History’s greatest eulogies and tributes are usually written and delivered by powerful people who are humbled by the loss of someone they hold in high esteem. They are written to connect that loss to the greater mystery; they are written because the cycle of life and death has confounded them to the point of helplessness.
None of that applies here. Simply put: My nemesis, my archenemy, Eagles singer/songwriter/guitarist Glenn Frey is dead.
And I feel bereft.
Hating the Eagles became a national pastime for a certain set of tasteful rock fans from the get-go. Venerated rock critic Robert Christgau led the charge in 1973 with the sickest of all the sick burns, “Listening to the Eagles has left me feeling alienated from things I used to love.”
All of that derision continued through an entire generation, hitting its apex in 1998 with that famous Big Lebowski scene. The Eagles and mediocrity went together like milk and toast and were appropriately trampled in kind.
I cared very little about the Eagles one way or another as a whole entity after a certain point. I grew tired of hearing the millionth Lebowski reference (though I still dutifully acknowledged them) sometime back in the early Bush administration. For me, it was Frey. Fucking Frey. It was Frey and his eminently punchable face.
For me, Glenn Frey proxied for every dopey, cocky, pretty band guy in high school who always got laid; the guy whose constant striving to maintain a slack demeanor and carefree attitude precluded that very image. He tried hard at not trying hard — and very likely referred to his “axe” unironically as such. Frey’s success and popularity defied logic and gave me fits of cognitive dissonance.
All of that success faded, of course, and that’s when he became a parody of himself. From his laughable moment as a guitar-slingin’ smuggler on Miami Vice, to the string of solo sorta-hits whose titles read like spoof songs indexed by a pissed-off anti-rockist: “Sexy Girl,” “Partytown,” “Lover’s Moon,” “Soul Searchin’,” “The One You Love.”
Through all of it, the guy never wavered. He always kept that face. That smug face. The people who don’t know they’re terrible make the most frustrating archenemies.
I swooped in to take my Glenn Frey pot-shots long after anyone cared. Post-Lebowski, post-9/11, post-electroclash. He continued to make the perfect stooge. Perhaps I put him on the pillory as a representative of Baby Boomer excess. He came to stand not just for uninspired music, but for a generation that had been given every opportunity to turn postwar prestige and wealth into something grand, but instead imploded on themselves in a pile of bloat and blow, kicking their failures down to the rest of us while still patting their own backs. Frey’s smirking mug beamed delusionally out of all of it: “Hey man, it’s all good.”
Now he’s gone. Did Nixon have these feelings in 1971 when perambulating the Truman balcony upon hearing of Khrushchev’s death? Or did he feel joy? Did Cato the Elder stand on the salted fields of what had been Carthage in 146 B.C. and feel content? No, I can tell you both of those men felt a new kind of emptiness that comes from having lost the enemy that defined them.
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His friends, family and legions of Eagles fans will rightfully mourn for him and they will play his music in tribute and go on about how “the heat is off.” There are already millions of maudlin social media posts, no doubt. And though he wasn't Bowie or Lemmy, he deserves all of it from the people who did love him.
For my part, while I don't feel a profound sadness in his death and I don’t regret the fun I had at his expense, there will forever be a nemesis-sized hole in my heart where Frey used to be. In time, I will find other smug faces to target. But none will ever be quite like him.