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Book Review: Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles 1974-2001 by Don Felder

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The Eagles, like many other bands from the classic rock era, have always played a significant role in the soundtrack of my life. Growing up, it was not uncommon to hear tunes like “Desperado,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Take it Easy,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” In fact, here in Montgomery, Alabama, where I’ve spent the vast majority of my life, the theme song to our local COPS-inspired law enforcement television show is none other than “Life in the Fast Lane.”

So when I happened to notice that the Eagles’ former guitarist, Don Felder, had written his memoirs about his time in that great American band, I had to get my hands on it. The story that unfolds is not terribly uncommon fare for most bands of that era. Having been an ardent fan of Fleetwood Mac, the stories of drug excess, rivalry, and flaring tempers sounded quite familiar.

However, in Heaven and Hell, Felder goes into a great deal more than his time with the Eagles. Indeed, Felder’s own personal history as chronicled in the book is nearly as compelling as that of the Eagles themselves. He tells of his various encounters and friendships with other rock and music icons like Stephen Stills, Tom Petty, BB King, Peter Green and others.

Through his modest childhood in Gainesville, Florida to his status as a member as a Eagles would-be, Felder details a life of ups and downs that would pique the interest of any reader with an interest in rock and roll. But the theme expressed in the title is really what keeps reader wanting more.

From the outset of his entrance into the Eagles, Felder expresses not only his disenchantment with a band that he feels is already on the verge of dissolving, but also the highs and joys of being in one of America’s hottest bands at its peak. In addition to the power struggles and rivalry that plagued the band, drug use and sexual promiscuity also played a major role in the darker times that Felder covers.

One of the main events an Eagles fan will want to know about going into this book Felder’s dismissal from the Eagles. While it’s difficult to give a truly fair assessment from a single account, Felder seems to make the case that Glenn Frey is the primary villain of the story. Frey and Don Henley are both often referred to as “the gods,” for their attempts to dominate control of the band musically and financially.

Henley is portrayed as a more brooding, soft-spoken poet while Joe Walsh is revealed to be the lovable prankster who struggles with the demons of drugs and alcohol. Timothy Schmit isn’t really described at length, but is portrayed in a fairly positive light.

As an Eagles fan, it’s difficult to take sides when reading a book like this. But if Felder’s version of the story is as accurate as it seems to be, the rest of the band has some explaining to do. To my knowledge, none of the other Eagles have written their story yet, so for now, Felder’s version stands alone as an insight into one of America’s greatest bands.

In short, I really enjoyed reading this book. If you love reading about your favorite rock stars or spent any significant amount of time watching VH1’s Behind the Music, you’ll have trouble putting this one down. I highly recommend this to all Eagles fans, whether you’re on the side of “the gods” or not.

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