Jan 11, 2015

The Eagles: Gay Symbolism in "Hotel California"

     Formed in 1971 by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner, the Eagles were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s.  Like Rod and Al Stewart, their songs were ballads, sung in a haunting tone, with cryptic lyrics.   And excruciatingly heterosexist, about a man longing for The Woman He Lost, or else about a man being destroyed by an Evil Woman.   But in high school in the 1970s, I made them symbolic of my quest to escape the heterosexist wife-house-factory trajectory that all the adults were plotting out for me, and find...what else was there?          One of these Nights: September 1975, when I first learned about "Swishes" (our derogatory term for gay people), and the "what girl do you like" interrogations intensified.  The full moon is calling, the fever is high  And the wicked wind whispers, and moans   The narrator's soul is destroyed by an Evil Woman. What better indictment of the heterosexist mandate to "like girls!"  Lyin' Eyes: October 1975, when I started working as an athletic trainer, and saw vast numbers of naked jocks in the locker room:  On the other side of town a boy is waiting, with fiery eyes and dreams no one could steal.  An Evil Woman is cheating on her husband.  But all I heard was the boy with fiery eyes waiting for me.        Take It to the Limit: January 1976, when I befriended a girl who wanted to marry Donny Osmond, but everyone thought we are romantic partners, and my father constantly evoked my future as her husband, working in the factory, living in a small square house, dying inside.  Put me on a highway, and show me a sign,  And take it to the limit one more time  The narrator is driving down the highway to return to The Woman He Lost.  But all I heard was escape.            New Kid in Town: March 1977, when I was dating Verne, the preacher's son, but worried that he would leave me for someone else (turns out he left me because he got a girl pregnant):  You're walking away and they're talking behind you  They will never forget you 'til somebody new comes along   The narrator is back in town after a long absence, trying to return to The Woman He Lost.  But all I heard was the possibility of loss.        Hotel California: June 1977, when I danced with a leatherboy at a church conference in Switzerland, and thought for the first time that someone I knew might be gay.  Mirrors on the ceiling, and pink champagne on ice, and she said, "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device."  The narrator is drawn into a surrealistic hotel, where his soul is destroyed by an Evil Woman. It's meant to be an indictment of the glitzy California lifestyle, complete with gay people: "a lot of pretty, pretty boys she called friends."   But all I heard was a nightmare of heterosexual agony, with girls plying you with champagne and pretty boys who can only be friends, and there's no escape:  "Relax," said the Nightman, "We are programmed to receive. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."  Except maybe in the arms of a leatherboy in Switzerland, who "danced to forget."  See also: Rod and Al Stewart.

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