IT was a rainy winter's day in Denton, Texas, and a young man named Don Henley was in a scattered state of mind. He was engaged to marry a pretty girl from his hometown, but that meant giving up his dream of a musician's life. He was also fretting about the prospect of a draft notice that might take him from the prairie to the swamps of Vietnam. If he was looking for a sign, it came to him over the radio in his small apartment: It was "California Dreaming" by the Mamas & the Papas and, in its melancholy sunshine and crystal harmonies, he heard a call to go west.
"I got up, left the room so my roommate wouldn't hear me, walked to a cold, damp phone booth across the street, called the girl and broke up with her," Henley said of that day in 1967. Henley left Texas and, by the mid-'70s, he was a star in the Eagles and living a wild life in Benedict Canyon. As the band worked on its "Hotel California" album, Henley, approaching 30, looked to both personal history and the national story for a musical essay on how the West was lost. It started off with a pretty girl hefting a suitcase in a city that shares its name with the divine.
She came from Providence,
The one in Rhode Island
Where the old world shadows hang
Heavy in the air
She packed her hopes and dreams
Like a refugee
Just as her father came across the sea
Henley was already turning his mind to environmental themes that would become a signature of his career as an activist-artist — the plunder of the West and the metaphors there for personal destruction.
"The Last Resort" would be the last song on the album and the first foreshadowing of Henley's solo music; there was much of "The Last Resort" that would echo in his post-Eagles songs such as "The End of the Innocence."
"The music and the words to that song were my own, and in a way that was different from other tracks. It was my baby and it was me standing apart from the Eagles and trying to shape a story."
The song is a slide show of the development boom. "One of those rare rock songs about zoning," Henley cracked.
Some rich men came and raped the land, nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and, Jesus,
People bought 'em
And they called it paradise, the place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea
"It is forlorn because it foreshadowed the failure of the baby boom to stave off environmental destruction. By the mid-1970s, we certainly felt it coming. The hopes of the 1960s were already in tatters but we sensed that things were getting worse with the approach of the 1980s when incompetence and corruption — both political and corporate — would take the nation down. But, more simply, it's about the quest for a better life, a personal search for self and success: 'She went west.' A lot of stories begin that way."
— Geoff Boucher
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