Much like the line in "Hotel California," being in the Eagles "could be heaven or it could be hell."
Identifying the heavenly part is easy for guitarist/vocalist Don Felder, an Eagles expat who wrote the music for "Hotel California," an extended-play FM jam of the album rock era that represents the band's creative and commercial zenith. That doozy of a solo he wrote one lazy July afternoon at his Malibu beach house consistently ranks near the top of guitar magazine lists of such solos and has spawned a legion of eyes-closed, head-back air-guitar virtuosos.
"I recently found the original demo cassette of the song and transferred it to digital," said Felder, 66, during a recent interview to discuss his Valentine's Day concert in Bakersfield, aptly titled "An Evening at the Hotel California."
"I sat and listened. It's exactly what we recorded, just a different key. There were some Joe Walsh changes at the end that are different from the demo, but it's remarkably similar to the record. Don (Henley) came up with the concept lyrically after a session of him and Glenn (Frey) sitting around talking and describing how we all came to California."
Yet the dysfunction within the band is nearly as legendary as the music, a fact none of the Eagles, past or present, attempted to sugar-coat in the 2013 documentary "History of the Eagles." They were the biggest thing going in the mid- to late '70s but, man, did they seem unhappy: Constant arguments about what direction to go -- country rock vs. ' rock -- explosive firings; beers spilled over heads; dark, under-the-breath threats muttered in the middle of a concert, etc.
The acrimony finally tore the group apart in 1980, after the recording of "The Long Run," when co-leaders Frey and Henley disbanded the Eagles for good (ahem ).
"It's like being in a pressure cooker with the burner on high," Felder said. "The strains -- emotionally, personally, physically -- of staying on the road and working that hard trying to write a record, the lyrics, the recording, the touring and all the decisions being made and the personality struggles. What songs are you going to do, who is going to sing them, what songs are good, what are bad and if they're bad, how do you tell the guy without pissing them off?
"I call it the hardening of the artistry."
But The End is a loose concept in rock 'n' roll. The inevitable reunion tour came in 1994, and the band as it was in 1980 -- Henley, Frey, Felder, guitarist Joe Walsh and bass player Timothy B. Schmit -- has been touring intermittently since.
Except for Felder. He was let go in 2001, a rift that resulted in legal action, about which Felder declined comment. In the documentary, Frey, especially, takes issue with Felder, accusing the guitarist of demanding more credit -- and money -- than he is due.
"I've reached out numerous times, but there's no contact," Felder said. "I did have dinner with (former Eagles bass player) Randy Meisner awhile ago.
"I was married for 29 years and we went through a divorce. But she gives me a hug every time I see her, comes over for Thanksgiving dinner and we have hundreds of friends together. It's healthy to end a relationship like that. I've tried to do that with the Eagles and the only response I get is from their lawyers. That's the way they are."
Though his time with the Eagles appears to have ended, Felder still draws from the band's catalog for his current tour, as well as from his own solo material, including "Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)," a chart topper in 1981, and songs from his latest album, "Road to Forever."
"We do some of the early country stuff (from the Eagles): 'Tequila Sunrise,' 'Peaceful Easy Feeling.' We do some Stevie Ray Vaughan. Most people who come out know the songs. By the end of the night everyone is on their feet rocking to the songs. I'm a rock and roll guitar player, but I've played pedal steel, acoustic, five-string banjo."
Though Felder has never been to Bakersfield, he expressed nothing but admiration for Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, the city's two biggest musical heroes.
But then country music was part of his upbringing in Gainesville, Fla., a fertile breeding ground for future rock stars. Felder played in a band with Stephen Stills, gave a young Tom Petty guitar lessons and counted among his childhood friends Bernie Leadon, a founding Eagle who was instrumental in inducting Felder into the band that would change his life.
"I'm not sure if the friendships are over," said Felder, reflecting on his decades-long relationships with his old bandmates.
"The perfect outcome would be whatever the ill feelings that they continue to harbor against me, that we could resolve through conversation or music and let all that go. Life is too short to carry that stuff with you for the rest of your life. I have no burning desire to rejoin the band. I'm much happier, to tell you the truth."
Part of his personal catharsis came about seven years ago when he was writing a book about his experiences in the band. That period of reflection led to "Wash Away the Pain," a song Felder is particularly fond of.
"It's about how life seems to leave these scars on our heart. Musically I can express myself much more intensely than I can through my command of the English language. I was going through the divorce, the loss of my father, the breakup of the Eagles. I wanted to write a song about how that happens. It's just about life experiences."