Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hotel California- One song, many interpretations

The song has been known and enjoyed all along but there are many interpretations to the lyrics of the song. This is what I have compiled from the very concrete theories to some very wild ones and some ideas of mine thrown into the understanding of the song. People have been imaginative enough to say that when played backwards the song has references to Satan. No matter what interpretation you consider appropriate, I feel that the following words is the jist of the song.

Whatever the song is about, I think it has some commonality with all of them. It is about being in darkness, drawn to a promise, immersed in a way of life that provides no escape, yearning for escape, and realizing that there is no returning to the lost innocence of the darkness and the desert when we could have continued on a different path. This scenario can be applied to many things in life, and many of us have had personal experiences for which these lyrics ring true. For me, the line "we are all just prisoners here of our own device" reminds me that we control our own destiny, but often imprison ourselves in a way of life from which we can't see an escape. We are often trapped by the decisions we take in our lives and sometimes we go too far ahead to return back. The last line symbolizes the point of no return. Temporary respites are all we can muster but the pleasures derived from these are ephemeral and so is the joy derived from these mirages of promise we are yearning for. The song ridicules the state of the human mind for being foolish and getting trapped in its own ideas and thoughts. It probably also says that man is naturally drawn to things that are grand and evil in their design only to repent it later. Maybe I am reading too much into it or may be I missed the bus treading into the lyrics superficially. The first interpretation is in line with the composers idea about the song

Requests, if you haven’t heard the song, first listen to it. Not for the interpretation, but for it sheer beauty and the guitar pieces at the beginning and the end.

I have given the lyrics of the song in the first meaning. For the lack of space and to prevent the post from being excessively long, in other areas only the interpretations are written.


This song is about the temptation and danger of materialism. We are bombarded by societal messages to accumulate material goods, be it fancy cars, or expensive jewelry. We feel drawn to these status symbols, but they also can cause us great unhappiness.

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

The singer is free and liberated at the start of the song. Highway, isolated desert, wind blowing through his hair: all symbols of freedom. Colitas is marijuana, which of course also symbolizes a liberated mental state.

> 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

The shimmering light is the materialism. It shimmers and glows like gold. The singer feels intoxicated by it. It casts a spell on him.

> 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'

The doorway is the transition into this new life, of materialism and greed and away from freedom. "She" is his way into this life, whether it be newfound wealth or sudden status. He sees that the world of materialism and flashy possessions could be glamorous (heaven), or it could be torturous.

> 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 face
> Plenty of room at the Hotel California
> Any time of year, you can find it here

California represents materialism in many ways. It is the place of the gold rush (lovely place). It has Hollywood (lovely face). People come out to California to try to strike it rich.


Tiffany's for expensive jewelry, Mercedes for expensive car. Both are status symbols. People's perspectives get distorted by these things, which explain the words "twisted" and "bends". The pretty boys line also talks about high society.

> How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
> Some dance to remember, some dance to forget 

All these people are bought into the materialism, the "dance" of pursuing possessions. Some do it to remember back to their childhood or earlier in their life when they had more money. Some go after money to forget about something else more painful in their life.

> So I called up the Captain,
> 'Please bring me my wine'
> He said, 'we haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine'

1969 is Woodstock. The spirit means "free spirit", i.e. creativity and freedom, unshackled by money. Christian interpretation. Wine is Jesus's blood. He is in an old Christian church that turned Satanic in 1969

> And still those voices are calling from far away,
> Wake you up in the middle of the night
> Just to hear them say... 
> [chorus]
> Mirrors on the ceiling,
> The pink champagne on ice
> And she said 'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device'

Pink champagne is another symbol of luxury. The last line is saying that we are trapped in the pursuit of wealth, but we did it to ourselves by buying into the idea.

> 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

The beast is the primal desire within us to go back to freedom, away from the trappings of society. These people who have been suckered in want to kill that part of themselves which still longs for the liberated days, but they can't defeat it.

> Last thing I remember, I was
> Running for the door
> I had to find the passage back
> To the place I was before

The singer wants to get back to his former, free lifestyle.

> 'Relax,' said the night man,
> We are programmed to receive.
> You can checkout any time you like,
> But you can never leave!

We are brought up and conditioned by society to be receptive to its messages about status and wealth. We can mentally "check out" and decide to resist those messages, but we can never really get away from them or their strong pull.


It is a song about hell (Hotel California). The first part - until the first chorus - is the guy dead and "choosing" whether he should go to hell or to heaven. The "desert highway" would be the after-life highway to heaven, the "mission bell" would be the door to heaven, but somehow his attention is drawn to a different place - Hotel California. Devil is pulling his game. The second part is after his choice for hell, when everything is just fine. The man sees good-looking ladies, people dancing and pretty boys as friends. The voices down the corridor would be the guy's own conscience, remembering of the bad choice he has made (The praise of the Hotel in the chorus is a little bit sarcastic). In the third and last part is when the true face of hell is shown, the seduction is over and now the Devil (the nightman) is going to collect its debts. The fancy girl turns out to be a "prisoner" (not physically, but her soul is doomed). The master's chambers is another reference to hell. The steely knife stabbing can be interpreted in two ways: one could be a ritual of black magic and the other would be the rage of the main character after he realized he was deceived by the Devil. He could stab the Devil as long as he wanted to, but it would never die. And the final verse is the guy trying to escape, maybe back to the desert highway, but the Devil closes the Devil and states that great last sentence, meaning that the guy was doomed for eternity.

Satanic cults

If we take time and dissect the song using a bit of our brains, its not hard to see that the band is subtlety hinting about satanic cult, though it is not in anyway saying that it is associated with the cult. We shall look at the lines in greater details. The protagonist was walking, seemingly dosed with drugs (colitas). He then sees the church light, and since the side effects of the drug was kicking in, he had no choice but to stay over. "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" ~ A woman welcomed his visit. However, despite being a church (heaven), it was a satanic one (hell) and thus he had his reservations. He was ushered into the church and there seemed to be a ritual going on with all the voices around. He was welcomed by cultists. "Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends"~ he saw a rich girl who was shapely. " She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat. Some dance to remember, some dance to forget"~ Subtlety, it hints of the fact that an orgy is taking place. “So I called up the Captain, Please bring me my wine He said, "We haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine"~ 1969 was the year the first satanic church was set up, and the spirit here literally meant that the holy spirit no more resides here " More emphasis is on the latter part when the woman said that people chose to practise this(satanic cult) on their own accord. "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 "~ it isnt a real feast we are talking about; it is a human sacrifice! They were using razor sharp knives to stab the sacrificial, yet they could never get rid of the demons that were residing in their hearts. Seeing all the events, the protagonist got scared and he had to leave the place. "Relax," said the night man, we are programmed to receive. You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave". He saw a guy who let him leave. The guy commented that anyone was welcomed to the cult but once you joined the cult, there would be no turning back.

Another concise interpretation of the satanic version

The man has embarked upon the highway to the dark side (the initiation)

Warm smell of peculiar things burnt in ritualistic offerings (as in Bohemian Grove)

The new arrival gets a heady dizziness from the superb brightness of the place as it is being approached and all senses that can caution grow numb and the decision to stay for a little while is made

The usher herself is the embodiment of the all the lucrativeness of that world

Cautioned by the mission bell, the new arrival is fully cognizant of the dangers now

The new arrival is lead through a darkened corridor (clearly tells about the physical aspect of the building that was converted into "the place") where faint/mocking/encouraging voices extend the suspicious welcome

The wild orgies/celebration/decadence abound in the place and people are gathered for different reasons, and some have been selected as sacrifices (real or mock ritualistic)

The new arrival is denied any chance to go back because as of 1969 the place had become Satanic with the Holy Spirit removed.

At the height of the ritual, the dissidents try for a desperate escape by stabbing the high priest of the chamber instead of the sacrifice, but the high priest can't be killed

The situation getting more desperate and the new arrival tries to run away, but once somebody has made a pact with the devil He holds them to it . You are given all materialism and riches but the soul is for His to keep.

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

I believe the song is an allusion to Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Summary of the Allegory of the Cave: People have been chained down in a dark cave for their whole lives. All they can see, all they have ever seen, are shadows of the rest of the world on the wall in front of them. Because they don't know any better, they assume that these shadows are real. One day, a prisoner is released from his chains. He goes outside of the cave, into the light, burning his eyes, but becoming enlightened. He decides to go back into the cave to tell everyone what he saw, but they don't believe him. In the Allegory, the darkness of the cave represents ignorance, the light represents knowledge, and the chains represent our perception of the world. How Hotel California connects to The Allegory of the Cave Instead of a dark cave we have a "dark desert highway" that, to the prisoners, seems like a nice place. The shimmering light alludes to the "light" or knowledge that the man who broke free of his chains gained. Like the man, the narrator of the song hurt his eyes because of it. "She" could mean knowledge; because the narrator has been in the dark for so long, he is still uncertain if he believes that the knowledge he's learning is real. The narrator is still learning. The other people who broke free of their chains tell him that the light is much better then ignorance in the dark and it was here all along. All he had to do was think. Again, "her" means knowledge. The narrator is saying that she seems to have and know everything. Everyone else who broke their chains are trying to gain as much knowledge as they can("she's got a lot of pretty, pretty boys"). By calling the knowledgable people pretty, the narrator is starting to show that he believes that the knowledge he's gaining is real and the "shadows" are an illusion. Some (remember, the "they" in the lyrics above refers to the people who have broken their chains.)dance to remember that the knowledge they gained in the light is not an illusion. Some dance to forget the shadows in the dark cave. By requesting wine, the narrator is showing that he wants to forget the knowledge he gained. The Captain is surprised by this. Most people who come into the light never want to go back except for a case in 1969. The enlightened people still keep insisting that the light is better then the dark. Alibies will be needed for the individuals still in the dark; not everyone is ready to learn about the light. No one can be forced to stay in either the darkness or light; anything that keeps you in a place you don't want to be is due to your "own device." Don't forget, this is still from the narrator's point of view. He sees what the enlightened people believe and the events they take part in, but it all sees so weird to him, a person who has known nothing but shadows for his whole life. The nightman tells him that he can go back to the cave, but it won't be the same; he'll never forget the knowledge he learned in the light of the Hotel California


This refers to a dark time in life, one that you are trying to escape. This could be a possible escape from the darkness. You find a way out, and it seems pleasing to begin with. He stops for the night because there is a chance that he can get out of it. And he sees the temptation (Women always represent temptation.) He thinks to himself, as he gets his first taste, "This could be Heaven or Hell" in regards to the mixed feelings that he is having. “Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way there were voices down the corridor, “This "temptation" draws him in the Hotel, which represents addiction. The voices of the other addicts welcome him to this beautiful prison. The chorus for the first time says he is trapped and is put here because he has just been drawn in and now, even if he does not realize it, he will not be coming back out. It is such a lovely place with so much beauty, because everything is more beautiful in the 'Hotel' as long as you play along. It also says that it does not matter when you want it, because you know you can always have it. California is always beautiful... as long as you see it that way. "Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends ", He says that she is a very twisted, but very beautful girl. This is the first time he speaks of anything negative about the 'Hotel'. This could be the end of a high. He also comments that she has many pretty boys, saying that temptation has captured so many other people as well. Some people dance to feel how they used to, to feel good again, and some do the 'dance' to forget the pain, to make their problems go away. He tries to lay his hands on some wine but he does not get it. "And still those voices are calling from far away, Wake you up in the middle of the night Just to hear them say... " Even though he talks to them, even though he is in the Hotel now, he can still hear them calling for him, deeper and deeper within the 'Hotel' He wakes up, probably in cold sweats... remembering what a lovely place it is... what a great feeling it was, and it calls to him. "And she said "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device"", no matter who they are, they are all here because they did it to themselves. They are trapped in the Hotel because they made this decision. "The stab it with their steely knives, But they just can't kill the beast ", This seems to refer to feeding the addiction. (Steely knives - needles) That every addict wants to quit... after this one. and they think if they do it this last time, then that will be it. "Last thing I remember, I was Running for the door I had to find the passage back To the place I was before ", He is trying to find his way back, now he realizes what he has gotten himself into. He is trying to go back through time, take back his mistake. In the end the nightman says that why worry, you are here anyway, just enjoy it.”You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave!". You can say you are going to stop at any time, but you are never going to escape it. Once you are in the Hotel, there is no way out.

Broken Marriage

The lyrics are a commentary on the state of Marriage, in California, where so many relationships seem to go well at first, and then fall apart badly. Of course, few people at that time would knock such a strong social institution as Marriage- at least not directly. It was supposed to be the best that a relationship could be, and what we might all aspire to, one day yet so many of them had been going obviously wrong. Read the lyrics and see if you find the same meaning or at least a few things to think about along the way. After all, the seventies were an age of veiled lyrical meanings, and creativity.

Perhaps colitas referred to a certain feature of the female anatomy. However there is a dual meaning here, since colitis can also pertain to the little buds of marijuana, with a warm sweet smell. ( both somewhat intoxicating, and affecting judgment )At any rate our singer starts out a single man- riding carefree down the highway, thinking of his girl, who may even have been riding in the seat beside him. With the influence of the girl, our author stops (perhaps at a hotel) for the night. BUT more importantly, his sight/reasoning grows dim, because he decides to settle for a girl that wasn’t quite right for him and thereby enters the "Hotel California", of relationships.

What the song doesn’t directly say is: It is the doorway to a CHURCH. We've advanced a few months, and are about to be married, which is why you hear the mission bell. And as he looks at his bride, somewhat uncertain, he was thinking that this (the marriage) could be heaven, or could be hell.

Candles and romance, for at least a honeymoon's worth, yet something is not quite right - a little voice in the distance bothers him: is this really going to work? He tries to convince himself he is done the right thing. Welcome to the married life it's supposed to be good. Of course it is: look at her, she's lovely. Plenty of room at the hotel California more people getting married all the time, and inviting everybody else to do the same - just like you did. Any time of year you can find a time & place to get married. Yet the voices in his head are still there.

It turns out, that his wife is definitely high maintenance, with expensive tastes and more interested in his money than him. After the initial passion is over, she's got several other boy-toys on the side. When he's out with his wife, he starts noticing other couples and depending on whether things are going well or not some dance to remember happy days, some dance to forget troubled ones. The "spirit" here isn't alcohol, but the spirit & emotion of the marriage he’s looking for. Unfortunately that’s long gone, and we haven’t seen it for a while. Yet the voices are still there and the doubts grow stronger, leaving him awake in the middle of the night, thinking. Welcome to the Hotel more voices, Other people think the marriage is going great - they're living it up- But it's not quite what you'd hoped (what a nice surprise)Excuses are made, accusations too, alibis are in order. They try to rekindle the romance - get a little kinky - pour a few more drinks. We are all just prisoners here, of our own device: We're the ones who decided to get married - we did it to ourselves, but now we just feel trapped. Sooner or later (in California style) the marriage is over. In the master's chambers (Judges chambers, during the divorce)They gather for the feast. The lawyers and his wife are all going to benefit and a gruesome, ugly, “feast where they all take whatever they can get from the husband. As for the Marriage: the bitter words, sharp tongues lash, but they can’t quite destroy the lingering shreds of marriage, or the husband portrayed as a "beast".

By the time the divorce was finished, he just wanted to be OUT. With the marriage fully over, he tries to put his life back to how it had been, before he was ever married. But it's not easy. The voice in his head reminds him, that it's never really over once you've been married, there's always going to be some part of you that isn't the same. For better or for worse, he realizes that even after getting divorced, and checking out of the "Hotel California," you can't just leave it all behind. We (society, biology or emotion) are programmed to receive. It's easier to get IN to marriage than out

Alien abduction

A man driving alone in the middle of nowhere sees a "shimmering light" ahead of him and feels drowsy. He pulls over and drifts to sleep. When the man awakens, he finds himself in a strange place that "could be Heaven or...could be Hell". As she leads him down a corridor, he hears voices and in trying to understand them, he thinks he hears them say "Welcome to the Hotel California. The woman, whose sanity he questions, shows the man the various artifacts brought onboard with the other abductees, how live in a daze unable to remember much of their lives before the abduction and unable to forget that they are abductee. The woman in the song represents the lull of drugs and prostitution to the men, who were captured in the hotel and cannot leave. The man, falling into the lull effecting the other abductees, addresses the Captain of the ship. His experiences last so long onboard that he sees the pattern emerge of the strange sounds emminating from the ship at the same intervals each night, and each time he thinks the voices are saying "Welcome to the Hotel California". The quarters each abductee is given has metallic mirrored walls and ceiling, with luxuries available to placate the prisoners and to entice them to stay. The abductees, in either an experiment or a meal, are presented with a living creature which they have to kill in order and consume. Try as they might, they just can't kill the beast. The narrator, seeing the failed experiment for what it is makes good on his escape attempt, fleeing down passageways on the ship to escape and get back to the desert and his car. He struggles with a guard who tries to subdue the narrator but fails. As the man gets out of the ship, he knows he'll be traumatized by the experience and never really forget the horror he experienced.


The song starts off, he is driving down the highway, smoking some weed, just hanging out. He gets tired and sees an old church. However, it seems that the church is no longer a church, but a brothel. This could be heaven or this could be hell refers to the fact that you get pleasure here, but at the same time it’s a dirty guilty pleasure, one that feels almost definitely like a sin. The woman who greets him is all dolled up and dressed up. Her friends are the other clients who come to see her. Dancing is an allusion to sex. People come there for many reasons, remembering a lost girl, or even to forget a girl who broke your heart. The chorus is just the sentiment of the people who come there .Alibis refers to not letting your wives know where you went. Prisoners of our own device refer to the fact that everyone succumbs to their most innate desires of lust. The feast is the sex, they stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast. They screw to quench their thirst for lust, but in the end all it does is make them want more. Here is basically after he’s done and he has that feeling of what have I done? He runs out but before he does, a guy basically tells him, you can leave this place, but this place will never leave you.


This is the one about which I have absolutely no clue.

This song is about Charles Manson, the Manson member and the Tate-LiBianca murders in Bel Air in 1969. The hotel on the cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel which is located right next door to Hell, Bel Air, where the murders took place. The Hotel itself, in the song Hotel California is not a real one. The California in Hotel California is the street the Church of Satan is located on in San Francisco. Read the lyrics very carefully and you will see the references to Manson, the year, being programmed, stabbing, lighting candles, as they had no electricity at Barkers ranch, and how you could check into the family but you could never leave. Dark desert highway up to Barkers Ranch. The song speaks of the last thing I remember I was running for the door, after the stabbing, finding a passage back to the place I was before, getting back to Spnahn ranch. Warm smell of colitas, Sharon's body after the stabbing. Her mind is tiffany twisted; Tiffany's is the best stuff, and Susan Atkins warm in Charles mind and most twisted. She's got Mercedes 'Bends'. The bends is not a misprint. They are referring to a curvy female body and not a car. Susan Atkins was a shapely woman in 1969. Susan also danced at Anton Lavey Church of Satan on California Street in San Francisco.

Well I am actually not through with the interpretations. I also found some really absurd ones like cancer and car crashes and people went to the extent of saying that the song is about Vietnam War!!!!

Well all I can say is “Different people, different interpretations”. Please leave your comments about the song and what it means to you and also your comments about the post.