My mother bought me the Eagles’ Hotel California as a Christmas present when I was in junior high. I loved the gritty, glamorous songs even though I didn’t have enough experience to understand most of them. Playing the record before school in the mornings helped me steel myself for running the gauntlet of junior high in a small town.
The songs met me where I was. New Kid in Town radiated within me and seemed realer than real most days.
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you
You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.
Hotel California, the ultimate road trip, let me see a future where I could love, lose, and learn. I would be stronger, no matter what love and life threw at me. If the Eagles could do it, I could do it.
However, when a visiting preacher came to our church, he told us about the evils of rock and roll. He played some song snippets backwards, which sounded quite clear after he told us what the garbled words were. I loved the Eagles, but I was more scared of hell. If the Eagles were against God, they had to go. My mother and I smashed Hotel California in the kitchen after we got home that night.
In college, I took the first few steps on my road to prodigal-ness. I missed the songs that had soothed my soul in junior high, and I no longer felt compelled to follow all the religious teachings I had learned, so I got Hotel California on cassette. I played it in my Honda Civic, driving down dark desert highways with cool wind in my hair. The songs resonated after a few years of bad boyfriends, boring part-time jobs, and living alone in cold places. They made a lot of sense, and they helped me make sense of my senseless life.
During the next few years, I lost my moral compass and what remained of my religion. I moved far away from everyone I knew and immersed myself in graduate school, getting an education but no satisfaction. The same kinds of troubled people kept finding me, and they dragged me lower and lower. I was sad every day, and didn’t see how it could get better. Wasted Time summed up my life, describing my loneliness at the end of each hopeless relationship.
You never thought you’d be alone, this far down the line.
And Hotel California didn’t sound like a road trip anymore, it sounded like the pattern of my life.
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
I hit my low point sometime during 1990. Shortly after, a friend asked me what I currently believed, knowing I was going through beliefs like most people go through sweaters. I realized that in spite of everything, I did believe in God, but I wanted no part of Christianity—legalism and guilt hadn’t done me any favors. I felt like a closet believer-in-God.
Then hope arrived, in the form of Sam. Sam attended a church where God was ready to love, help, and forgive. This God wanted a relationship with me, and I was ready. The congregation had ex-Hell’s Angels, ex-sex workers, ex-drug addicts, and we all rejoiced in grace and clean life together. I tossed my Buddhist prayer books, beads, books on mythology and new age, low-cut dresses, meditational drone music, incense, and rock and roll. I made many happy trips down to the dumpster, ridding myself of anything that didn’t proclaim Jesus. There was no remorse, just joy that I was finally on a path that led to wholeness and happiness. The stuff in the dumpster was just collateral damage, Hotel California included.
For the next few years, Sam and I produced children and taught piano. Never a fan of Christian music, I was too sleep-deprived and morally cautious to listen to anything except Veggie Tales and classical. Then one day I remembered the Eagles. I looked at my pre-teen children, and I thought of the comfort the Eagles had given me at that age. I was no longer scared of anything that didn’t “proclaim Jesus.” My faith was hefty enough to embrace things that reflected the goodness and wisdom of God.
I bought Hotel California on CD. My kids loved it. We sang along. We harmonized.
The songs meant a lot to us. Listening to The Last Resort, we discussed materialism, religion, and the plight of Native Americans.
They put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus people bought them.
We discussed the cautionary tales that are Life in the Fast Lane and Victim of Love.
Then, I went to see the Eagles for the first time, and they did not disappoint! I don’t know how senior citizens with a history of drug abuse can still sound as good as they did in their prime, but they did. It would have been nice to go hug them and say thanks, but I’m not a fangirl. I’m a fan woman. Big difference.
The fourth time I bought Hotel California was not because I had destroyed the CD in a swell of religious fervor. I still have the CD. I just wanted to have it on my iPod, too, so I bought the digital album. I listen to it while taking my middle-aged woman walk with my FitBit, my sunhat, and my sneakers with orthotic inserts. It has not been Wasted Time.
So you can get on with your search, baby, and I can get on with mine,
And maybe someday we will find that it wasn’t really wasted time.
Now that I have loved, lost, and learned just like I hoped I would in junior high, I see that I did come out of it stronger, in spite of (or because of) all life threw at me. Thank God for the Eagles.