It was a foggy autumn night in New York’s Rainbow Room when Joe Walsh took center stage — no guitar in sight. So he addressed the elephant in the room: “I’m Joe, and I’m an alcoholic.” It’s a half-joke, meant to set the audience at ease while gently reminding the tables of suits and sequined dresses that addiction is not some distant, dark memory; but on the contrary it’s a specter that hangs over 45 million American families. Even the ones who sell out Madison Square Garden.
That night the 71-year-old old Eagles guitarist, 25 years a “sober alcoholic,” received the highest humanitarian award for activism in the addiction recovery community, jointly awarded by the nonprofit Facing Addiction and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). His wife, the elegant Marjorie Bach, was also honored and she stood behind him, wiping tears from her eyes with a napkin even when he cracked jokes. Bach is 27 years sober. Earlier, she spoke with unflinching gravitas about fearing at one point her husband would die. Walsh’s in-laws, Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach, presented them with the award. Between the four of them, they have over a century of sobriety.
The evening was full of humbling stories where glamorous, talented people admitted the insidiousness of their addiction battles. The floor turned over to an all-star tribute led by country singer-songwriter Vince Gill, the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald and Butch Walker. They rocked to Walsh’s classic riffs from “Take It To the Limit” to “Life’s Been Good.” Gill, 61, spoke in the breaks about the surreal joy of getting to play with the Eagles, but also, of the pain he felt watching his older brother succumb to alcoholism at a young age. That was over 25 years ago, Gill said. But as he began “Rocky Mountain Way,” it was clear that playing with Walsh in the Eagles was not just about childhood-dream fulfillment but about soothing a long open wound.
After checking into rehab for the final time in 1995, Walsh had to put his guitar down — possibly for good — in order to put his life back together. He didn’t think he’d ever play again. Over the course of 20 years, Walsh got married and eventually found his way back to music with the help of Ringo Starr, his actual brother-in-law and brother in sobriety. In 2012, Walsh released Analog Man, his first solo album as a sober musician. “People tell me I play better now sober than I did before,” he said. “But the only thing that matters to me now is that I can say I haven’t had a drink today.”Read More