Critics' Picks

Don Henley

Don Henley's new album, Inside Job--his first in 11 years, incidentally, making it "one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the new century," or so reads the back of the advance CD--arrived in the mail a month ago. I still have not listened to it, and I never will. That's not entirely true: I popped it into the CD player upon its arrival, scanned through its 13 tracks, and found not a single one I could stomach longer than eight seconds. Some might say that's not giving it a chance; some might say that's downright preposterous and, of course, wantonly dismissive. I would disagree, because I will never again see those 104 seconds, and I'll probably never again hear Inside Job. Right now, the disc is keeping my iced tea from leaving a ring on my end table. Tomorrow, I will use it to see how quickly CDs melt in the microwave. After that, perhaps I will take it skeet shooting.

My disdain for Don Henley--and that's what it is, because it's so friggin' personal--stems from the facts that: a) his music absolutely, inarguably sucks, and b) the man once tried to get me banned from one of his concerts. If I knew nine years ago what I know now, I would have gladly let him get away with pulling that shit--those are three hours I will never again see, and I was 22, meaning I damned sure could have put that time to good use. I was working for the Dallas Times Herald then, and Henley was playing Dallas for something like the third time in as many years--with no new product to promote, since The End of the Innocence had been released in 1989. In a little, weekend-guide concert preview, I made some comment about how the guy was bilking the local yokels by playing the same old shit one more lousy time--and then joked that the only reason he was playing at all was that the gig was supposed to have been a surprise Eagles reunion show, but that Henley and Glenn Frey had gotten into it again and busted up the get-together.

Henley, who has the sense of humor of a hangnail, didn't take too kindly to the piece and asked Starplex management to keep me from attending the show, which I was scheduled to review. I found out about this when the venue's manager, a friend, called with the news. But my pal told Henley he could do no such thing. It would set a bad precedent--though, in retrospect, I wish it had been possible. Then I wouldn't have been forced to suffer through "Boys of Summer," "Dirty Laundry," and all those wretched Eagles songs; turns out there's no such thing as a "free concert" after all. A couple of days after the Herald ran my less-than-kind review of Henley's less-than-kind show, I received a fax from someone claiming to be Henley's manager--though I later discovered it likely came from the man himself, who was known to send scathing missives to those on his enemies list. We reprinted the letter and received another from Henley the following day. Had I kept them, I would sell them for 43 cents on eBay--for both.

Two weeks ago, I could have sold Inside Job on eBay for something like 30 bucks. Now, of course, it's worth $12.99 at a Tower or Best Buy near you. That is, until it winds up in the cutout bin. So, I tried to listen to the disc again just a few minutes ago; that's the kind of guy I am, a real freakin' sport, just tryin' to do his job. It still sounds like 1989--"rock" made by a guy who never really did (take it easy, indeed). It's wimpy, earnest, tinny, dull, pretentious, empty--the album cover, I mean, since I still can't get more than eight seconds into any one song (actually, I made it a whole 12 seconds into "Damn It, Rose," because I thought it was about my mother).

I know Henley's a good guy, basically: He funded his own report about the viability of the city's Trinity River project, he gave a hell of a lot of money to Laura Miller's city council campaign, and there's all that Walden and environmental stuff. And he's among the few artists engaged in what may be the most under-reported music-business story of the past 10 years. Last November, the Recording Industry Association of America managed to get inserted into a routine spending bill a clause that says musicians' master tapes belong to their labels not for 35 years, but for all time. This new law, if passed by the House of Representatives, means musicians are nothing but slaves to the industry that has always bound them in shackles. Henley's nearly alone in fighting this battle--maybe because, as he's said recently, his fellow musicians are "too self-centered" to notice their own captivity. Don Henley always stands on the right side of the issues. Too bad he stands on the wrong side of the microphone. Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky