The Sad Café

(Edited to fix the chronology.)

The new Eagles album, The Long Road Out of Eden, was officially released yesterday. It’s the first album of new songs by the band since The Long Run in 1979. I remember the day The Long Run came out, and the first time I heard another of the songs that sounds like October to me.

In the fall of 1979, I was a young radio man at college. I was on the air the day the album came in the afternoon mail. We’d all heard the lead single, “Heartache Tonight,” but we were anxious to hear what the rest of The Long Run sounded like. The word we got from our program director, who worked weekends at an album-rock station in Milwaukee, was that “The Disco Strangler” was the cut to push. (Understandable, at the end of that disco-drenched year.) So I slapped the album on the turntable, gave “The Disco Strangler” an appropriate introduction, and rolled it. We didn’t know then that history would show “The Disco Strangler” to be one of the least-memorable tracks on the album, but it was great to have the Eagles back on the radio anyhow, especially on our air.

That night, we tracked the whole album start to finish, only interrupting it to flip it. (Radio stations commonly did that with new releases back then, although record companies were beginning to get skittish about home taping.) I was listening from my dorm room, and I remember giving the album my undivided attention. Before it was finished, I knew I’d be going out to buy it in the next day or two. That was even before I heard the last track, which blew me away, and still does.

“The Sad Café ” is very un-Eagle-ish in many ways, from the ghostly electric piano chords that start it to the rich David Sanborn sax that takes it out. But just as you can feel the whole history of the Beatles as they play together on side two of Abbey Road, you can feel at least some of the Eagles’ history on “The Sad Café.” The two years it took to make The Long Run may have been an ordeal for the band, but you wouldn’t know it by “The Sad Café.” All temporary personal nonsense aside, the Eagles must have loved playing together at some point, and it’s the love of playing that you hear. Their trademark (and always underrated) vocal harmonies are as gorgeous as usual, and Don Henley sings with conviction. And what a lyric, about love and memory and dreams and loss and time, but most of all about a place where the inevitable losses we’re fated to suffer haven’t happened yet, where those losses will never happen, where everything remains the way we want it to be, forever.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim is transported to the planet Tralfamadore. There, he learns that Tralfamadorians view time differently than humans do. When a Tralfamadorian looks at the sky, he doesn’t see points of light, he sees streaks of spaghetti. He sees everywhere the star has been and everywhere it’s going to be, all at once. When a Tralfamadorian dies, the others do not mourn. Yes, their dead comrade is in a bad way now, but there are plenty of other moments in which he’s alive and doing just fine, so why worry?

I try—all year round, but especially in the fall—to be as Tralfamadorian as I can manage. I try to believe that life’s best moments aren’t over and done with; they’re still happening behind me somewhere. If that somewhere needs a name, why not call it the Sad Café?

It may be that time has drawn
The faces I recall
But things in this life change very slowly
If they ever change at all
It’s no use in asking why
It just turns out that way
So meet me at midnight, baby
Inside the Sad Café
Why don’t you meet me at midnight, baby
Inside the Sad Café

One year later, the Eagles would release one more album, the largely pointless Eagles Live, before officially splitting up. Everybody knows the history since then—the mid-90s reunion, the Farewell Tours, and now The Long Road Out of Eden. (I’ll be picking it up today or tomorrow.) But if “The Sad Café” had been the last thing we ever heard from them, it would have been the best of all possible codas.

More Eagles: 32 reasons why they’re the best band in the universe, and their 11 worst songs.

“The Sad Café”/The Eagles (buy it here)

(Buy The Long Road Out of Eden here.)