Happy hump day internet. Today, we’ll be looking at another song with some exceptional lyrics. But before we get too far into it, let’s quickly review what we’ve looked at so far this week.
On Monday, we gave a listen to The New Pornographers’ indie ballad, “The Bones of an Idol”, and examined its lyrics for alternate symbolic interpretations. Yesterday, we made a genre leap by looking at “Strange Ways”, by MF DOOM and Madlib on their collaborative project, “Madvillainy”. We looked at DOOM’s poignant and politically-charged lyrics, as well as his exceptional rhyming schemes.
Today we’ll be taking a different angle. As music lovers, we can’t help but attempt to find meaning behind the lyrics of our favorite songs. But when it comes to deciphering a song’s meaning, misinterpretations are bound to happen. This is exacerbated when a song’s lyrics are rife with symbolism. Occasionally, the misinterpretations will garner enough attention and credibility that the original meaning is lost.
So for our song today, “Hotel California” by The Eagles, we’ll start by looking at some of the common misinterpretations of the lyrics. Then, we’ll examine the lyrics ourselves, and end with a few words from the band that may shed some light on its original, intended meaning.
There are quite a few theories out there about the true meaning of the lyrics to “Hotel California”. We’ll just brush over a few of the more popular ones before moving on.
One theory is that “Hotel California” is about the Manson family. Those who believe this often point to the line “pink champagne on ice” to refer to the wealth of the family’s first victim, Sharon Tate. And the line, “we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969” supposedly refers to the year the murders occurred. Finally, the line “pluck them with their steely knives” refers to the fact that the murders were stabbings. An interesting interpretation, for sure, but not the only one.
Another theory posits that “Hotel California” is about the Carmello State Mental Hospital. Here, the pink champagne line comes up again, with theorists claiming that angry patients were served a similar drink to placate them. The policy was rescinded in 1969, which of course, explains why they haven’t had the spirit since. Finally, the hospital’s nickname was the Hotel California. This final piece supports the theory that the song is about a man who goes insane and gets stuck in an asylum.
The last theory we’ll look at claims that the song is about devil worship. This was pretty common among Christian families who feared that rock and roll would turn their children into satanists. In this theory, the spirit that left in 1969 was the Holy Spirit. And 1969 was when (guess what) the Church of Satan was founded. Apparently the founder of the church, Anton Levy, bought an abandoned hotel as the church’s headquarters, and referred to it as the Hotel California.
The Original Meaning
While the theories are fun to debate over, the original meaning of “Hotel California” is more profound and personal to the band. We can find this meaning by looking at the album “Hotel California” as a whole. Like the album, “Desperado”, “Hotel California” was a concept album. Each song supported a central theme. In “Desperado”, it was the old west. In “Hotel California”, however, it was the price of fame.
The album’s opening track, “Hotel California” is really all about how one can be enticed by a life of fame. Here, the hotel really represents the supposed good life of fame and fortune.
In an interview with Music Radar, Eagles guitarist Don Felder supports this interpretation.
“When you get into the Hotel California and you have a hit, you’re the new kid in town, and then once you have a great deal of success in the business, you start living life in the fast lane. Every once in a while, you start to go, ‘Is this all a bunch of wasted time, all the years we’ve sat in bars and turned into parties?’ So the concept came out of that framework.”
While it might not be the most interesting interpretation, it makes more sense that The Eagles would write about fame over the Manson murders, or the Church of Satan. Still, without the multiple imaginative theories out there, how could we continue to talk about our favorite songs?
That about wraps up our discussion for today. Tomorrow, we’ll round out the week with one more song. Stay tuned.