The last time the Eagles appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, back in 1979, Charles M. Young had spent a year with the band, gaining unprecedented access to one of rock’s biggest and most private bands (“The Eagles: Hell Is for Heroes,” RS 305). The Eagles had hit new peaks for partying and for creativity, and Young was happy to join them. The article, though, opened some wounds (and another Young piece on the band — a short Random Note — led to a historic softball game with the band taking on some RS staffers). Young spoke with RS about that infamous softball showdown and his relationship with the band.
When you first wrote about the Eagles, despite their popularity a lot of people were dismissive of their talent.
It’s never been hip to like the Eagles in New York. When they were popular in the Seventies, there was this thing going on here called punk rock. You know, this little subculture that came out of CBGBs. And the values of punk were very different from the values of the Eagles. A punk vocalist is basically cathartic, and it was very much a rebellion against the cult of the Guitar Hero, as though they were saying, “We could do it ourselves. These musicians that we hear on FM radio aren’t God and you don’t have to be a virtuoso to play really powerful, effecting rock & roll guitar.” Johnny Ramone was the guy in the first punk band who proved that, and it was a simple way to play the guitar but very, very compelling. And then there’s the Eagles, who were kind of at the pinnacle of FM radio popularity. They were doing something that really nobody else could do with their harmonies. There weren’t any punk bands that would do harmonies at all. So the Eagles were viewed as unhip. At the time when I wrote that original article, people thought I was crazy for writing about the Eagles because I came up writing about the Ramones and the Dead Boys.
It’s just two totally different ends of the spectrum.
Popular music is a kind of popular religion. Rock & roll fans often interpret a band that doesn’t sound like the band that they love as a threat. I just don’t think it’s necessary. And in the case of the Eagles, they weren’t punk but they were certainly pugnacious. Especially when I was with the Eagles, Don Henley made some crack about me going off to listen to punk rock in my hotel room or something. And I said, “What do you think? I listen to Johnny Rotten 24 hours a day?”
Can you tell me how the Eagles vs. Rolling Stone softball game came about? The band was angry at us for calling them sissies in Random Notes?
I forget where I got the item, but the Eagles had played some radios station at softball and they lost. I ridiculed them. And a few days after that, I got a letter from Henley insulting me and then I insulted him back in the column. And Henley for his whole life has been an inveterate writer of letters. If someone displeases him, he can send out these little masterpieces of venom. Glenn Frey is equally smart which is to say very smart. I hadn’t been looking to start a feud with the Eagles. I was just looking to write a funny Random Note. And then they responded with this letter going after me and then I went back after them in the column and they were kind of the biggest band of the world and we were fighting over softball. We made this bet. I was amazed. I thought that we would just go out in Central Park and find an open spot in the Sheep’s Meadow and play a softball game or something. And then we ended up flying to Dedeaux Field at UCLA. In retrospect, it was a much better place to play. The stands were full and they broadcast the game on the radio and there were rock stars who hated Rolling Stone because we’d said something nasty about them in the record review section there rooting for he Eagles. I felt like I was walking into the Roman Coliseum or something and was about to be eaten by lions. The Eagles were the top of California aristocracy at the time. Governor Jerry Brown was there and the Eagles had done benefits for him.
I remember the game went much faster than I thought it would. A seven-inning softball game doesn’t take that long to play. You know, one of the things in Random Notes was Henley said something to the effect of, “Remember Charlie, I’m pitching and I don’t like you.” Like he was going to take my head off in slo- pitch softball. [Laughs] The Eagles won. I thought they were very gracious as winners. They sent me an autographed softball, and mine got stolen. The one time in my life I’ve been burgled, that’s the one thing of value that they took.
Did you discuss the game with them when you interviewed them for this story?
The wounds that went into the softball game were kind of resolved with the Eagles’ victory. I didn’t talk with Henley again until a year and a half ago backstage at a Jerry Lee Lewis show where he had sung one song with Jerry Lee. We hadn’t spoken in 28 years and I said, “Hi Don,” and he said, “Chuck it’s not like it used to be. I have children now and I’m going back to Dallas.” There was something in Henley that I kind of recognized in myself. He writes sort of like I do. He’s kind of a stonecutter and a perfectionist. And there was something in Don especially that I identified with and I ended up liking the Eagles a lot and I spent a lot of time with them in the studio doing The Long Run, which I talk about in the article. It was really interesting to see them again after all this time. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I went to England but they were very, very nice to me and open. Whatever happened a long time ago, somehow time does heal old wounds. Maybe that’s what happened here.