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How 'Hotel California' fought back against The Eagles


This summer, why not slap your out of office on, leave your phone and cares at home, and travel along a dark desert highway to a wineless hotel that could be heaven or could be hell, with plentiful year-round vacancies? It’s not necessarily the sort of pitch that would pass muster at the Trivago advertising agency—and that’s not just because nobody knows what the hell it means, travel adverts are like that anyway.

The lyrics shroud the hotel itself in a veil of abstract references — references that Don Henley claims pertain to excesses in American culture. The Eagles were well versed on such matters, especially when it came to hotels. As guitarist Joe Walsh once said: “I live in hotels, tear out walls. I have accountants pay for it all.” In fact, Walsh and John Belushi once teamed up to wreak £22,000 worth of havoc in one night, and somehow the Toblerone in the mini-bar was completely intact, so things could’ve been far worse! 

However, this was not at the Hotel California located at the end of a dark desert highway in the crooked landscape of Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, Mexico. This terracotta-coloured art-deco abode immediately conjures up the sound of the song, although that might be due to the fact the title is emblazoned in huge golden letters across the front. 

As it happens, the frontage is not all that dissimilar from the domed Beverley Hills Hotel that the album cover sports. Henley wanted the cover image to capture the mystic hotel obscurely and to “portray it with a slightly sinister edge”. Whether it’s merely the cool prick to the desert night air that unrests many weary travels as they approach the Baja establishment is unknown, but it certainly houses that same sinister edge. 

As the hotel’s proprietors perhaps unwittingly admit: “Many visitors are mesmerised by the ‘coincidences’ between the lyrics of the hit song and the physicality of the hotel and its surroundings.” If the inverted commas that the hotel uses in this case denote a hint that the Eagles stayed there prior to writing their big hit, then that is certainly an unconfirmed mystery. 

The chances are the mystery will always remain unconfirmed too, as not so long ago The Eagles launched a legal campaign against the real-life Hotel California. The federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles stated that the hotel was misleading guests into believing that it was linked to the band in some way, and they were using the Eagles connection to sell t-shirts and merchandise. They requested that the naming rights of the hotel were revoked. 

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However, Hotel California stood firm on the matter and also claimed “no association with the Eagles or with their song and record album Hotel California.” This left the case in some sort of ‘no association’ standoff as both parties claimed to have nothing to do with the other although they were ostensibly linked through the most obvious of reasons. 

Ultimately, the case was abandoned having seemingly entered some sort of Schrödinger’s loophole. Henceforth Hotel California was allowed to “continue to use the service mark and trademark ‘Hotel California’ in Mexico.” Thus, with the cool wind in your hair, you can once more drive down a dark desert highway for a dance to remember or a dance to forget—that may or may have anything at all to do with The Eagles. 

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