SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Are there second acts in American lives?


We begin with a necessary digression about a documentary film.

Rolling Stone sat down with Don Henley on the eve of the film’s Sundance debut. He talked about why they finally made the film (someone might die), what type of movie he wanted to see (an honest one) and how his bandmates still drive him nuts (but he’s learned to live with it).

Of course Glenn Frey did die, his group performed again anyway, and the documentary is four years old, but … I finally got around to watching the History of the Eagles.

I never cared for Eagles until On the Border, and didn’t care very much even after that (my favorite song is “I Can’t Tell You Why”), but the documentary is entertaining.

Don Henley likes to say that the song “Hotel California” is about the dark side of the American Dream, but the case can be made that the band’s overall story fits this description. Eagles began as a cooperative and ended (has it really ended?) as a two- and now one-sided economic dictatorship (Frey and Henley), primarily because maximum profit cannot be achieved within the boundaries of a cooperative.

Frey’s and Henley’s artistic vision is inseparable from their business plan, and it’s an interesting and instructive juxtaposition. In addition, Joe Walsh is a badass; there’s always that.

Something else Henley likes to say is in reference to the band’s famous Hell Freezes Over comeback album and tour in 1994, which jump-started a whole other career.

And another rare thing that happened to us, that I mention in the documentary, is we were fortunate enough to have one of the rarest of things in American life, which is a second act. We broke up for 14 years and came back and were bigger than ever. And we still pack arenas and stadiums even 42 years on.

Love him or hate him, Henley reads books. His reference to a “second act” is a nod to the author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald Might Disagree With His ‘No Second Acts’ Line

CORNISH: So I understand the line actually appears in two different works by Fitzgerald?

CURNUTT: Yes, ma’am. It shows up in the unfinished novel that was posthumously published called “The Last Tycoon” in 1941, where it’s just that line sort of dashed off in the middle of a bunch of working notes. But it actually dates back earlier, to about 1932, where it’s used in a very different way. And I think that way is probably more in line with Fitzgerald’s thinking throughout his life.

CORNISH: Which is? What was the main thinking there?

CURNUTT: Well, it shows up in an essay called “My Lost City,” which is a beautiful sort of testament to New York and was actually very popular in the aftermath of 9/11. The line he says here is: I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives, but there was certainly to be a second act to New York’s boom days.

Clearly he’s sort of saying, well, I once believed this but I’ve been proved wrong. And I think that’s what really gets most of us who are Fitzgerald fans is that line is always quoted as saying, well, how naive was Fitzgerald to have said there are no second acts in American lives, when he himself was only a couple of years away from what many people consider the greatest second act in American literary history.

In fact, for every one-hit-wonder in American life (“Brandy — You’re A Fine Girl,” by Looking Glass), there has been a second act (Richard Nixon springs to mind).

But I appreciate Henley’s sentiment, as well as his literary reference. I’ll appreciate it even more when and if my own second act arrives.