Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California

hotel-california-singer-songwriters-and-cocaine-cowboys-in-the-la-canyons-1967-1976Subtitled the true life adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and their many friends, Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California is exactly that: a chronicle of the heady days of the singer-songwriter era, when songs became diary entries, and radio listeners learned more about the artists’ sex lives, drug use, and political interests than we had ever known before. Hoskyns captures them all, in all their egomaniacal glory!

There’s a telling quote about halfway through. In talking about David Geffen and his desire to both make money, and deal with his artists, Hoskyns quotes Ned Doheny as saying, “what [Geffen] had going for him was that artists are self-involved to the point of being autistic.” It’s a strong charge, but remember that Ned Doheny was one of those artists, and one of the ones who Geffen didn’t make a household name.

David Geffen is one of the major players in Hotel California. Together, with his partner Elliott Roberts, he pretty much had the country-rock/singer-songwriter field wrapped up. CSNY, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, all the people listed in the subtitle — and more — had connections with the Geffen/Roberts/Asylum Records powerhouse. Hoskyns tells of the political maneouvering, the business ins and outs, the incestuous [within bands, that is] love affairs, all the while tracing the arc of creativity which took these musicians from impassioned amateurs to chart-topping superstars. It’s all told in a straight forward style which keeps the reader involved. After all, these are the people who got many of us interested in music. I can remember trying to copy the guitar styles of Stills, Young, Taylor, Mitchell; trying to “loosen my load” like the Eagles and write songs like Jackson Browne. My drugs weren’t good enough I guess!

Drugs play almost as big a role as Geffen does. Hotel California is titled after the Eagles’ song of the same name, which was written about the hotel where John Belushi died. It represents excess. And the lifestyle that the musicians named herein lived was one of excess. Barney Hoskyns doesn’t shy away from describing that excess. He names names. He quotes occurrences of backstabbing and manipulation. He gives credit where credit is due, and assigns blame where blame is due. He places Cass Elliott in her proper place of importance in bringing Crosby, Stills, and Nash together. Young was a later, business-centred addition. He describes Gram Parsons’ impact (and lifestyle). He doesn’t miss much. Aside from the artists listed, he covers the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Michael Nesmith and Judee Sill. He interviews Ry Cooder, JD Souther, Glen Frey, Lenny Waronker, and many more insiders with long memories, and some with axes to grind. Hoskyns follows the story up to and including the urbanization of country-rock with the success of The Eagles album after which he titled his book.

The copy I read was an Advance Uncorrected Proof, with no pictures, but I’ve seen the published book, which has a nifty photo insert. Everyone looks so young, and innocent! Hoskyns is a British journalist whose previous books are classics. His biography of the Band (Across the Great Divide) is a definitive history of that group, and his biography of Arthur Lee is a must-read for fans of Love! Hotel California is a worthy successor. Remember what the Eagles said, “You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave. . . .” as it applies here. You’ll want to keep reading ’til you finish. Well worth a weekend!

(Wiley, 2006)


David Kidney

David Kidney was born in the Marine Hospital on Staten Island in the middle of the last century, when the millenium seemed a very long way off. His family soon moved to Canada, because the air was fresher. He has written songs and stories, played guitar, painted, sculpted, and coached soccer and baseball. He edits and publishes the Rylander, the Ry Cooder Quarterly, which has subscribers around the world. He says life in the Great White North is grand. He lives in Dundas in the province of Ontario, with his wife.

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