An unusual criminal case over handwritten lyrics to ‘Hotel California’ goes to trial Wednesday


NEW YORK — A curious criminal case involving handwritten lyrics to the classic rock megahit “Hotel California” and other Eagles favorites is going to trial in a New York courtroom, with opening statements set for Wednesday.

The three defendants, all well-established in the collectibles world, are accused of scheming to thwart Eagles co-founder Don Henley’s efforts to reclaim the allegedly ill-gotten documents.

The trial concerns more than 80 pages of drafts of the words to songs from the “Hotel California” album, the 1976 release that stands today as the third-biggest selling disc ever in the U.S.

Rare-book dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi and memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and various other charges. Their lawyers have said the case “alleges criminality where none exists and unfairly tarnishes the reputations of well-respected professionals.”

The documents include lyrics-in-development for “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 an inviting, decadent 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 over 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 back a bit of the material for $8,500 but also reported the documents stolen, according to court filings.

At the time, the lyrics sheets were in the hands of Kosinski and Inciardi, who had bought them from Horowitz. He had purchased them in 2005 from Ed Sanders, a writer and 1960s counterculture figure who worked with the Eagles on a band biography that was shelved in the early ’80s.

Sanders, who also co-founded the avant-garde rock group the Fugs, isn’t charged in the case and hasn’t responded to a 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 emails recounted in the indictment.

But once Henley’s lawyers began asking questions, Horowitz, Inciardi and Kosinski started maneuvering to gin up and disseminate a legally viable ownership history for the manuscripts, Manhattan prosecutors say.

According to 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 apparently objected at least to the backstage-salvage story. 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.

The defendants’ lawyers have said that Sanders had legal possession of the documents, and so did the men who bought them from him. Defense attorneys have indicated 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.

The defendants decided last week to forgo a jury, so Judge Curtis Farber will decide the verdict.


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