9. Don Henley - New York Minute

When you're in a band, that band has a sound that it usually sticks to, because it's what you like, it's served you well and made you (hopefully) popular.  The Eagles had a sound - the rock/country fusion thing, and it was very successful for them.  Very successful.  But being a band full of talented songwriters who knew they were talented, tensions inevitably arose and fractured the band beyond repair.  

One of the seminal reasons the band fractured is that Don Henley wanted to do his own thing, much in the same way that John Lennon did.  Since he didn't have a Yoko Ono to blame, the perception became that it was largely his fault that the Eagles broke up.  And since I defended Lennon's decision to do his own thing, I will also say that Don Henley had every right to go his own way and start a solo career.  And since I'm a huge fan of his solo work, it's an easier argument for me to make.  Don went on to make some amazing albums, one of which, The End of the Innocence, became a Grammy winner and one of my top 10 albums of all time*.

The track on that album that really blew my mind the first time I heard it was "New York Minute."  It was most definitely not an Eagles song.  When Henley did his Vh1 Storytellers, they asked him what Eagles songs he was going to do.  None, he replied, since it was Don Henley's Storytellers.  "But," they retorted, "that would be like Paul McCartney doing one and not doing any Beatles songs."  "Yeah," he said with a chuckle, "that's exactly what it would be."  It was clear that although he knew he'd done great things with the Eagles, he'd stood on his own two feet for a decade and a half and wasn't afraid to take the credit he deserved.  He ended up compromising, doing a cool trip-hop rap version of "Life in the Fast Lane" to appease the suits at Vh1.

"New York Minute" differentiates itself from the start from anything Don had ever done before.  The jazzy opening to this song, combined with the minor chords of the keyboards are a portent that this song, like most jazz songs, won’t be a happy one.  It's the kind of song that would've never made it to an Eagles album+. 
He took the lushness of "Sunset Grill," a track from his previous record, and took it to another level, making himself a masterpiece along the way.  To confirm the melancholy scene that the introduction of the song establishes, Don starts with some spot-on lyrics that strike me as something that Robert Smith or Morrissey may have written:

Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went down to the station
And he never came back

They found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track
And he won't be down
On Wall Street in the morning

The minor chords of the piano continue throughout the verses, punctuated by timely cymbal brushes and taps.
Don continues the story through a couple of verses, finally building up to the chorus, singing "Everything can change in a New York minute."  Christian gospel group Take Six adds the song's backing vocals, adding heft and richness that compliments Henley's lush tenor tones.

The muted horn and strings return the song to its jazzy core, but also symbolize the plethora of sirens that fill the New York night - police heading east along 126th St. while paramedics race past 126th as they go south on Amsterdam.  And you can tell it's on purpose, because his lyrics mirror the somber mood:

Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody's going to jail

Even though the general tone of "New York Minute" is dark, there's hope.  It reminds me of a movie like The Shawshank Redemption.  It's a brutal prison movie that shows the soul-crushing reality of prison life, but in the end focuses on the thing they can't take away - hope.  So even though the world's falling apart around him, Don can't help but search for the hope that will some day win the battle.  It has to, or else he might just end up like Harry, dressed all in black.

But I know there's somebody somewhere
Make these dark clouds disappear
Until that day, I have to believe
I believe, I believe

Even when life is giving us nothing but the shit end of the stick, we're given the choice to succumb to the misery, or to keep that hope alive, even if it's a flicker that's in danger of going out for good.  It’s no wonder why this song had a second life as a post 9/11 anthem.  Obviously, the title of the song, and the benchmark lyric “Everything can change in a New York minute,” were the initial corrolary, but the rest of the lyrics, for the most part, tragically work as well.  Being a huge Don Henley fan, I thought this song had never gotten its due.  But I’d gladly trade the notoriety that the song gained in those few months for the lives that were taken that horrible Tuesday morning.  Everything did change.  But hopefully, this song can help us through the difficult times.

I have to believe.

* The End of the Innocence is pure genius.  With a collection of brilliant producers, Henley put together an album with multiple music styles - adult A/C, hard rock, AOR, jazz and his old haunting grounds, country.  "New York Minute" is the best song in my opinion, but most people think it's the title track's collaboration with Bruce Hornsby, which won't get too much of an argument from me.  There are some hidden gems, though, that you should check out, if you have the inclination.  "How Bad Do You Want It?" is the krunky cousin of "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," with some great keyboard sounds and the killer line, "You would walk on your lips through busted glass if you could get next to that."  For the hard rock fans, Henley had Axl Rose do scorching backing vocals on "I Will Not Go Quietly", which doesn't go quietly - thank God for that.  Then there's the heartbreaking "Heart of the Matter," in which he does a deft job of making a break-up song that mixes regret and sorrow with a mature resignation that her life is probably better, and he's okay with that.  I could go on, but just go out and get the album, you won't regret it.

+ Funnily enough, though, "New York Minute" has become a staple of the live shows that the Eagles have done since reforming in 1994.  So much so, in fact, that if you do a search on "New York Minute" lyrics, most sites list it as an Eagles song.  Don't worry, Don, us music geeks know the truth.

Since Don never made a video for this song, the only Youtube video I could find was someone's post 9/11 tribute, with the song as a background.  Even though it's been almost ten years, I found that the video really shook me.  It made me angry, sad and hopeful all at once.  If you want to avoid that dichotomy of conflicting feelings, click on it and then scroll back up the post.  I probably will next time....

1 Response
  1. Anonymous Says:

    is there a released video of his rapping Life in the Fast Lane, anywhere to be reviewed?