Wild Young Minds: The Chelsea Hotel

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Chelsea Hotel

'Stayin' up for days in the Chelsea Hotel... Writing 'Sad Eyed of the Lowlands' for you...'

Imagine Bob Dylan's raw voice singing these lyrics and you're already there. On a bed, doing nothing, looking out of the windows to see Manhattan's finest streets and stayin' like this for days, in the Chelsea Hotel. God, how I wished I had the chance to stay there. Of course, I could save some money and go there now, but it would be nothing like the way it once was. The Chelsea Hotel in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. Those were the times, that was where it happened and with whom it happened.
So what actually happened? Well, Hotel Chelsea (original spelling) was where writer/poet Dylan Thomas stayed when he died in 1953, it was where Sid Vicious - lead singer of The Sex Pistols - killed his girlfriend Nancy and it was where beat writer Jack Kerouac wrote his famous - and my favourite of all times - book 'On the Road'. Oh, and where he made love to a man (he was heterosexual), Gore Vidal to be specific (who was gay).
In other words, it was a hook-up for bohemians, a place to go crazy and live the artist life. It was where Patti Smith stayed, where Edie and Andy went wild and where Arthur Miller tried to forget his love affair with Marilyn.
To give you a tiny bit of information about the hotel itself: Hotel Chelsea was built between 1883 and 1885. In the beginning, it was a private apartment cooperative. It was in 1905 when the building became a hotel. Later on, it went bankrupt, but it reopened in 1939. Since then, it was a popular place to stay for - as already said - writers, painters, singers, etc. The hotel is build in a Victorian Gothic style and recognizable by its flower-ornamented iron facade and its grand staircase. If you are interested in visiting it, Hotel Chelsea is located at 222 West 23rd Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea.
To me, the first thing I think about when hearing the words 'Chelsea Hotel' is the intriguing song 'Chelsea Hotel no. 2' by Leonard Cohen. I can understand people saying his voice is a bit monotonous and dull, but I absolutely love the way it fits his lyrics. Dramatic, yes, but in a light-hearted way. Anyway, I loved 'Chelsea Hotel no. 2' even more when I heard what - and more importantly who - it was about. The myth behind this song is that Leonard Cohen once met Janis Joplin in an elevator in Hotel Chelsea. ''Are you looking for someone'' he asked her. ''Yes, I'm looking for Kris Kristofferson'', she answered. He said: ''Little Lady,you're in luck, I am Kris Kristofferson''. Eventually she knew it wasn't him, of course, but they did start a love affair. You can recognize her in the lyrics: 'We are ugly, but we have the music'. Harsh, but true. Isn't it?
Great stories to fill a book with, right? That's exactly what Sherill Tippins must have thought, because she recently published her book 'Inside the Dream Palace' (The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel). She studied the New York bohemian movement and claims to give an answer to the question: why did this particular hotel grow out to be the longest-lived artists' community of the world?
It also looks forward. Because the hotel has largely lost its great allure. It has been sold to a real estate owner, who dismantled all hotel rooms. It's not yet known what's to come of it. A shameful fact, but unfortunately hard to prevent from happening, since all famous inhabitants seem to die one by one. But let's not think about this too much. Let's think about Hotel Chelsea as a legendary place, let's preserve that romantic feeling and fantasize about all the great things that happened there. How to put that in practice? Well, let's hope Tippins has added some alluring photos in her book. And if we don't have that money, let's listen to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan or Tom Waits. No problem.

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