What is the Song “Hotel California” by the Eagles about?

Then we take a closer look at the text. Here is the song as a video with the lyrics:

And here is my interpretation:

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air

Our speaker is on a trip in the desert, apparently in a convertible — and smokes marijuana.Colitas is Latino slang from Mexico and means the flowers of the cannabis plant.

Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night.

So the speaker is always on the move and enjoys life, but has to take a break.

There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell

The bell we are talking about is a church bell — mission in California is also a word for a church, especially a fortified monastery church. [1

And I was thinking to myself
‘This could be heaven or this could be Hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor…

The speaker is tired, is greeted and taken away by a woman (a convent woman?).He hears voices:

I thought I heard them say:

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face.
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year you can find it here

So California itself is compared to a hotel.But “hotel” also has another, older meaning: a hospital. Since the speaker hears voices, it even suggests an insane institution.

People also keep coming back.At any time of the year…

So it is suggested that it is an addiction clinic.

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

Tiffany refers to the jeweler in New York,[2 a sign of the new rich — also known from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. So it’s about an old lady who spends her wealth with party boys and throws away. Nevertheless, she is lonely and her wealth does not make her happy, but sick (hence the pun on “Mercedes-Benz” — bends is the decompression sickness).

The whole group dances, but not out of luck, but merely as a pastime.They have nothing better to do, so something pleasing is turned upside down.

So I called up the Captain,
‘Please bring me my wine’
He said, ‘we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine’
And still those voices are calling from far away,

Spirit is ambiguous and means spirit, but also (high percentage) alcohol.So the spirit has been gone since 1969 — the happy spirit of the 60s is gone. The drugs and excesses of the 1960s led to this misery.

But the speaker still thinks of the optimistic voices of the time:

Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say:

Welcome to the Hotel California
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

So the optimism that is associated with California is deceptive.You live the high life, but it comes at a high price, and bring your alibis suggests that you regret it afterwards.

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice

Here is simply a typical picture of rock culture from the time.Again drugs and alcohol. Mirrors on the ceiling suggests that there are sex parties.

And she said, ‘we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’

But instead of being happy about this situation, one is trapped in one’s addiction.But this path has been chosen (“of our own device”).

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

Again a reversal from the expected situation.The food is not even dead, the feast is a farce. The “beast” is also ambiguous and can be understood as a devil, i.e. the inner devils of the guests, who are not appeased by the intoxication. The addiction never ends.

The word steely is also a small wink to the band Steely Dan, which the Eagles mentioned earlier in their song Everything You Did.

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We’re programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

The speaker actually wants to escape, but can’t.He has entered the space of addiction and will never be able to leave it again. The night man is the gatekeeper, who kindly but certainly does not let the guest go.

Check out is ambiguous.It is usually said to leave a hotel. But American slang also means dying. So you can die at any time, but the addiction stays there.

In the end, then, it is about addiction and the misfortune that comes with fame and wealth.Even if you have money, sex, drugs and parties in an apparent paradise called California, which pretty much everyone dreamed of in the 60s, not only do you not get happy, you get sick. The dream becomes a nightmare.

These themes are, by the way, taken up in another song by Eagles member Don Henley.Henley co-wrote the lyrics of Hotel California and sang the song.His solo song Boys of Summer, also with a wonderful and pictorial text from him, is also about the disappointment of what the innocent 60s promised.

The name Boys of Summer comes from baseball, a game that in the USA is associated with innocence and childhood.

Footnotes

[1 California Missions Photo Tour

[2 Tiffany & Co. Official

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