Earlier this year, I traveled to western Mexico to photograph migrating gray whales as they spent the winter months in the warm shallow waters of Baja California’s Magdalena Bay.
I planned to publish an accompanying essay, Welcome to Baja California, that would describe my experience while incorporating several not-so-subtle references to the 1970s megahit, Hotel California by the popular rock band the Eagles. I even went so far as to title each of my photos with lyrics pulled directly from the song itself: the craggy Baja coastal landscapes (What a Lovely Place?), eye-to-eye underwater encounters with the giant aquatic mammals (What a Lovely Face?) and some high-flying acrobatic breaching (Some Dance to Remember?) among others.
Then She Lit Up A Candle
Gray whale spouting at sunrise in Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 263mm, 1/1000 second @ f/5.6, ISO 500
For my sake as well as yours, gentle reader, this cringeworthy effort was soon mercifully aborted. The jump-the-shark moment arrived as I typed out a welcoming gesture for the essay’s closing words (you can come check it out anytime you like but you’ll never want to leave?). Oh really? I stared incredulously at the computer screen for several moments, palm firmly pressed against forehead, reading and re-reading this nauseating passage while contemplating perhaps the greatest lapse of good taste and judgement of my professional life. To make matters worse, I was never even a fan of the song nor the Eagles either for that matter. My dislike, if I could even call it that, was more of a shoulder-shrugging meh than a full-blown Jeff Lebowski-level declaration of disgust. The Eagles were merely background noise in the musical soundtrack of my life, nothing more and nothing less.
Growing up, I never thought their music to be objectionable on its own merits, but the likelihood they were many of our parents’ favorite contemporary “rock and roll” band made them not only objectionable at the time, but contemptable. The real estate they occupied on the FM radio dial didn’t exactly help their rock cred either. Their agreeable soft rock ballads and soaring five-part harmonies were much more likely to punctuate an Elton John – Chicago triple play than share airtime with The Stones or Zeppelin.
Artistically – no, I’m not a music critic but simply a lover of music – I now see the band and their music as a monumental lost opportunity. Supremely talented singers and musicians that they were, the resulting body of work is less than inspiring. Rampant drug use, love triangles, power struggles and band infighting didn’t lead to creative synthesis, as it did for say Lennon and McCartney, but instead created distractions and artistic compromises, so much so that any bold or edgy musical initiatives were pulverized into finely-polished, universally-compliant, mellow mediocrities.
Or perhaps they were motivated only by commercial success and record sales so once they found a formula that worked, they simply stuck to the script. Either way, many of their songs are breathtakingly predictable if not indistinguishable from one another. I’m not entirely convinced Take It Easy and Peaceful Easy Feeling are two completely different songs, are you? The Eagles were supreme gods of least common denominator rock and roll who produced inoffensive, commercially palatable music for the masses. Their lasting legacy is the undeniable fact that they sold a lot of records: no lyrical protestations or statements on social injustice (the peak of their success was during the 70s after all), no groundbreaking musical or artistic style, no risk-taking, no soul, no heart – yet they were wildly successful, commercial behemoths.