The first thing I’d say about this bio of the Eagles is that it is immensely entertaining. It starts at a breakneck pace and maintains that for most of the book, sketching scenes of how, when and where the band came together and, eventually, fell apart – only to get together again.
Mick Wall’s portrait of the scene in and around The Troubadour is crystal clear and dripping with cross-references to the Eagles’ antecedents, contemporaries, associates, and rivals. And it’s often very funny. There’s lots of drugs, alcohol, money, women, managers, recording, tours, and an almost Shakespearean sense of drama in the way power within the band is gradually winnowed until Don Henley is left at the top.
Especially at the start, it’s almost a tone poem, painting a word picture of the LA music scene transitioning from the 60s to the 70s (spoiler alert: Charles Manson ruined everything), while going backwards and forwards through the band’s development and the individual members’ backgrounds (another spoiler alert: none of the original four Eagles were from California). In that way, it’s certainly compelling.
What it’s not is a fan piece. It’s pretty clear that Wall doesn’t particularly like the Eagles, although he acknowledges their popularity and success. He has definitely come to bury the Eagles, not to praise them.
What it’s also not is original, other than in the way it pulls together other people’s research. Oh, he gives credit to the other writers who have profiled the band, he’s not plagiarising. In fact, he lists his sources at the end of the book, 52 of them, many of which he name checks during this book.
So Dark Desert Highway is a kind of compilation, a selective summary or summing-up of everyone else’s Eagles books, with some over-arching (and often overly arch) commentary.
This is a bit odd, coming from from “the world’s leading rock writer”, who has written mote than 30 books about bands, musicians and the music industry.
I’ve only read one of them, an excellent biography of Led Zeppelin called When Giants Walked The Earth, which is more your standard, well-researched, and engrossing band profile. I heartily recommend it.
By comparison, Dark Desert Highway is almost a comic book treatment. Perhaps Wall felt that suited the Eagles. If they were in it for the money, well, so is he.
I’m also a bit confused about how this book relates to Life in the Fast Lane, also by Mick Wall and released within a month of Dark Desert Highway. You’d think maybe the latter was just a renamed version for the Australian, or American, or non-UK market (Wall is British), but both books seem to be equally available in all markets.
Anyway, if you’re interested in the whole California country rock phenomenon, focused on the Eagles but with lots of cameos from Linda Ronstadt (of course), Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, CSN&Y, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, Fleetwood Mac, David Geffen, Irving Azoff, Glyn Johns and many (really, many, MANY) more, Dark Desert Highway is a quick and highly entertaining read.