Music Analysis:
01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05
Deacon Blues - The Loser's Camelot
Album: Aja, 1977)

DB - Refrain II
Same as refrain I

 

HC – Refrain II
Welcome to the Hotel California
This second instance of the refrain builds up on the protagonist’s gradual realization of the dark side of his new life due to his experiences and encounters with the owners and the Industry at large.


such a lovely place, (such a lovely place), such a lovely face.”
While the first refrain’s face emphasizes the face of the lovely escort, here face most likely is a sarcastic punch at the protagonist’s realization of the superficiality of his existence.
           

Livin’ it up at the Hotel California
The key is at what point he starts to experience these encounters – when he is ‘livin’ it up!’ It shows that the owners are careful and patient to let the musicians get caught up in the lifestyle to a level where they are almost addicted to it, before they start throwing curve balls at them.


What a nice surprise, (what a nice surprise), bring your alibis
Especially, in the last line, ‘what a nice surprise’ probably refers to one of his unexpected bad experiences with the owners or possibly the woman of his desire (remember this woman is a larger metaphor for the luxurious life). ‘Bring your alibis’ is a sarcastic punch at how everybody is now throwing excuses at him for not giving him what they promised him (money, freedom to move on etc.). This again highlights the twisted contracts that young and naive musicians are enticed to sign.

 

Refrain – Discussion and Comparative Analysis
The second refrain in DB remains unchanged from the first and it showcases the firm stance of its protagonist for he is in the driving seat of his life whereas the second refrain in HC is used to showcase the dramatic change in perception of its protagonist, who after having spent some time in the system, is now beginning to hear the same messages that he heard in the first ‘welcome’ refrain, but with a completely twisted understanding of the message.

After Geffen had sold Asylum to Warner Brothers, Henley and Frey stamped their foot down in a fit of uneasy power grab and asserted a sense of ownership of the band and its creative direction, which left Meisner and Leadon out in the cold. Because there was a significant amount of cash involved now, Meisner and Leadon wanted to be part of the creative process because song credits determined how much royalty money you earned. Meisner says that eventually, Henley and Frey were chasing the same big bucks that they complained their masters were chasing, at the expense of music and that started to cause rifts in the band. When The Eagles landed in England in early 1973 to record the Desperado album with John Glyn, they were already so addicted to drugs; because Glyn did not allow use of drugs during recording sessions, some of the members were highly unstable and on short-fuses, and with the frustrations building among the band members over matters of finance and ownership, the working environment had become extremely unpleasant. The failure of the Desperado album to make its mark didn’t help their problems; and to make things worse, when the money from The Eagles’ album sales came through, the members realized that most of the proceeds went to Geffen, whose selfish betrayal Henley had blamed for the failure of Desperado, and that they were left with a measly portion of the princely profits that made Geffen even richer.

 

DB – Verse V
This is the night of the expanding man
This is the night – the grand occasion – of the learning man, the conscious man.


I take one last drag as I approach the stand
He takes a final cigarette whiff of courage before he takes the stage.


I cried when I wrote this song sue me if I play too long
In his moment of triumph, he recalls the tears in his eyes when he completed writing this song about his life’s passions and struggles, it is long because he has poured his soul into it, and that if anybody doesn’t like it, they can go ahead and sue him!


This brother is free, I’ll be what I want to be
Because he is a free man and is not governed by people’s whims and fancies. He will always be who he wants to be!

 

HC – Verse V
Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice
Still surrounded by the glamorous hedonistic pleasures, our protagonist is now fast realizing the dark side of his new life. Mirrors on the ceiling here has a much more significant meaning than its more obvious purpose. It is a sign of the protagonist finding his reflection, or the real state of his mind, exposed at a frighteningly large scale! Pink champagne on ice too, could mean that all his thoughts of luxury and pleasure froze for that moment in time. Epiphany!


And she said, ‘we are all just prisoners here of our own devise’
His woman tells him (probably when asked) how the life they are leading is a prison created by their own wild desires to underscore what he had just realized!


In their master’s chambers gathered for the feast
He sees other recording artists at the Recording Industry owners’ office to collect their loyalties (feast meaning money) according to their contracts only to find that there are secret clauses in the contracts that the owners only now reveal and the artists really don’t have the same rights or liberties that they thought they had!


Stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast
So the artists get into these heated verbal exchanges with the owners about their rights and how they have been violated. Here, ‘Steely knives’ is most likely a little return tribute to the sharp wit of the 70s Jazz/Rock band – Steely Dan – who, in their song ‘Everything You Did’ about an unfaithful wife from their 1976 album, The Royal Scam, paid a tribute to the Eagles and their emphasis on relationships with the line “turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening.” However, no matter how clever the artists’ arguments are, they just cannot seem to break out of the spell cast on them by materialism and win over the grip their powerful masters have over their lives.

 

Verse V – Discussion and Comparative Analysis
Verse V begins with the lead in DB still exploring his interests and growing as an artist in a unique world he has now built for himself. His persistence has paid off and he has achieved his dream. On the contrary, the protagonist in HC is now fast realizing that he may have in fact walked into a contractual trap, and what was promised to him in terms of monetary rewards, may not be forthcoming as expected, and that his masters may have exploited him.

Fagen and Becker had realized that the constant push for promotional tours, which they hated with a passion, were a waste of their time although they had committed to perform live under their contractual agreement with ABC Records. Performing for large crowds was what brought them a lot of cash. Their primary focus, however, was always to spend as much time in the studio perfecting their music, but their management’s insistence on touring regularly inevitably brought them into conflict with members of the band who reveled in living the typical rocker’s life of city-hopping and one-night stands, and the management who were only interested in lining their pockets.  Fagen and Becker finally decided that by disbanding the rest of the band, they would in effect cancel the contract, which would then allow them to manage themselves and devote the time to their music alone. Their management sued them and won, but the artistic freedom they had won in turn was worth every penny of the settlement they had to pay their management. Thereafter, armed with their reputation, Steely Dan convinced the best session musicians to play for them on their songs and somehow cajoled ABC to foot the bills as well; because Fagen and Becker were not overly obsessed with the monetary rewards, but just wanted to achieve their musical ideal, ABC was happy to oblige, knowing their potential.

Soon, Steely Dan became famous among session musicians for their challenging songs and fun studio sessions in which Fagen and Becker tried out the best musicians from all over the United States to play various parts of their songs. Sometimes, players will be asked to play parts of a song over and over again, and Fagen and becker would pick one version over another seemingly identical recording when even the performers themselves were not able to tell the difference between the version! There came a point when Fagen and Becker would instantly know which player would be able to produce the best delivery of a certain part to a song, and they would immediately call him up. Although the composers wrote most of what was in their heads, they allowed the musicians enough liberty in order to extract the best ideas and styles from some of the finest players on their pet instruments. Employing this strategy, their music got better and better and won the acclaim of the musical world in Los Angeles - musicians and executives alike.

They still shied away from interviews and accolades. Fagen acknowledged on many occasions their natural aversion to media and glamour, “I think we insult people unintentionally. We keep getting invited to this and that, like the Grammy awards. I got a thing that said ‘Wear beautiful clothes’. I don’t have any beautiful clothes! Now I know what they wanted me to come like, they wanted me to come dressed like Cher!” They were never ones to dance to other people’s tunes. They rejected the thrill of touring and live performing for a chance to connect intimately with a listener thousands of miles away by producing an excellent sounding record in the studio rather than by screaming at the top of their lungs to an equally noisy crowd. Fagen said that they were in the music for the music and would remain in business until and as long as it helped them achieve their vision; they never cared much for popularity because they understood that to be popular, you had to cater to the whims of masses. 

With Aja, released in 1977, five years and five albums after the release of Steely Dan’s first album, Fagen and Becker finally felt that they had achieved the ideal of music that was their goal. Without a doubt, Aja is a masterpiece of popular music that few would dare to achieve, let alone be capable of, and it is no wonder the album is still hailed by many as Steely Dan’s finest work to date. Fagen may have sensed this moment while they worked on the material for the Aja album. Realizing that they had achieved their musical ideal with Aja, Steely Dan chose to celebrate their struggles and triumphs with Deacon Blues.

Brian Sweet, in his Steely Dan biography entitled Reeling in the Years says,

Aja was the record that finally realized Becker and Fagen’s artistic vision and catapulted Steely Dan into the platinum bracket. It surpassed all their previous sales figures by a long way, eventually going on to sell around five million copies and spending more than a year on the US album charts….On ‘Aja’, Becker and Fagen’s extensive studio experience meant that they were able to exploit the full potential of the musicians that they hired. By now, they had certain musicians in mind for specific parts or solos even during the preliminary stages of composing a song. Another reason for ‘Aja’s’ excellence was the simultaneous realization by those favored musicians of what Fagen and Becker had spent five years aiming toward. In effect, Steely Dan was almost a band again, albeit a studio band with a multitude of members, all of who were actually the cream of the session world. Now, the composers and their hired hands were all moving forward as a single unit.

The Eagles, especially its top tier, Henley and Frey were raving mad at what Geffen had done. Frey says he could recall the days when Geffen would have all his artists under the Asylum banner over at his Sauna, all of them naked and spellbound by his magic words about how he will always keep Asylum small enough to fit all of its artists in his Sauna. Henley too, recalls, all of Geffen’s promises to never let anything or anyone get in between Geffen making The Eagles the biggest act in America! They all turned out to be vain and empty promises; they never realized that Geffen was always after money and power, and managed to use all resources at his disposal, including The Eagles, to work his way to the top of a conglomerate in no time. Henley and Frey immediately wanted out of it, and joined forces with a new manager and another rising star in the circuit, Irving Azoff. Azoff had already formed a new management company called Front Line Management. They then convinced Geffen that he did not want the bad publicity of The Eagles going to courts with Geffen’s actions and therefore to release The Eagles from their contract with Geffen’s Lookout Management, and he did.

Although their problems with Geffen were addressed, The Eagles were still unable to sort out their internal disputes among its members. Henley and Frey were asserting their dominion more and more over the band’s direction, while the fighting between the two of them steadily started to heat up to a boiling point. Eventually, Bernie Leadon would have enough of it all and decide to leave. Thereafter, the battle between Frey and John Glyn over whether The Eagles should be a country band like Glyn envisioned or if they should ride the tide and record more rock songs, ended when Glyn leaving the production team. Wanting to move away from Glyn’s country sound to a more rock sound, the Eagles hired two of the best lead guitarists in the circuit in hard rocker Joe Walsh and the sultry Don Felder.

Henley was personally getting entangled in a battle of a different sort that he brought from his insecure days in his hometown; he was trying to use his newfound fame and power to prove that he could get any woman he wanted. In his whole womanizing hysteria, he inevitably caused a lot of insecurity in women and lost a lot of good partners in the process as well; he had an extremely complicated professional life, and now he had made his personal life even more complicated. Henley confesses that most of what he wrote in Hotel California came about as a result of his intensely physical relationship with a beautiful girl by the name of Loree Rodkin. In Henley’s spirit of rebellion against his morally rigid upbringing in the Baptist belt in Texas, and in his restless, stubborn, and insecure personality, more than that of any other Eagle, was a soul waiting to be consumed by the sultry and boundless ‘hedonism of Los Angeles,’ as he came to call it. Yet owing to these complications were born timeless masterpieces like Hotel California, which took the Eagles to their creative peak and made them feel invincible in the world of music. It was not an irony that The Eagles would name their greatest album after their most cherished song. Henley would have clearly sensed that with Hotel California, The Eagles had arrived at the peak, but they were not ready for the terrible fall that followed.

Outside of their respective refrains, Verse V provides the best contrast to the mutually antithetical nature of the two narratives. Verse V in DB ends triumphantly with its protagonist finding himself vindicated after years of struggle and hardship to achieve a dream that everybody else derided and called a ‘crazy scheme.’ In other words, his faith in his ability to achieve the unique musical vision he had in his mind is now proven right and his dream has come to fruition; he has now earned accolades, popularity, and the respect of the world, none of which he had pursued in the first place, and it has brought a few tears to his eyes. Defiantly, he states to the world that he will tell his story no matter how long it takes, because he is a free man and will be who he wants to be! On the other hand, the protagonist in HC, whose dream was to make music a vehicle to achieve financial success and fame, has now found himself in a difficult position, trapped in a life complicated by drugs, womanizing, and power struggles. While the ‘loser’ in DB finds himself free and triumphant, the ‘hero’ of HC is realizing that he has become a prisoner to an enslaving culture.

 

HC – Verse VI
Last thing I remember, I was running for the door
Seeing his own future unfold in those troubled artists’ experiences, our protagonist is shocked to his core and decides to leave the Industry immediately.


I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
He is headed back to the life he led prior to joining the Recording Industry where he was at least free to choose.


‘Relax,’ said the night man, ‘we are programmed to receive’
He sees an ominous looking man (night probably means he was dark in color, perhaps a strongly built African American) at the exit door, quite a shocking contrast to the delicate beauty at the entrance. The man tells him to relax, that they are used to seeing people trying to leave like he is trying to, and they are trained to handle such situations well. Programmed to receive also emphasizes how the Recording Industry, after enticing new artists with the finer things of life, traps artists with contracts not leaving them any room to leave.


‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!’
Check out here means cash out. The man tells the protagonist that he can collect his loyalties and money anytime he wants, but he can never leave!

 

Verse VI – Discussion and Comparative Analysis
As you can see, DB ends with its fifth verse and has no sixth verse like HC does, and as I mentioned in the introduction of this analysis, there is a very profound reason for DB’s departure from a perfectly symmetrical structure of A-A-B-A-A-B-A-A-B. The key to understanding this reason is the last line of DB’s fifth verse – this brother is free, I’ll be what I want to be – a proud stamping of ones spiritual liberation from the conditioned and confining conformities of society. While the protagonist in DB expresses his liberation, his counterpart in HC is just beginning to realize that he might have found himself trapped in a sinister system. In the sixth and final verse of HC, we can see the lead character trying desperately to escape an evil system before he becomes a prisoner.

The sixth verse may be the most perplexing and prophetic verse in HC simply because it is difficult to find a literal parallel in Henley’s life, or any of The Eagles’ lives for that matter, at least at the point of their writing HC. It is true that Henley led the most convoluted life of all the Eagles and had the most penetrating insights to the process of their individual transformation in L.A. owing to his deep introversion and long and voluntary periods of detachment from people. He was very judgmental of their ‘life in the fast lane’ owing to his southern Christian upbringing, from which he had tried to escape. Maybe, his upbringing was too morally grounded for him to completely cave into hedonism; and the more he made an effort to prove that he was not bounded by his religious creed – that it did not matter whether he was in heaven or hell – the more he ended up judging his actions from that same Christian lens and seeing himself as a prisoner of his desires!

The last verse possibly refers to his sudden realization of this spiritual enslavement and his immediate reaction to run away from all those vices and purify himself, more than it is about a contractual enslavement by his corporate masters that a literal interpretation would have you believe, although there was a fair share of that as well; or that could be how Henley wished to lay down his charges against his masters for exploiting his ambition, in order to destroy his innocence, by enticing him with all the vices at their disposal. Whatever said and done, after a lot of wear and tear and heartaches and heartbreaks, Henley did eventually break out of the enslaving spell that the Industry had cast on him. He built a very successful solo career fueled by his newfound prophetic visions and passions, and then settled down with one woman and built a family.

Marc Eliot, in ‘To The Limit,’ his biography of The Eagles, says,

“Shortly after the 1994 earthquake had destroyed his Los Angeles house, Don Henley saw the cosmic handwriting on the wall. The time had finally come. Or gone. He announced his intention to move with his family back to Texas. “I want my daughter to grow up around all those conservatives so she’ll know how to rebel properly,” Henley joked to the press. Having purchased a home in Dallas, approximately 150 miles outside of Linden, the once and future Eagle packed their belongings and headed out of L.A.”

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