I try to be an optimistic soul, I really do. I look for the bright side of things most of the time. I realize most people are reasonably intelligent, most people are good and most people have at least some clue when they’re talking about music and literature.
But really, sometimes I wonder.
Although I’m late to the party on this particular example, I feel compelled to comment on it. I’m a lover of music, words and the combination of the two. Not sure how I missed this before now, but it simply boggles my mind.
Disclaimer: I’m an Eagles fan, have been pretty much since the band began. But I don’t think you have to be a fan to be dumbfounded by the question a music critic for the major metropolitan newspaper asked founding Eagle Don Henley three years ago.
The critic — who shall remain nameless here — asked Henley, via email, about the lyrics to Hotel California:
— “On “Hotel California,” you sing: “So I called up the captain / ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.'” I realize I’m probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn’t a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?” [added emphasis mine] —
You’ve GOT to be kidding me! I first heard that lyric when I was a 17-year-old high school student and I knew THEN that it was a metaphor! How dense do you have to be to take that literally?
Henley, known for being rather curmudgeonly to begin with, responded thus:
— “Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention—and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”
Now, as far as I’m concerned, Henley responded to a moronic question quite well, giving it exactly the level of respect it deserved. But a quick Web search shows many more people thinking the exchange showed Henley to be a jerk than think the critic was a fool.
Sorry, folks, if that’s the best question a journalist can come up with — and misinterpret the lyrics so completely in the process — he or she is a poor excuse for a writer.
Psst. News flash: The line “stab it with their steely knives” in Hotel California wasn’t just about knives (look it up). The song Life in the Fast Lane wasn’t about driving, either.
Oh, by the way, R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” isn’t about religion. And anyone who took Henley’s lyric that literally probably should stay far away from Dylan’s entire repertoire. And Elvis Costello’s. And maybe they’d better forget the writing of that Shakespeare guy, too….