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Hotel California song meanings
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  • +42
    General CommentI have a very interesting little story for all of you in regards to this song and it's meaning. About 15 years ago, I was taking an English class in University, and the and the professor of the class had an assignment for us. He handed out a sheet of paper face down to everyone. When we turned it over, we were told to write what we thought the song was about. He added, however, that the song was NOT about a cult so don't even write that. So, basically almost every member of the class then proceeded along the next route....the drugs/addiction metaphors. When we were done, he proceeded to tell us what the song, and the corresponding album were ACTUALLY about. It seems our prof had, at one time, lived in the California area and was very good friends with a certain drummer named Don Henley. Don explained the story behind the song to him, and said he was amused at the wide varieties of interpretations the song had developed over time. According to the source, The "Hotel California" is actually, L.A. itself. The song and album take you on a trip though the music industry in L.A. in the late sixties early seventies, when agents and studios controlled artists like puppets. Back in the late sixties, 1969 to be exact, there was a major onslaught of artists being signed left, right and center, and artisit at the time were often known to basically "sell their soul" to a record company executive in order to get a recording contract. Many times these artists were given little if anything for their music, and thus ended up basically a victom to their love of music. Just imagine the scene at the time, it's late 60's, you are on your way to L.A. to strike it big with dreams of glamour and fame...and you basically are prepared to sell your soul of you have to to attain it. I must admit, when I first heard this explaination, I was a little skeptical...but trust me....listen to the WHOLE album again, start to finish and keep this definition in mind when you do it. Every song ties together in one big story, finishing off with the Last Resort which gives you a clear summery of the whole album and idea. I don't deny that drugs and addiction have a lot to do with the lifestyle and results of the quest for fame. All I ask is to keep an open mind and think of "The Hotel California" as L.A., and you may be surprised.
    daffybon April 13, 2002   Link
  • +7
    General CommentDon Felder from the Eagles:

    I remember the day when I came up with the idea for the song:

    "I had just leased this house out on the beach at Malibu--I guess it was around '74 or '75. I remember sitting in the living room, with the doors wide open, on a spectacular July day. I had a bathing suit on and I was sitting on this couch, soaking wet, thinking the world is a wonderful place to be. I had this acoustic 12-string and started tinkling around with it, and those 'Hotel California' chords just kind of oozed out. I had a TEAC four-track set up in one of the back bedrooms and I ran back there to put this idea down before I forgot it. I also had one of those old Rhythm Ace things, and I remember it was set to play this cha-cha beat. I played the 12-string on top of that. A few days later, I came up with a bass line and mixed the whole thing to mono, ping-ponging back and forth on this little four-track."

    Eagles singer/guitarist Don Henley picked the song out of a cassette containing eight or ten different ideas that Felder had put together. "Henley said, "I really love that one that sounds like a matador or something," Felder recalls.

    Originally written and recorded in E minor, the song was ultimately transposed to B-minor and re-recorded to accommodate the vocal melody delivered by Henley. Felder capoed his acoustic 12-string at the seventh fret, which enabled him to preserve the open chord shapes of his original guitar arrangement. The "High strung" timbre produced by the capo's placement, enhanced by processing the 12-string through a Leslie cabinet, ended up becoming part of the song's distinctive sound. Felder played all of the song's guitar tracks except for the landmark solo, for which Felder and Joe Walsh traded licks and harmonies. "Joe and I sat on two stools and worked the whole thing out," Felder recalls.

    Don Henley and Glenn Frey collaborated on the song's memorable lyric. "Glenn had this idea," Felder remembers. "The fantasy of California. It's supposed to be a microcosm of the world. Glenn is great at conceptualizing. He'll say, 'I can see this guy driving in the desert at night and you can see the lights of L.A. way off in the horizon.' Henley gets the picture and goes from there.
    frankyBkkon June 23, 2003   Link
  • +6
    My InterpretationI think the song is metaphorical, but something that can be made sense of. The Hotel California represents the California high-life...the promise of the fame and fortune of the 70s that brought people to the state...from an outsiders point of view, it is attractive and draws people (like a drug)...however, be careful..."you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave"...once there, it is hard to escape. Henley didn't literally mean California...he meant the trappings of "ego" ....the mind state of being absorbed by pleasures and the "self"...as they can never bring true happiness.
    mikey14on July 03, 2013   Link
  • +4
    General Commenti aslo agree that lyrics (especially from this song) are subject to many different interpetations. That's the beauty of lyrics and poetry in general. However, I heard the "meaning" of this song described once and i thought it was a great interpretation, so im resharing it. I heard it described as "a cynical view of paradise." When you think about it that way it could mean drugs, the entertainment business, or simply a supposed paradise because they all fit people's ideas of paradise. Its a vague interpretation but it allows you to decide what the song means to you, and that (in my opinion) is one of the reasons we listen to music in the first place.
    chorts29on April 25, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI know what this song is about, not a cult it's about drugs.

    "Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way " That's not a candle she's lighting up.

    "Some dance to remember, some dance to forget" Some people do them do remember good memories, some people do them to forget bad memories.

    'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device" That is basically what drug users are

    "The stab it with their steely knives But they just can't kill the beast" The beast being the addiction/

    "You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave!" You can always say you aren't addicted or that you can quit anytime you want, but you'll always end up going back to them.

    Pretty basic clear maening, there are other metaphors in there to decipher but that's tha basics.
    Dethon February 04, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General CommentAnd more from Don Henley:

    There’s a picture of the Beverly Hills Hotel on the front, which is really THE hotel in California; very elegant and very decadent at the same time. It’s a romantic place and you can see all kinds of people there—You see a lot of tourist types, a lot of very glamorous movie star people, and a lot of phony people. A lot of real people too. A lot of people have parties there, so that’s what the front of the album cover is. It’s shot from a crane about 100 to 150 feet up in the air, at sunset. There are black silhouettes of palm trees and the sky is a kind of rusty, smoky color. We superimposed a neon sign that says ‘Hotel California’, because we couldn’t use the name Beverly Hills Hotel: we’d probably have been sued.

    nice greetings
    frankyBkkon June 23, 2003   Link
  • +3
    General CommentIn the booklet for the Very Best of the Eagles album it says:

    "The song began as a demo tape, an instrumental by Don Felder. He'd been submitting tapes and song ideas to us since he'd joined the band, always instrumentals, since he didn't sing. But this particular demo, unlike many of the others had room for singing. It immediately got our attention. The first working title, the name we gave it, was "Mexican Reggae."

    For us, "Hotel California" was definately thinking and writing outside the box. Similar to "Desperado," we did not start out to make any sort of concept or theme album. But when we wrote "Life in the Fast Lane" and started working on "Hotel California" and "New Kid In Town" with J.D., we knew we were heading down a long and twisted corridor and just stayed with it. Songs from the dark side-the Eagles take a look at the seamy underbelly of L.A.-the flip side of fame and failure, love and money.

    "They stab it with their Steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast" was a little Post-It back to Steely Dan. Apparently, Walter Becker's girlfriend loved the Eagles, and she played them all the time. I think it drove him nuts. So, the story goes that they were having a fight one day, and that was the genesis of the line, "turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" in "Everything You Did," from Steely Dan's The Royal Scam album. During the writing of "Hotel California," we decided to volley. We just wanted to allude to Steely Dan rather than mentioning them outright, so "Dan" got changed to "knices," which is still, you know, a penile metaphor. Stabbing, thrusting, etc.

    Almost everybody in my buisness can write music, play guitar, play piano, create chord progressions, etc., but it's only when you add lyrics and melody and voices to these things that they take on an identity and become something beyond the sum of the original parts. I remember that Henley and I were listening to the "Hotel California" demo tape together on an airplane, and we were talking about what we would write and how we wanted to be more cinematic. We wanted this song to open like an episode of The Twilight Zone-just one shot after another.

    I remember De Niro in The Last Tycoon. He's got this scene, and he's talking to some other people in his office. He speaks to them: "The door opens... the camera is on a person's feet... he walks across the room... we pan up to the table... he picks up a pack of matches that says 'The Such-And-Such Club' on it... strikes a match and lights a cigarette... puts it out... goes over to the window... opens the shade... looks out... the moon is there... what does it mean? Nothing. It's just the movies." "Hotel California" is like that. We take this guy and make him like a character in The Magus, where every time he walks through a door there's a new version of reality. We wanted to write a song just like it was a movie. This guy is driving across the desert. He's tired. He's smokin'. Comes up over a hill, sees some lights, pulls in. First thing he sees is a really strange guy at the front door, welcoming him: "Come on in." Walks in, and then it becomes Fellini-esque-- strange women, effeminate men, shadowy corridors, disembodied voices, debauchery, illusion... Weirdness. So we thought, "Let's really take some chances. Let's try to write in a way that we've never written before." Steely Dan inspired us because of their lyrical bravery and willingness to go "out there." So, for us, "Hotel California" was about thinking and writing outside the box."
    BluesRavenon December 06, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOf course! How stupid of me! A book written by some anonymous yahoo is MUCH more accurate that the drummer from the ACTUAL BAND! What was I thinking?
    daffybon April 18, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI grew up in Camarillo California, the rumor that the song was based around the mental hospital outside of town made sence, if you listen to the lyrics, dark desert highway, it was located out side of town, you can check out but you can never leave. It's call Camarillo State mantal institute and was closed down in 97, but as a kid I always spent Halloween there, when it still open, they have a bell tower!
    Vendzillaon September 24, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song has many astonishing similarities to Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit". Nearly every line of this song has a direct parallel with the character's experiences in Hell, although I do not recognize any references to Inez.

    I do believe that there are minor drug references but overall it revolves around "No Exit".
    injun42on July 01, 2007   Link

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