Revisiting the meaning of the Eagles’ Hotel California as we head into 2022

We live in strange times. Consumer goods are soaring faster than ever, yet a whole generation of young people are stricken with anxiety and depression. While Elon Musk is the richest person in the history of the world, many are struggling to barely get by. And as the stock market hits all-time highs, small businesses are closing left and right.

In this time of simultaneous excess but existential struggle, it is perhaps worth revisiting the greatest song ever written about the duality of the American experience and the human condition: “Hotel California” by the Eagles.

What was the original inspiration for “Hotel California?”

It all started with Glenn Frey wanting to do something weird, just to see if he and the band could. So they turned to a foggy, nightmarish novel written by John Fowles in 1965, titled The Wizardwhere a depressed but greedy young wanderer finds himself charmed by a wealthy Greek recluse whose powers of splendor and decadence end up detaching the young man from reality as he knows it, resulting in tragedy and loss.

The same novel is said to have inspired David Fincher’s 1997 film starring Michael Douglas, The game.

So what is the true meaning of Hotel California?

The same story arc found in The Wizard, ranging from sincere idealism and earnest curiosity to a sense of obscurity and discouragement, goes with so much. Like coming of age and losing innocence. Or the bubbly allure of the dashing but dangerous cash and drug lifestyle of California’s Golden Age. Or the energetically revolutionary but ultimately fleeting spirit of the 1960s. And maybe even the whole American experience.

You start with nothing. Everything looks so good! Then you get everything. And you get crushed under the weight of all the excess. What was it for initially?

So “Hotel California” is kind of a broad allegory for going up and down? May be.

Here’s what the band members themselves had to say about the meaning of the song:

The band members themselves have offered a variety of different explanations for the meaning of “Hotel California”. They said it was a socio-political statement. They said it was dark and light. And they said it was about self-destruction that comes from greed and hedonism.

But of course, all of these things are hard to put your finger on. And maybe that’s why the song has been interpreted in so many different ways over the years. When art reflects life experience so perfectly, it can be anything and one specific thing at a time, depending on the art consumer. Like a sort of lyrical Rorschach test.

The true meaning of the song, like life itself, is elusive. And maybe that’s exactly the point.

What does “Hotel California” have to say about modern times?

Although the exact meaning of “Hotel California” is subject to some degree of individual interpretation, certain themes run deep within the song. Chief among them is the danger of excess.

California. America. Rock and roll. The 1960s. Even the Eagles themselves. All of them have suffered in one way or another from excess, be it drugs, wealth, success and even the desire for change.

As is the case today, we find ourselves locked in a time of extremes. No middle ground. No moderation.

If “Hotel California” has anything to tell us about modern times, maybe it’s that we need to take things up a notch. Don’t go too high and don’t go too low. Focus on the little things in life. The things that matter most.

Also read our analysis on the meaning of Don McLean’s “American Pie” 50 years after it hit No. 1 on Billboard

Nicholas E. Crittendon