tall or slim or blond, not exotic or voluptuous, and so, not the natural prey of the bad boys. But at some point, I’d learned that, with enough confidence, it wasn’t too hard to get a guy to come around.
One of those bad boys was my heart throb, who listened to “Take it Easy” in part because it was a song about getting too big too fast, especially with the women, which pretty well represented him at that time as much as its singer. My heart throb was a version of my type, though he never wore jeans or boots. His hair was never as full or long, but his moustache outdid even Glenn Frey’s. He became interested and came around. I’m assuming I could have had Glenn Frey, too. But I also learned the accompanying lessons about bad boys. Whether they intended it or not, they were mean and hurtful. Always better to leave the bad boys, hard as it might be, till they do, if they do, grow into better men.
It is part of the myth of age that if only we’d had then the wisdom we’ve garnered with the passing years, our youth would have been better, less destructive and painful. Because I miss the bad boys just the same. More to the point, I miss me then, the way I felt with them – primal, vital. It’s equally hard for me to succumb to the myth of youth, since I do still remember how unhappy those years were, how anguished, unformed, and confounding. I did not, after all, have a truly fulfilling love relationship till I was almost 50. When my bad boy was 60. (Amazingly, my heart throb then is my present husband, a much better man.) No matter. I miss the youthful passion, when everything was more sensuous even if not very happy, freer though also lonelier, which drove us to ever more unbridled freedom, throwing open all doors and spiriting through. My type hasn’t changed much, though my heart throb has, and Glenn Frey sure did. In any event, the type doesn’t exist anymore. Everything has changed. Except Frey’s first self, Frey then.
I conjure up Frey’s first self because through it I retrieve my own. And my husband’s. At the same time, Frey is not only dead, he is, as he always was, an ultimately unattainable object of lust (despite my assumption), hence unthreatening. The recently deceased wife of the Israeli President is said to have admitted publicly, without compunction, it would seem, to her desire for actor William Hurt as he was in “Body Heat.” (Oh yes. There was no man sexier at that particular moment in the early 80s. And Hurt, though a colder sexual specimen than Frey, went through a similar swift metamorphosis, he into a balding, middle aged man in his 40s, within 10 years. Though not everyone ages the same way or at the same pace, we really only have a 10-15 year span in a life when we are young enough to look good and old enough to make the most of it.) Women’s lasciviousness towards these males, distant in time and place, seems anything but dangerous. We openly admit to our crushes, as if that were the end of our transgression. Let’s take the President’s wife’s admission one step further, ladies, and confess that we also conjure up our objects while our flesh and blood men are right there.
Like Frey when he left home in Detroit in 1968 and set out for California, our generation looked at life as a fountain of possibilities and discoveries both outside in the world and within us. Ideas about alternative lifestyles were mushrooming. Movements for peace, for equality, for revolution abounded. Outer space was within reach, inner awakenings were at hand. The culture was shifting. A new Enlightenment seemed to be in the offing. And in all this we were still innocent, not yet jaded, and unaware of the consequences of our actions awaiting us down the line. Cannabis and psychedelics accompanied and facilitated much of it. And then things went off the deep end when these “enhancers” were tampered with and other drugs hit the scenes.
Frey in his early 20s was at the beginning of his career, with still lots to learn, lots to lose, a lifetime of lessons and casualties still ahead. More of those, in fact, than of possibilities. Frey claimed that both his choices and behavior during those years were the cause of his eventual illnesses, his excessive “partying” taking its toll. Of course, it wasn’t just the “third encore,” the band’s post-concert celebrations, as Frey would later explain in interviews, not a little pleased with himself. It was a life-style that shadowed the music as the band’s name and fame grew, like the snake in the garden. His boyish smile and smooth skin, the thrust of his hips and stretch of his neck were accompanied in more than one photo by dark circles around sleepless eyes, a wasted look from days and nights of unending booze, sex, and drugs, now including cocaine and barbiturates. Ah, but what a life, right? What a way to go. Yet Frey walked out of that life in 1980, when he was 32. He and most of his band mates struggled with addiction for years afterwards.
Though two years younger than Glenn Frey, I also started my journey into the world in 1968. I came to Montreal, where over the span of four years, I went through not one but several scenes. For two of those years, I was a member of a radical political theater commune, which folded under the War Measures Act of October 1970. Bad leadership and poor strategies, and hard ball repercussions from the authorities left a political movement burnt-out from within and bulldozed by government suppression and co-option. All the other movements collapsed at the same time, devolving into chaos, and then silence. The entire generational landscape was strewn with the disillusioned and despondent, the injured and the fallen through madness, overdose and death.
I left all this, as well as a broken relationship, which also broke me. It was my first lesson in bad boy fallout – how mutual infatuation becomes near total submission of the female to the bad boy as her growing thirst for his love, for his emotional commitment, remains unquenched. The farther away he draws, the lower she crawls after him.
In 1972, when the Eagles’ debut album, “Eagles” came out, I was already past my involvement in the counter culture. I headed for foreign and warmer climes, where I guess I went “straight.” It wasn’t hard to leave it all. Like Frey when he pulled out of the Eagles, there was nothing good left to hold me. I felt I was edging away from an abyss of dissolution and destruction when I decided not to return from a trip to Israel. Going straight felt less like a betrayal to myself than grasping at the vitality, the light and color, that had seeped out of my life. I put the past behind me and didn’t look back.
I cleaned up, went back to college, finished my degree, worked. I spent most of my time and energy getting to know the new culture, learning the language, making new friends, and of course, falling in love again. In 1973, the year the Eagles’ album “Desperado” came out, I went through the terrible October War, the first and worst of several more to come. My life and priorities changed. In my 20s, I changed more than ever before or since. By the time The Eagles broke up and Glenn Frey struck out on his own, I was pregnant with my first child.
Frey’s second self began somewhere in his mid-30s. Still handsome, he was nevertheless already another Glenn Frey. He, too, had traded a dangerous, lustful, unrestrained vitality for a safer, blander straightness. And he was no longer familiar. He went from that staggering moustache to a face so close-shaven, you could smell the after shave. He cut off his long hair and sported a pompadour that later easily morphed along with thinning hair into a crew cut. He chucked the T-shirts and denim in favor of loose-fitting shirts and pants; then jackets, ties and gleaming leather shoes. His lanky body became square. Sexual slid to only good looking. His solo music transmuted from lyrical and laid back Southern California country rock to urban techno pop. He became a recording artist of, among other lightweight fare, pop ballads, standards, and dance songs. He dabbled in an acting career. Sitting for interviews during that time, he repeated answers to inane questions, mainly about the defunct Eagles.
When the band did a reprise in 1994, he was 46 yet already sick with what would later get him. With time, he got sicker and began to look haggard. At some point, his eyebrows and eyes got pushed towards the sides of his face so that he started looking part aquatic. He’d lost that undulating sibilance when he got his teeth fixed. He developed a stoop, his long neck all but disappearing into his shoulders.
And all along, starting back in the late 70s, behind the scenes, yet known to all who cared to peek or who followed the music industry, the Eagles had become a music corporation, and Frey, a wealthy man, the beneficiary of the spoils he helped produce.
I know people grow up, drop their childish ways, realize they’re mortal, and then seem to become ever more so. The years suddenly pile up and smash into them. Without warning, though it is evident all around them, they age, and alter with age. Their magical thinking at 20, 30 or even 40 that they will be exempt doesn’t prevent their eventual corporeal decline. Some people manage to maintain health, fitness and a semblance of themselves. Others seem to actually melt down. Though Frey wasn’t so much ravaged on the surface as he apparently was inside, he became unrecognizable, his second self a travestied revision of his first.
Which is why I am unequivocal in my magical thinking about Glenn Frey the Younger. My understanding about aging, especially now that I am in its grips myself, doesn’t in any way challenge the contradictory knowledge I possess that Glenn Frey, for moral, aesthetic and affective reasons, should not have, was not allowed to change. He was supposed to remain the figure he presented to the world when we first met him on the larger stage. And we were supposed to be able, in looking at him, to see our younger selves, the inner image we carry with us that is as fragile as the next mirror. Or the sight of Glenn Frey’s second self.
The physical change was bad enough. But he mutated into the purveyor of easy comestibles for the cocktail lounges, movie soundtracks and TV shows he created in the 80s. The values, the world view, what seemed to have become important (though some say success and its accoutrements were always what he’d been after) and what no longer was (if ever it truly was) feels, if not worse, like a betrayal of another kind.
Well, now. Did I not also leave a lifestyle committed to the non-material, non-possession-driven, non-establishment, the egalitarian and free? I did “go back” to school, did run the gamut through three degrees, did get married so I could have my children in wedlock, did get divorced and married again, did have jobs and benefits and a pension fund when I retired, all entrenched within “the system.” On the other hand, I came to Israel and eventually became a kibbutznik, which was not out of keeping with the world view of the movements I left behind, though the kibbutz was already in the process of changing into its own antithesis, and was far from free in its regimented and restrictive implementation of a fading socialist ideology. That I preferred to stay somewhat outside the box and sometimes at odds with the precepts of the community, says something more about me than about my conscious commitments.
I’d say that the basic values I was drawn to in the counter culture movements back in the 60s and early 70s were instilled in me from my childhood. These would not change drastically wherever I went. The fact that I was at all able to opt for life on a kibbutz could attest to that. The incompatibility residing in a socialist-oriented society, in any society, in essence, between freedom and collectivization, the individual and the community, necessarily creates a bell curve along which people will find themselves. As a newcomer to the kibbutz, as a nomad of sorts between and within countries, and as the daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors and immigrants, being an outlier comes naturally.
So, in my own mind, while some parts of my life have been a capitulation to the establishment, surrendering to convenience, comfort, moving away from all dangerous edges, I’ve remained fundamentally in tandem with the same values. And even if I have changed, no one was counting on me not to. In fact, I had to change to some degree in order to survive.
Of course, Frey did, too. He had to change to save his health, his mind, his life. While I can’t presume to know what was in Frey’s mind in his first or second incarnations, his actions speak for themselves. A curious musician, he started out with the Laurel Canyon people, learning from and playing with them. A degree of success with the forming of the band brought ambition for more, as well as a gluttony for women, drugs, and the punishment that came with excess. He dropped the gluttony and the passion that fueled it, and glided smoothly on his ambition into a solo career marked by blatant and bland commercialism.
More upsetting still, in the process of saving himself, he changed into his second self.
I wonder whether in his 60s, his last decade, Frey wouldn’t have given everything he’d accrued and learned, to be that bad boy in his 20s, a fully functioning if arrogant young man, someone to whom hubris meant nothing, who could only watch himself rise as the world turned around him, quite a fine sight to see instead of watching himself shrink, grow spongy and flaccid and progressively more ill. I wonder whether despite accomplishments, family, self-knowledge and wisdom, despite asserting out loud that if he could do it all over again, he’d stay away from the drugs, the ladies, the all-nighters, the meteoric rise to fame and fortune that ruined him and his band, Glenn Frey missed his first self.
Glenn Frey had two selves, and died a tragic figure. It is a tragedy that such an attractive, vibrant young man at the height of his prowess had no clue then that he’d die at 67 of a completely unheroic, unromantic gastro-intestinal disease, rheumatoid arthritis and complications thereof. That’s the tragedy of all our young lives – we are mercifully heady and clueless of what awaits, but it awaits us nonetheless. It is the tragedy that resides in us like a worm and creeps out only as we sit hunched over our past. Ironically, it likely wouldn’t have been so tragic if Frey hadn’t been so beautiful. And perhaps he’d not seem today as appealing in his beauty had he not morphed into that second self and died as he did.
So, no. I don’t want to look at Glenn Frey’s second self, even though in 1994-5 he reunited with his fellow band members (more or less) and reclaimed commercial success with The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over Tour and its merchandising. I know that story. It doesn’t give me inspiration or pleasure. In fact, it angers me. The metamorphosis of a beautiful man into an unrecognizable old fart in the space of three decades is cruel. Never mind to him, but to me! I have a complicated attitude towards old rockers. I hate seeing them with their pot bellies, or spanxed-up bodies, their balding heads or wigged-up pates, their warbling, fading voices and arthritic knees. I don’t want to see how good some look considering…, and definitely not how poorly others have aged. I don’t want to hear them singing the same tunes they sang in their 20s but 50 years later in a lower key and slower tempo, and I don’t want to listen to their new songs that sound like poor musak upgrades. I want to be allowed to hang on to the powerfully imprinted, vitalizing because vital, image of their youth.
I don’t care about Frey’s easy laugh and quick wit that came to the fore as he aged, or about his forays into different kinds of musical expression, his golf games or his favorite sports teams, his wonderful children (one of whom, Deacon Frey, has taken over his father’s guitar and place at the mic, making his ingénue appearances with the same hair-and-glasses coif, a similar but wanting replica of the moustache), and the lovely wife (whom Deacon resembles more). I don’t care if in their second act the Eagles became mellower, more professional, had a fuller sound (because they added musicians) or new material. I don’t care that some of the feuding members of the band made up, that one of them became clean and sober thanks to his band mates’ intervention. It’s all interesting, and kept me busy investigating them, a neophyte groupie delving into the life of an unexpected crush at 68 on Glenn Frey’s first self. But the Eagles’ first act is irreproducible, and it’s Frey’s first self that hooked me. It was he who died when I read the news that day. Oh boy.
I had barely thought about him since we were both young, but his death left me bereft, as though part of my life had been wiped away like so much chalk. I wanted him back, but the way he’d been. I wanted to reclaim the cells of this corpus that is fading away – his, ours, mine.
It is a small comfort to think that as he lay in an induced coma on his death bed, Frey carried with him to the other side, past all the mirrors, that inner image of himself as he had once been, young and magnificent.
I still feel the need of some imperishable bliss.
Death is the mother of beauty…
Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning”