(Pictured: Don Henley and Glenn Frey, onstage in 2015.)
(I banged out this post yesterday afternoon within an hour of hearing about the death of Glenn Frey. In breaking with my usual custom of revising the bejeezus out of everything before hitting the “publish” button, I’m going to post this as I wrote it and leave it alone.)
As best I can tell, it was Rod Serling who first used the phrase, in an episode of The Twilight Zone: “Death, as it must come to all men, came to talented musician Johnny Foster.” It’s easy to imagine the phrase being portentously declaimed by a newsreel narrator, Lowell Thomas or Ed Herlihy, telling about the death of some great leader, ruler of all he surveyed, yet laid low nevertheless.
Death, as it must come to all men. . . .
Last Monday it it came to David Bowie. This Monday it was Glenn Frey.
I am not going to try to eulogize Frey; others will do it better. Better writers than I will have more pithy and perceptive words to say about Frey’s place in history and that of the Eagles. I do not expect those obituaries and retrospectives to overflow with universal love and respect, as Bowie’s did. Frey was co-founder of a band as famous for being hated as for being loved and co-writer of a body of a polarizing body of work. By the time you read this post, the Internets will be full of Eagle-hating hot takes—but I can’t recall seeing a single one critical of Bowie.
I have said it before and will say it again: at my house, we like the Eagles, and we have for 40 years. I am sick of neither “Hotel California” nor Hotel California. I rank On the Border among my favorite albums. My wife’s very favorite album is The Long Run, and “The Sad Cafe” from that album is going with me to the Desert Island if and when I have to go.
Yes, Frey and Don Henley were not very good people some of the time. Blame fame and drugs in the 70s, blame fame and good old fashioned cussedness after that. They screwed Don Felder out of a legitimate claim to the band’s legacy, and they reformed in the 90s not because they had any great desire to play together anymore, but for the money. They were not the first and they won’t be the last to commit any of these transgressions—but they sometimes seem to me to get a disproportionate share of abuse for it from critics and listeners.
None of that is the point of this post.
Death, as it must come to all men, came to Glenn Frey this week, to David Bowie and Alan Rickman last week, to jazz pianist Paul Bley and avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez the week before that. (Last Friday, it came to my wife’s Uncle Dallas. You probably didn’t read about him on the Internet.)
And it’s coming to somebody else next week. Maybe you, maybe me.
Most people don’t think much about dying, or at least they don’t admit to thinking about it. I know a few people who are openly terrified by their eventual death, which seems like a very unhappy way to live. I used to be like that, back when I was still worried about being judged by some omnipotent being after it was over, damned to hell for the crime of being human. But now, I take the view of Epicurus, the ancient Greek, who said (depending on the translation), “Where we are, death is not; where death is, we are not.” When the time comes, I will sleep and wake no more, and I’m perfectly content with that.
And so I think of David Bowie, and Glenn Frey, and Ann’s Uncle Dallas (who, according to another of his nieces, was ready to go, feeling his age and tired of his infirmities, with the strong opinion that he’d seen and done enough in his 94 years), their labors done, asleep to wake no more.
“They’re not dead as long as we remember them” is apparently a line from Star Trek, a bit on the nose and sometimes mocked for it, but true nevertheless. The legacies of those who cross over are in our hands now, to love or hate, to forget or remember.