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Ever wonder what Hotel California means?

The writers of this song explained that they were trying to describe the Soul of a typical California, that is, a slave under the spell of the American Dream, striving to live (or actually living) the high life in the background of the 1970s.  It is, in essence, a song about life and death, which is why Hotel California is consistently ranked among the Top 50 songs of all time if not among the Top 10

The reason that it ranks so high is because it is one of the better approaches to the theme of the living and the dead (also known as the awake and the asleep).  That dichotomy is also the most prevalent theme among the greater works of poetry of all time.

There are many interpretations of the meaning of this song online, but they are largely biased because of religious viewpoints.  In fact, many interpretations rely on the dubious presupposition that the members of The Eagles were devil worshipers.  There is no grounds to this claim.  Sadly, I haven't found a single interpretation out there that analyzes the flurry of metaphors that the song contains in detail and in sequence.  Being that the case, I am providing such an analysis below.

For Mobile users who cannot see the video above, here is Hotel California with lyrics.

"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...

Term Meaning: Colitas = Little tails, or what is left over from a marihuana joint.

Interpretation of stanza

The first verse represents life's journey, specifically in the Southern California backdrop.  In our natural state, we are fully alive and in touch with nature.  The second verse represents temptation to dissociate, in this case embodied by the use of drugs.  The third and fourth verse depict the disconnection to nature.  The fourth and fifth verse provide the added meaning that, by adapting to society, we lose our natural state and begin the journey into dying in life or being among the living dead.  This meaning is further entrenched by what follows in the stanza, especially "This could be Heaven or this could be Hell".  The impact of religion and spirituality on the process of dying or disconnecting from nature is highlighted by the expressions "I heard the mission bell" and "she lit up a candle", both of which have a connection to the practice of Christianity.


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

Interpretation of stanza

The chorus changes both times it appears in the song.  In both occasions, it highlights the attraction to beauty.  In this case, however, it also emphasizes that anyone and everyone can live at the Hotel California.  The final two verses represent the possibility of living the high life.

In common dream interpretations, a house represents oneself, such that dreaming of things happening in a house is the same as dreaming of things one is struggling with in one's self.  In sharp contrast, a hotel implies an impermanent abode, a transitional place that is not your own and does not represent you.  However, as will be seen in the end of the song, this is a hotel from which you can never escape.  The message implied is that those souls living in that hotel will never be alive (or in contact with their nature) again.


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...

Term meaning:  Tiffany-twisted = Tiffany's is a luxury store.  The term implies that her mind has been warped by the pursuit of luxury.

Interpretation of stanza 

The first verse implies the warping of the mind by the pursuit of luxury.  The second verse points to the dissolution of the relation of friendship, friendship being replaced by proximity because of sexual attraction.  The third and fourth verses point out the psychological state of the people living at the Hotel California. "Some dance to remember, some dance to forget" but none dance to dance or to live; they are all living in the past in their minds, when they were closer to their natural state.

The next three verses have perplexed most people since the song came out.  The main male character asks for wine but the Captain, the person in charge, replies that they don't have that "spirit".  Anyone that knows their alcohol knows that wine is not in the spirit class of alcoholic beverages.  So what is this referring to?  The answer is that it refers to Dionysus, the god of wine, who is also, by the way, the god of living in and getting drunk off of nature (he is, thus, also the god of epiphany).  Dionysus plays a large role in Friedrich Nietzsche's vitalist philosophy and in his concept of the superman.  In the vitalist Nietzschean philosophy, the values of Dionysus have been in a constant metaphoric struggle with those of Apollo, the god of the sun, who also represents appearances or what you can see.

What about the voices at the end of the stanza?  They are the ghosts, the living dead, currently residing at the Hotel California.


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

Interpretation of stanza

This version of the chorus starts off the same as the last one, by emphasizing the attraction to beauty and beautiful things.  The fourth verse once again poses the idea that they are living the high life.  However, the last two verses add a different meaning altogether, brought home by the final verse "Bring your alibis".  What are alibis?  They are excuses or defenses.  Why is such a word placed in this context?  The answer lies mostly in the next two stanzas.  The occupants of the Hotel California must bring their excuses and psychological defenses so as to not return to a state of being alive, of being in touch with their own nature.


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.

Interpretation of stanza

This is the stanza that has provided fodder for Christians to paint The Eagles as a bunch of devil worshipers.  It is also the best and strongest stanza in the entire song.  It is divided into two scenes, the first described in the first 3 verses and the second described in the final 4.

The first scene describes the likes of a motel room ready for sex to happen in it.  The woman tells him the truth of the situation they are in, that they are just prisoners there because of the way they've lived their lives.  They have detached themselves from nature, out of their own doing based on the life decisions they have made and the values that have guided their actions.

The second scene returns to the Nietzschean themes that permeate this song and indeed make it one of the great ones.  The reference to a "master" is a reference to the distinction between Master Morality and Slave Morality, best explained in Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals (see, in particular, Part 2).  The masters, in this case, are ready to feast by bringing down the Slave mindset; however, no matter how much they attack that beast, they fail to kill it, and so the Hotel and its prisoners keep going on with their shiny but ultimately vacuous lives.  This meaning is further emphasized in the last stanza.


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! "

Interpretation of stanza

The main character becomes frightened realizing that he has made erroneous life choices that now appear to have him trapped.  "I had to find the passage back to the place I was before" is a reference to childhood, when he was more in touch with nature, before being conditioned to like and follow the things that ultimately led him to be among the sleeping in life or the living dead.  The night man catches him and tells him to relax.  Who is the night man?  He is death itself, a figure not unlike Hades, the god of the underworld.  The night man goes ahead and explains why they are all stuck there: "We are programmed to receive".  That's how the brain works!  And what have these people filled it with?  Glitter... yet all that glitters is not gold.  Now our main character is stuck in a situation in which he can check out from the Hotel California all he wants, but he is simply bound to repeat the same psychosocial pattern he has been repeating.  It is too late to awake and become alive.  The voices will continue to lure him from far away. 

Welcome to the Hotel California!

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