John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Desperado”

The Eagles were always slick and superficial, but this song works -- if performed by others.

By - Feb 13th, 2015 02:37 pm
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Eagles: “Desperado”

Eagles: “Desperado”

If only for this single performance of their song, Desperado, I’m glad The Eagles exist. On most days (and I suspect to more listeners than just me) they represent a slick and facile kind of country rock that never connected emotionally. Don Henley was bad enough, but when Glen Frey was exercising his strange, made-up SoCal twang, it brought the wrong kind of tears to my eyes. It’s annoying they were so influential, but I’ve taken up meditation, so I think I have that under control.

On the opposite end of the slick spectrum is the young girl who sings this week’s song. She was, at the time, a fourth grader at one of the elementary schools in the Langley School District. This was in British Columbia around 1976 or 1977. The children in these classrooms were very lucky to have a guy named Hans Fenger as their music instructor. He had no use for “children’s music” and found that most of his students didn’t either. So he taught them songs off the radio, a mish-mash of late ‘70s pop that, good or bad, was dramatically transformed by the young and innocent singers. I would hope they didn’t know what they were singing about.

He then gathered all the young singers together and made a record, two in fact, and these were sold locally or taken home with proud moms and pops. We probably would have never had the opportunity to enjoy these performances (or the very entertaining movie School Of Rock, said to be inspired in part by this collection) if it wasn’t for a collector who found the records in a second-hand record-store bin. He knew he had something, but a lot record companies turned him down. Finally, a label called Bar None picked them up and reissued it as a two disc set with the brilliant title, Innocence & Despair. Listening to it you feel both.

You’ll see a few comments on Youtube about the out of tune piano in this performance, but I like it. This is the opposite of the over-crafted music that was prevalent then. Like punk rock, which happened about the same time, it says something about the dearth of honest emotion in the pop, but in a much sweeter and polite way. And that’s what I find so disarming. It’s obvious these kids liked what was on the radio at the time; the track listing reveals plenty of Elton John, Wings, Neil Diamond and, I’m sorry to say, Barry Manilow.

I must admit, “Desperado” is a song that is sturdy and well constructed. There’s nothing really wrong with it, and if I’m honest with myself, I sort of enjoy it when it pops into my head. My problem with the band was never that they were flat-out bad — more that they were a little bored with their self-perceived greatness. I have since heard others sing their songs and can appreciate them more when the Henley and Frey factor is removed (For a real treat, check out Freedie Johnston singing “The Sad Cafe”)

No matter how you hear them, the lyrics seem to conjure a moment when some jaded roue is confronting himself in the mirror and not liking what he sees.

Desperado

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow

Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Don’t your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the night time from the day
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

© Don Henley, Glen Lewis Frey

So now you know Glen Frey’s middle name. You’re welcome.

Really, The Eagles seemed be the kind of guys you’d want to keep away from your 4th grade daughters. There was a touch of ‘70s sleaze in their work. It wasn’t funny or decadent like The Rolling Stones. For me, they will always reflect a shallow, coked-up moment in our culture.  Disco in cowboy boots. Even when the songs hold up, like this one here, the performances of their two main vocalists queer the deal for me.

Have a guileless 4th grader sing it though, and you have pretty winning formula. It creates an eerie, uncomfortable tension — like childhood spying on some off-the-rails version of adulthood. And through that prism it delivers a searing truth — one that The Eagles, with all their craft, using the best studios and all the perfectly tuned instruments in the world, could never achieve.

0 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: “Desperado””

  1. Anonymous says:

    So the Eagles, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Barry Manilow, and Neil Diamond are sleazy, phony and shallow! Who else? And who appointed you as the almighty judge of all things musical? If these people are so bad, why do their peers respect them so much? For example, Jackson Browne loved, respected, sang with and hung with the Eagles. Is Jackson sleazy and shallow too? Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, and many of the great songwriters from the Brill Building love the work of both Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond. Robby Robertson said he was proud to have produced one of Neil Diamond’s albums. Is Robby shallow? Carol King? I think that you are an arrogant, pompous ass who reads the Rolling Stone reviews and takes them too seriously.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oh my god Mr. Sieger find another profession because you have no credibility after this column.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I take it you only post comments that aren’t critical of your crappy opinion. Sad.

  4. Anonymous says:

    @Vince No just behind on my duties….

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good lord, John. What a magnificent job of firing up the hoi polloi.

  6. Anonymous says:

    John Sieger has opinions. He is an excellent songwriter and musician. One can disagree or agree without hating and name calling.
    There is a wonderful version of Desperado sung by a young actress in the very good movie ” In America”

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the link to The Sad Cafe – and Desperado has always been a favorite of mine (when one is a poet, lyrics REALLY matter!).

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