The Heat Is Off as another Classic Rock hero passed over to the other side this week. Glenn Frey, most famous as the founder of the Eagles, the California Country-Rock powerhouse that provided the soundtrack of much of the 1970s and much of the income for the Golden State’s cocaine dealers , died on Monday January 18th. I’ve been on record saying that “Hotel California” is the song that made me want to play guitar and Glenn Frey was the lyricist who gave us those wonderfully cryptic lyrics. And with imagery that includes trying to “kill the beast” and a requests for wine (a liquid with lots of religious significance!), is the Eagles’ most famous track really about Satan?
Well, that was an urban legend going around in the Satanic Panic 80s. In fact, there was a great article in the now-defunct Milwaukee Sentinel (and media consolidation is just as scary as anything we talk about on this site) about the Good Reverend Paul Risley who held a rally in Racine, Wisconsin in September of 1982, where 900 people(!) came out to see him tell examples of rock n’ rollers purposely leading their fans to the Devil.
Here’s an excerpt from the newspaper article:
My favorite part is that there were some pro-Rock youths that showed up to shout the Reverend down and one of them even got arrested for disorderly conduct. Notice that they spell Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey’s name wrong, so I guess the Sentinel didn’t have much of a copy editor in 1982.
But is the song really about the place where the Satanic Bible was written? Is the Church of Satan really registered as “Hotel California” for tax purposes? Are the frickin’ Eagles devil worshipers?!
Here’s a guy that seems to think so, even as late as 2014 and even provides us with detailed analysis of the lyrics. And with quotes like “when you sell your soul to the devil for fame in music, he also wants you to openly show signs of it” and “So it looks like the Eagles are singing this for the antichrist”, you know you have to check that article out.
Perhaps the example that’s most widely used of this song being dedicated to the Devil is that the inside cover of the album has a creepy guy looking over everyone and it’s supposed to be Anton LaVey, who created the modern Church of Satan.
Here it is blown up, and I guess it might look like a bald guy with a goatee, but c’mon, that’s really really subtle.
Anyway, Snopes does a wonderful job of debunking the entire urban legend. “Anton LaVey” is really a woman who was hired for the photo shoot, and it was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, not some Satanic temple. This song is really just about the West Coast music industry in the 1970s. These guys were on the top of the world and living it up in the most decadent era since Ancient Rome with the world, women, money, drugs, and anything that they wanted at their fingertips.
“Her mind is Tiffany-twisted” is about the famous jewelry retailer, the spirit of 1969 is the death of the idealism of the hippie counterculture, “you can check out anytime but you can never leave” is about addiction, and the whole song is about the gaping maw of music celebrity that was engulfing the band as they were nearing the peak of their popularity.
The funny thing is that it’s the Eagles. If it was Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, I get it. Those guys used occult imagery and had a dark hard rock sound. But the Eagles didn’t use that kind of imagery or sing dark music. Their songs were catchy and fun. They were world-class hedonists, but Satanists? Hardly!
RIP Glenn Frey, thanks for one of my favorite songs and I hope I’m right and that you’re on your way upstairs right now.