Brisbane, Australia and London, UK; April 2016
Shortly after Glenn Frey, star and founding member of The Eagles, died in January, I found myself curled on the couch of my family home in Brisbane watching an Eagles documentary. The Eagles had been my Dad’s favourite band, and their sound, history and energy always reminded me of my old man. He’d passed away in 2009, and Frey’s death, combined with the memory of Dad’s, had me thinking about time and ageing, the contrast between the free-spirited ‘70s and today. Long-haired men with starry eyes who had hit the highways hard back then were dying now. These were sombre thoughts, but I was on the cusp of a big change in my own life and the documentary seemed imperative to that, though I wasn’t yet sure how.
There’s a stunning performance of Take It To The Limit in the documentary, from the Capital Centre show in 1977. I’ve always loved this song, and it’s the only Eagles’ hit not sung by superstars Don Henley or Frey. Take It To The Limit belonged to lesser-known member Randy Meisner, and is memorable for the killer high vocals that come at the end. I see music mostly as a form of storytelling and don’t know much about technique, but I found this performance awesome, in the true sense of the word. As Meisner nailed those notes, the crowd went wild and you could see Frey grinning — almost with pride — from behind his piano.
I was interested to learn then, through the commentary after, that performing Take It To The Limit was a constant source of worry for shy Meisner, who would get extremely nervous about carrying the song and hitting those high notes. At one notable gig later, he refused to perform it, leading to a huge scuffle between him and Frey. Meisner left the band for good shortly after.
It’s April now, and that couch in my family home and the luxury of documentaries on pay TV are far away. I’m living in London in a tiny apartment in a room I share with my boyfriend. We don’t have a TV. We don’t even have a living room—not unusual for London, where communal spaces are often converted into bedrooms to squeeze as many rent payers into properties as possible. I don’t have a job, and fairly soon, I probably won’t have any money. This isn’t tragic. This is a typical ex-pat in London story, really. Big cities attract big crowds, and the exciting opportunities are only proportionate to the amount of people exactly like me vying for them.
There’s so much in London to see and do. And just wait until summer! I keep hearing these things, and I know they’re true. But there’s been a shadow over me that doesn’t seem to lift when the grey skies do. And Randy Meisner’s voice keeps popping into my head, singing: but the dreams I’ve seen lately, keep on turning out, and burning out, and turning out the same…
I was lying in bed last night, faced with some important decisions that will greatly impact my life and happiness in London. On a good day, I can barely decide whether to have Thai or Japanese for dinner, let alone make crucial choices that seem to fork into long shadowy paths with no well-lit ends. Lying there, I dramatised, fantasised and overanalysed. I wished ‘the right choice’ were more obvious. I found myself thinking, “I want a sign.” And without even meaning to, those words turned into lyrics: So put me on a highway, and show me a sign. And take it to the limit one more time.
It’s funny that a song that made Meisner so nervous and full of self-doubt can inspire such courage. I looked up the meaning behind the lyrics, and found Meisner saying, “The line ‘take it to the limit’ was to keep trying. You reach a point in your life where you feel you’ve done everything and seen everything— it’s part of getting old. And [it’s saying] just take it to the limit one more time, like every day just keep punching away at it.”
I’m not old, but I’ve been feeling like that. Things that should seem exciting don’t. I’ve been full of worry and self-doubt. I find myself shrinking and cowering, especially when I look at other people’s whirlwind burn-bright lifestyles. I’ve been thinking that it’s impossible to hit those high notes, so I may as well not even try.
Last night, as my boyfriend slept, I put on my headphones and watched that 1977 live performance of Take It To The Limit again. I felt something quite viscerally wash over me…or maybe something was lifting. Back in January, when I’d watched the clip in Brisbane, I’d felt free and excited and reflective and wise. But I don’t think you can appreciate Take It To The Limit fully until you’ve been crippled with regret about the past and doubt about the future. It’s not about speeding down the highway in the fastest, most expensive car. It’s about simply going, even if you don’t know where. Take It To The Limit could only have been Randy Meisner’s song. And it’s mine now too.
© Kahli Scott.