Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Don Henley Can Do My "Dirty Laundry" Any Time

It begins with a keyboard. A sneaky, seemingly harmless keyboard - playing some low, almost imperceptible notes. It's like the tyrannosaurus of sleaze, if you will, quietly lurking beneath the surface, waiting for its moment to pounce. That glass of water on the table is starting to jiggle. Suddenly the drums kick in, and, Lord have mercy, the moment has arrived. The Sleazosaurus has been set free. That Sleazosaurus ... is "Dirty Laundry."

Howard Beale was probably right when he said, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore," if by "mad as hell" he meant "insanely desperate for any last crumb of trashy celebrity gossip" and if by "this" he meant "a distinct and unfortunate lack of 24-hour trashy celebrity gossip." Perhaps you've been under the impression that we currently live in an era of particularly rapacious, bloodthirsty, insatiable, tawdry media tastelessness and exploitation, but if Don Henley's 32-year-old hit is any indication, actually, it sounds like it's always been that way.

Sure, back in 1982, maybe we didn't have TMZ, Twitter, YouTube, Fox News, and CNN, but I suppose normal old nightly news must have found a way to give the people what they wanted. Well, on "Dirty Laundry," Henley zips up his Hazmat suit and eagerly swims through the shit, taking a page out of his L.A. buddy Randy Newman's playbook by inhabiting the kind of character he is ultimately trying to mock. The world of "Dirty Laundry" is a world in which feelings must take a backseat to entertainment. "Who cares if the victims are suffering? Look at the ratings!"
I make my living off the Evening News
Just give me something, something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry

Well I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don't have to be clear
Come and whisper in my ear
Give us dirty laundry

Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they stick
Kick 'em all around

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde, comes on at five
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It's interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation? Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a running bet
Get the widow on the set
We need dirty laundry
Buddy, you're hired!

It's funny, most considerate adults would try to give the victims of tragic events some "space." But "space" is not really an operative concept for Henley's eager anchorman and his unconcerned cronies. The widow's crying? Well the moment she knocks it off, slap some make-up on that bitch and get her in front of a God damn camera! Death is money, and money is good. As one of Henley's contemporaries put it a decade earlier, "Even when you died/Oh the press still hounded you/All the papers had to say/Was that Marilyn was found in the nude."

Of course, what could have been a joyless, finger-pointing screed is actually a bouncy New Wave party thanks to that comical roller-rink keyboard riff. Freed from the pressure of the Eagles, I guess Don finally discovered his inner goofball? I mean, the Eagles may have been known for many things, but an overt sense of humor was probably not one of them. Who knew Henley had this kind of gleeful sarcasm in him? Did they get the model mixed up at the plant?

(Side note: according to Wikipedia, the song features solos by two different guitarists: former fellow Eagle Joe Walsh and ubiquitous Toto axeman Steve Lukather. It seems like Joe took the opportunity to really let it rip, while Steve sounds somewhat subdued and cautious by comparison. Perhaps there was a bit of a behind-the-scenes rivalry during the session? I'd like to hear about some of that dirty laundry.)

Finally, there is the army of electronically distorted zombie people. The first time around, the chorus of "Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down" is followed by the sound of a thousand evil, carnivorous typewriters. "Dear God, I just wanted to eat a chicken pot pie and catch the sports highlights!" Well, the carnivorous typewriters sound evil, but they don't sound half as evil as the army of electronically distorted zombie people who start shouting the chorus mindlessly around 3:30, ready to devour any unlucky celebrity in its path. At least I think it's the chorus; coming from the lips of the insatiable mob, it sounds more like "mrick 'em when mwere mrup, mrick 'em when mwere mrown." I knew the nightly news fed off death, but I didn't know it could actually kill me.

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