What Do the Hotel California Lyrics Mean?

California desert hotel

Hotel California lyrics are some of the most recognized lyrics in rock music. Millions of fans all over the world can belt out this Eagles standard on demand, and it's one of those rare songs that seems to have spanned generations, getting young and old alike singing about that famous hotel you can check out of but never leave.

Hotel California Lyrics - What are They All About?

As is typical with any song that has captured the public's attention for so long, the lyrics to Hotel California have been sliced, diced and dissected thousands of times by people searching for hidden meaning. As is also typical in these kinds of cases, the ultimate meaning of every line remains elusive, but there are a few thematic clues. In reality, there are two stories going on in Hotel California - the narrative itself and the deeper meaning.

The story told in Hotel California is familiar. A weary traveler driving down a desolate road (yes, a dark, desert highway) spies the lights of a lone hotel and decides to stop off for the night. Once inside, the narrator discovers a strange world of excess - mirrored ceilings, pink champagne, a large feast - and guests singing a welcome to him as they try to invite him into their world. The narrator decides he needs to make a run for it - that he'd rather be on the outside - but then in a nightmarish twist, he is then informed that he can check out but not really ever leave. This story is not unlike the typical "traveler stumbling upon large house in the middle of nowhere - strange things happen inside" story that has been the basis of many a story and film. But the real meaning of Hotel California lyrics are presumably not in the storytelling itself, but rather in the symbolism.

But what DOES it all mean? People have come up with all kinds of theories over the years about the meaning of the song overall, the location of the "real" Hotel California and other snippets of the song, including:

  • The song is an ode to Satanism (based on the lyrics we haven't had that spirit here since 1969 - some take this spirit to be God.)
  • The song is about getting cancer
  • There was a real Hotel California, and it was run by cannibals
  • The real Hotel California was a mental hospital
  • The song is in some way about the band Steely Dan (they stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast.)
  • The song is about cocaine addiction (they're looking at you, Glenn Frye.)

There are others - exploding factories, vampires - the list goes on. Who has it right?

The Eagles Speak

Fortunately, The Eagles have bucked tradition of musicians letting public speculation get stranger and stranger about their song lyrics. Both Don Henley and Glenn Frye have addressed the nature of the song several times. They have claimed on numerous occasions over the years that the song is a condemnation of materialism and the material nature of the American dream. In a 1987 Rolling Stone interview, Henley stressed that the song wasn't just about excess in California, although that is what the band was grappling with at the time, but rather about excess in U.S. culture as a whole. The song is about trying to escape that culture and how it is so difficult to do because it is everywhere.

As for speculations about cannibalism, Satanism, cancer and cocaine, they have all been roundly dismissed by the band.

The Colitas - Oh Those Maddening Colitas

One thing that seems to plague a lot of people about the Hotel California lyrics is the mention of "colitas" in the song opening:

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

Just what are they? This may be one instance in which there is a mystery in these lyrics. Some believe colitas is a reference to Colita de Rata, or antelope sage, a flower that grows in the desert. Others point out that colita is Spanish, meaning "little tails" and could refer to the buds of a marijuana plant. The jury is still out on this one.

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What Do the Hotel California Lyrics Mean?