With the death of Glen Frey last week I felt a sort of obligation to watch the CNN documentary movie about his band, the Eagles. I know it’s cliche to say this, but its true: the Eagles have really provided a lot of the soundtrack of my life. Of course readers of this blog will know that another artist has also contributed mightily to that soundtrack as well.
I was riveted by this documentary in way that I probably would not have been if Frey had not just passed away. Sometimes I wonder if I missed my calling as a rock critic. (When I said this to my wife and daughter last night they both rolled their eyes). As I watched, I could not help but think about a couple of things related to the evangelicalism of my youth. I did not become an evangelical Christian until midway through high school. (That’s another story). Of course I knew the Eagles music. Back in the 1970s it was played constantly on both AM and FM radio stations. But I had no idea that the song “Hotel California” was really about a San Francisco hotel owned by Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey.
This view of the song was preached endlessly by evangelical youth pastors. It spread like wildfire in the evangelical community in the 1970s and 1980s–and this was before the Internet. (I am sure there is a scholarly treatment of this? Anyone? Randall Stephens?) In fact, it took me a very long time before I felt I could listen to the song without somehow compromising my faith or opening myself up to Satanic influences. Even today, when I hear it on the radio, my first inclination is to change the station. (On the CNN documentary Don Henley balked at this evangelical interpretation of the song, claiming that the song was really about “a journey from innocence to experience.”)
And then there is the classic “Peaceful Easy Feeling”:
I cannot listen to the lyric “Cause I’m already standing on the ground” without thinking of an alternative lyric made popular in evangelical circles: “Cause I’m already standing on SOLID ground.” (Or sometimes “on HIS ground”). Check it out for yourself:
I guess when you have a wildly successful rock band like the Eagles, and a religious movement with a long, long history of accommodating to culture, stuff like this is bound to happen.
I also realize that this post probably says more about me than it does about evangelicalism or the Eagles, but so be it.