Classic Rockers’ Beef with Kanye West
The Eagles’ Don Henley is the latest old white musician to rail against Yeezy.
This week, the Eagles’ Don Henley slammed singer/songwriter Frank Ocean and rapper/producer Kanye West during a no-holds-barred interview. The crotchety co-vocalist has been on Ocean’s case since the R&B star released the “Hotel California”-sampling 2012 track “American Wedding”—merging one of classic rock’s most overplayed tunes with Ocean’s own lyrics. Henley refused to grant a license to the song.
“I was not impressed [with it],” the Eagle told The Daily Telegraph in 2014. “He needs to come up with his own ideas and stop stealing stuff from already established works.” In a new interview with The Guardian, Henley offered much harsher criticism.
“I didn’t think he was cool,” Henley said. “I thought he was a talentless little prick. And I still do. Some of these young kids have grown up in a world that doesn't understand or respect copyright material or intellectual property. They look at songs as interactive playthings.”
And Don Henley doesn’t seem to be very open to compromising—or very familiar with tact.
Henley co-wrote “Hotel California” with Don Felder. Felder was the Eagles’ lead guitarist from 1974 to 2001, when he was fired from the band after questioning a contract that he would subsequently agree to. In the same interview, Henley dissed his former bandmate for about the 173rd time.
“A lot of people on the outside believe a lot of the bullshit in Don Felder’s book, and believe Glenn Frey and I are some kind of tyrants,” Henley said in the interview. “The fact is, we are largely responsible both for the longevity and the success of this band, because we did it our way, and a lot of people didn’t like that… Felder’s just bitter because he got kicked out of the group, so he decided to write a nasty little tell-all. Which I think is a really low, cheap shot. I mean, I could write some stuff about him that would make your mustache curl.”
So this is obviously a guy who enjoys taking shots at contemporaries past and present. Suing Ocean, firing Felder and ripping them in the media afterwards proves there’s no limit to Henley’s pettiness. After Henley was asked whether or not a bigger artist such as Kanye West sampling his music would be more preferable than Ocean, the “Boys of Summer” singer doubled down on the disrespect.
“No, I’d be just as pissed off,” Henley said. “I don’t like him, either.”
“He won’t be president,” he added, referring to Yeezy’s tongue-in-cheek bid for the White House. “He’s either incredibly arrogant or incredibly insecure, or some combination of the two.”
Henley knows a thing or two about incredible arrogance. He and Glenn Frey are two of the most pompous blowhards in rock. They run the Eagles like CEOs of a lucrative corporation—keeping Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt on as employees of the brand, casting off guys like Felder who question their authority, and more than happy to charge ridiculous prices to phone in the same old tunes for aging Boomers on vacation or at corporate team-building retreats.
Kanye’s personality certainly rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but the attacks get unnervingly personal. And a lot of it—particularly in the wake of Kanye’s controversial comments about Beck at this year’s Grammys—seems to stem from some sort of bitterness towards what Kanye represents. ‘Ye implied that Beck wasn’t a “real artist,” and the rockist nation scoffed—because Beck is the epitome of what they respect as “real art.” KISS guitarist Paul Stanley said Beck should’ve “kicked Kanye right in the nuts,” and David Crosby arrogantly and ignorantly noted that Kanye doesn’t write and sing and play in the “classic rock” sense. It confuses that generation that someone who doesn’t make music the way they do can be held in such high esteem.
Yes, Crosby is another California rock icon who isn’t a member of the Yeezy fan club. In March, the former Byrds singer blasted West during a Q&A with his Twitter followers after someone asked what he thought of Kanye’s music. “Music?” Crosby responded, “He's an idiot and a poser....has no Talent at all.” When another tweeter brought up the subject in June, Crosby amplified his dismissal of Kanye. “As I said ..he can't write, sing , or play At all He is an egomaniac He is dumb as a post He creates nothing Helps no one.”
That’s right, David Crosby. The same David Crosby who spent the better part of three decades racking up weapons and drug charges, along with a drunken hit-and-run, has the self-righteousness to blast another celeb for being “dumb as a post?”
It’s telling that so many of these “artists” have such a limited idea of what constitutes making music. Even if it’s not your traditional guitar, bass, drums and piano, it’s still legitimate art. But the Crosbys of the world don’t want to acknowledge that. Somehow, this generation is foreign to them. Even with the emergence of instrumentalists, gravel-voiced singer-songwriters, and studio innovators as the standard-bearers of rock music, these classic rock stars never questioned the greatness of Elvis Presley—who, in hindsight, was oftentimes more of a crooner operating in a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. They would never disrespect the legacy of Frank Sinatra, despite the fact that he never wrote or played anything and despised most everything associated with their generation’s music. Maybe it’s easier to respect what came before you. Maybe it’s easier to disrespect art that’s much younger and much blacker than you. Maybe it’s both.
Around the same time Kanye West was explaining why he didn’t think Beck deserved the Grammy for Album of the Year, Bob Dylan was awarded the MusicCares Person of the Year Award for 2015. In his acceptance speech, Dylan praised the people who’d inspired and supported him. He also listed those who he felt had never given him his due, and Dylan went well out of his way to emphasize why those who’d dismissed him weren’t as great as those who’d praised him (among the detractors named were Leiber & Stoller, Ahmet Ertegun and Merle Haggard). He complained about critics who focused on his voice while giving contemporaries like Tom Waits and Dr. John a pass. And he mocked “a very popular soul-singing sister”—who was identified as Marsha Ambrosius—after she sang the National Anthem at a Floyd Mayweather fight. “She sang every note that exists, and some that don’t exist. Talk about mangling a melody. You take a one-syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes? She was doing vocal gymnastics like she was a trapeze act. But to me it was not funny.”
Has Bob Dylan earned the right to be an asshole in a way that Kanye West hasn’t? Or is it easier to forgive pomposity if it comes from an artist whose work you happen to enjoy?
This past winter, when it was announced that Paul McCartney and West would be collaborating, the tongue-in-cheek joke on Twitter was that West would help boost “this McCartney guy.” But news outlets immediately took what was meant to be an obvious bit of irony as serious ignorance regarding McCartney’s career. Pundits ranted at how “ridiculous” it was that Kanye fans didn’t know who McCartney was. But the assumption itself was much more ridiculous—and reflective of a cultural gap that’s both generational and racial. Kanye’s fans know who Paul McCartney is, they just don’t care as much as you’d like them to. And because so many hip-hop fans aren’t begging for the approval of the rock elders, a lot of folks are invested in making them feel like they’re arrogant for it.
Why do the opinions of elderly white rockers matter so much when it comes to music being created and consumed in 2015? Whether it’s Keith Richards or David Crosby, these Baby Boomer icons don’t determine what is or isn’t musically valid to anyone under 55. And even praise from guys like McCartney and the late Lou Reed doesn’t mean much to an audience that wasn’t waiting for their co-sign. Which is exactly how it should be: a new generation has to have its own standards and its own voice.
Respect your elders, but don’t look to them for validation.