“Hotel California” has widely been acclaimed as one of the best musical creations the history of music has seen. We have The Eagles to thank for that. It doesn’t take an inquisitive mind to know that “Hotel California” is one apart from the bunch-a truly unique masterpiece. And constructing on the same pillar, the song also has developed it’s own mystique aura due to some variations of interpretations of the song meaning.
The Eagles – Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Randy Meisner
“Hotel California” was released in 1977 as a single from The Eagle’s fifth studio album titled ‘Hotel California’. The album was a breakout success for the group, however, did not prevent the group breaking apart in 1980. The single sold over 50 million copies around the world and is considered as one of the greatest songs to-date.
What makes it so special? Well, it has everything and it has nothing. “Hotel California” speaks about an unfortunate experience of a weary traveler. But behind the beautifully written story line, there may be deeper meanings secured.
Song artwork of “Hotel California”
Listen to “Hotel California” by The Eagles
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Hotel California”
Don Henley does the lead vocals of the song, and he starts off;
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
The person in the song in driving on a dark, desert highway in California. It’s the night time and the cool wind blows through his hair. Colitas are flower buds and their smell is strong and in the air.
Simple as these lyrics may seem, there could also be a deeper meaning hidden underneath. Related to the singers life, this could show a dark time in his. It’s dark and lonely. Some critics interpret “Hotel California” as an outlook of California state. It was a land of promise several centuries ago, hence the famous quote ‘California dream’. But now, during the 60’s and 70’s, California is a place of shattered dreams, heartbreaks and drugs.
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
The driver sees a light in the distance (the hotel, maybe?) and his head gets dizzy and his eyes begin to shut. It’s not safe to drive under these conditions.
The singer may be growing tired of the highs of the music industry and what comes with it. It’s flashing lights all day for the celebrities. That makes them quite blind to what’s real and what’s not.
I had to stop for the night
The singer decides to call it a night.
It could also mean, the singer trying to get away from the stardom. Wonder where that leads him.
Things get creepy now,
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”
A mysterious woman greets the traveler to the Hotel California. The bells chiming adds a creepy aura to all this-and based on the tone, bells could very well mean happy or sad occasions. The traveler doubts if this is the right move to stay at this place. However, he decides to stay in.
Often, celebrities who are tormented with the high-life end up seeking the aid of drugs to get away from the reality. Another popular interpretation of “Hotel California” is that the song is about drug addiction. Before you do the first shot, you take a second to think it through and goes ahead anyway. On that very second, the bells of your death are rung in some distance. Drugs are a place of heaven and hell. When you take them in, it’s a make-belief paradise. But what waits for you at the end is an obvious 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…
The traveler is escorted into the Hotel California by this strange woman holding a candle to light the path. He starts to hear stranger voices.
Heroine was the most popular drug back in the 70’s, and it required a small fire-much like a candle. Now you have entered the hotel, now begins the hallucinations. This isn’t to say that “Hotel California” song is about drugs, but we like to keep the perspectives open, and drugs is one of them.
If we run these lyrics through the ‘California Dream’ interpretation, we could still find meaning to the song. Weary of the life elsewhere, many come seeking fame and fortune to California. They are drawn in and they are stuck within the dream. For those who do make it, it will be heaven and for others, it will be hell.
The chorus of the song rolls through;
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here
The voices he hears whisper a welcome to the hotel. The singer is instantly drawn to this lovely place filled with lovely faces. There’s a lot of space at the hotel and anyone can check in the hotel anytime. If the hotel is so good, how come it never gets filled in? Unless, there’s a way to rid of the people coming in.
Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
Tiffany is a famous high end jewelry seller. This could very well mean that ‘she’ is drawn to luxuries and craves them. Don Henley brings in some clever wordplay here with ‘Mercedes bends’. Mercedes Benz is a luxury vehicle brand-possibly the top luxurious brand back in 70’s. But Don says ‘bends’ instead of ‘Benz’ which fits perfectly into the song and to the rhyme. The singer means ‘she’ is broken or bent in towards such luxuries. It’s easy to control her with some show of glitz and glamour.
Mercedes Benz back in 1970’s
A lot of handsome men fall behind her engorged in her beauty, but she never settles down with them. She has, as we call it now, friend-zoned them. And they are all enjoying the music and dancing off. Some people are trying to make memories and some are trying to forget their problems.
“Hotel California” could be describing the state of the women and men in California back in the days. It was life of the party for those who come chasing their dreams to California. They often end up wasting their time and money on loose women and drugs.
So I called up the Captain,
“Please bring me my wine”
He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine”
The lyrics of “Hotel California” are very simple, narrative in a way that we almost forget the story between the lines.
I could not find any significance of the year 1969, except for the fact that The Satanic Bible was published that year, which has aided “Hotel California” gaining a reputation as a hallelujah to Satan. Or it could just be that Don Henley needed a word to rhyme with ‘wine’ in the previous line.
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…
Still distant voices haunt the Hotel California, even in the middle of the night.
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis
The chorus of “Hotel California” changes from it’s first appearance. Living in the hotel and ‘living it up’ in the hotel have varied meanings. Living it up means you enjoy the stay, you party it up and you live to the fullest. This could be another reference to drugs. And the last line helps my interpretation. An ‘alibi’ is an scapegoat. You do live it up and get into bad habits, but you have an excuse, right?
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
Mirrors reflect things. Mirrors on the ceiling are good for when you lay in your bed. You see yourself and remind yourself that you are a star. ‘Pink champagne’ is slang for a class A drug. Hotel California is swarming with drugs, much like the state of California back in the day.
And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
This is a clear description of the famed life of musicians, who end up depressed, frustrated and psychologically exhausted due to the non-stop high life. They cannot catch a break. And “Hotel California” says the musicians have become slaves/prisoners to what they themselves have created. The music industry has the tendency to suck it’s makers-much like Nirvana says in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast
The above lyrics are one of the biggest reasons that “Hotel California” has gained a reputation as a cult song worshiping Satan.
The song describes about some ritual to please the master-which one? We’ll never know. They try to kill the beast, but they fail. If this is a reference to drugs, it could mean that addiction has taken over. There’s no going back or curing the beastly lust for drugs. It just can’t be killed. In the same manner California was a state that could offer you a feast. And many who fall for that dream, comes in, and gets lusty for fame and fortune and it never can be killed.
As Glenn Frey describes; “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast” was a little Post-It back to Steely Dan.”
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
If and when the reality hits in, celebrities realize the horrors of Hotel California AKA California state AKA drug addiction. Then they run. ‘The place I was before’ is the state before drugs. It’s a difficult task to find your way back when you’re this deep in the hotel.
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “
Another character joins in “Hotel California.” This time a night man (security officer perhaps) gives him the hard truth. The hotel is only programmed to receive (keep in mind that hotels aren’t programmed, they operate the way they are operated by humans). Then the night man delivers the final verdict. The singer can ‘check out’ the hotel but he can never leave.
Even if the musician does quit the drugs, it still has a hold on him. The person that exists Hotel California is truly not the same person that came in. So in a way, it is correct to say that the ones who come in never leave.
On another gruesome level, we can interpret ‘check out’ as taking the easy way out-or suicide. The song suggests that once you get hooked in, you are in it for life-life as short as it may get.
You can put in your votes as to what you believe “Hotel California” lyrics and song means. If it’s none above, you can leave a comment below. We are always open for music discussions.
“Hotel California” started as what seemed to be a chillaxing drive by through the state of California which turned out to be a nightmare of a stay at the hotel, where you cannot get out. It’s fascinating how, on a larger canvas, that story is similar to the lives of famed artists.
Want to know what The Eagles think about the meaning of “Hotel California”? Glenn Frey says;
“everybody wants to know what that song was about, and we don’t know..We decided to create something strange, just to see if we could do it. And then a lot was read into it – a lot more than probably exists. I think we achieved perfect ambiguity.”
So are just trying too hard to grasp the meaning of “Hotel California” when it’s makers say there’s none. Well, I believe The Eagles members are lying and there’s a great bit of mystery surrounding this song.
Symbolism, as defined by Dictionary.com, is the “practice of representing things by symbols”. The Eagles, a legendary, successful band of the 1970s, heavily use symbolism in many of their songs. When I think of symbolism in terms of the Eagles, the song Hotel California comes to mind. In this song, The Eagles use the image of an exquisite Californian hotel to represent being famous and the human desire to own only the best.
“I saw a shimmering light” is a symbol representing the beginning of the want for the best. Following this line is the line “My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim”. Seeing the shimmering light, or all of the items that can serve as status symbols, the writer's head is fogged, considering the greatness he can become. He can't think clearly – he's absorbed by this want. Thus, “I had to stop for the night”. Pulling off the highway towards the shimmering light, the writer allows his desire to take control. He's heading towards these status symbols. The light is light the hotel gives off, pulling in onlookers.
“There she stood in the doorway” symbolizes the writer's first good look at what he desires – fame, and the best of items. By following her through the doorway, the writer is going towards the greed. “I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell” is the writer's final consideration before taking the plunge towards fame and greed. He considers that it could be great, but he also has a minor thought about the downsides. Never the less, his desire wins over. “Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way”. The writer has taken the plunge. He's in it for the fame, for the things, and for the status. He's been shown how – he's there. He's in the hotel, he's famous, and he is able to own the best.
The chorus is next. It is a reiteration of the end of the last symbol. It welcomes the writer to Hotel California, to greed and to fame. It's “such a lovely place” and there's “plenty of room”. “Any time of year, you can find it here” is the first hint at the downside of fame. It is an indication that fame is inescapable – you'll always be famous. You're no longer permitted to lay low and relax, like in the beginning of the song. All of this takes place in the hotel – in the world of fame and status symbols.
“Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends” really sums up the song. A Mercedes is definitely a status symbol. “She” is fame, thus status symbols go hand in hand with fame. The play on words (“Bends” instead of Benz) could be a symbol representing the bending of reality, or the overwhelming realization of fame. “She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys that she calls friends” adds to the status symbols. Having lots of friends and appearing popular around others is a status symbol, as it makes you appear famous and “upper” in the hierarchy we create for ourselves. “She” is in Hotel California, the portal to fame.
“Some dance to remember, some dance to forget” symbolizes the reason for chasing fame and the best of items. Some people chase fame and the best of things to remember a time when they had this (for a short period of time, as they weren't completely taken over or they wouldn't be remembering this time as good). Others chase fame to forget a time when they weren't famous, or when they didn't have everything they wanted. Again, all of this takes place inside the hotel, the place where fame is imminent and status symbols are required.
“Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice” are both status symbols. The mirrors on the ceiling are luxurious, but begin to give an eery feeling. The writer is beginning to realize the horror that fame can bring upon a person. Champagne on ice is luxurious, but the luxury is slightly tainted (Pink) by the writer's now-changing view of fame. The hotel is becoming bad and inescapable.
“And she said, 'We are all just prisoners here of our own device'” is a symbol representing the blunt truth. The writer made the choice to pursue fame and greed. He had the device or avenue in which to do it (in this case, music). He's now stuck. The writer can't escape. He's a prisoner, but it was his own choice that made him this prisoner. The Hotel, in addition to being a luxurious, positive place is now the writer's own prison.
“The last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before... You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave” is the final reassertion of the song's meaning. The writer is running from fame, seeing that he's trapped and will never be able to relax. He's unable to escape, though. Fame has overtaken his lifestyle, overwhelming him. The song ends abruptly with “you can never leave”. There is no other option for the writer. He's trapped with fame and status symbols. The hotel encases him, disallowing him to escape to relaxation.
Through the use of symbolism, the writer of this song perfectly portrays the desire to be famous. Clever use of words (“Bends”) subtly adds to the effect, furthering the meaning of the song. If I were to re-write the song using another symbol, I would use something like a television. The person in the song is striving to become famous. The hotel represents everything famous in the song. Being on national T.V. generally makes you famous. After you've made your debut, your every mistake in your personal life is broadcast by the general media. You can't escape the general public – they know everything that you're doing when you're doing it. This song is a great example of subtle symbolism used to portray deeper meaning.
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