The Eagle has landed

Published May 26, 2000|Updated Sept. 27, 2005

(ran GB edition)

Don Henley finds himself grounded in family and music as he releases a new CD, Inside Job.

The last time Don Henley put out an album, grunge had just been invented, Ronald Reagan had just left office and Britney Spears had just graduated from kindergarten.

But when he sings "A lot of things have happened since the last time we spoke" on his new album, Inside Job, he's not referring to the state of society or pop music. He's talking about himself.

In the 11 years since he released his last CD, The End of the Innocence, the Linden, Texas-raised singer moved from L.A. to Dallas, reunited with the Eagles, got married and had three children. Those last two events dominate the lyrics on Inside Job.

"I think it's a more balanced album because my life's more balanced now," he says. "I sacrificed a lot on behalf of my career, on the altar of success. But there was a big hole in my life that success and money couldn't fill, and frankly, I got lucky. I got really lucky. And this album reflects that."

The 52-year-old singer is situated in a modest barn-turned-house, where he stays whenever he's working in L.A. Nestled in the steep hills of Malibu and surrounded by acres of wildflowers, his bucolic spread is exactly the sort of place you'd expect to find rock's most famous environmentalist. The only noise you'll hear is the wind rustling through the trees and the occasional barking of Rufus, his friendly shepherd-retriever mutt.

But the tranquility is deceiving. Henley has been sprinting on the promotional gerbil wheel.

Within a matter of days, he hosted a Texas-style barbecue for dozens of international journalists, performed a two-hour rehearsal concert and suffered through one of his most dreaded chores: the photo session. In one two-day stretch, he gave 11 straight hours of interviews, and after spending a few hours with one reporter, later did three phone interviews _ which, considering his slow, meticulous way of answering questions, meant another five or six hours of talking.

To borrow the title of one of his new songs, he's Workin' It. And while his long-overdue Inside Job is finally done, the hard job starts in Houston on Sunday, when he launches a concert tour that will run throughout the year.

Yet his take-it-to-the-limit style of promoting Inside Job won't necessarily make it a hit. The End of the Innocence sold more than 6-million copies and won him a Grammy for best male rock vocalist, but that was 11 years ago _ a veritable eon in the hyperactive world of pop music. The singer says his "trepidation" about expectations for Inside Job is one reason it took so long to make.

"I work a lot on intuition, and I felt in my gut that the kind of music I make wasn't going to be accepted in '92 or '93," he says. "I felt it was best to let the dust settle, to let grunge and rap settle down."

While he bided his time, he reunited in 1994 with the Eagles, the L.A.-based rockers who split in 1980 amid much bickering. The band's Hell Freezes Over tour _ titled after a remark Henley once made about the likeliness of an Eagles reunion _ lasted two years and drew huge crowds despite tickets that reached the then-unheard of price of $100. (He puts the odds of another reunion at "50-50.")

But Henley's encore flight with the Eagles wasn't the only thing keeping his next solo album on the back burner. The 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed his L.A. home, prompting Henley and fiancee Sharon Summerall to move to Dallas _ her hometown, and a place where he had lived in the late '60s. The two married in May 1995 and have since had three children: daughters Annabel and Julia Sophia, and a son, Will.

The shift from rock 'n' roll bachelor to family man has also re-shaped Henley's music, as evidenced by such optimistic, oft-sentimental songs as For My Wedding, My Thanksgiving, Annabel and Everything is Different Now.

"When I moved to California, all my musician friends became my family, and that was fine for a while," says the singer, who grew up in tiny Linden, Texas, about 15 miles from the Louisiana border.

"But I got to the point in my life where having a family was very important. I'm an only child and I always had a great longing for a family. But I've also seen a lot of marriages go south, especially in my industry and the film industry, and I've seen the damage that broken homes can do to children. And I was determined not to let that happen to me. So I waited and waited and waited and as they say, all things come to he who waits."

Henley based the album's first single, Taking You Home, on the memory of bringing his first daughter, Annabel, home from the hospital. The song's video looks like a P.S.A. for family togetherness _ which is something the singer longs for as he rehearses with his band in L.A.

"I've been away from (my family) quite a bit since the first of the year, and I don't like it all," he says.

"My oldest daughter keeps asking when I'm coming home, and that's the only extremely difficult part of my life, trying to live this dual existence between my work in California and my family life in Texas. I never intended to be an absentee father, and I'm not going to be one they're gonna go with me (on tour) whenever possible."

Yet while domesticity has changed Henley, it definitely hasn't mellowed him. The angry social commentator who gave us Dirty Laundry and Johnny Can't Read spends almost half of Inside Job railing against the ills of modern society.

In the funky, biting leadoff track, Nobody Else in the World But You, he rips into all the self-absorbed jerks he sees around town.

"In Los Angeles, civility has pretty much disappeared. The phrase "excuse me' no longer exists in the lexicon, and I don't want my kids to grow up in that kind of world," he says.

"One thing I like about Dallas is that it's part of the South, where manners still exist, although they're being eroded there, too, because of overcrowding: The more rats you cram into a cage, the more aggressive they become."

He spends the title track and Workin' It venting on "corporation nation-states" which he says are becoming Big Brother-like. "This merger mania and world domination that these corporations are exhibiting worries me to death," he says. "I take issue with the argument that it's giving us more commercial "choices.' It's giving us fewer choices, and it's creating tremendous conflicts of interest. The only ones really getting rich in this brave new media world are wealthy investors and advertisers, and the telecommunications conglomerates and computer companies."

As you might expect from the founder of the Walden Woods Project, Henley also sings about the environment on Inside Job. Goodbye to a River, which he named after Texas author John Graves' 1960 book about the Brazos River, deals with the "arrogance" humans show in abusing nature.

"In my work and travel, I have the opportunity to talk to some of the greatest scientists in this world, and the prognosis is not good," he says.

"There's a frontier mentality in Texas that there's plenty of resources, space and time, and there aren't. We're now the most polluted state in the union. Houston has the worst air quality of any city. We have the most carcinogenic toxins in our air of any state, and the list goes on and on." The singer says he's particularly worried about his adopted hometown of Dallas. In 1998, he made headlines for donating $230,000 to Save the River, a failed campaign to stop the city's Trinity River development project.

"The city of Dallas is an oligarchy and every logical argument on behalf of the environment, or anything else, has to take a back seat to commerce. It's always been that way, and will probably always be that way, and it's very frustrating for me as an environmentalist to live there."

Frustration at what we're doing to the planet is a recurring theme in Henley's music that dates back to The Last Resort, his 1976 Eagles tune about the over-development of Aspen, Colo. All this environmental hand-wringing has earned him a reputation as the Chicken Little of rock 'n' roll _ a relentless doomsdayer who, to paraphrase Mojo Nixon's "Don Henley Must Die," needs to lighten up and have a little fun.

"Well, most of my thought-provoking songs, you can dance to," he says with a laugh. "I'm very careful about that. I don't believe in boring people to death or sounding pedantic or preachy.

"And long ago, I gave up any delusions about any kind of revolution of music changing the world. We naively thought those things in the '60s, and those things didn't happen.

"But I do have proof that songs can make people think and give them a new awareness," he says, referring to the reams of mail he gets from fans who've been affected by his lyrics.

"One of my greatest treasures is this box of letters I have from all over the world. Those letters make what I do worthwhile, more so than the Grammys or the money or the rest of it. When somebody tells you that a song has profoundly changed his or her life, that's the greatest reward I can get."