Everyone loves a great song. But our society doesn't put much value, at least cash value, in them. We all heard that it takes 562,000 Spotify plays to earn $12 (I'm probably exaggerating. I'm not trying to make a point about streaming revenue here, even though it's definitely a bad deal for artists.) Our culture even has a colloquialism that captures the cheap value we set songs at: "I bought it for a song."
But songs do have value. They may even be so valuable, that we have trouble putting a price on them. For example, there's a song that saved a town. A whole town. I've been there. I saw it with my own eyes.
I hate The Eagles. That's my dad's music. One of the few tapes he ever had in his cigar stinking Oldsmobile. Now, I do get along with Stevie Wonder, which my dad also introduced me to. But The Eagles....and Steely Dan, for that matter, no way. Those songs still did get into my brain and probably into my DNA. I can't go through Palm Springs without thinking about Hotel California. And since we were passing through Winslow, Arizona, on our way to play a show at Red Door Brewing in Albuquerque, we had to stop and take time to see "the corner."
I have to admit, I love the story about Jackson Browne crafting this song, and Glenn Frey listening through the wall of the duplex they shared. Browne was stuck with the lyrics. He had, "I was standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona...." Frey finished it with, "It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me." Take It Easy was The Eagles first single. Growing up on the west coast in the 1970's, it seemed like every station on the FM dial played it on an hourly basis. You couldn't escape that song.
Winslow, Arizona in the past was a bustling town on Route 66. But the Interstate 40 was completed in 1977 and it bypassed Winslow, effectively cutting it off from eastbound or westbound travelers. And since it was a stage stop town and relied on people passing through on their way one direction or another, Winslow's economy died.
In 1999, the city of Winslow erected a statue of Jackson Browne with a corresponding mural featuring the reflection of a girl in a flatbed Ford at the corner of Second St and Kinsley Ave. It takes some effort to visit this spot from I40. You have to drive about 10 minutes off the interstate into downtown Winslow where Route 66 used to cut through the center of town. But I knew instantly when we had arrived. There were groups of tourists on the street, many of them taking their pictures with Jackson Browne's statue, the mural, or the new statue of Glenn Frey that arrived in 2016.
Tourists' money doesn't make a community...but Winslow has that too. I knew it when we were down the street from the corner eating some Mexican food. A big flatbed Ford, no lie, came down old Route 66 and was trying to make a right hand turn but had to wait for two locals who were walking across the intersection and into town. The truck honked it's horn and flipped the pedestrians off out the driver window. The pedestrians, one big guy about 250 pounds in a basketball jersey and shorts and his skinny half his size friend also in jersey and shorts, flipped the truck off and started yelling back. Then everyone laughed. The walkers approached the passenger window of the truck while it blocked the not too busy intersection. They were all friends and were having a laugh and catching up.
It occurred to me that that song by that band, The Eagles, that annoyed me so much might possibly have made this moment a reality. The town was packed with tourists there to see old Route 66, but they were also there to see the park, which only existed because of a song. The locals were on their way to grab some lunch at one of the restaurants near the corner which tourists also frequented. The park provided a town square. Like many of the other towns bypassed by Route 66, Winslow might have withered and completely died. But the town had turned themselves and their section of old Route 66 into an attraction because of that song and the old highway too.
I know that song gave Winslow the edge. I live near Amboy, California, also on old Route 66. They don't have a song. They aren't even mentioned in the classic old highway tune, Route 66....Chuck Berry has my favorite version of that tune. And Amboy, along with it's sister towns of Bagdad and Chambless, along that section of Route 66, has shriveled and died. All the old hotels and gas stations are gone, with the exception of one gas station and mini market in Amboy. And even the one existing gas station and market seems to be slowly melting back into the desert along with the rest of the signs for closed motels and diners. If only they were so lucky to have a mention in a tune as famous as Take It Easy. I sure couldn't get that tune out of my head while we were in Winslow. It's even helping me get over my aversion to The Eagles.
Amboy's population is hanging in there today at a total of four.