A dear friend and I were discussing music and the symbolism of songs this morning, when we came to the timeless classic, Hotel California. This sent me on a quest to find what this song was really intended to mean.
Hotel California by The Eagles is a song that’s appeal has spanned generations and invoked great discussion. The symbolism of this staple rock song has been debated and speculated since its release in 1976. There have been more than 16 million copies sold, making its lyrics well known and widely interpreted.
The song has a surface story to its lyrics which involves the narrator driving down a dismal, isolated highway searching for some relief of his exhaustion. He comes upon the “Hotel California” in the middle of nowhere and stops for some rest. When the traveler enters the hotel, he finds a surreal world of gluttony—pink champaign, ceilings with mirrors on them, feasts and merriment. The others begin to sing a strange welcome to him, attempting to entice him into their world. He feels uncomfortable and decides to check out, only to find that he can never leave. It is a fairly straightforward storyline, similar to that of many “psychological thrillers” (ie. Psycho).
The symbolism of Hotel California is not so clear. There have been numerous theories and it has even been discussed as part of advanced music curriculums.
Many have suggested that the song refers to a Mental Institution, the Camarillo State Hospital, was found outside of until as recently as 1997. The narrative, from the perspective of a patient committed to a life within the asylum walls. The lyrics describing his horror as he realizes that he is now a prisoner of the hospital. The thought process going from his hallucinogenic mental state to moments of lucidity, where he is aware of where he is and what his fate is. have long denied that there is any connection.
Another long supported theory is that it is written about a hotel in Todos Santos that has the name “Hotel California”. There is no correlation between the two. None of the Eagles ever stayed at or had this establishment in mind.
The most popular unsubstantiated theory is that the song Hotel California has Satanic references. Many believe that the lyrics ” this spirit hasn’t been here since 1969″ refers to the Spirit of God and that their referral to “Killing the Beast” is speaking of Satan. While this double meaning may have been somewhat intentional it is not the meaning that was behind the message of the song according to any of the band members.
The growth of the internet has brought other theories to the masses. Some believe that the Hotel refers to Alistair Crawley’s mansion in Scotland while others have suggested it is in reference to a church that was taken over by satanic worshippers. There have also been stories of it talking about one’s battle with cancer of talking of an inn that was run by cannibals.
tried to put all the rumors to rest on the popular TV news show 60 Mintues. He stated that the song was written as a statement on the materialistic world we live in and the environment they were exposed to in Los Angeles at the time. “It’s a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about.” Henley stated in the November 2007 interview.
Glenn Fry made a similar statement to media when he was quoted ” That record explores the under belly of success, the darker side of Paradise. Which was sort of what we were experiencing in Los Angeles at the time. So that just sort of became a metaphor for the whole world and for everything you know. And we just decided to make it Hotel California. So with a microcosm of everything else going on around us”.
So while theories will be as timeless as the song itself, we should be aware of the statement this makes on society as a whole. The Eagles wrote a song about America, and we interpret it as talking of a Satanic world or evil and surreal possibilities. Perhaps we need to look at the world around us and recognize how low society has really gotten. That a song sybolizing our society could be interpreted as a commitment to an asylum or fight with the devil makes me wonder if we realize the world around us cause “this could be heaven or this could be hell.”
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