So yesterday I reblogged Kina’s beautiful post about a live version of the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle.” This is something she and I have been discussing for a couple of weeks now, although I freely admit to slacking a little on getting it done. (Well, slacking isn’t exactly the right term; it turns out there’s a lot of other stuff that needs doing right now. But I have been watching a little more TV lately, too.) This is an interesting version of a song that I’ve never given a lot of thought before now. And a few minutes of research on the interwebs made it even more interesting.
Before I get into some of the cool trivia, I should mention that this is part of the Bloggers for Peace monthly challenge. And as Kina already covered so well in her post, there is something about this soaring, swirling, spacey song that invokes a deep sense of peace. That was quite probably Miller’s intent. When you listen to it as part of the original album, “Fly Like an Eagle” is linked with the “Space Intro,” creating a zen-like continuity. “Fly Like an Eagle” has always sounded to me like a stoner song, and was a little too jammy for me most of the time. When I did bother to listen to it, it was always late at night on the radio. This song has always been better when heard in the dark.
This version of “Fly Like an Eagle” was from the Steve Miller Band’s 1974 appearance on The Midnight Special, one of the all time great music shows from the 70s. The show aired Friday nights on NBC, and everyone who was anyone in music during this time played The Midnight Special. (It’s important to note here that there was no lip synching; all performances were live.) This version is cool for any number of reasons (that absolutely boss Fender Miller is playing is one of them, btw). Miller opens the song with a few bars of the old English Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which led to Kina and I speculating that it could have been from around Christmas. (We were close: Miller played on the January 24th episode, although I’m thinking it could’ve been recorded the month before; that’s about how long it usually takes a show to get from recording to airing.) But this is where my research got interesting.
See, this is one of the earliest versions of “Fly Like an Eagle” to air anywhere. It hadn’t been recorded yet, or it had but the album of the same title wouldn’t be completed and released until 1976. It’s not unheard of for musicians to test new material live before committing to it in the studio. But I like this version a lot because there’s an intensity to it that never really felt present in the studio version. I always saw this song as a plea for escape “I want to fly like an eagle to the sea” became “I want to get away from all this trouble” in my head. But this version is a call to action. The troubles the baby-faced Miller sings so emphatically about are not reasons to run away from the world; they’re reasons to fight back. The problem is that we just keep letting time pass without doing anything to find the solution. “Time keeps on moving, moving away. Time keeps on grooving, day to day. Time keeps on moving us away, lord, from the revolution.” It is a mantra, a prayer, a protest. There is a solution, and it’s high time everyone stopped sitting on their hands and did something.
Thus the stoner classic becomes something more in my mind. The song that was better in the dark is really a song about bringing some kind of light into the world. No one of us can change the world through our own actions, but everyone’s actions contribute to the change. Even if the only life you change is your own, then you’ve made a huge difference in the world, because we are all connected. “I want to fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me.”