Thursday, November 27, 2008

Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell
Author: Don Felder (with Wendy Holden)
John Wiley & Sons, 2008
332 pages

One day back in 1978 or so, my cousin Gordon was home on leave from the Navy. He had recently bought some new Bose speakers for his stereo that were the size of small refrigerators. I dropped by his house not long after he hooked them up. He tested them with "Hotel California", which he said was the most amazing song ever recorded.

Right then and there, I became a fan of The Eagles, and especially of the person who was responsible for this music. That person was Don Felder, and Heaven and Hell is his book.

Subtitled My Life in The Eagles (1975-2001), this is an autobiography of the man who was always my favorite Eagle. Felder shares tales of his upbringing in Florida as the child of a working class family, his rise to fame and fortune as a member of one of the most well-known bands in the world, and his dismissal and the resulting lawsuit for wrongful termination from the band. As a fan I ate this up. Felder has always been the "enigmatic Eagle" about whom little was known. In this book, he tells all.

I remember when hell froze over and The Eagles got back together in the mid-1990s. Don Felder impressed me so much in the Hell Freezes Over concert video with the acoustic version of "Hotel California" not just with his amazing talent, but also because he seemed so real, and like he was really enjoying himself. He looked like an ordinary kind of guy in his faded jeans and flannel shirt - not like a Rock god at all. And I suppose that is one of the endearing things about Felder. He could be your brother, or cousin, or neighbor down the street. But he is a heck of a guitar player.

He tells some funny stories about growing up in Gainesville, Florida. One in particular that had me chuckling was his explanation of why he didn't become a Baptist. His mother was Baptist, and took him to that church on a regular basis. At some point his mother pressured him to get baptized. He was going to go through with it, until he witnessed the baptism of a rather large woman. It seemed to young Don that the preacher held the woman under water just a little too long - or maybe he couldn't hold her - and she struggled as if she were drowning. Don decided the Methodist church across the street was more to his liking, since immersion baptism was not a requirement there.

Of course, there are some not-so-funny stories, especially those dealing with drugs, sex, and other aspects of rock and roll that those of us who are old enough to remember the 1970s have heard before. Only these have names attached. Felder was no saint, but he takes responsibility for his actions.

I learned a lot about The Eagles, as a band and as individual members. There were actually seven Eagles. The originals were Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Glenn Frey, and Don Henley. Felder was asked to join the band while they were recording the On The Border album in 1974. Leadon and Meisner left the band and were replaced by Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt.

Random interesting things I learned about Felder from the book: 1) he knew Stephen Stills, Bernie Leadon, and Tom Petty when they were teenagers, 2) he's a licensed airplane pilot, 3) he's very tech savvy, surfs the internet, etc., 4) he's a licensed realtor, and 5) he married his high school sweetheart, and they were together for 29 years. 

If you're at all interested in Felder, The Eagles, rock and roll history, or are just looking for a good autobiography, I recommend this. It took me back in time and I wound up purchasing Hotel California on a fourth format. Previously, I had the album, the 8 track tape, and the CD. Now I have the iTunes version. And it really does sound good on Bose speakers - even the tiny iPod docking station type. :-)

Rating: 4 stars