by Danny Stout
Heartrending melodies that soothe the soul and replace angst with elation. This is the music of Glenn Lewis Frey. A poet of American folk-rock, his songs have a sing-along quality; his high energy rock tunes were also internationally recognized. He and Don Henley formed the Eagles, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and creators of two of the 20 best-selling albums of all time. In addition, “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” published by Rolling Stone magazine rates “Hotel California” 37th. Frey was 67, succumbing to pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, and complications of ulcerative colitis. He is survived by his wife, Cindy, and three children: Taylor, Deacon and Otis.
Frey had thousands of Mormon fans beginning in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s continuing to his recent passing. I was in the sold-out Salt Palace in 1976 during the Hotel California tour; thousands of LDS youth filled the seats, singing Eagles hits. They listened to the albums Eagles and Desperado over and over again. Frey’s ballads resonated with young Mormons seeking release from tensions of the radical Sixties. War, civil rights, women’s rights, changing sexual norms: LDS youth heard mixed signals. A core group sought a role in the peace movement without the wrath of parents. The Eagles were rarely political, providing a neutral zone between dissent and concerned bishops. Singer Jesse Colin Young, said it in the song, “Get Together:” “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now.” In the recent documentary, “Eagles History,” Frey said, “We provided a break from all the bad stuff going on.”
Frey and the Eagles served up a palatable type of rock and roll that Church leaders didn’t seem to mind, or at the very least looked the other way. When I caught my mother singing Frey’s “Lyin Eyes,” in the car, I realized the Eagles were under the Mormon radar. Ezra Taft Benson had condemned the rock festival “Woodstock,” and Boyd K. Packer exhorted youth to sort through their record collection and remove the likes of “Black Sabbath,” “Deep Purple,” and “Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.” An official letter prohibited Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Broadway soundtrack, “Jesus Christ Super Star” from Church meetings or functions. But, LDS teens saw redeeming value in The Eagles, and a bridge to honorable aspects of the youth movement outside the Church.
Many Eagles songs are “Secular Hymns,” a concept explored by Steve Thompsen and Quint Randle in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Media and Religion. A secular hymn, they claim, “has religious or spiritual overtones (or has the potential to evoke those feelings within the listener) without being overtly religious.” “Take It Easy,” “Already Gone,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Lyin’ Eyes,” are some of the finest folk rock songs ever written. At 15, I ripped the cellophane off the album, Eagles and played Peaceful Easy Feeling over and over:
‘Cause I got a peaceful easy feeling
And I know you won’t let me down
‘Cause I’m already standing on the ground
I made the connection, perhaps for the first time, that rock music was both deep feeling and attitude. The latter took more work than the former, and Frey’s American hyperrealism gave me a break from tension at home and my parents’ approaching divorce. It was therapeutic in a way that no medication nor therapy could remedy. Frey’s California drawl (he bore down on his r’s at the end of words) transported one to small desert towns, and the elation gleaned from simple moments:
Well, I’m standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me
Through Glenn Frey, we discovered that communities transcend brick and mortar churches. We have our ward communities, which are vital, but young people seek peers outside our realm that also embrace worthy values; we want to join their pursuits to improve the world. My friend, Dave Ballard loved folk rock, but resented the anti-military sentiment by some bands. The Eagles enabled his participation in the youth culture, allowing him to bask in a great era for music without buying into radicalism.
The Sixties, which panicked our parents at the time, had many positive consequences, (i.e., civil rights, women’s rights, equal-pay-for-equal-work, postmodernism, etc.). Glenn Frey’s music allowed us to bridge two interpretive communities. According to mass communication theorist Thomas Lindlof, interpretive communities center on media not geography. Thanks to Glenn Frey, we sang holy hymns in our chapels, and secular hymns bridging Mormons to our friends in the larger community of popular culture.