Musical Monday: Hotel California by the Eagles

Hotel California was written by Don Henley, Don Felder, and Glenn Frey. It was released in 1977 and, yes, I’m old enough to remember when it was first played on the radio. I’ve always loved the lyrics of the song which speak of something inviting and enticing that turns out to be something else in disguise. It’s a song about decadence and greed (“Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends”) and how it can ultimately destroy you (“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”).

Did you notice the play on words with the lyrics, “she got the Mercedes bends?” Bends, not Benz. I’ve checked various sources for the lyrics and in each it is written as “bends.” Bends is a decompression sickness caused when ascending from depth or ascending to a higher altitude. In their song, it seems to refer to a sickness caused by a quick rise to fame and the pressures of living the high life. I don’t know if that was the intended meaning of the lyric, but if so,  it’s pretty clever.

I never thought they were referring to the wine when they sang: “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” I learned the following about that lyric on Wikipedia:

In a 2009 interview, The Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley this about the lyrics:

“On “Hotel California,” you sing: “So I called up the captain/ ‘Please bring me my wine’/ He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.'” I realize I’m probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn’t a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?”Henley responded, “Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention–and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”

Gotta love Don Henley. I was fortunate to see the Eagles in concert when they played UT stadium in Austin, Texas. My husband and I were having a drink at a nearby bar before the concert, and stayed longer than intended. As we walked toward the stadium, they began to play Hotel California. We sprinted to the venue and arrived in time to see the performance. Fortunately that song is 6 1/2 minutes long and the acoustical introduction is over a minute, so we didn’t miss much, but our delay, in this case, had everything to do with the alcoholic beverage.

“Hotel California”

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

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

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,
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 place)
Such a lovely face
They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said “We are all just prisoners here, 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

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 are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “

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