By Ruwan M Jayatunge –
The rock band Eagles released their super hit Hotel California in 1976 and up-to-date this song remains one of the popular songs that is adored by millions of fans around the world. The hit song Hotel California is well written both lyrically and musically. This song contains a deep connotation and was written by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glen Frey. The song was an instant success. Many believe that Hotel California is not a place; it is a metaphor. As the true interpretation of Hotel California, Don Henley told Rolling Stone magazine once that Hotel California was about “facing some of the harsh realities of fame and life in Hollywood.” On the contrary there are several interpretations of Hotel California.
Materialism and Hyper Consumerism
Hotel California reflects the materialism and hyper consumerism in the Western World. Consumerism is an economic policy that states that the market is shaped by the choice of the consumers. Under the Consumerism systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts take place. The Economists who advocate consumerism believe that the key to economic prosperity is the organized creation of dissatisfaction. People are encouraged to buy and consume various products despite the necessity. The consumerism increased in the West rapidly after the WW2.
Consumerism has negative repercussions on people and the society. Ecological imbalances, environment pollution and economic recessions have become the unavoidable realities under the hyper consumerism. The extravagant lifestyle in LA which is a mixture of materialism and hyper consumerism has caused nostalgia and emptiness. The Eagles echoes the California lifestyle and the culture in the ’70s with their all-time greatest hit. For the Eagles Hotel California was their interpretation of the high materialistic life in Los Angeles.
Hotel California is a metaphor for cocaine addiction
As the music critics view this song is an allegory about hedonism and self-destruction. Hotel California is a first person narrator who is driving in the dessert. Then he sees a sparkling light and decides to go there and have a night rest.
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 a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
The narrator is on an exotic experimental mind journey. The “Dark Desert Highway” refers to a craving drug trip that has a disastrous aftermath. The warm smell of Colitas (the Spanish term for tumble weeds) makes his head heavy and sight dim. While high on cocaine, he has delusional feelings of grandiosity. He feels more energetic and sociable. While on his wild drug trip the narrator experiences euphoria and hallucinations. His mind goes through a mystic fathomless fantasy.
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 face
Plenty of room at the hotel California
Any time of year, you can find it here
It is a well-known factor that prolonged use of cocaine leads to paranoia and delusion. Cocaine has correspondingly intense effects on the body – and on the mind. Cocaine has powerful psychological addictive properties. Therefore the users find it difficult to refrain from indulging in it.
Relax,’ said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!
Cocaine addiction is something similar to the journey that has no return. The narrator was told “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”
Hotel California is a metaphorical music of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam conflict has been called “America’s first rock-and-roll war” because of the predominance of rock music that permeated the American experience there. As draft quotas were raised and deferment and exemption loopholes closed, an overwhelming number of military personnel belonged to one generation: the average age of combat soldiers was 19 and, according to some figures, 90 percent were under 23 years of age. Many of these conscripts did not want to be in Vietnam, and no one wanted to be alienated from his own generation back home. Therefore, many GIs imported their tastes in music into the war zone. Rock music was the most popular genre, and beads and peace symbols were worn with and on many uniforms.( Fasanaro.C)
Hotel California resonates with the combat experience in Vietnam. The Old French Fort in Tay Ninh that was about sixty miles North West of Saigon was nicknamed Hotel California. During the Tet offensive the Old French Fort became a place of safety to many combatants. Often the soldiers were greeted at the Old French Fort saying “Welcome to the Hotel California”
The Vietnam War changed the American social landscape. The nation was divided. Some openly protested the war. Young naïve boys were drafted and sent to Nam. Most of them were 19 years old and 12,000 miles away from home. During the war the innocence was lost. Atrocities like My Lai Massacre shocked the American public. Over 50,000 US solders never returned home alive.
The United States also paid a high political cost for the Vietnam War. It weakened public faith in government, and in the honesty and competence of its leaders. Indeed, skepticism, if not cynicism, and a high degree of suspicion of and distrust toward authority of all kind characterized the views of an increasing number of Americans in the wake of the war. The military, especially, was discredited for years. It would gradually rebound to become once again one of the most highly esteemed organizations in the United States. In the main, however, as never before, Americans after the Vietnam War neither respected nor trusted public institutions. (The Postwar Impact of Vietnam by Harvard Sitikoff)
In his autobiography “Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) Don Felder wrote that my views on the Vietnam War were unpatriotic. Don Felder was
A rebel during his teenage years frequently at odds with his parents and ran away from home. In later years he closely worked with the anti-Vietnam war protestors. His anti-war attitude resonates in Hotel California.
Deep sarcasm is associated with the line that states “Welcome to the Hotel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face ” The war is welcoming young soldiers. In every war propaganda is maintained to hide the ugly realties that have horrendous nature. War front is a lovely place and it has a lovely face until the solder becomes a casualty. To depict the harsh realities of the war Don Felder and his co-writers use euphemism to arouse wistful feelings in the listeners.
Hotel California is a mental hospital
Some believe that Hotel California is a mental hospital (probably the Camarillo State Mental Hospital that became functional in 1932) In 1960s many psychiatric hospitals had many allegations such as abusing the mental patients, giving high doses of sedations to them, excessively using ECT and performing unethical prefrontal lobotomy etc.
In this song the narrator describes his firsthand experience at the mental hospital. His delusional thought process is described as follows.
Her mind is tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes Benz
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
Tiffany-Twisted – this may be a term used to describe a mental health nurse like the Nurse Mildred Ratched (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) who had absolute authority over the mental patients.
So I called up the captain,
please bring me my wine’
He said, ’we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine’
Until 1969 many Mental Hospitals used to give wine as a sedative or a sleep starter for the patients. When asked for a glass of wine his request was turned down and he was told ’we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine’
The narrator was hearing auditory hallucinations (voices in his mind) calling from a faraway distance.
And still those voices are calling from far away
When he wakes up he experiences thought echo or another set of auditory hallucinations.
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 face
They livin’ it up at the hotel California
What a nice surprise, bring your alibis
Hotel California is about Spiritualism and Occultism in 1960s
With the rise of Beatle mania and hippie subculture in the West a deep void of spiritualism was to be seen. Many youth became the followers of Guru Maharaj Ji , Osho Rajneesh ,Maharishi Mahesh Yogi etc. The materialism, hyper consumption, war in Vietnam, wide spreading drug abuse had wreaked the Western Civilization. The traditional Christian Church had no answers for the youth who were desperately seeking universal truth about existence. To fill this spiritual vacuum many embraced the Eastern spiritualism. In the same period there was another inclination towards the Occultism. Satanic worshipers were emerging. During this time period Charles Manson forms his family and commits multiple murders.Manson’s predicted Helter Skelter- an apocalyptic war between blacks and whites.These events profoundly affect the Eagles.
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
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast
There was a human sacrifice and the narrator had witnessed it. He was terrified and wanted to flee. But now he is a prisoner and he cannot escape. He has to face his destiny. This human sacrifice reminds us the self-immolation by Norman Morrison who immolated himself outside of the Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s office as a protest against the Vietnam War.