Hotel California

Irina asked me to discuss this song, and I also read that this is one of Crina’s favorite songs, so here it is for our examination. This song is what I would call a haunting melody.
 

Hotel California by the Eagles

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

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

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

23 So I called up the Captain,
24 “Please bring me my wine”
25 He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine”
26 And still those voices are calling from far away,
27 Wake you up in the middle of the night
28 Just to hear them say…

29 Welcome to the Hotel California
30 Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
31 Such a lovely face
32 They’re living it up at the Hotel California
33 What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
34 Bring your alibis

35 Mirrors on the ceiling,
36 The pink champagne on ice
37 And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
38 And in the master’s chambers,
39 They gathered for the feast
40 They stab it with their steely knives,
41 But they just can’t kill the beast

42 Last thing I remember, I was
43 Running for the door
44 I had to find the passage back
45 To the place I was before
46 “Relax, ” said the night man,
47 “We are programmed to receive.
48 You can check-out any time you like,
49 But you can never leave!

Story (Teacher Lee’s Interpretation)

This is a spooky song about a traveler on a dark lonely highway (Line 01) who sees a shimmering hotel ahead in the distance (03). Inexplicably, he suddenly becomes very fatigued (tired and sleepy) (04), which forces him to stop at the hotel and stay for the night (05). Upon entering the hotel, he is met by a beautiful woman who invites him in (06). He then hears the ominous gong of a church bell (07) and, for a moment, a thought flashes into his mind that he could possibly be entering Heaven (a place of extreme happiness) or Hell (a place of extreme torment) (08-09). The hotel seems very plush and inviting at first, and he imagines that he hears voices welcoming him to the hotel (12-18).

Then he learns that things are not what they seem (he suspects something is wrong) (19-37). He attends a feast (a banquet or a large, fancy meal) in a large room (38-39) and discovers some kind of monster (40) that is perhaps going to feast on (eat) the guests instead! The guests try to kill the beast with steel knives but they can’t hurt it (40-41). He flees from the room (42-43) and tries to leave the hotel (44-45) but finds that he is trapped in the hotel forever and can never leave (47-40). It is at this moment that he realizes that his previous musing thought was prophetic — he has indeed entered Hell.

Interpretation by Wikipedia

The lyrics weave a surrealistic tale in which a weary traveler checks into a luxury hotel. The hotel at first appears inviting and tempting, but it turns out to be a nightmarish place where “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”. The song is an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry of the late 1970s. Don Henley called it “our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles” 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.”

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 Los Angles (L.A.) at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into L.A. 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.

Grammar Notes

  1. The term “colitas” is Spanish for “little tails”. It is Mexican slang for the buds of the marijuana plant.
  2. A “shimmering light” (03) could refer to a mirage, which is an image that is so faint (dim) and indistinct (blurry) that you aren’t sure if it’s real or imagined. (This sentence uses a “so-that” clause.)
  3. (11) He didn’t hear people talking; he heard “voices”. Stating it this way implies that he may be thinking that these voices were those of disembodied ghosts rather than living people.
  4. (13-18) Hotel California seems to be an ideal place to stay — lots of nice places and pretty faces, lots of room, and all available anytime of the year.
  5. (19) This line refers to greed by using two double entendres (double meanings).A twisted mind is an insane mind. Tiffany’s is the name of a famous jewelry store in New York City that sells very expensive diamonds. “Tiffany-twisted” sounds like “definitely twisted”. Is she crazy or does she just like diamonds?”The bends” is a life-threatening illness caused by scuba diving too long or too deep. Mercedes Benz” is an expensive car for rich people. Is she rich or is she dying or perhaps already dead?
  6. (20) She “calls friends” means that, though she calls them friends, they may not be friends in reality. She may be a rich, shallow person who doesn’t really care about her “friends” at all. She may just keep them around to amuse her. They may be her “toy boys” (young men who offer sexual favors to rich women).
  7. (22) This line expresses the grief of the loss of a loved one (dance to remember) or the guilt of a past, bad sin (dance to forget).
  8. (24) Wine is usually used to celebrate a happy event. This line could imply that this hotel has had nothing to celebrate since 1969, which implies it is now a sad place to stay. (I don’t know what event happened in 1969 that the Eagles were sad about.)
  9. (27) Hearing voices that wake you up in the middle of the night (long after bedtime) is unusual. Why are these “people” awake so late? What are they doing? Are they doing something nefarious (evil) perhaps?
  10. (33) A “nice surprise” could refer to a newly discovered forbidden pleasure. (34) An alibi is an excuse, usually a lie, concocted to “prove” that you could not have done some sinful or evil action that you are accused of doing.
  11. (35-36) Honeymoon suites in a hotel (or rooms in a motel for illicit sex) may have mirrors on the ceiling so a couple having sex on the bed can see themselves in the mirror on the ceiling. This may be a turn-on (slang for something that excites you sexually) to some people. Pink champagne is often provided to newlyweds to celebrate their happy event (just married).
  12. (37) “To be a prisoner of your own device” means that you have done something evil for so long that circumstances force you to continue doing it whether you want to or not. In other words, you can’t stop doing something evil.
  13. (40) Normally we would say “steel”, not “steely”. “Steely” was used here as a “salute” to a musical group called Steely Dan. Steely Dan referred to the Eagles in one of their Steely Dan songs (which is a “salute” to the Eagles’ fame, of sorts), so the Eagles returned the “salute” by mentioning “Steely” in this Eagles song.
  14. (47-49) These lines tell the traveler that he is trapped in Hotel California forever. While he may think he is free (you can check out anytime), in reality he is a prisoner forever (you can never leave). He has entered Hell (or perhaps Purgatory).

Questions for the Students

  1. Many listeners have their own interpretation of what this song is saying. What does this song mean to you?
  2. If you were about to enter a place that suddenly sent chill bumps down your back (made you feel suddenly unsafe), what would you do? Would you go in anyway?
  3. Are you a hedonist?
  4. Some of the underlined or bolded words are useful expressions used in English. You should look these up and learn how to use them. In your reply, write some sample sentences using some of these words.
  5. Do you have any comments about this song?

Leave a Reply