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There are many things in life that you just don’t do: tug on Superman’s cape, spit in the wind, or pull the mask off of the Lone Ranger – and you certainly don’t mess around with Don Henley. Just days away from his 70th birthday, Henley is not and has never been a man to suffer fools gladly, and when it comes to his life’s work you’d better tread carefully.
Unfortunately for The Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder the lesson was learned the hard way when in 2009 he asked Henley about the widely interpreted lyrics to “Hotel California,” honing in on the lyrics “So I called up the captain / ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969′”. Noting that wines are fermented while spirits are distilled, Soeder asked Henley if he regretted writing the lyric.
He realized his mistake too late.
“You’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is,” replied Henley.
“My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”
Ouch! From comparisons to heaven and hell to dialogues about the dark side of Hollywood, we’ve heard it all – but we can honestly say we’ve never heard of anyone zeroing in on the intricacies of how different kinds of alcohol are made. Sure, Henley could have laughed it off, but why should he? “Hotel California” is a tremendous part of his musical legacy, one that he’ll be celebrated for long after he’s gone and a few generations after. We don’t blame him for taking control of the conversation and steering it back to what really matters: the music.