Monday, February 25, 2013

The Oscars: James Dean

The Eagles : James Dean


Where were you on August 14, 1974 when Asylum Records released The Eagles’ “On the Border” album? On that project, "James Dean" is a song written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne, and J. D. Souther. It climbed to #77 on the pop singles chart in the U.S.

James Dean (Feb 8, 1931 – Sept 30, 1955) achieved stardom in films like East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. All three were released within a year of his premature death in an automobile accident. Dean’s 1955 starring debut in “East of Eden” was an emotional adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel about two brothers’ rivalry for the love of their father. “Rebel Without a Cause” was a portrait of youth’s alienation, and the powerful movie (with Dean as L.A. teen Jim Stark) spoke to an entire generation. “Giant,” based on Edna Ferber’s novel about two generations of Texans, was Dean’s last film. All three of these movies received several Academy Award nominations, and two of the three won a few.

The song’s lyrics document James Dean’s lifestyle as a “lowdown rebel,” as well as his dangerous, carefree ways:

James Dean, James Dean.
I know just what you mean.
James Dean, you said it all so clean,
And I know my life would look alright,
If I could see it on the silver screen.

You were the lowdown rebel if there ever was,
Even if you had no cause.
James Dean, you said it all so clean,
And I know my life would look all right,
If I could see it on the silver screen.

We'll talk about a low-down bad refrigerator,
You were just too cool for school.
Sock hop, soda pop, basketball and auto shop,
The only thing that got you off was breakin' all the rules.

Little James Dean, up on the screen.
Wond'rin' who he might be.
Along came a Spyder and picked up a rider.
And took him down the road to eternity.

James Dean, James Dean, you bought it sight unseen
You were too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye
You were too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye
Bye-bye, Bye-bye, Bye-bye, Bye-bye.

"James Dean" had originally been recorded by The Eagles for what was to become their “Desperado” album in 1973. Because that project evolved into an album with its wild west theme, “James Dean” was shelved and not completed until recording began for their 1974 project, “On the Border.” When released as a single, the B-side "Good Day in Hell" is remembered as the first Eagles track recorded with Don Felder, who joined the band midway through the sessions for the “On the Border” album.

I once heard The Eagles play “James Dean” live in concert, at the “Day on the Green” in the Oakland Coliseum on June 29, 1975. Although it was hot and most of the 55,000 people there were in a haze, The Eagles really rocked “James Dean.” It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. Some others performing were Elton John, Doobie Brothers, Kingfish, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. When I get some time, I’ll scan and upload some of the photos I took that day.

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