A Thin Disguise

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(Pictured: the Eagles and some friends take a bow.)

We live in a world where old guys like me have to continually check ourselves regarding our interactions with women. For example, I grew up in a time when it was perfectly normal, and even considered polite, to compliment a woman on her appearance. I don’t do that anymore, except with The Mrs., because I don’t want to risk making work colleagues feel uncomfortable. I check myself to see whether I interrupt or overtalk or mansplain. I’ve even discussed these sorts of things with the women in my life. I don’t do it out of a desire to be a social justice warrior. I do it because I was taught to be decent to other people as best I can.

That I grew up halfway enlightened is a credit to my parents, and especially to Dad, who was a liberated husband and father before it was cool. In 1964, black activist Stokely Carmichael was asked about the position of women in his movement, and he responded, “Prone.” Joke that it was, it expressed a truth commonly held for years thereafter: that a woman’s proper place was, if not taking care of her man in his home and in his bed, than at the very least, taking care of him in his bed. The womanizing excesses of rock stars and athletes were well-known then, especially in the 70s, but as something they—or any man, powerful or otherwise—were entitled to by virtue of being men. A woman who insisted on what she felt she was entitled to—taking charge of her own desires, or her own life choices—was likely to find herself branded as an oddball, an outcast, a rebel, or a threat.

(As recently as three years ago, it felt as though American society was beginning to evolve beyond these attitudes. Today, they’re highly fashionable again, at least among a certain class of moron.)

Take the Eagles as one example of how these attitudes worked. In a lot of Eagles songs, a woman is present to stroke the ego of a man, or as the object of his desire, sexual or emotional. But if she becomes more than just a passive plaything—if she gains power, especially sexual or emotional—she becomes an obstacle to the man getting what he deserves. In one famous case, a woman who merely tries to live her life the best way she can gets judged for it in terms of what she’s doing to the man in her life.

One way to read the theme of the Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” is that we do whatever we must do to best live with the life choices we have made. It’s beautifully played, sung, and produced. It was on the radio during a season I remember fondly. But its easy-rockin’ feel hides a viciousness inside of it.

You remember the story. A young woman marries a rich old man, but she discovers that money is no substitute for youthful passion. So she sneaks away to find that passion with a man her own age, and later feels guilty about having done so. Anyone listening, man or woman, can probably imagine themselves in the woman’s place. I feel compassion for her. I suspect that many listeners do, and that Don Henley and Glenn Frey were happy to make us feel that way. But that last verse is cruel:

My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
You set it up so well, so carefully
Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things
You’re still the same old girl you used to be

The story goes that Henley and Frey were inspired to write the song by the sight of a younger woman and older man together in a Hollywood restaurant, and Frey’s instant assumption that their relationship had to be based on a lie. And so, rather than pointing out that you can’t run away from who you are—an observation most of us would find reasonable—they’re standing up for a rich old man they consider the real victim. “Take your unhappiness and suck on it, you conniving, cuckolding bitch. You’re the same whore you were back when you had nothing.”

10 thoughts on “A Thin Disguise

  1. mackdaddyg

    Great…yet ANOTHER reason for me to not like the Eagles!

    Seriously, this is a great post.

    “I don’t do it out of a desire to be a social justice warrior. I do it because I was taught to be decent to other people as best I can.”

    Every time somebody posts or speaks about how society is too PC these days or that people (meaning of course anybody that’s not a white man) are too sensitive, I wish these words would just appear in their minds and make them shut up and think outside of their own little little world.

  2. mikehagerty

    I always knew I liked you, JB. Beer’s on me if we’re ever in the same town. We need to be decent to other people the best we can—and that should inform everything we do.

    As for “Lyin’ Eyes”, despite having played the song countless times on the radio in the 70s and having heard it every single day since, I always heard that final verse as the young woman who hangs her head to cry talking to herself. Maybe because the song tells us about her thoughts and feelings and I never considered that part of it would be the judgement of an onlooker—the boy she knew in school.

    I’ll be interested in how I hear it the next time it plays.

    1. Interesting perspective. I never heard it as the woman talking to herself. Now *I’ll* be interested in how it plays the next time I hear it.

  3. shoo

    Being in relationship for the wrong reasons was a pretty common theme of the 70’s afternoon television you are fond of JB. The boy in school is not the one she hooks up with in this song. The boy in school is what could have been. She married for money, not for love, thinking money would make her happy. It didn’t. I can’t conclude Henley and Frey hate women from this song lyric…..I don’t even know them.

  4. JB: Heard the song today. I’m still hearing it as her talking to herself, which makes sense when you look at the lyrics:

    She gets up and pours herself a strong one
    And stares out at the stars up in the sky
    Another night, it’s gonna be a long one
    She draws the shade and hangs her head to cry

    She wonders how it ever got this crazy
    She thinks about a boy she knew in school
    Did she get tired or did she just get lazy?
    She’s so far gone she feels just like a fool

    My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
    You set it up so well, so carefully
    Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things?
    You’re still the same old girl you used to be

    I see that as one continuous narrative….with that second paragraph, questioning her choices, leading her to the self-critique of the third.

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