<< Bush: Time For Pretend Diplomacy Has Passed | Tip of the Slung >>
Research Day: Hotel California

Satan!Two months ago, defective yeti announced a bold new initiative, a monthly feature entitled Research Day where I would Google all the troublesome little questions that had recently occured to me and post my findings.

And then, one month ago, defective yeti boldly forgot all about it.

Whoops.

Anyhow, The Queen and I were tooling around in the car the other day, when Hotel California came on the radio. I immediately adopted my patented Way Too Inebriated College Guy voice and bellowed "Duuude, you know this song? It's totally about Satanism. Seer-iously!"

The Queen said "What?"

"Listen," I continued. "Did'jou hear that? 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969'? That's, like, the Holy Spirit, and they don't have it any more. And 'you cannot kill the beast'? The beast is Satan, man! It's true!"

To which The Queen replied "What in the hell are you talking about?"

I get that a lot.

I assumed -- erroneously, I guess -- that everyone (including The Queen) had, while in college, attended a party where Hotel California was playing, and been cornered by a Way Too Inebriated College Guy, who insisted, with slurred earnestness, that the song was a thinly veiled paean (or perhaps "pagan") to Satanism.* I mean, when I was in college this happened to me, like, twice a month.

But The Queen had apparently missed out on this element of campus life, leaving me to explain my cryptic remarks. When I finished, she asked "So is the song about Satanism?" I shrugged. "I dunno. I never bothered to find out. I should look it up on Google or something."

And that's how I remembered Research Day. So let's get to it.

On the face of it, Way Too Inebriated College Guy has a pretty good case. First, check out the complete lyrics over here. As Hotel California opens, it seems the Hotel in question is nothing more than an illusion ("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"), some sort of spectral edifice for the damned. The narrator himself speculates that "this could be Hell." Then, in rapid succession, we get candle lighting (Satan!), dancing in the courtyard (naked dancing? Satan!), and the aforementioned lack of "spirit". Then comes the smoking gun:

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
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast.
The song concludes with the protagonist trying to escape, and being told "You can checkout any time you like / but you can never leave."

Satan!

If the lyrics aren't enough, there are also rumors that The Church of Satan was founded in California, and that its leader was somehow affiliated with The Eagles. A typical assertion: "One of the top songs of the 70's was Hotel California by the Eagles. Most people have no idea the song refers to the Church of Satan, which happens to be located in a converted HOTEL on CALIFORNIA street! On the inside of the album cover, looking down on the festivities, is Anton Lavey, the founder of the Church of Satan and author of the Satanic Bible!" (That quotation, by the way, was taken from this page. "When Way Too Inebreated College Guys Get Websites, next on FOX!")

Some even say that there are backwards Satanic message hidden in the song. This site spells it out both ways: "Forwards: 'There were voices down the corridor, thought I heard them say, welcome to the Hotel California.' Backwards: 'Yeah Satan, he organized, oh, he organized his own religion. Yeah, when he knows he should, how nice it was delicious, he puts it in a vet he fixes it for his son which he gives away.'" That's pretty incriminating, because, as we all know, the most effective way to convert an unsuspecting music aficionado to The Dark Side is to take sinister phrases like "he puts it in a vet" and reverse them.

Anyhow, I figured I'd get to the bottom of this in about five seconds by heading over to The Straight Dope, as this is exactly the sort of question Cecil Adams likes to tackle. To my surprise, S.D. only mentions the Hotel California = Satanism question in passing while addressing a different query about the song. Then I checked Snopes and was let down again. What the hell? When I launched Research Day I never envisioned that I'd actually have to do, you know, research and stuff. Lame.

Still, it didn't take me long to find refutations from the band members. In this interview, Joe Walsh was asked it it was true that Anton Lavey, the founder of The Church of Satan, could really be seen on the cover of the album. Walsh's reply:

Absolutely not. Any reference to Satan or anything like that is completely in the eyes of whoever is thinking that. That's a reflection of how sick they are. The guy in the window is one of the Elektra/Asylum publicity guys. The lighting just happened to be bad and he was really shy, so he was just peeking around the corner.
As for the meaning of the song itself, Don Henley has always maintained that the seductive influence alluded to in Hotel California is not Satanism, but rather the excesses of band life that The Eagles grappled with in the late 70's. Here's what he said during a 1987 interview with Rolling Stone magazine:
Q: 'Hotel California' was widely received as a sharp commentary on Southern California's penchant for superficiality and decadence. Was that your intention?

Henley: Actually, I was a little disappointed with how the record was taken, because I meant it in a much broader sense than a commentary about California. I was looking at American culture, and when I called that one song "Hotel California," I was simply using California as a microcosm for the rest of America and for the self-indulgence of our entire culture.

It was, to a certain extent, about California, about the excesses out here. But in many instances, as California goes, so goes the nation. Things simply happen out here or in New York first -- whether it's with drugs or fashion or artistic movements or economic trends -- and then work their way toward the middle of America. And that's what I was trying to get at.

(But isn't that just what you'd expect a Satanist to say?)

As for the charge that the phrase "Yeah satan, oh he came, and organized his own religion" is hidden in the song -- well, listen for yourself (mp3 link).

So there you go. The next time I'm drunk at a party where Hotel California is playing, I'm going to throw my arm around some hapless kid and bellow "Duuude, you know this song? It's totally about California as a microcosm for the rest of America and for the self-indulgence of our entire culture. Seriously!" I'm sure that will go over swimmingly.

* This sentence was brought to you by the Comma Advisory Board.

Update: In the comments, Mike of Curious Frog remarks "Glenn Frey confirmed the line They stab it with their steely knives, But they just can't kill the beast was actually a nod to Steely Dan ..." In following this up, I found an interview in which Glenn Frey says:

One of the things that impressed us about Steely Dan was that they would say anything in their songs and it did not have to necessarily make sense ... we thought of this Hotel California, we started thinking of there would be very cinematic to do it, sort of like the Twilight Zone ..., one line says there is a guy on the highway, you know, the next line says there is a hotel in the distance, then there is a woman in there and she walks in ... just sort of strung together and you sort of draw your own conclusions from it.
Frankly, I find that to be the most credible explanation of the song's origin I've yet heard, especially when you add in the reference to "Steely" that Mike pointed out. My hunch is that the secret meaning of Hotel California is that it doesn't really have any.

Posted on March 18, 2003 to Research Day





Comments

Dude you know what's wierd? My yahoo media launch player keeps recomending that song for me and I dont know why. Its an annoying song. I this I rated it a 19 or somthing.

Posted by: ko on March 18, 2003 4:50 PM

My yahoo media launch player keeps recomending that song for me

Satan.

Posted by: Matthew on March 18, 2003 4:55 PM

As if we needed further proof that software industry is the provenance of the devil.

Posted by: Jules on March 18, 2003 7:29 PM

Maybe it was a Satanic way of saying: I like California. Everyone does my bidding!

Posted by: Miel on March 18, 2003 10:48 PM

I see how the Hotel California can be a metaphor for Hell, but I don't see how this song is about the worship of Satan per se. These lyrics could also have come from a devout Christian warning how excesses in life will lead to damnation, no? I suppose Satanism is a little more interesting to talk about while drunk at a college party than how being drunk at a college party could be damning one's soul. Oh, and regarding the software industry - Bill Gates is the Antichrist. http://egomania.nu/gates.html

Posted by: Rob on March 19, 2003 5:39 AM

Glenn Frey confirmed the line

They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast

was actually a nod to Steely Dan who first mentioned The Eagles in their song Everything You Did.

Posted by: Mike on March 19, 2003 7:07 AM

I should do some research on my own. I believe there's some hotel in Mexico, on the Baja, that claims to be THE Hotel California.

Posted by: scotty the body on March 19, 2003 7:58 AM

Yes Scotty, and please God, let there be a real Alice's Restaurant too!

Posted by: K on March 19, 2003 8:33 AM

"...[H]e puts it in a vet..."? That means "Corvette." Way Too Inebriated College Guys™ flat out love Corvettes.

Thus Satan tempts the unwary.

Posted by: db on March 19, 2003 9:36 AM

It's nice to know, however, that Way Too Inebriated College Guys are still acting as a force for good in the world.

Posted by: Fred on March 19, 2003 10:03 AM

Oh my god. I can't believe I followed that whole train of thought! I love google. My favorite part of this whole thing was stumbling upon the part about colitis, and I quote:

"Please tell me you were joking when you mentioned the Beatles lyric 'the girl with colitis goes by.' You were joking, right? You know it's 'kaleidoscope eyes.'"

I nearly fell out my chair with laughter when I read that.

Posted by: punxkin on March 19, 2003 11:02 AM

There is a Hotel California in Todos Santos, about 50 km north of Cabo San Lucas. Nice little town, sort of an expatriates' artist colony. Like a super-cheap version of Santa Fe. There is an urban legend that this Hotel California is the one that the song is about. Here's one site that refutes that urban legend...

http://www.todossantos-baja.com/todos-santos/eagles/hotel-california.htm


And the Satanism connection: it is hot as hell in that town all summer.

Posted by: Doug L. on March 20, 2003 10:41 AM

Huh. All along I thought that song was about the pornography industry. Come on, "mirrors on the ceiling", that Tiffany girl having lots of pretty boy friends, not being able to get away (you know, 'cause the money's too good). Damn, didn't anyone see Boogie Nights?

Posted by: ranger on March 20, 2003 2:23 PM

And a friend of my cousin hooked up with the REAL Jenny, whose number REALLY WAS 867-5309, at least before the song came out, then she had to change it.

Then some unlucky kids at Brown got assigned the number, which they said is "the worst number to have in the world."

Actually, that last one is true.
http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/8675309.htm

Posted by: greg.org on March 22, 2003 8:12 AM

I always thought it was about addiction. "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave" and "they stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast". One of my roommates in college was Way Too Inebriated College Guy and we discussed this song many, many times.

Posted by: josh on March 23, 2003 5:10 AM

I've also heard that the song is about the Camarillo Psychiatric hospital in LA, where musicians spent time rehabbing and electroshocking. The story is that when Charlie Parker was incarcerated there for a few months in 1946 he played in the hospital band. Of course, I can't sit through the song for long enough to examine the lyrics to confirm or deny this rumor, so I'll just spread it.
A
A

Posted by: Alex on March 25, 2003 12:20 PM

Satanism? Well, I guess you could consider typical California decadence (ex. Tiffany, Benz, etc.) as such...Hollywood seems pretty close to hell to me. Actually, I think it's about being seduced into an over-indulgent lifestyle that nurtures your latent vices and lulls you into complacency. Or maybe I'm just trying to sound intelligent. Failed miserably on that one, huh?

Posted by: Ren on May 6, 2003 1:19 PM

I originally heard that the song was about a clinic for cancer patients, and that it has nothing to do with satan at all, if you listen to the lyrics it makes sense though, ya know? The whole steely knives part and the unability to kill the beast they obviously dread. I also hear that it was about a rehabilitation clinic and that would make sense because of that line "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave" Just a few thoughts, whatever though, peace.

Posted by: Erik K on May 13, 2003 7:42 AM

i loved the song for years. i always thot it was just one of those really happy summertime songs, then i read all that **** about the chorus being played backwards and i was like - yeah f*** it is...then i herd it and i was like - well thats me gutted. after listing to is many many times if i was to say it was about n e thing i wood hav to go 4 the drug idea, it makes most sense !

Posted by: aLn on May 26, 2003 12:36 PM

I always heard that the Hotel California was Chino (CA) State Prison

Posted by: Jack Benson on June 5, 2003 1:59 PM

Minor point - Camarillo Psychiatric Hospital is in Camarillo, CA - hence the name.

Posted by: Redneon on June 21, 2003 5:48 AM

Sorry if someone's already said this---I dont pay attention x.o Snopes has a page detailing the rumours and what the songs actually about. http://66.165.133.65/music/songs/hotel.htm

Posted by: Torchy on June 28, 2003 7:44 AM

the backwords thing is a load of crap.. you can hear weird stuff like that in any song... it's not intentional.
And the song is about Rock & Roll; It could be wonderful or terrible. you get pulled in and you love every moment of it. then you realise it's not what you want. The glamor fortune and fame aren't lovly; they trap you. you try to escape. You stop selling records, you drop everything and disappear. But you can never get out of rock & roll.. it get's in your blood and doesn't let go.

Posted by: Jeff on August 19, 2003 12:04 PM

i have something between my teeth.

Posted by: stevo on August 21, 2003 9:57 AM

Mabey the two of them, Walsh and Henley, should try to keep their stories straight about the face on the inside cover of the gatefold. Walsh says it an Elektra/Asylum publicity guy, but I saw an interview with Henley a few years back (can't remember if it was MTV or VH1) in which he was saying that the face was that of a Black chick that was one of the people there for the lobby photo shoot. She was a little drunk and was acting weird during the shoot, she was up there above the lobby and thats how that face got there. Not quoting word for word exactly but thats what he said. Which is it guys? By the way, I've seen a slide of that face from the album, enlarged, on a projector screen, and it is that of the late Anton Lavey as far as I can tell. Also, theres no Black Women that I know of that has that kind of beard!

Posted by: Jim on September 7, 2003 1:12 PM

Come on people...this song is being taken way to literally.
And the people that aren't taking it literally they're loopy as hell and coming up with crazy notions.
How can you listen to this song and NOT see that they're talking about materialistic people on the scene in 1970's California? Quite possibly just people in the US.

Posted by: Jason on September 8, 2003 4:57 PM

I just listened to the mp3 clip of Hotel California up there.
It's clearly Henley singing, it's clearly the music of the song. Both in reverse of course. You can tell it's the song.
And you can tell that he doesn't say what ANYTHING about satan. There is one word that is even audible. And it does slightly sound like "satan." But it's CLEARLY a coincidence. The rest of the words don't even match up to what you hear in that mp3.
Geez some potheads will say anything.

Posted by: Woah on September 8, 2003 5:23 PM

Well... another way of looking at this song - methinks the Eagles are talking about Drugs here coz this is how drugs seem intially "I need to stop for the night" - and the haunting "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" is what drugs are like ultimately.

Posted by: Fenn Matherchod on October 23, 2003 3:41 AM

well a girl at my school said the 'hotel california' song was about a mental hospital and the staff used to sign patients out, like say they were fine and could leave, but not actually let them leave. hence "you can sign out any time you like but u can never leave". then they (the staff) would kill them (the so-called leaving patients) and serve them to the other patients to eat. and apparently the line "they stab them with their steely knives but they just cant kill the beast" is a metaphor meaning they can kill the mental people, but the cant get rid of like the insanity. so its about insanity and cannibalism....when u listen to the words again after hearing this theory it does make sense. and the girl form my class is really smart...but no one seems to know for sure what the songs about. didnt The Eagles say something about what it means sometime, somewhere?

Posted by: blahblaj on November 7, 2003 10:27 PM

Whether or not one can discern certain meanings from Henley's work, the fact remains that the darkness is the light, yes the darkness is the light and they who walk in the darkness have seen the light.

Posted by: Sicario on November 9, 2003 7:52 PM

This song is about "DRUGS" .. Addicton .. All the fake emotions it's giving you while stealing away your soul!!! for God's sake can't u people see? ... u can check out anytime u want..but u can never leave...

Posted by: ANGELO on November 12, 2003 4:26 PM

okay to clear this up the eagles hotel california is about a ghost hotel thats in purgatory the guy is dead and finds his way there.if you look on the cover of the album you will see a face in the window its supposed to be someguy who is the devil or so my father says.and there is a hotel california said to be haunted

Posted by: the all knowing on November 17, 2003 11:50 AM

I heard the song was based on the novels of Carlos Castinada, which revolved around the stories of Yaki Indian Don Juan (stories of witchcraft and majical powers) These books were extremely popular when Hotel California was released.

Posted by: J Pacheco on November 26, 2003 5:49 PM

Hey listen guys. You're all almost right. Why can't it be about disillusionment, self-indulgence of the American culture, AND addiction? If you really think about it... they're all the same thing anyway

Posted by: Rita on February 19, 2004 7:47 PM

Henley set things straight in the interview. It's about american culture and the self indulgence. Just accept what the song writer tells you.

Posted by: bachir on February 25, 2004 6:28 PM

Bloody hell its a farken good song and leave it at that ....next you guys will be saying the twin towers were brought down by the yanks themselves !!!
LMAO

Posted by: PLS69ME on February 29, 2004 5:33 PM

Now to clear up this "Beastly" mess. There is no doubt that we whom heard this song back in the 70's detected something Satanic. It does not all have to relate to a specific lyric, as a whole this song evokes a explicit feeling. You kids today with your mind-numbing lifestyles have your perception facilities anaesthetized by a constant supply of video games, dvd's, meaningless Top 40 tripe and ponics. Try the natural, man!! And remember as this so-called Sicario (Nov 9 2003) darkly hints who are we to brand Satanism evil anyway. You lowly dog's, bow your head's before me.

Posted by: Tong Tut on March 11, 2004 6:47 PM

Now to clear up this "Beastly" mess. There is no doubt that we whom heard this song back in the 70's detected something Satanic. It does not all have to relate to a specific lyric, as a whole this song evokes a explicit feeling. You kids today with your mind-numbing lifestyles have your perception facilities anaesthetized by a constant supply of video games, dvd's, meaningless Top 40 tripe and ponics. Try the natural, man!! And remember as this so-called Sicario (Nov 9 2003) darkly hints, who are we to brand Satanism evil anyway. You lowly dog's, bow your head's before me.

Posted by: Tong Tut on March 11, 2004 6:48 PM

Hey Guys....sry about this long message, but stick with me and tell me what you think!When I was younger (like 10 or so) my dad and I were listening to this song. He told me that he had once heard that the song referred to CANCER. Now stick with me on this. "Cool wind in my hair. Warm smell of colitis Rising up through the air" was about life going well. Then "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" is about becoming sick and seeing the signs that something is wrong. "There she stood in the doorway" refers to a nurse at the hospital (Hotel California). "I heard the mission bell And I was thinking to myself This could be Heaven or this could be Hell" is about those who are at the hospital. Some are dieing (mission bells), some are being treated (heaven), and some are going through great pains (hell). "Then she lit up a candle And she showed me the way" is him checking in and being placed in a room. "There were voices down the corridor I thought I heard them say...and the chorus" are other patients talking. They are being sarcastic. The whole next verse refers to those who aren't too sick, some are still hopeful and some are about to give up hope ("How they dance in the courtyard Sweet summer sweat Some dance to remember Some dance to forget"). The chorus, again, is the call of patients being sarcastic. One particular part is "What a nice surprise", talking about the surprise of having cancer. "Mirrors on the ceiling" refers to the hospital. Hospital ER always seem metallic and shiny. "And she said We are all just prisoners here Of our own device" is completely true. Cancer is created by are own malfunctioning cells. "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" is talking about the actual surgery. The doctors gather for the operation, but no matter what they do, they can't get rid of the cancer. "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" is the final realization that he has cancer. He wants to get back to the time before he had it, but he can't. He can never leave....Well, I hope you enjoyed that! THANKS FOR YOUR TIME!!!

Posted by: Anonymous on March 23, 2004 6:10 PM

I really don't think it's about Satan or any of that BS!In my opinion it's about cancer.At least thats what I heard and after listening to the song 1000s of times I tend to agree.This might be a long Comment so sit back and relax.This is what I read in I believe a Rolling Stone Magazine.That the song had to do with his wife who was stricken with the illness of death himself(Cancer).And that Hotel California represented a hospital.The paragraph---
"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".---
In my opion is him on the way to the hospital
and when he got there she was standing in the door way and he heard the mission bell and "this could be heaven or this could be hell"Meaning good news or bad.And this---
"Mirrors on the ceiling
Pink champagne on ice"
Meaning an operating room,the pink champagn,blood transfusion.
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---
Meaning "and in the operating room they gather for the operation.They try to get rid of the cancer but,failed.---
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 nightman
We are programed to recieve
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave---
Forever stuck in that moment of perril!I probabl didn't explaine it well enough but,that's it.

Posted by: Jim on March 27, 2004 1:40 PM

I am very fond of music and specially the guitar music. Never in my life i have heard such a beautiful music as in the Hotel California..i really loved the guitar music.
i have become addicted to this song.

Posted by: Amitav on March 30, 2004 11:33 PM

The song is about living in a giant bucket all my life.

Posted by: Don Henley on May 29, 2004 12:21 PM

I listend to this song on mushshrooms and my oppinion is pretty warpped and is full of holes but it is fun to think about so here goes, the song starts out as the main carackter going down the dark dessert highway untill he runs into a shimmering hotel with a woman standing in the door and I belive since this song obviosly has loads of symbolism in it, and that the man cruzing down the dessert is "god" (or whatever gave us a pressence here) traveling through space and time untill he sees a hotel other wise known a temporary place were you can stay which in this case is "earth" with a the "woman in the door" is the mother of earth or "mother-earth", now he unloads himself into the hotel, which is "god" unloading himself onto earth in the image of mankind, whilst thinking this could be heavan or this could be hell which goes hand in hand when you mix intellgence with the proper living condishions "mankind on earth, fighting over earth" also he talks about the hotel as "california" and being a resident of that place i can tell you that you'll find all walks of life there, from good to bad, suave to strange its got every thing, just like earth. He refers to "us" as prisoners of our own device and thats becauce human nature is self destructive as we will fight anyone including eachother to preserve our own way of life, and as for the "beast" they cant kill, it is an illusion, we are trying to fight this unknown snaraling beast that is pure evil only to find out that it is only ourselfs
but what we manafest as evil we also manafest as love there will always be equal amounts of the two elements of the human spirit, thats why we our "prisoners" becaues no how much we are repulsed by our uglyness and hate we will always be drawn to the "shimering light" because of our curiosity and love and thats why its our "own device" aaaaannd to go out on a limb id say that the voices in the corrador are the previous versions of god that have come before him and know exacley what is going to happen to him because who knows how many times mankind has been on this planet all we know is that we are "programed to receed" but we will always come back so we can "check out any time we want" buuut also "we can never leave" so thats my rendishon of "hotel cali" and on the last note I'd like to say to every one who thinks they understand this to keep an open mind about it and not take it to seriously because if you spend to much time dwelling on these facts instead of living then there is no point to life at all so get busy "dancing" and "forgetting"
hope you enjoyed the trip, ya know I did

"What A Nice Suprise"

Posted by: Dustin Burke? on June 12, 2004 5:04 PM