Why the Trial over the Eagles’ Lyrics Epitomizes Boomer Rot




The recent brouhaha—an insufficiently flippant term—over the criminal case recently dismissed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, accusing three men of stealing handwritten pages of lyrics by the Eagles has it all. Ever since it was filed in 2022 this case has been shoved into the headlines by boring egos and sloppy legal work, with the anemic celebrity appeal of America’s most blasé, greedy 1970s rock band lounging sleazily at the center of it all.

The basic details are as follows: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi, rare-book dealer Glen Horowitz, and auctioneer Edward Kosinski stood accused of “conspiring” to auction pages of song lyrics by Don Henley, including the “legendary” hit “Hotel California.” All three pleaded not guilty, testifying that they came to possess these one hundred pages of handwritten song lyrics through a simple change of hands with writer Ed Sanders, who obtained them while working on an authorized biography of the band. Sanders started work on his biography in 1980, about the time of the band’s first break-up, but never saw his mammoth, 900-page account published, since Henley and fellow Eagle Glenn Frey (now deceased) soured on Sanders’ account. Decades later, in 2016, Inciardi, Kosinksi, and Horowitz found themselves ready to auction off these “legendary” artifacts. Problem was, Henley apparently never realized the song lyric pages were missing—until he got the news they were up for auction.

Predictably enough, Rolling Stone magazine, the foremost chronicler of tepid boomer popular music tastes that ruled “classic rock” music airwaves before stumbling late into the party of punk and alternative rock, has followed breathlessly this story’s every turn and wrinkle. If 1970s album-oriented rock can be said to have a precious artifact at all, it would of course be the original sheet of song lyrics to “Hotel California.” As it turned out, this artifact was not quite valuable enough to keep watch over by the man who penned it. When Henley revoked his attorney-client privilege it triggered the release of thousands of documents that seemed to exonerate the three defendants of wrongdoing. The defense team for Inciardi, Kosinksi, and Horowitz had a field day. Even the presiding judge recommended that prosecutors throw in the towel.

The two-year-long court drama was one boring pile of legal confusion, all centered around a song so tightly wrapped in faux menace and drama it could be mistaken for a sheet of aural cellophane.

The kicker in all this is that Inciardi, Horowitz, and Kosinski stand to make some money on their auction if Henley is found liable for their trouble and legal bills in the wake of the case’s unceremonious collapse. The lyrics to “Hotel California” alone could net them more than a cool million at auction, a dear price for a song millions of people have heard at least a million times each.

I exaggerate, of course. But it drives home the point that the Eagles are a band well worth disliking, and then some. There is of course the famous scene from The Big Lebowski, but there is much more. The lawsuits in which various former members filed suit against “Eagles, Ltd.” a California corporation. The lawsuits in which the band itself filed suit against anyone who dared violate its trademarks. The manner in which various band members tossed off clichéd show-biz phrases in tiresome, two-part documentaries. If any band embodied the lazy, hippy ways of a 1970s America in which so many boomers came of age it would have to be the Eagles. Perhaps it is unfair to judge the tail-end of a generation that was able to enjoy the end of the military draft. But it would be just as lenient not to pass judgment on a generation that arguably squandered its nascent Woodstock ideals for an ever-larger share of tax breaks during the Regan and Bush years, then procrastinated during the Clinton and Obama administrations just long enough to let down its guard when faced with roiling, ever-more-hostile populism. It is rote to say that the generation of people who lead our country do not have the energy to focus on the problems at hand but it is embarrassing that they have the energy to follow the faux scandal of Hanley’s lyric sheets.

The Eagles always appealed to music fans too mellow for the edge of Neil Young, who could call on the memory of the Aztecs to craft a true, epic love song. The Eagles always seemed to appeal to aspirational boomers who wanted, not authentic music exactly, but a pleasing soundtrack for the waterbed they wanted to buy, replete with a mirror on the ceiling, rolling papers at the bedside, and contractors at work on a custom, indoor sauna.

The Eagles were, and remain, boring songsmiths for people who could not bother exploring Motown for true music; could not withstand punk rock—whether from the UK or New York—long enough to revel in its honesty, and could not muster the ambition to bask in the record stores of yore, merely to sample other bands, for longer than an hour. Lest you mistake this missive for sour grapes, it is not that the Eagles were awful and untalented in any traditional sense. The problem—and one that, yes, came to pervade American culture and society—is that the Eagles were merely good enough to keep fans titillated, satisfied, and inoculated against ever walking out of their comfort zones.

“Hotel California” is a memorable song not because it is in any sense great, but because it describes too well the parameters outside which those who rule American tastes and cultures will never venture. It is an ode to the unpleasant, even nasty, thoughts we refuse to entertain. So it would be fitting, if still painful, to end with a nod to the song itself. The Eagles are a beast we need to kill. Or maybe death is too serious a word for a band this lightweight. Suffice it to say that the demise of this laughable lawsuit should presage the band’s final, lasting end.