The Multiplicity of "Hotel California"

So, dramatic little Jeremy’s essay that I told you about in the previous post got me thinking that I should look back through my old high school and college essays for a fun re-writing exercise. And that’s just what I’m going to do here. This post is based on a college assignment to write a traditional 5-paragraph timed essay on the Eagles song Hotel California. I’m going to take the liberty of viewing that paper as a rough draft and editing it to suit my current writing style.

You can read the lyrics to Hotel California here first, if you are unfamiliar with the song. Or you can play the video below and listen to the words as you read my deep and meaningful analysis of a song that has been deeply and meaningfully analysized (I know it’s not a word, but it should be) many, many, times before:

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Hotel California, a popular song written by The Eagles, tells a literal story as well as figurative one. Like most good literature, what may seem on the surface to be simply a song about a man staying in a hotel for a night, actually represents something much deeper. A good look at the lyrics in this song reveals a great deal about its author Don Henley; but a close look at the author reveals even more about the song itself.

The Hotel California receives a CoolRider who has stopped in for the night. It would be wrong to assume, however, that the “choice” of this hotel in particular has no significance. That our man gives into the pleasure and relief of stopping here for the night should come as no surprise as, it turns out, this place is at the heart of one man’s addiction. It is no coincidence then that the author suggests the street names for heroin (H) and cocaine (C) prominently within the tittle of the song – Hotel California (HC).

Once there, our CoolRider meets a beautiful woman who pulls him into the hotel, leading him by candlelight through it’s corridors. Only after he is deep inside the HC does he recognize the woman’s “Tiffany-twisted” ways. Soon her “pretty boys” will not leave him alone. The woman explains that his imprisonment is “of [his] own device.” Although our CoolRider rejects this, his attempts at escape prove futile.

Don Henley has gone public with his own drug use during the ’60s and ’70s noting that, “It was something that practically everyone was doing. It was a time when there was a generation that was coming of age and experimenting with whatever they could get their hands on.” He has made it no secret that the main theme of Hotel California is one of excess, although he has denied that excess is any more specific than that of the “high life in Los Angeles.” Still, knowing his history in one of the worlds most popular rock bands of the 1970s, one can’t help but read the symbolism on the wall of the Hotel California as something more sinister than “Hollywood excess” alone.

Continuing with our examination of the lyrics, we first observe our CoolRider noticing a “shimmering light” that leads him to the hotel where he finds he “had to stop for the night.” He then follows yet another shimmering light, that of a candle, deep into the corridors of the hotel. A shinning light is typically thought to represent goodness in literature. Here, however, the light becomes a lure. CoolRider allows himself to be lured under the pretense that the light is good. That is what he wants to believe, even as, upon entering the hotel, he still must ask himself if “This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.” It is his choice to discard his own warning.

He enjoys the hotel (the drug), “such a lovely place”, the pretty faces, the dancing and the sweet sweat of the summer evening. Still, he begins to hate his beautiful lady (his addiction). He realizes how deadly she can be. We know he sees the danger in her lies of pleasure as he talks about her pretty boys and “Mercedes Benz” (the bends is the term for the pain of rapid ascension experienced by scuba divers and commonly associated with recovering drug addicts). But, he is too far gone at this point to resist, asking the Captain to “please bring me my wine.” He seems to have grown weary of the struggle between himself and her pretty face; She, the addiction, calls to him, “wake[ing him] up in the middle of the night.” We can conclude that although our CoolRider hates the addiction, he still loves the drug.

Not surprisingly, they all end up at the “Master’s feast.” It is only when he sees the others fail to “kill the beast” that he makes a real attempt at resistance, “running for the door” desperately trying to “find the passage back . . . to the place he was before.” Before he met his addiction, before the drug came into his life, before the Hotel California. And, although he makes it back to the hotel entrance, the night man reminds him that while he is free to “check-out any time you like,” (rehabilitation) he “can never [really] leave” (the addiction).

Hotel California is more than just another great song from the ’70s. Besides being melodically sound, written in strong blank verse and ending in rhyme, the lyrics of Hotel California can be read and understood on a variety of levels. Don Henley expresses himself truthfully, thereby highlighting the beauty in the multiplicity of his words. It is writing to be valued for its beauty of form and meaning. A truly excellent piece of literature.

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