The Rise and Fall of The Eagles and the Storytelling Lessons They Teach

“There’s a philosopher who says, as you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, nonrelated events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming. And it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.” — Joe Walsh, The Eagles guitarist

I watched the documentary History of The Eagles: The Story of an American Band directed by Alison Ellwood and produced by Alex Gibney, which covers the formation, life, and breakup of The Eagles band. The documentary was especially interesting because not only did it cover the work of the band, it also wove aspects of the members’ personal lives and creative development throughout the film.

The film incorporated many elements of The Eagles’ story throughout. It began with interviews with each band member when they were in the band. The young musicians were funny and hopeful; they bantered and pranked each other, and talked about their dreams for the band. As a fan of The Eagles, I was immediately drawn in by this introduction to the film. I’ve seen video of the young musicians performing and interviews with them at their current age, but have never had the chance to see them discuss their music and the band at a young age. This was an effect element to begin the story with, as it immediately attracts the audience and sets the tone for the film, as it covers both the highs and lows of the band’s life.

Photo by Ana Grave on Unsplash

The film then tells the story of the formation, the growth, and fall of the band through footage of performances, the band members practicing and in the recording studio, and the members in their free time and while working. Still photos are dispersed throughout. Interviews with the members and their close friends, including Joe Walsh, who later joined the band, at a young age and in 2013, when the film was made, are shown and voiced-over the footage and photos throughout.

The filmmakers draw the audience in primarily through the music incorporated throughout the film. As a lover of The Eagles’ music, I enjoyed watching the band write and develop various songs, ranging from early hits like “Take It Easy” to decade-defining pieces such as “Hotel California.” However, the film did not just present the finalized version of songs as background music. While the songs played on the soundtrack, the documentary also included rough, beginning-stage versions of songs fans love, as well as songs the band eventually scrapped or changed completely. As a result, I felt as if I was seeing a behind-the-scenes look at The Eagles’ creative process, which further drew me into the film.

Photo by John Hult on Unsplash

This inclusion of both well-known songs and stories of the band’s song creation presents interesting takeaways that could be applied to a presentation. The movie obviously emphasized the power of music on a particular audience, which could be implemented into a presentation if the audience and setting is appropriate. Further, the film demonstrated the power of providing a glimpse of the development process of the work being discussed. I felt more connected to the story and the band after learning how they went about writing, creating, changing, and abandoning songs.

Photo by Michelle Jimenez on Unsplash

I could utilize this tactic in a presentation by giving the audience a peek into the development process of the project and the stories behind the work’s creation to build an emotional connection. We learned about identifying, segmenting, and connecting with the audience from Nancy Duarte’s book, HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. In the “Audience” section, Duarte writes that “connecting with people means understanding them on a more personal level.” The filmmakers understood their audience, who are die-hard Eagles fans, on a personal level and included aspects of the story that would speak to them and create a connection, such as the peek at the creation process of songs. Therefore, this documentary serves as a concrete example of what we’ve learned in account planning class.

The perspectives presented in the film are also important to recognize as driving forces of the story. The film, which was commissioned by band leaders Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and manager Irving Azoff, was largely told from the point of view of Henley and Frey. Their interviews, interviews with other band members, and footage of the band in action painted Henley and Frey as the individuals who led The Eagles to success. While this was partially true, the film depicted Henley and Frey as the heroes of the story, and other band members as sidekicks. Further, the film shows guitarist Don Felder as a villain of sorts, instigating arguments and disrespecting other band members.

The film did include some aspects showcasing two sides to the story. This was especially apparent when it came to tensions between Felder and Henley. As an example, footage of an on-stage verbal fight between the two, which quickly escalated to a physical altercation post-show, was included and discussed in interviews with both members. However, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Felder explained the personal issues the band faced were not fully displayed in the film.

“There was an extreme amount of segregation, where everybody rode in their own cares, everybody had their own hotel room, their own bodyguard, their own dressing room backstage. When you got on the private plane, you had your own private lounge where you could close the door. So there wasn’t a lot of friendly conversation; we were in incubators by ourselves. That just bred a void — avoid each other and avoid the issues. I think it was Irving Azoff’s idea that we do that. And that wasn’t in the documentary at all,” Felder said.

The perspectives presented in, and omitted from, the story provide an important lesson that can be applied to presentation tactics. As a presenter of a story or information, it can be tempting to exclude unpleasant or unflattering storylines or facts. However, audience members will likely notice the omission. As I watched the documentary, it was clear that Felder’s side of the story was barely included. As a result, I was less trusting of the storyline presented. The film would have been more trustworthy and complete if Felder’s thoughts and experiences had been openly included, just as a presentation is more trustworthy if all facts and sides of the story are covered.