Songs of the Chelsea Hotel
I’d forgotten about the Chelsea Hotel. Even though I’m in the neighborhood at least once a week, its presence always eludes. Which is appropriate, because as its long-time residents age, and the NY real estate vultures circle, it’s no longer the place it once was – it hasn’t been for decades now.
And it really doesn’t matter. The place “it once was” never really was, except in the stories it created. And these are perpetual, as long as anyone cares to remember.
Without expecting to, I came upon it yesterday. And out of nowhere those old legends began to tumble forth.
It is a magnificent building. One of a kind. Gargantuan, imposing, and gothic, but with touches of grace here and there. If it didn’t already carry so much cultural baggage, it would have made an even more terrifying setting than the Dakota in Rosemary’s Baby,
It opened in 1884, and its roster of short-term and long-term guests and residents is a staggering cross-section of the 20th century’s creative core. Mark Twain and O. Henry were early residents. In 1953, Dylan Thomas died here after his famous binge at the White Horse Tavern. Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road here not long after. Not long after that, Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey in his room here. The 1960’s and 70’s saw Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Stanley Kubrick….
In the 60’s, actress Edie Sedgwick burned her roomed with an unattended cigarette, Warhol filmed Chelsea Girls; and in 1978, Nancy Spungen was found stabbed to death in the room she was sharing with Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.
The litany goes on and on and on, and is the subject of more extensive research than mine.
In high school, during the late ’90’s, a couple of friends and I tried to sneak up the ornate staircase to get a glimpse of one of the rooms. We were stopped, but had a chance to speak with a longtime resident in the lobby, who “had seen it all”.
The Chelsea Hotel has inspired many a song. Here are two favorites:
Posted on March 17, 2012, in art, music, NYC past, Uncategorized and tagged 60's, chelsea, chelsea hotel, culture, history, landmark, leonard cohen, music, new york, new york city, nico, nyc. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.