First published in 1998-ish in a collection of music oriented articles I wrote for my first website, The Octopus’s Garden. Republished here for the sake of an archive of that article.
The Eagles’ Hotel California is, surprisingly, about greed and the temptations of humanity. The glory of American marketing inundates us with messages to shop, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” but many feel that this lifestyle is the cause of depression, unhappiness, and the prozac generation.
After all, what joy do toys really provide?
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
I’ve heard a number of explanations for colitas with the only suggestion of any merit being marijuana. What better reference for the artist before plunging into that unhappiness? A high feeling, peaceful, free, wind in their hair…
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
Who doesn’t see shimmering lights when they are on drugs? But, that shimmering light is the materialism which shimmers like the rich, lusterious, draw that it is while the singer clearly becomes intoxicated by it.
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’
“She”, the materialism, is standing between his free life and the world of possessions and greed. He “HEARD” a bell in the past tense, that context is important to imply that he was past heaven, past the mission bell, and on his way to the hell on earth.
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
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
“She” shows him the way through the door, materialism draws him in where the intoxicating high lingers, “Such a lovely place,” “Such a lovely face,” its almost eerie. The great play on words here is that he’s told by the voices down the corridor, the people already there, that he is in California; the place of the gold rush, beaches, and movies (lovely place) and movie of Hollywood and plastic surgery (lovely faces).
Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes Benz
“Materialism’s” mind is twisted by Tiffany’s and Mercedes: Tiffany’s for expensive jewelry, Mercedes for the expensive cars. People’s perspectives get distorted by these things, which explains another fun play on works with “Benz” or bends and twisted.
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
Who doesn’t believe pretty boys are a status symbol for our female Materialism?
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
This is where interpretations mingle. Materialism and her boys are dancing to remember and forget. Remember the past, easy-going, happy lifestyle, and (foreshadowing to the end of the song!) to forget because, “you can never leave”
Another twist is how people pursue possessions to remember or forget, with that being the dance. Remembering their childhood or earlier in their life when they had more money or more toys OR pursuing possessions to forget about other painful issues in their life.
So I called up the Captain,
‘Please bring me my wine’
He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine’
So, we’ve learned that the dance is how we remember the previous life or forget the depression. Wine is good way to warm up those dancing shoes. The Captain’s response is interesting, they haven’t had that wine since 1969, since the summer of love, the summer of freedom from possessions. They haven’t had the ability to give you that wine since… Woodstock.
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device’
The voices are always haunting you (see, I said it was eerie), always driving you to accomplish, achieve, and BUY more.
Ceiling Mirrors are a great reference for our adult audience while Pink champagne is certainly another symbol of luxury. The last line gives up hope and hopelessness in that we are trapped of our own will. In pursuit of wealth we created our lifestyle.
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
In a social setting, what is a frequent topic of conversation? Vacation? How you need a break? How you look forward to the weekend? When we gather for a feast, we stab at this beast, the primal desire within us to go back to freedom, away from these trappings. People want to kill that part of themselves which longs for peaceful, liberated days, because our lives are otherwise stressful, but you can’t and won’t ever rid yourself of that.
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
Clearly, the plight to get back to that lifestyle instead of discussing, stabbing away at it. The only way to get back to the place of before is to go back to that simple lifestyle.
‘Relax,’ said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
but you can never leave!
The night man, the guard, (Marketing?) tells us to relax, this is what we’re all about, it is normal to desire things. We are brought up and conditioned by society to be receptive to messages about status and wealth.
Of course, we can “check out”, go on vacation, head to the mountains and get away for a while but, we will never pull ourselves from greed.