Joe Walsh has been sober now for 16 years. So What? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Joe Walsh has been sober now for 16 years. So What?

So What? As the name of his 1974 album had it.

Let’s start with a confession. I was watching breakfast television in bed the other morning. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. And there he was, Joe Walsh, once described by Pete Townshend as; “the best rock guitarist in the northern hemisphere” (for those of you who are fans of the hyperbolic quote) sitting there alongside the two BBC talking head dolls being “interviewed” although really simply there to sell his latest album “Analogue Man.” For which this is an unexpected and somewhat reticent plug.

Having adjusted the setting of the “Way-back Machine” for the 1970’s, dematerialised and landed at the appropriate co-ordinates, I find myself in a moderate drug haze, listening to among others, Joe Walsh’s album “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get” and thoroughly enjoying such guitar classics as “Rocky Mountain Way.”

Apart from the title, the music seemed also to have been the product of a mind influenced at least partially by the same drugged stupor in which I enjoyed them. Nothing wrong with that, no-one was raped or murdered, we didn’t cause any revolution or life changing inconvenience for anyone. Just relaxed in the way that was popular at the time and dug the grooves.

Joe cut a bit of a dash back then, stylish facial hair, a more than average stage persona, eclectic and individual taste in clothing and the chops. He definitely had the chops. One of the premier division of rock axe men complete with excessive lifestyle choices. A renowned party animal, such excesses were a mandatory addition to the rock style life much the way the latest mobile phone, bling and Hummer are today.

So far so good. We didn’t stay in touch, he went his way and I mine and although we ran into each other now and again, we never really moved beyond talking about the past and so our friendship became a little embarrassing. Over the years though it never quite slipped down the back of the sofa of memory, more like got stuck in the washing machine filter of memory where it grew large on attracted fluff, acquiring the curious and interesting status of something long thought lost.

I heard the news that he had joined the Eagles whist suffering the debilitating effects of a prolonged bout of indifference. I think I managed a shrug which somehow failed to convey quite the level of indifference I had hoped for. It seemed a marriage of convenience somehow. Joe lacked a band format to give him some performance credibility, while the Eagles lacked almost everything else. Sorry, but I am not a Californian and therefore unswayed by any amount of record sales facts and figures you may care to spit at the screen of your tablet or laptop. Never got them at all.

I heard the songs of course, even in the late 1970’s the vast machine of advertising exposure had had its wheels turning (albeit at a more genteel 1970’s pace) for some time and through the medium of radio and the music press (written, not blogged. Remember?) I was aware that they were out there, on some dark desert highway, in professionally faded denim, eternally searching for that hook line or riff that would be the title track of the next million selling, tour inducing, iconic vinyl monument to whatever it was the 1970’s were all about.

But they definitely needed a real guitarist. Someone who could lift the band from the tedious droning lethargy of “Peaceful Easy feeling” to the slightly more energetic mega guitar solo status of “Hotel California.” Not that It particularly bothered me. Rock music if not exactly dying, had suffered at the very least a massive stroke – probably due to some form of chemical over indulgence – and things like punk, reggae and the ridiculously titled “World Music” were becoming increasingly popular, due to their recent addition as cogs on the wheel of the marketing advertising machine.

An aside. There is in England a music festival entitled WOMAD. (World of Music and Dance) It was originally the idea of, among others, Peter Gabriel and meetings to determine its future shape and direction were at one stage conducted in my former local pub in Bristol, the Eldon House, where, the less charitable (but much funnier) members of the regular clientele re-christened it Waste of Money And Drugs. Whereas the major CND Festivals were known as Cider ‘N’ Drugs.

So he joined the Eagles, ya de ya de ya, toured, fought, toured again, reformed and recorded the amusingly titled album “Hell freezes Over” and time marched on.

Thirty odd years worth, until there he was, all nicely washed and coiffed – although minus the once interesting facial hair – sitting blandly on the breakfast television sofa, every bit as dull and inoffensive as any self interested campaigner would be while whittering on about their own self obsessive interests in traffic safety in Tunbridge Wells (for those of you overseas, Tunbridge Wells is a huge space on a map of Britain with “F*ck All” written on it, with thanks to Alexei Sayle for that joke).

It’s not that I mind overly these tedious self obsessives. I allow them access into my home through the idiot box which I can always turn off, and knowing they are in some television studio somewhere in Manchester at least means the chances of me running into them on the streets of where I live are remote.

But today the guest was Joe Walsh, someone I had known years ago, and the chance to effect some deeply narcissistic self analysis presented itself. Look at how he had changed over the intervening years and through so doing manage a decent spell looking into my own navel over the past three decades.

For the love of Christ, he had become someone/something I despised. A music world cliché. There are usually two kinds. 1) The; “It was then (i.e. when my career went down the crapper) that I let the lord Jesus into my life” type and 2) Well, it was about then that I realised that being immensely rich, having all conceivable luxuries and drugs in return for playing a guitar for a few hours every now and then wasn’t quite the higher purpose I felt destined for when God gave me this talent, so I went into rehab. Pass me a bucket.

In the intervening sixteen years of sobriety Joe had apparently, “had to re-learn how to do everything, only sober”. What a shame the price seems to have been the removal of every trace of charm, wit and originality that made you the person I – if not admired than more than tolerated – all those years ago.

Not a trace of a witty anecdote about his (former) “Rock ‘n’ Roll” lifestyle. Not even a slight slip into mild four letter word commentary, i.e. “I mean, shit happened.”

For a better example of all the warmth wit and humour it lacked, see any televised interview with Keith Richards. Just a sanitised, for all I know electrically convulsed out of him litany of his past sixteen years of sobriety, during which he had failed to record an album. Now he felt “strong enough” to “put something new out there.” Jesus H. Christ on a bike.

His new album is called “Analogue Man,” not quite as witty as earlier records for sure, but a title with a message. The message being that apparently Joe has noticed that in the intervening years a thing called “digital technology” has emerged. When pressed, he admitted to noticing this change (since when he made his last album) in the deeply insightful form of there being “a computer mouse” and “fewer knobs” in the studio these days. Well, there is still one massive one Joe.

I am not advocating that all rock stars should be conveniently disposed of at the age of say 45 by plane crash or overdose, but there is an argument that any artists best works are produced when young and angst fuelled, especially rock artists, and I can only speculate on what Bill Hicks might have made of this interview, let alone Joe himself.

I will freely admit to being greatly suspicious of extremists of all kinds, and possessed of degrees of hypocritical bias and cynicism within that suspicion. Go back to whatever Olympics it was when Ben Johnson beat Carl Lewis in the men’s 100 metres final. I was pleased a man who had taken shitloads of performance enhancing drugs (along with all their inherent risks) had beaten another tedious Jesus clone into second place. God made us all, junkies or worshippers and whoever wins is a celebration of his creation.

But those who have swam the tides of madness of the rock and world are also surely extremists, just as those who are now totally abstinent represent the other side of that coin. So just as someone who might have chastised him for misbehaving in his youth – someone he doubtless ignored until sixteen years ago – I have to say to Joe Walsh that: “I think you have let yourself down, your friends down, the generation you came from down and the whole of the world of rock music down by being wilfully, continually and maliciously sober.

Take a long hard look at yourself young man and ask yourself, do you like what you see, now that you can see? Neither do I. Now go out there and have a drink. By the way, if and when I listen to your new album, if there aren’t sixteen years worth of classic rock licks and unrecorded masterpieces of songs, I’m coming after you with a case of Jack Daniels and a bong.

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