Who doesn’t love this song? How many times have you listened to the cathcing melody, absentmindely singing along to the lyrics? I know I’ve done it a million times. Then it occured to me that song lyrics are just as much a form of poetry as any poem written by Keats or Shakespeare. So why not try to figure out what the lyrics really mean? This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’ve come up with.
“Hotel California” is a song written by the well known American rock-band, Eagles. The song was written and released as a single in early 1977, and is one of The Eagles’ best songs. In fact, Eagles won the 1977 Grammy Award for Record of the year for “Hotel California”.
There’s more than one way to make an understanding of this song, it has to be done individually. For me, this song is about a drug addict and the feelings and problems he or she faces every day. This song is an excellent description of exactly that – there’s so much prejudice in today’s community, and it might be easy to forget (when we’re talking about someone with drug addiction) that we’re dealing with human beings with feelings, thoughts, families etc.
Don Henley, one of the band-members of The Eagles, said this about the song: “Some of the wilder interpretations of that song have been amazing. It was really about the excesses of American culture and certain girls we knew. But it was also about the uneasy balance between art and commerce.” They mean to say that this song is really about materialism, and the problems materialism can cause.
So, just to make it clear, this analysis is my interpretation of the song.
One of the linguistic effects The Eagles have used in this song is rhyme;
“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!’”
The rhymes are there to maintain the rhythm, which is important in a song; otherwise it would be difficult to sing. Also, it’s easier to remember something if it rhymes, because of the repetitive sounds. That may be one of the reasons why this song is so well known – people remember it.
The Eagles has also used repetition of phrases and words; “She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends,” and “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget”.
When I look at the first words in some of the stanzas, I can see that the band has used repetition there as well. This is an example from the sixth stanza;
“They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives.”
In this particular stanza, repetition is combined with strong words to really make the listener comprehend what these persons are going through, and thereby make the listener to feel sympathy for them.
The choice of words in this text is very different from most texts – they’re very strong and symbolic. “Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air,” refers to the smell of smoking marihuana. “Colitas” is Spanish slang, and the actual meaning is “the butt of a joint.”
“Tiffany-twisted” is also an example of special words. Tiffany’s is a famous jewellery shop, so the listener may picture a rich girl, wearing her expensive jewellery from Tiffany’s. This shows that money is a very important issue for the people at the hotel. The Eagles play with the words in that sentence; “Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends.”
Materialism, to own many expensive things, such as cars and jewellery, may seem like the ideal life, but the truth about materialism is twisted and bent into something beautiful and tempting. It can become an obsession, and in an attempt to earn money fast, some people become drug dealers, something which creates unnecessary problems for the community.
It’s important to remember that I, as mentioned before, interpret this poem as a description of a drug addicted person’s life.
The person in this song is trapped at a hotel, or brothel, which is probably owned by a drug dealer. This makes it even harder for the drug addict to leave, especially since this person may owe the pusher a great deal of money. This is explained in these sentences; “And she said ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device’” and “’We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!’”.
That says something about how hard it is to change, once you’re addicted to something as strong as dope. The feast in this song is when everyone at the hotel (with drug addiction) gathers to receive dope from the dealer; “And in the master’s chambers, They gathered for the feast.”
I think the sentence “They stab it with their steely knives, But they just can’t kill the beast” describes the pain (the beast) they’re trying to get rid of by using dope, or the addiction, which is like an endless thirst; it only gets stronger and stronger, and after a while the drug addict needs more dope to get the same effect.
“The steely knives” is another example of how The Eagles has used symbolism in the text; it’s a metaphor for needles, which is the tool many addicts use in order to deaden the pain/addiction.
According to myself and my interpretation, I have to say that the theme of this song is drug addiction and drug abusers. That’s why I think The Eagles are trying to make us (the listeners) understand more about what a person with a drug related problem goes through. The strong lyrics give the song a bitter and sad mood.
I really like to listen to this song – the lyrics are strong, there’s rhythm and a catchy melody – and I especially enjoy listening to the refrain and the end. This song has made an impression on me, which is the reason why I chose to analyze it.
Now, listen to the song once more. The lyrics are open to interpretation. What do you think they mean? Leave a comment!