Nearly twenty years after writing Hotel California and 15 years after splitting with the rest of the Eagles crew, Don Henley released Actual Miles: Henley?s Greatest Hits in 1995. Henley himself has said that he didn?t believe he really had enough good songs to release a greatest hits album, but Geffen, his producer, wanted something out of him and both parties were itching to get the contract over with. They came to a compromise and Henley wrote two new songs for his final album with Geffen, one of which is The Garden of Allah.
Two songs about hotels hardly comprise a fetish, but one wonders at the ironic coincidences between this song and Hotel California, another famous den of iniquity and debauchery. The other possibility is that Henley was simply running out of steam and looking for an easy out with a label he didn?t like working for, and so revisited a popular and satisfying flair for ominous poetry set to architecture. Were that the case though, one wouldn?t expect to find such well written and composed song.
Henley has stated that the song is based loosely on the Andrew Delbanco book, The Death of Satan (How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil) that explores the philosophy of modern evil and its relationship to contemporary society independent of traditional theology. Claiming such almost makes Henley seem well read and intelligent until he goes on to explain that he wrote the song before reading the book, leaving you with the impression that maybe he just liked the sound of the title.
It turns out that Henley is good friends with Michael Douglas and got him to approach his father about portraying the devil in the music video. Kirk ?ran it by his rabbi, his spiritual adviser who thought that the subject matter was pertinent and timely and advised him to do the video.? Henley recalls. The result may turn out to be one of the aging and ailing actor?s last great performances.
The song tells the sad story of the Devil becoming confounded by what the world has become. It's too hot and polluted and reminds him too much of home. The line between good and evil has become so thin that most people don't know the difference any more and it's putting him out of a job. He waxes nostalgic to a young, power hungry, man about the good ?ol days of Hollywood and the fun he used to have at the Garden of Allah when folks knew how to have a good time. He decides to go out with style and appear as an expert witness at a high profile trial and spends some time detailing how the statistics can be used to prove any side of an argument.
The Garden of Allah, it turns out, is a real place and given the lyrics may be the actual inspiration for the song. Originally, The Garden of Alla was located at 8152 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood California. The 3 1/2 acre plot of Spanish Bungalows was constructed and named for silent film star Alla Nazimova.
Nazimova was a Russian concert pianist who turned her back on music for the glamour of theater and later film and was known for the bizarre and eccentric characters she portrayed. Her parties were legend and her garden was often the temporary residence of celebrities and decadence, frequently degenerating into Romanesque orgies of opulence. It?s said that The Garden of Alla was the secret meeting place for a lesbian cabal of powerful and influential Hollywood ladies. Alla?s godmother Nancy Davis was a frequent guest at the garden and would later marry the western film star Ronald Reagan and become First Lady.
Nazimova lost most of her fortune in the depression and died only a year after her final film, Since You Went Away, debuted in 1944. After her death the garden fell into the hands of a local bank that maintained control and converted the retreat into a hotel, adding the ?H? at the end to add a flair of the exotic. After a period of extended decline the garden held more promise as a real-estate venture than a dilapidated link to Hollywood?s decadent past and in the 60s the buildings were demolished to make room for a block of office buildings.
As performances go this one is both oddly comforting and ominous, almost as if Henley attempted to manifest the blurring of evil and good by invoking emotions of pleasing nostalgia mixed with the fear of apocalypse and imminent doom. The Devil?s narrative is delivered in a menacing and monotonous voice, followed by the melodious chorus sung by what almost seems a harem of leggy, yet vocally talented, succubi. It comes across as smoky, sepia tinted, and dusty, the perfect song for being depressed about loss and the perfect song for your inner Noir Fiction.
It was a pretty big year for fashion
A lousy year for rock and roll
The people gave their blessings to crimes of passion
It was a dark, dark night of the collective soul
I was somewhere out on riverside
By the El Royale Hotel
When a stranger appeared in a cloud of smoke
I thought I knew him all too well
He said "Now that I have your attention
I got somethin' I wanna say
You may not want to hear it
I'm gonna tell it to you anyway
You know, I've always liked you, boy
'Cause you were not afraid of me
But things are gonna get mighty rough
Here in Gomorrah-By-The-Sea"
He said "It's just like home
It's so damned hot, I can't stand it
My fine seersucker suit is all soakin' wet"
And all the hills are burning
The wind is raging
And the clock strikes midnight
In the Garden of Allah
Lyrics written by: Don Henley, Stan Lynch, John Corey and Paul Gurian.