Rock Allegory: Lady Fortuna & “Hotel California”

Rock Allegory :: Lady Fortuna & “Hotel California”

For poetry lovers, we have a series of blogs, Poetry Lessons, guest-hosted by emmiD of Writers Ink Books. Visit our page on the 5ths (5th, 15th, and 25th) to see which poem has inspired a lesson in thinking and writing.
Our first allegory was Carole King’s “Tapestry”, way back in April.  Allegories tell a surface story while a stronger meaning lurks beneath the obvious.

“O Fortuna” by Carl Orff seems a strange beginning to a post about the classic “Hotel California” by the Eagles.

Stranger things have happened.

Just as strange things happen in the Eagles’ classic rock song, which you can listen to at this link, which is of a live performance in 1977. Don’t blow off the guitar solo and duet at the end; that’s part of the charm.

The persona in “Hotel California” seems to relate a surreal visit to a roadside hotel that turns ugly before it imprisons him. However, through allegory, the song relates a pursuit for fame and fortune. These cost more than the persona anticipated and never wished to pay.

“O, Fortuna”

The lady who draws in the persona to the Hotel California is Lady Fortuna, a goddess who rules over fame and fortune, luck and fate.

Carl Orff (a rather uneasy German composer, seeking Fortuna with her sacrificial demands) does not consider this goddess benevolent.

Lady Fortuna’s world is lit by the moon, changeable in its monthly course: “statu variabilis / semper crescis / aut decresciss” (Orff). In our pursuit of her, we must enter her realm. She will first oppress us long before she soothes us. She takes her whip of servitude to our naked backs and punishes us before she rewards us: (“mihi quoque niteris; / nunc per ludum / dorsum nudum / fero tui sceleris”).

When Fortuna grants what we have sought, we discover the additional monstrous price we must pay. And we also discover that fame and fortune are empty achievements, material but not wonderful, a “monkey’s paw” of evil wrapped around good. As Orff writes, life becomes “immanis / et inanis”.

Here is the conductor Andre Rieu’s presentation of “O Fortuna”:

Lyrics with translation are found here.

The lyrics for “Hotel California” are here. You might want to print both of these song lyrics out so you can see how closely they compare.

Let’s play 20 Questions / Answers will Follow

1st Stanza & Chorus introduces the pursuit of fame.

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.

People in pursuit of their dreams believe that their lives are deserts that they must drive through before they find where they want to be.

  1. Pick three words in the first stanza that represent the persona’s blindness about where he is heading in his pursuit of fame.
  2. What does the “shimmering light” represent?

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

  1. “She” is Lady Fortuna. Why is she so attractive to people pursuing their dreams?
  2. The “mission bell” tolls a warning. In which line does the persona admit to hearing the warning?
  3. How is the line for #4 a paradox?

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

  1. How does the famous Californian city that lures people seeking fame and fortune always have “plenty of room”?

Stanza 2 with Chorus

  • 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
  1. What does Tiffany refer to?
  2. Mercedes-Benz is the best engineered, mass-produced vehicle on the roads. What is the point of the pun “Mercedes bends”?
  3. From these two brand references, we know the persona is achieving success, enough that he can waste money. Why are material possessions a waste?
  4. What does the line “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget” mean? (Assuming that ‘dance’ is related to performing the job that is winning fame and fortune)
  • So I called up the captain, “please bring me my wine”
  • He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.”
  • And still those voices are calling from far away
  • Wake you up in the middle of the night
  • Just to hear them say . . .
  1. The wine represents the sweetness of the dream still before the persona. Why has that “sweetness” left him?

To understand the reason that the sweetness is implied to have left music and culture in 1969, you need to know about Woodstock, the Summer of Love, and the change in the music industry:  basically, the music corporations required musicians to “sell out” their purpose in order to make $$ while making music. Musicians who didn’t buy into the industry’s model of success were shut out. The persona feels that he had to abandon his simple dreams for something much more complicated and which twisted his original purpose.

  1. “The voices [that] are calling from far away” have to do with the persona’s original dream. Which line relates that he is stressed about the loss of that dream?

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place / Such a lovely face.
They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise / Bring your alibis

  1. Notice the two changes in the Chorus. How is “living it up” a “nice surprise”?
  2. Why does he warn people to “bring your alibis”?

3rd Stanza

  • 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.
  1. Lady Fortuna tells them they are “prisoners . . . of [their] own device”, or as Orff says, “Sors salutis” and “semper in angaria” :: “Fate is against me” and I am “always enslaved” to her. How is this devastating?
  2. “The beast” is the juggernaut of the now-rolling success. The master is what controls the success: the audience. How does an audience start controlling successful people?
  3. Who has the “steely knives” to kill the “beast”?

4th 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.”
  1. Why is the persona “running for the door” to find the “place [he] was before”?
  2. The night man says that “we are programmed to receive . . . you can never leave”?
  3. What does this line means: “You can check-out any time you like”?

Answers

  1. Dark, colitis, dim (sight), distance, night
  2. The lights from an arcade promoting a performance. The shimmering would be the action of the neon in the lights.
  3. Lady Fortuna is attractive because people believe that once they are rich / famous, they will have no worries.
  4. “This could be heaven or this could be hell”
  5. #4 contains a paradox because life can be both a heaven and a hell at the same time.
  6. People keep coming, expecting to succeed, only to fail and return, making room for more seekers.
  7. Tiffany is an extremely famous NYC jewelry store. Highly successful, highly branded, over-priced: you pay for the name. Should we want to buy brands? No. We should go for quality that meets the $$ we pay. However, materialism “twists” us to prefer the brand.
  8. The “bends” could refer to driving on a crooked road. The persona does start out on a “dark desert highway”. And the pursuit of fame and fortune requires some bend-y actions that we might abhor in honorable daylight. Or it could be the “bends”, decompression sickness when deep divers come too quickly to the surface. Rising fame could be making the persona sick as he considers everything he’s giving up and everything he’s hurting. Nyah, I’ll sticking with the highway.
  9. Material possessions only temporarily feed our greed and gluttony. They do not help the persona or others. Without giving to others, the persona will never fill satisfied and will always seek more and more to fill his emptiness. This is classic Platonism: attempting to balance the mind, the body, and the soul through equally fulfilling events.
  10. This is the treadmill that the persona is on: the beauty of the work he loves keeps him still performing but the grind of the work wears him down.
  11. The joy of his work has left.
  12. “Wake you up in the middle of the night”
  13. The persona has paid so much sweat and pain that he is surprised when he finally has the opportunity to enjoy the benefits that fame and fortune have finally brought to him.
  14. Alibis are only necessary when criminal activity has occurred and penalties will be adjudicated. Has Fortuna led the persona into evil misbehavior? Obviously.
  15. The evil and the pain are what the persona has brought upon himself in his selfish pursuit of the lady of fortune. He is appalled at his choices, but he still cannot give up fame and fortune.
  16. For musicians, they are controlled because they must keep producing the same things that brought the original success. For painters and writers and performers, they are also trapped, their creativity cast aside so that their work can continue to keep the audience happy. If they do not produce what the audience wants—with just a tiny bit of change to seem “new”, the fickle audience will abandon them.
  17. It’s not the audience. It is the trapped performers, who have come to hate the juggernaut wheel grinding them down and down.
  18. He can no longer accept everything he has sacrificed, all the pain and evil he has endured; he wants to return to the time before fame and fortune.
  19. Success can never be abandoned. Lady Fortuna’s hotel accepts people in, a small funnel that can endure the pain, laps up the evil in a blind acquiescence to the dream, and willingly abandons everything good about the dream in order to achieve wealth and fame.
  20. The only way to “check out” of Lady Fortuna’s hotel is death.

Summing Up & Coming Up

I enjoy the guitar solo and then the guitar duet at the end of “Hotel California”.

a screenshot of the 1977 performance, linked above.

Most people with their “imp of the perverse” (as EAPoe calls it) get focused on the colitas and the lady and the wine and the beast and go no farther.

Understanding the darker elements of HCa doesn’t destroy my enjoyment of the song; I just have to turn off the intellect and dance around to the guitars. Hotel California is not a happy place to visit.

And you don’t get to leave.

In my own blindness on dark desert highways, I have often wanted fame and fortune for myself.

Next up, a lighter work, thank goodness, than “Hotel California”. I promise.

Well, it might be a little dark and a little snide. 😉 grn

Join us on the 15th.

Newbie Writer?

Here’s a series of 7 mistakes that Edie Roones and Remi Black are working together to answer. The blog series came from a question that a new writer asked. This link takes you to Remi’s site.

On the 5ths of August (5/15/25), Edie and Remi will offer “3 Newbie Notta Mistakes” ~~ because Newbies can come into the writing business pretty savvy. Bookmark Remi’s site and follow throughout the month!

 

On Memorial Day, We Remember

Writing occasional poems for Memorial Day shouldn’t be difficult–as long as we can imagine our audience’s perspectives about this commemorative day.

For Memorial Day isn’t a holiday. It’s not a vacation. It’s not a holy day. It is a day to remember those we have lost and the reasons their sacrifice was necessary. A day to remember when many rose to altruism and overcame selfish needs.

And a day to remember that entering into situations that cause such altruistic sacrifices should not be lightly done.

Two Soldier Poems for Memorial Day

Two poems perfectly capture the warning that Memorial Day is, from the soldiers who are gone to the blithe population that never understands.

In Flanders Field by John MacCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

MacCrae’s Poetic Craft at Work

When we glance at this poem, we see the strong rhyme, the opening alliteration, and the juxtaposition of nature with the violence of war, given in the last line of this first stanza.

Deceptively simple, we think, and we are wrong. The power of the first sentence in the second stanza proves it. Lines 2 and 3 of this second stanza connects the Dead with us the Living. So little distance between us, so little separation–that we could also lie there, in Flanders Fields.

He continues his juxtaposition, not only between the LIving and the Dead, but also with dawn and sunset > the span of a day, the span of a life, too short, cut short before we would want it to be.

The third stanza provides the warning. The Dead sacrificed themselves for us. We cannot let the torch they lit be extinguished. If we do, we are cursed, for they will not sleep.

In Flanders Fields Clip Art
Canadian War Bond poster, from https://publicdomainclip-art.blogspot.com/2015/07/in-flanders-fields-clip-art.html

#2 of Poems for Memorial Day

Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier”

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Brooke’s Poetic Craft at Work

Brooke writes a sonnet, octet and sestet with the accepted ABAB CDCD EFGEFG rhyme.

The Octet

He ties the first and second stanzas together with the word “think” in the first line of each, an obvious connection. Not so obvious is his focus on the physical in the first stanza and the intellectual / emotional of the second. This is working with Plato’s TriPartite Being, body and mind and soul that forms us all.

Mentioning the England of his home, the little dirt of his body that is England in a foreign land, and “English air” and “English heaven” develops the reminder that his death was for his country, for the ideals that his country stood for rather than petty treasure or revenge.

The allusion to the graveside “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” becomes more powerful as he works out the body that gave itself for its homeland: “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed / A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware …”

“Bore, shaped, made aware” is a classic asyndeton, continued on the next line with “Gave”, and the verb introduces the beauty of the country that gave birth to this son who sacrificed himself for her ~

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

The Sestet

The last six lines become all the more powerful, for they capture the person that is lost, not just his body but his mind and heart.

The grouped first three are the mind shedding evil, returning to the universal “pulse” and releasing a connection to the land of his birth. The last three are pure emotion: happiness, laughter, gentleness, and peace ~ those four things that all soldiers long for when the violence of war is all around them.

Poems for Memorial Day Help Us to Remember the Sacrifice

Memorial Day is the day we set aside to remember our soldiers, lost in foreign and domestic conflicts, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s continued existence and our citizenry’s continued freedom.

Memorial Day is gradually extending to include more than soldiers on the battle fronts.

We have Independence Day to celebration our nation’s founding and Veteran’s Day to honor our warriors. We have Labor Day to honor the workers who helped America progress and become the dream of every oppressed worker in the world.

And we have other commemorations that offer opportunities for poets to practice their craft.

MacCrae and Brooke are master poets. Emulate the masters (don’t copy; study and model) to improve your own poetic skills.

Coming Up: Poems for Father’s Day

More: 3rd Advent ~ Joy

Look around. Even with the sun radiantly bright, our world is dark.

How many years have humans considered themselves at the top of the earthly chain of being? Science estimates homo sapiens have existed for 200,000 years. Creationists say we’ve been here, at most, 10,000 years.

And that immediately introduces the first dimming shadow :: the constant conflict between contrasting beliefs, whether based in science or in religion.

Then we blink, and we’re onto another argument. Which religion? Methodist? Presbyterian? Baptist? Orthodox? Lutheran? Catholic? Muslim? Buddhist? Hindu? Shinto? And all the people I’ve offended because I didn’t mention their religion.

Humans can argue about raising a family, budgeting for expenses, politics, politicians, climate change, whether the change is cyclical or anthropogenic, diet, exercise, sleep deprivation, big Pharma, vaccines, green spaces, carbon footprints, and more and more and more and more.

That list barely grazes the debatable differences we have with each other. Shadows upon shadows that create a darkening world.

Then we remember cancer and other diseases, the mal-health conditions we cause and that our poisoning modern industrial world will cause. Drug abuse and depression and other psychical injuries that destroy our interest in the world, damaging us as much as disease does.

Count all of these shadows, and the world is dark.

What gives us light? What gives us joy?

Hope. Promise. Unconditional love. Peace.

All embodied in Christ our Savior, the Light of the World.

Christ’s all-powerful light casts the darkness away.

Advent Hymn

“Christ whose glory fills the skies

Christ the Everlasting Light

Son of Righteousness Arise

And triumph o’er these Shades of Night.

Come, thou long awaited one,

In the fullness of your love,

And loose this heart bound up by shame,

And I will never be the same.

So here I wait in hope of You

Oh my soul’s longing through and through

Dayspring from on high be near

And daystar in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn

Until Your love in me is born

And joyless is the evening Sun

Until Emmanuel has come.

CHORUS