Life Advice from Don Henley

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Danny Clinch

What adventure changed your life?
Packing up my car in 1970 and driving with my bandmates from Linden, Texas, to Los Angeles, where the only person we knew was Kenny Rogers. He gave us our first big break. Ultimately it didn’t work out, but it got us to L.A. and got us into the game.

How do you win an argument?
By agreeing to disagree and moving on. Try to find common ground — something most people in Congress have forgotten how to do.

What have you learned about fame?
That it’s a blessing and a curse. The loss of privacy is hard to handle, especially at first, but you always have to be as gracious as possible because it comes with the territory. Though I think, as a culture, we are far too obsessed with the idea of celebrity. These days you can be famous without having accomplished anything worthwhile. That doesn’t speak well for our values. We’ve become a nation of exhibitionists and voyeurs. If properly channeled, fame can be used to accomplish good things. Otherwise it’s just a tool for making money, satisfying narcissistic urges, or getting good tables at restaurants.

What did growing up in Texas give you as a person and artist?
It gave me space to dream. I could roam the woods and the fields, swim in the lakes, ride my bike to school. I started driving a car at age 14, sitting on a cushion so I could see over the dashboard. I was exposed to different kinds of music from all different directions, since my part of Texas was at a cultural crossroads, where the Old South meets the West.

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How did you survive life on the road?
Apparently I’m still surviving life on the road, but at 68 it’s a real challenge, mentally and physically. I travel with a recumbent exercise bike, free weights and other equipment, my brilliant fitness trainer, and my trusty road manager of 41 years. It’s a team effort. I talk to my family on the phone every day, albeit briefly, because if I talk at length, I lose my voice. But the primary survival tool is perspective — something that’s hard to get and even harder to keep.

How should a man handle getting old?
What’s that line in the poem “Desiderata”? “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” But that doesn’t mean that we should just sit on our asses and let atrophy set in. We have to stay curious, stay engaged, and, above all, stay fit. Family, friends, travel, music, books, gardening, a little good wine now and then — all these things, coupled with the right attitude, can make aging enjoyable.

How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye to something?
When it no longer contributes to you, or you no longer contribute to it. Your intuition will tell you, if you listen.

What should every man know about women?
That they want basically the same things we do. They just want to talk about it a lot more.

How did becoming a father change you?
You look at your children and it’s like you’re peering into a big magic mirror, and it speaks to you: “What you see before you is a reflection of your best and worst qualities. Deal with it.” Best thing that ever happened to me.

How should a man handle regret?
Never ever allow yourself to be defined by past mistakes. We all make them, but the real shame lies in not learning the lessons inherent in those mistakes. I’m not the same man I was, and I’m not the man I’m going to be. I’m a work in progress. But some regret is only natural and right, as long as we don’t wallow in it. Move on. Life is long. You’ll have more chances to get it right.

Don Henley’s new solo album, Cass County, his first in 15 years, is out this month.

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