The Subtle Metaphor That Don Henley Hid In ‘Hotel California’ Lyrics

Formed by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner in 1971, The Eagles is without a doubt one of the most popular and prominent music acts of the 1970s. After forming the band, the band members focused on making their debut with the album ‘Eagles.’ They released the record in 1972, and it was followed by the next year’s ‘Desperado.’ Achieving an immediate success, The Eagles continued their path with guitarist Don Felder and recorded ‘On The Border’ in 1974.

Following that, The Eagles began to achieve international recognition with the 1975 album ‘One Of These Nights.’ Following the commercial success of ‘Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975),’ they released the album ‘Hotel California’ in 1976. The album marked a turning point for the band and featured a same-titled single which became known in almost every corner of the world. Fans and critics gave various interpretations to the song, but it has a secret metaphor hidden among the lyrics. Let’s see what that metaphor was.

Don Henley Said That The Word ‘Spirit’ In ‘Hotel California’s Lyrics Is Used As A Sociopolitical Statement

Since its release, ‘Hotel California’s lyrics have been interpreted by many, and there is a long-lasting debate on what the song is about. Although The Eagles avoided giving any clear explanation on the lyrics, they still provided several clues to their fans. For instance, they described the song as the interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles or a journey from innocence to experience.

Back in 2009, Cleveland.com made an interview with Don Henley, and the interviewer asked him about a specific line in the song. He said that although the lyrics imply that wine is a spirit, it is a mistake as wine isn’t distilled but fermented. Following that, he asked Henley if he regrets that part.

As a response, Henley said that he misinterpret the lyric and missed the metaphor. Moreover, he claimed that the line ‘we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969’ has nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. As Henley said, this was actually a sociopolitical statement.

In the interview by Cleveland.com, the interviewer asked Don Henley that:

“On ‘Hotel California,’ you sing: ‘So I called up the captain/’Please bring me my wine’/He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.’‘ I realize I’m probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn’t a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Wine also has lower alcohol by volume percentage than spirits. Do you regret that lyric?”

Don Henley then responded:

“Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention – and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages.

It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”

It seems that the word ‘spirit’ is not used to refer to alcoholic beverages. In fact, it is probably a metaphor for the sociopolitical condition of America back in those days, referring to the loss of the spirit of social activism. As Henley said in his various statements, ‘Hotel California’ is a symbolic piece about America in general, and a reflection of the line between the American dream and the American nightmare.

You can listen to the iconic Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ below.