Remember the heyday of rock and roll when many of the songs had lyrics that, like poetry, were subject to different interpretations?
Why am I thinking about rock and roll at 6:30 on a Saturday morning instead of working today’s crossword puzzle in the newspaper?
Well, last night I went to hear On the Border, an Eagles tribute band. I busted out my new wide-legged jeans for the occasion. I distinctly recall having a similar pair back in 1973, my sophomore year in college.
Being a tribute band meant On the Border played only Eagles music, which sounded to my amateur ear just like the Eagles back in the day. Although I didn’t recall every single lyric, I recognized every single song. Classics like Take It Easy, Lyin’ Eyes, New Kid in Town, Take It to the Limit. I’d forgotten just how good the Eagles were. And how much I loved them.
One song especially caught my attention. Hotel California. It is actually the name of an Eagles album as well.
If you were ever an Eagles fan–or were alive in the 70s–you probably remember the refrain, “Welcome to the Hotel California.” You might also recall snatches of lyrics: “We’re living it up at the Hotel California,” or the more ominous “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”
Like many good fans of rock and roll, I always wanted to know what the song is all about. What did the Eagles want us to get, other than catchy lyrics and a cool way to say the name of a hotel?
Well, here in 2020, we have Google, so I did just that. Here’s a smattering of some theories I found:
- Hotel California is a song about the jaded, hedonistic lifestyle of southern California (particularly Los Angeles) in the 1970s. Phrases such as “mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice, Tiffany-twisted” could support this interpretation.
- Hotel California is a metaphor for a drug trip. “The smell of colitis rising up through the air” could be code for marijuana. “This could be heaven or this could be hell” could signal an initiation into drugs.
- Hotel California is about the Eagles’ association with the Church of Satan, established in California in 1969. The lyrics “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave” could refer to the fact that once you make a pact with Satan, it’s unbreakable. Also, these lines could support this theory: “So I called up the Captain, ‘Please bring me my wine.’ He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.'” The spirit of Jesus, symbolized by the wine, left when the Church of Satan was established…in 1969.
Okay, then. What does the song mean? Who really knows? Maybe the Eagles intended for us to think about it. Great art is like that.