"Hotel California": The curriculum from hell

By Sara Hazlewood



Salon Staff
September 18, 2000 11:05PM (UTC)

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As an occasional rock critic, if my kid were assigned "Hotel California" in school, I'd have to write him a note to be excused from the topic the same way "creation science" buffs get their kids out of studying evolution.

And Jim Morrison is much lousier than the Eagles.

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-- Jonathan Green

Sometimes studying something "bad" is just as instructional as studying something good. Wouldn't it be interesting to have a class or two studying some of the popular lyrics of contemporary music, in part to attempt to provide the students with the analytical skills and aesthetic refinement to discern schlock from quality writing?

After listening to the song and reading the lyrics of "Hotel California," for example, students could engage in a discussion about why certain phrases don't ring true, why certain lines are hackneyed or throwaway, and then why the song made so much money anyway. Much could be gained by critically examining how lyrics are enhanced and shaded -- or obviated -- by the musical context. Later, the class might compare such "bad" lyrics (actually, for all its cheesiness, there is a sort of fuzzy mystical appeal to the sloppy sketch of some high desert hotel in the Eagles' song) with more well-constructed rock lyrics, such as the best offerings of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon or Jethro Tull, or lyrics from other genres such as folk, country or rap.

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Studying rock lyrics should not be a replacement for Homer or Shakespeare, but considering how difficult it is to bridge the gap from the modern age of pop media inundation to the quiet dusty tomes of the classical canon, a brief look at how wordsmithing has manifested in the modern age may be invaluable in providing an expanded context for students.

-- Chaelon Myme

I remember older kids on my junior high school bus had the same assignment back in the mid-'70s. This was the most energized I have ever seen junior high kids about any assignment -- and these were the cool kids at the back of the bus. I actually remember them talking about how the song describes a journey into hell.

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I think the analysis of rock lyrics from a poetic standpoint is an excellent idea. I am all for taking something that is familiar and exploring its inner meaning. I'm not sure why they need to continue to use "Hotel California," and I'm particularly concerned that the teacher did not explain the lyrics (as the teacher obviously had to my junior high peers).

This assignment reached these kids. I was impressed with their enthusiasm and I was just 13. It's great for your children to know the underlying principals of Sartre, but what I think is more important is for your children to be interested.

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-- Chip Trebour


Salon Staff

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