By my little bro, Jimmy T.
Don Henley's legacy should be a matter of vigorous public debate.
In my mind, the Eagles' country-influenced songs, such as "Peaceful Easy Feeling," are far more valuable than plugged-in efforts like "Life in the Fast Lane." Henley's contributions as a solo artist have a more consistent "Lite FM" sound, but the lyrics of his well-known ballads offer glimpses into his personal changes through the '80's. Whereas "The Boys of Summer," with its charging rhythm and various rehashings, remains popular with the next generation, the contextual significance of a Baby Boomer anthem leaves me disconnected from Henley's creative impetus. "The Heart of the Matter," on the other hand, describes an experience not of nostalgia, but of renewal and optimism to which anyone can relate.
The song opens as the story of a man who learns of his ex-lover's new relationship. Henley meditates on the "struggles we went through" before asserting "I'm learning to live without you now," awkwardly adding, "though I miss you sometimes." The prechorus is the strongest part of the song, perfectly setting up the eponymous refrain. He continues, "The more I know, the less I understand. All the things I thought I knew, I had to learn again." As for the chorus, I love the rushed cadence of "and my thoughts..seem to scatter...and I'm thinking about...(cue the black ladies) FORGIVENESS!" The topic of breaking up and the tone of Henley's sandpaper melody betray the hope of the song's message.
The second verse includes Henley's prescription for finding one's way in a world bereft of clarity and mercy. "The trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness, they're the very things we kill, I guess." Though lacking the graceful syntax of, say, a memorable rhyme by Lennon and McCartney, our man put into song an unfiltered theory about a vast and serious topic. One must doff his cap to Henley's lyrical courage.
I still cannot hear this track without thinking of dentist offices and other places where soft-rock stations played in my youth. For years, I thought this song was not only lame, but sung by Michael Bolton. Now, the volume dial turns clockwise when I pass the channel I once avoided like the plague.