April 24th, 2024

Trial begins over ownership of handwritten lyrics to ‘Hotel California’

By Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press on February 21, 2024.

FILE - Members of The Eagles, from left, Timothy B. Schmit, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh pose with an autographed guitar after a news conference at the Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 19, 2013, in Park City, Utah. On Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, an unusual criminal trial is set to open over the handwritten lyrics to the band's classic rock blockbuster' “Hotel California.” (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) – Nearly half a century after “Hotel California” became a rock megahit, three men went on trial Wednesday in a criminal case about what became of a cache of hand-drafted lyrics to the song and other Eagles favorites.

The case centers on roughly 100 pages of legal-pad pages inscribed with developmental versions of some of the most well-known lines in the rock songbook.

The key witness is expected to be Eagles co-founder Don Henley, who wants to recover the manuscripts. The defendants are all well-established professionals in the collectibles world, and they got the documents from a writer and 1960s counterculture figure with rock roots of his own.

Prosecutors say the defendants – rare-books dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi, and memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski – peddled the pages while knowing their ownership history was shaky at best. Then, prosecutors claim, the men schemed to thwart Henley’s efforts to reclaim what he says are stolen pieces of his legacy.

“The defendants were not businessmen acting in good faith, but criminal actors,” Manhattan District Attorney Nicholas Penfold said in an opening statement.

The men have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to possess stolen property. Their lawyers say the documents simply weren’t stolen and that the men did nothing illegal by buying or trying to sell them.

“They have accused three innocent men of a crime that never occurred,” Inciardi’s lawyer, Stacey Richman, said during opening statements.

The defense says Henley voluntarily gave away the documents and leveraged prosecutors to try to take them back. The prosecution effectively makes a crime out of any circumstance in which “a celebrity tells you, “˜That property is mine,’ and you don’t give it back when they ask for it,” said one of Kosinski’s lawyers, Matthew LaRoche.

The trial concerns about 100 pages of drafts of song lyrics from the 1976 release “Hotel California,” which is the third-biggest selling album ever in the U.S.

The documents include lyrics-in-development for the songs “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town” and, of course, “Hotel California,” the more than six-minute-long, somewhat mysterious musical tale of the goings-on at a hedonistic but ultimately dark place where “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

If scorned by some as an overexposed artifact of the ’70s, the Grammy-winning song is still a touchstone on classic rock radio and many personal playlists. The entertainment data company Luminate counted more than 220 million streams and 136,000 radio plays of “Hotel California” in the U.S. last year.

The case was brought in 2022, a decade after some of the pages began popping up for auction and Henley took notice – and took umbrage. He bought four pages for $8,500 but also reported the documents stolen, prosecutors said.

At the time, the lyrics sheets were in the hands of Kosinski and Inciardi, who had bought them from Horowitz for $65,000. His company had purchased them for $50,000 in 2005 from Sanders, a noted poet, nonfiction writer and activist who also co-founded the avant-garde rock group the Fugs. He worked with the Eagles on a band biography that was shelved in the early “˜80s, amassing boxes full of material.

“The Eagles confided all sorts of things to Mr. Sanders about their lives, things that I’m quite confident they wished they didn’t share “¦ and they want to get back,” LaRoche told Judge Curtis Farber during opening statements. Farber will decide the verdict, as the defendants chose to forgo a jury.

Sanders isn’t charged in the case and hasn’t responded to a phone message seeking comment about it.

Sanders told Horowitz in 2005 that Henley’s assistant had mailed along any documents he wanted for the biography, though the writer worried that Henley “might conceivably be upset” if they were sold, according to an email shown in court.

“It cast significant doubt on whether Sanders actually owned Henley’s lyric notes or had the right to sell them,” said Penfold, the prosecutor.

Sanders signed a 1979 contract that said that the Eagles remained the owners of material they furnished to Sanders for the book. Defense lawyers said their clients knew nothing about the contract until after they were indicted.

Prosecutors say that once Henley’s lawyers began asking questions and asserting the documents were stolen, Horowitz, Inciardi and Kosinski started maneuvering to gin up and disseminate a legally viable ownership history for the manuscripts.

According to emails recounted in the indictment, Inciardi and Horowitz floated evolving accounts of how Sanders obtained the documents. The explanations ranged over the next five years from Sanders finding them abandoned in a backstage dressing room to the writer getting them from Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, who died in 2016.

Emails show some input and assent from Sanders, but he also also rejected some the backstage-salvage story, according to emails recounted in the indictment. In messages that didn’t include him, Horowitz wrote about getting Sanders’ “‘explanation’ shaped into a communication” and giving him “gentle handling” and assurances “that he’s not going to the can,” the indictment says.

Horowitz’ lawyer, Jonathan Bach, said the emails weren’t suspicious efforts to cover tracks, but rather an effort by Horowitz and Inciardi to get “a simple statement from Ed Sanders to rebut an allegation they know to be baseless.”

The indictment doesn’t show Kosinki participating in the back-and-forth with Sanders. But Kosinski forwarded one of the various explanations to Henley’s lawyer, then told an auction house that the rocker had “no claim” to the manuscripts, the indictment says. He also asked the auctioneers not to tell potential bidders about the ownership dispute.

LaRoche, his lawyer, said Kosinski was upfront with all and “acted diligently and appropriately.”

Defense lawyers have indicated that they plan to question how clearly Henley remembers his dealings with Sanders and the lyric sheets at a time when the rock star was living life in the fast lane himself.

“His attitudes today, as a mature, successful, older businessman, regarding materials he helped compose and create nearly 50 years ago are very different from the attitudes that he held in his youth … way back when he was far more carefree,” Bach said.

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