A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the origin of Don Henley's song about "forgiveness"?

July 17, 2000

Dear Straight Dope:

Some of the phraseology in songs written by the Eagles has hints of biblical truths and phrases. The song about "forgiveness" by Don Henley comes close to Scripture when he states, "the flesh will get weak and the ashes will scatter." That is a combination of the New Testament and Isaiah, if one looks closely. Maybe a stretch to some, but to me, Mr. Henley isn't so far off course.

So, answer me this.  Whence comes the song "Forgiveness"? Which recording? I love it. A code to live by, and a reminder of some very talented gentlemen.

Let's get right to the heart of the matter, Peggie. The song isn't called "Forgiveness."  It's called "The Heart of the Matter."

It's the last cut on the multi-platinum The End of the Innocence, released June 20, 1989 on Geffen Records. It was written by Mike Campbell, Don Henley and J.D. Souther (very talented gentlemen, as you said) and tells the story of a man who has just discovered his former love has found someone new and that he needs to forgive both her and himself and move on.

"The flesh will get weak" is a play on what Jesus said to the disciples who came to stay with him while he prayed before Judas comes to betray him. "Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing enough, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

"The ashes will scatter" isn't from any particular part of the Bible. Isaiah does talk about "hanging your head like a reed, spreading out sackcloth and ashes" (Is 58:5b). Psalm 147 talks about how "he spreads the snow like flax, scatters hoarfrost like ashes." (For those with active imaginations, hoarfrost is white frost or rime.)

Henley continues to scatter his talents in many directions. In 1990, he founded the Walden Woods Project, one of the most successful preservation/education endeavors in America. Henley's Thoreau Institute, a later addition to the Walden Woods Project, is known and respected throughout the world as a facility that combines the best of history with state-of-the-art, cyber-learning techniques (log on at www.walden.org). Other causes to which Henley has lent his name and talents: the passage of clean water legislation in California; the preservation of wildlife habitat and open space in Los Angeles' Santa Monica Mountains; Farm Aid, The Race to Erase MS, The Rhythm and Blues Foundation and The Rainforest Foundation.

You will also be pleased to know that Henley's first new album in over a decade, "Inside Job," was released May 23rd. The album features thirteen new songs, including the single "Taking You Home," and comprises, according to the artist, "a diary of sorts -- a chronicle of the past eleven years."

"Inside Job is my view of the world from this particular time and place," Henley said in a recent online interview. "My marriage and the birth of my children have had a profound effect. Despite all the sham and selfishness, life is still good. Children constantly rekindle hope and appreciation--and they have excellent bullshit detectors. It's a wonderful thing."

Welcome to the Hotel Fatherhood, Don.

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