Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Eagles: Hotel California

The California Dream

Written by:  Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey
Recorded:1976
Released: February 1977
Album: Hotel California
Label: Asylum

[You can listen to it herehere, here & Don Felder in 2011 here at the South-South Awards in NYC]

I remember vividly when I first heard this song. It was the summer of 1977, and I was nineteen and on vacation with my parents and brothers in upstate New York, across the border from Montreal. I was studying pure and applied sciences in college in preparation for my studies in mechanical engineering.  I heard the song and loved it immediately—so much so that I remember buying the album that very same day in a mall in Plattsburgh, NY.

Even then, I sensed that the song spoke about alienation, or at least dissatisfaction, with the American, or to be more specific the California Dream. (Despite this, my desire, like many young people, was to escape to California, at least to enjoy the agreeable climate.) The song speaks about some type of Faustian Bargain that one strikes to achieve fame and fortune, but you pay a price (freedom, dignity, etc) for such a luxurious, if not unreal, lifestyle. You are trapped in the seemingly idyllic life of Hotel California, a brilliant title. Many other songs by The Eagles strike this chord.

Here is some additional background notes, including discussion on the song's interpretation and meaning, from Wikipedia:
The lyrics describe the title establishment as a luxury resort where "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." On the surface, it tells the tale of a weary traveler who becomes trapped in a nightmarish luxury hotel that at first appears inviting and tempting. The song is an allegory about hedonism and self-destruction in the Southern California music industry of the late 1970s; Don Henley called it "our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles"[6] and later reiterated "it's basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about."[7] In 2008, Don Felder described the origins of the lyrics:
"Don Henley and Glenn wrote most of the words. All of us kind of drove into LA at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into LA at night... you can just see this glow on the horizon of lights, and the images that start running through your head of Hollywood and all the dreams that you have, and so it was kind of about that... what we started writing the song about. Coming into LA... and from that Life In The Fast Lane came out of it, and Wasted Time and a bunch of other songs.":[8]
The abstract nature of the lyrics has led listeners to their own interpretations over the years. In the 1980s, some Christian evangelists alleged that "Hotel California" referred to a San Francisco hotel purchased by Anton LaVey and converted into the Church of Satan.[9][10] Other rumors suggested that the Hotel California was the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.[11] These claims have been consistently denied by the band.
The term "colitas" in the first stanza of the song is a Spanish term, in Mexican slang for "little tails" and a reference to the buds of the Cannabis plant.[12]
In a 2009 interview, Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley this about the lyrics:
On "Hotel California," you sing: "So I called up the captain / 'Please bring me my wine' / He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969.'" I realize I'm probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn't a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?
Henley responded,
"Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you're not the first to bring this to my attention—and you're not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I've consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It's a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes."[13]
According to Glenn Frey's liner notes for The Very Best of Eagles, the use of the word "steely" in the lyric (referring to knives) was a playful nod to band Steely Dan, who had included the lyric "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" in their song "Everything You Did."

Hotel California
By the Eagles

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
'This could be Heaven or this could be Hell'
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget

So I called up the Captain,
'Please bring me my wine'
He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine'
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say...

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
They livin' it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said 'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device'
And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'Relax,' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!'

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