A Different Approach
Being at the ACC on Monday night made me contemplate the decisions to honor both Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour next season by raising their numbers, Nos. 17 and 93, respectively, to the rafters.
And I'll get to that. Just wait a minute.
But I was at the ACC to see the first of three Eagles shows in the city this week, so let me play rock reviewer for just a day. Actually, cancel that. This morning was a chance to feel a lot like people who go to a Leaf game, enjoy every minute of it, and then open up their Star the next morning to discover to their dismay is was mediocre game and the Leafs have all kinds of problems.
That, I have to admit, was my personal reaction this morning when I read Greg Quill's expert evaluations of last night's concert. Quill's one of the best in the business, one of the few you never have to worry is giving you anything less than the straight goods as he sees, or hears, them.
He liked parts of the concert, other parts not so much. Of course, it's not his job to cheer for the Eagles to do well, or to enjoy the idiosyncratic expressions of the changes in the vintage band over the years, or to hope for the best for a band that has been around for an awfully long time and produced an lot of terrific music.
That's the job of the fan, and I was at the ACC as a fan, pure and simple. I wanted the Eagles to be great. Moreover, having done some extensive reading on the group and its various changes over the decades, it was a change to see the whole story, from the Desperado days right up to the new album, Long Road Out of Eden.
I liked them most in the early 1970s, less so as the years went by, intermittently enjoying a song here or there but never an entire album. But they were a product of a particular place and time, and they have certainly been a very human group, torn apart by drugs and jealousy and paranoia, and then put back together. It was interesting to see a band that became all about Don Henley and Glenn Frey emerge on Monday night with that pair more willing to share the spotlight with both Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh, not to mention the various other musicians supporting the core group. In fact, Walsh was the star of the second half of the show, which wasn't exactly to my liking but certainly was to a large portion of the audience.
In fact, to those going to see the second and third shows this week, understand that, yes, you're seeing the Eagles, but you'll also be hearing big chunks of the solo work of Henley, Frey and Walsh. To understand this band - there's a great book written in 1998 by an author named Marc Eliot - you have to understand that from the start, when they began as a country rock band with founding members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, there was a constant push over the years to become more of a rock band, to gain that rock edge. On Monday, in the second half, they were that rock band, for better or worse. So for an Eagles fan, the entire concert was representative of the entire Eagles story, warts and all, good music and bad. Personally, I can't stand Henley's Dirty Laundry and can only take so much of Walsh, and the social commentary from a band that has made zillions of dollars starts to wear a bit, but that's part of the Eagles story. To hear Frey sing Take it to the Limit was intriguing, for that was Meisner's song, and the song can never sound the same without his ability to hit the distinctive high notes before he was rinsed from the operation. Hotel California, introduced by a long horn solo, was mesmerizing, although any Eagles fan worth his or her salt knows that Don Felder authored the crucial riff, and later sued the rest of his former partners, wrote an unflattering book and remains persona non grata. The show was long - it ended about 11:45 - and in Frey, in particular, you saw a band giving it all, not bad for a bunch of geezers.
So like a Leafs fan who takes in a game, loves it despite its shortcomings, and wants to see it written that way the next day, I guess I felt momentarily disheartened to read Quill's take. But in this case, he's the columnist, I'm the fan. That's how it's supposed to work. But maybe I'll understand a little better the next time an outraged reader drops an email bomb on me when he doesn't like my take on a big game.
Now on to Clark and Gilmour.
For starters, I like both men. Clark was a battered warrior for a long time, Gilmour was the toast of the town for a relatively short time and led the time as close to the Stanley Cup final as it has been in 41 years.
Were they as good as Tim Horton, Johnny Bower, Frank Mahovlich or Ted Kennedy, players previously honoured by the Leafs? Perhaps not.
But they were both better than Bill Barilko, a player who was never close to being an all-star, but one who scored one of the most important goals in Leaf history before dying tragically. That's Leaf history for you. In case you hadn't noticed, these aren't the storied Canadiens. The history is uneven, with great highs and terrible lows. It would be easy to slam MLSE for crass opportunism, for running two nights of misdirection to get people not to notice the state of the hockey club, but that unfairly undermines both players.
For four decades, it's been mostly lows for the Leafs, and probably the best any player can achieve against the backdrop of one of sports most poorly run franchises is to be beloved, revered and respected.
Clark and Gilmour, then, both fit the bill for special recognition, at least the Leaf bill. Next year is going to be a bleak one, and it'll do the team good to look forward to honouring two beloved and respected Leafs on separate nights.