(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.”